Nov 12, 2010

Pahrump... Harrumph

At the risk of offending all our readers in Pahrump (wink), I've got to report that we've been generally disappointed with what we've found here. There's no doubt that it's a unique place with a unique history, but aspects of it just leave us shaking our heads. Before I start in, I want to make it clear that I'm writing about the overall town in this article... not the Escapees RV Park where we're staying -- which is well maintained and controlled by the owner/residents. We always find Escapees Parks to be desirable places to spend a few weeks. The following is in reference to the town of Pahrump.

First, a brief history lesson, copied from Wikipedia...
Pahrump was originally inhabited by the Shoshone. It was discovered and slowly inhabited by American settlers in the late 19th century. They reportedly chose the name for the valley which Pahrump is named after the original indigenous name Pah-Rimpi, or "Water Rock," so named because of the abundant artesian wells in the valley. Because of these artesian wells, the new inhabitants of Pahrump Valley began a number of large ranch-style holdings, mostly over 1000 acres (4 km²) in size. On these ranches, alfalfa, cotton, and livestock were raised. Until the 1960s, Pahrump had no telephone service and there were no paved roads in or out of the Pahrump Valley. However, as Las Vegas grew, real estate speculation became more popular in the area, which led to increased interest in Pahrump. This led to the introduction of telephone service and the construction of a paved highway, from Las Vegas to Pahrump, during the late 1960s.

The population of the valley grew almost exponentially from about 2,000 residents in 1980, to almost 25,000 as reported by the 2000 census (just 20 years). An estimate in 2007 pegged population at about 40,000 (wow, another 15,000 in just 7 years!!) -- but I'm guessing the '08 economic crisis and the resulting collapse of the housing market has lowered that number somewhat.

Pahrump is an unincorporated town and, supposedly, the largest such unincorporated settlement in the USA. There's some talk about the idea of incorporating... but I don't know what the issues are or where it stands at this point. It's a large, spread-out place... extending about 16 miles in a north/south direction, and about 9 miles east/west.

Now to our impressions: The place is much larger and more spread out than we imagined. As we first drove through the length of town on NV-160, we found mile after mile of what I'd describe as dispersed rural living... single level homes, many of them manufactured housing (double-wides), on small acreages or large lots. The more heavily traveled roads are paved, but many are not. Because it's very much a desert environment, most places keep the original desert landscape as their yard... grass requires huge quantities of water and expense. The core of town, if there is one, seems to be the intersection of NV-160 and NV-372, where there are a few casinos, a Super Walmart, a couple strip malls, grocery stores, and a Home Depot.

We explored a couple residential areas near the center of town and found a very mixed bag. One of these looked, on the map, like a planned neighborhood -- with parallel curved streets and what appeared to be parks or common areas. But what we found were unpaved streets and almost no houses... just curved gravel roads through the desert floor... certainly someone's big project that failed in some way.

The next one we explored was a golf course neighborhood... houses built around the fairways of an 18 hole championship golf course. Ah, maybe we've found the desired neighborhood... the place where up and comers in Pahrump aspire to be? Hmmm. There were many homes that surrounded the course... only a few empty lots, and the streets were indeed paved. There was more grass and greenery around the homes -- what you'd expect in a golf course community.

But closer inspection of the golf course revealed it was abandoned and left to die (the desert isn't kind to large expanses of grass if it isn't continually watered). It was almost eerie. Large deciduous trees that had apparently been brought in to line the course were also all dead... couldn't survive without irrigation. Scrub vegetation with cart paths winding throughout. We found the very nice looking club house, which was now rented out to a congregation of some sort for religious services. Later research found that the place had failed two years ago and was just recently sold at auction. Supposedly, the new owner intends to get the course started again, but other legal issues remain. It seems the original owners had contracted with a local private sewer and water utility to use a large quantity of waste "gray" water for irrigation of the grass. After the course went bankrupt, somehow (and no one's owning up to it) raw sewage has found it's way into the holding ponds around the course... creating a big stink in more ways than one. Hey, sounds like a place I'd like to have a house!

Driving around the edges of town we did find a few areas of newer homes and well maintained yards... clearly in the minority. But even there it was common to have a trashy, rubbish-strewn yard right across the street. The average place, the standard apparently, seems to be a double-wide mobile home surrounded by trash... old cars, the flotsam and jetsam of too much material accumulation combined with too little space in the double-wide... yesterdays treasures jettisoned to make room for today's bargains. Place after place, in parts of town, are like this. And because the desert environment can be dusty and dirty when the dry winds blow (and they can blow pretty good here), there's a layer of desert on anything that hasn't been moved or recently washed.

Add it all up, the lack of grass and greenery, the common trashy environment, the uncertainty of government status, poor infrastructure, the scent of financial failure, and a questionable future... it's easy to report that Pahrump is NOT on our list of possible future home bases... not what a couple kids from Wisconsin can deal with. I'm sure there are some REAL bargains out there, but someone else will have to gamble on them... we're out of the game.

I also ponder if this is what results from low taxes and small government? Maybe this exercise provided a glimpse into our future?

Sorry Pahrump... I really wanted to like you.

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