The Border Inn
For the vast majority of you I would imagine that you won’t be finding yourself traveling Highway 50 (the Loneliest Highway in America according to the travel bureaus along its route) in far eastern Nevada. There aren’t a heck of a lot of reasons to be there other than visiting Great Basin National Park - which is indeed a very good reason, but other than the park a person doesn’t just randomly find themselves on that stretch of Highways 50 where it bisects the Nevada and Utah state lines. It is a shortcut to nowhere except to nowhere itself and I realize that not everyone shares my penchant for being nowhere - you see I get annoyed with people easily and sometimes you just need to strike out for parts unknown - the road less traveled - all that Kerouac kind of shit.
But if by some strange twist of fate you did find yourself on Highway 50 at the Utah/Nevada border - you would be even less likely to stop at the aptly named Border Inn - nothing from outward appearances really says “Welcome Stranger”. No, it’s the kind of place where you slow down for a minute and give it a look, only to speed up and assume that real civilization lies just ahead. If you do stop it's likely because you had either misjudged the amount of gas you had to make the 155 miles between Ely, Nevada to the west and Delta, Utah to the east - or your belly is really letting you know that you’ve misjudged how long you can wait for food - or maybe it was just the sign advertising cold beer as you made your way through the West Desert. Whatever your reason for NOT stopping - and it’s a perfectly good and “normal” response - it’s too bad if you don’t - you’re missing a piece of America that has all but disappeared. Now to be certain - I’m not recommending the anyone make a trip to the Border Inn just for that reason - except maybe for the annual Sheepherder’s Ball — you would be sorely disappointed with the experience and likely pissed off at me for being even more delusional than you thought. I’m just saying that if your travels ever do ever take you past the Border - stop in - you owe it yourself. Really - how bad can a cheeseburger and fries be? (Actually pretty bad).
The Border Inn truly lives up to its name - it sits smack on the border of Utah and Nevada. It consists of a gas station and motel, which for tax reasons lay on the Utah side of the border and a cafe, bar, and casino which for obvious reasons lie on the Nevada side of the border. Since we lived nearby (1989-1991) it has added an RV “park” (picture a large gravel parking lot) that I believe straddles both states. We used to joke that some poor schmuck who was staying in the motel and picked up some gal who agreed to accompany him to his room later on was in felony violation of the Mann Act by engaging in interstate or foreign commerce transport of "any woman or girl for the purpose of prostitution or debauchery, or for any other immoral purpose”. Fortunately the law was amended in 1986 to allow for consensual relationships.
The Border has been run for over 40 years by Denys Koyle - when she bought the place in the late 1970s there was little more than a shack, a couple of storage sheds, and two really old gas pumps. It is Denys who has slowly built the “mecca” that one finds today - a sad looking place on the desert floor in the heart of the Snake Valley - 5 miles from Baker, Nevada and a hundred miles from reality - and that’s what makes it special. If the 2-room school house is the heart and soul of Baker - the Border Inn is the stomach and psyche. Denys is a woman to be reckoned with - she takes shit from no-one - she’s a shrewd business woman - she is an employer of last resort for any misfit that wanders in (but you better not screw up!) - and she has a heart of solid gold.
The motel consists of several double-wide trailers that have been carved into three to five motel rooms each. As every expense was avoided during the conversion - you might end up with a room with a kitchen but also a toilet in a closet that serves as the bathroom - or maybe you’ll get the suite where the bathroom is twice as large as the bedroom - hard to say - rumor has it that it’s always an adventure. The entire place is tastefully landscaped in a sea of always-dusty gravel - it clearly adds to the ambience.
The