My boyfriend has an interesting habit of planning activities for the group regardless of our interest. This maybe movies we aren’t particularly keen to watch or food we aren’t in the mood to try. To his credit- all of his proposals turn into a good time. For this reason, we jumped on his proposal to spend New Year’s Eve at the Border Inn.
None of us had heard of this place. It’s a tiny motel, RV park, Convenient store, bar, and casino all rolled into one on the Utah/Nevada border. “They straddle the time zone so they celebrate New Year’s twice. TWICE!” you said excitedly to sell us on the idea. You called ahead and reserved rooms before any of us even cleared our schedules.
Your Dad ended up telling us all about the place, as you failed to mention that the owner was an old family friend and as such your name carries a lot of weight out there. “Gran will be out there too. Your having dinner with her.” He informed us matter-of-factly the evening before we left. We all looked at each other with slight panic at the thought of our care-free weekend as adults in our mid-20’s being supervised by a woman in her 70’s. “She’s not staying the night, just for a little gambling and some food” he assured us.
We had a few last minute cancelations taking our part from 5 down to 3. With such a small group we canceled one room and piled into the old Tacoma to travel 3 hours through the desert to the border. Highway 36 to 6 from Tooele to Delta. Here, we stopped for gas and a quick lunch and took off down Highway 50 into the empty desert.
There was nothing but sagebrush and the occasional heard of cattle or flock of sheep for miles and miles in the public lands. The desert landscape is beautiful with the blue mountains, white and red dust, and sundried plants- but useless for settlement or farming. There is a freedom in the traveling on empty highways with no one else in sight. The unusually dry and warm weather made the world outside the truck look more like summer than the usually white-capped December as we drove further away from the small cities that dotted the Wasatch Mountains.
He had said that the Inn was in the middle of nowhere- and he meant it. We were an hour and a half out of Delta, UT- the small agricultural town we had stopped in for lunch and the hometown of his Grandmother. The nearest town on the other side of the state border was Baker, NV- a short 10-minute drive, hardly worth noting because If Delta was small, than Baker was miniscule. When we pulled into the only building within sight for miles I wasn’t sure what I had been expecting. Certainly the place wasn’t anything special to look at: The center building holding the convenient store, bar and casino, and dinning area was a single-story white building. The parking lot was unpaved dust with a few concrete markers. The convenient store that served as the motel/RV check-in desk had the interior of a small gas-station- crowded, but organized and clean. At the counter you checked-in and asked the cashier if the owner was in. You had a few words with her, re-introducing your self as Ron’s grandson and had a quick reunion, informing her of your grandfather’s passing and your grandmother’s planned visit out today while I wandered around the shop with our friend.
The room was a time capsule of the 70’s. The wood-paneled walls, the sheets on the springy twin mattresses, the tiny old gas stove all screamed 1977. We laughed as we settled our bags into the old room. The room was spotlessly clean except for the overlooked microwave which still contained the burnt noodles of a previous occupant, but small. Though we had requested a roll-away bed be added to the room for it’s 3 occupants, it never arrived- an oversight likely caused by the preparation for the evening’s festivities. We pondered for a moment- debating whether to complain or resign ourselves to share a twin. We went with the latter option, realizing that a rollaway mattress would be a rather tight-fit in the small space.
While the detached motel rooms sat on the Utah side of the border, the main building was in Nevada. This is where liquor was cheap and readily available and gambling was legal. We had picked up the room keys in Nevada, and unpacked our motel room in Utah. Technically, when we bought alcohol at the counter and took it to our rooms we were breaking federal law by transporting controlled substances across the border- a minor technicality that gave provided endless amusement. The constant crossing of the state-line was amusing, and at times confusing as a clock in one room read 12:00, while the other said 1:00 due to time-zone changes. It’s a funny quirk of the place that un-doubtedly causes issues with check-out times for patrons.
I met my boyfriend’s grandmother within an hour of arriving. She and another old family friend called Tony pulled into the dusty lot shortly after we unpacked. She informed us that they would not be staying long. They had come to do a little gambling, grab some lunch, and go back to Delta- content with a short trip to serve as their small celebration of the New Year. We followed them into the Casino and bar attached through a doorway to the convenient store. It was a large room with gaming machines lining the walls, a few rows in the center, a few pool tables and one air hockey table in the back, and a bar with a few tall, circular tables on the left that lead into the dinning area. Unlike the convenient store which was packed and crowded with merchandise this area was far more spacious, with the only crowding around the bar. Only a few patrons hung around the machines and alcohol this early in the day- leaving us a quiet environment to talk before we headed out to tour the Lehman Caves in the nearby Great Basin National Park.
Declining the offer to accompany us, my boyfriend’s grandmother stayed at the machine she adopted for a few short hours. The three of us piled into the truck once more and drove through Baker to the park. The country was beautiful- the yellow desert giving way to the greener and bluer mountains of higher elevation. “Just wait until you see the caves” by boyfriend said as we pulled into the park’s station. We had been calling all day, trying to get through to check the touring schedule to no avail. We were fairly confident that we had arrived early enough to make a tour before sunset. We were, unfortunately wrong. All tours had been booked in advance for the holiday and no one had been manning the phone do to all administrative workers being scheduled “off” for the holidays. The final tour had room for only one of the three of us. Disappointed, but still determined to enjoy our trip out we detoured, following a sign we had seen on our way up to Great Basin, that advertised a small archeological sight called “Baker Village”.
Down a tiny road, we drove to a 700-year-old Fremont village excavated from 1991 to 1994. The sight was so small it would be overlooked without the markers. The whole village consisted of the outlines of 4 or 5 tiny dwellings that would fit in modern city apartment. The sun was just beginning to set as we reached the old village. We toed around- admiring how the little settlement sat perfectly in the valley, nestled in the mountains, and how the long field of yellow grass contrasted against the deepening blue sky and imagined how it would have looked with the field of corn and beans the Fremont would have grown here instead. Our shadows lengthened as we talked and laughed our way back up the marked, sandy path.
We arrived back at the motel in just in time to watch the red clouds paint the sky. We still had an hour before dinner was served the festivities began. We decided that “when in Nevada, do as the native do” and played poker at the tiny table our room provided. My boyfriend and his friend filled the room with vape (having left their pipes at home) and music as we played. We laughed as we drank and played cards in the hazy room, commenting on how much the 70’s decor made the whole scenario look like the grungy-eastern European- organized crime scene of an action movie.
We successfully killed over an hour with cards before crossing the border once more to the dinning area. We stopped briefly to pet the beautiful, friendly border-collie that served as mascot of the Border Inn, and dinned on deliciously tender roast, ham, potatoes, green beans, and cake- made fresh by the Inn’s owner from the old meat locker that kept the isolated place well-stocked. The dinning hall looked like a cross between an old restaurant and a 1950’s meeting-hall cafeteria. The food was laid out buffet style while a few locals served drinks to guests who sat themselves in the old booths and tables. Our wine game in pretty and cheerful mismatched glasses as we admired the beautiful, rustic wagon-wheel and lantern contraptions that made up unique chandeliers. The hired band, a local group, began to set up to play at 9:00/10:00 local Nevada/Utah time. We debated whether we would stay to watch and gamble or go back to the room a little longer until the band began to play. We choose the later option after our friend, rather taken with one of the waitresses, accidently made a fool of himself in front of her and wished to hide away to regain his confidence.
The rest of the evening started to blur as we played cards and drank wine and beer in the room, returned the main hall to listen to music, play air-hockey, pool, and slots. As the 11:00/12:00 hour approached more people began to congregate in the casino and bar. It was not a fashionable crowd to say the least. Locals from both sides of the Utah/Nevada border poured in. Desert-dwelling cowboys, farmers, small-town celebrities, and dive-bar regulars in worn-out boots and broken-in jeans filled the hall. At 10:45/11:45 local time the bartender began pouring small glasses of champagne to everyone in the casino and bar to celebrate the first New Years countdown of the night. The three of us secured our plastic cups with 2 minutes to spare before the countdown. We were actually looking at an article about iconic businesses that no-longer existed when the Utah-clock reset. We laughed at our un-conventual turning of a New Year as set tapped plastic flutes and vowed to try a little harder the next hour for Nevada’s countdown.
A few short games of pool later, we had our chance. At the back of the hall we could hear the band still playing, beginning to wrap up after the second, and final countdown out of 2017. A server passed fresh glasses to all of us who hadn’t already congregated to the bar. This time, we participated in the final 10 second-countdown to 2018. Champagne had run short so the 3 of us shared one glass and passed it between us when the 12:00/1:00 hour hit. We heartily wished each other a happy 2018, hoping it be merrier and grander than 2017. My boyfriend and I shared the traditional New Year’s Kiss, and we walked to the Utah side of the border, accompanied by the Border Inn’s border collie who had quickly befriended us, back to our room. We had another 3-hour drive back to Tooele in the morning, and then I would leave form there back to Utah Valley. We reflected on our interesting Border-Inn New Year as we played a few more rounds of cards and decided to turn-in to bed. It wasn’t a Hollywood New Year’s party. It was more ‘rough-n-tumble’ and uniquely ‘American-west’ than I imagined. The country and bluegrass brand played music than old country couples and drunk cow-hands to dance to, but also celebrated a happy-gay couple with special song written just for them. There was a casual night with a homey dive-bar feel that felt both like you could be shot by an angry landowner for trespassing, or end up with a dinner-invitation at a local homestead over a game of cards and a few beers. Being an intown-girl I had never experience anything quite like it- but I definitely would go again.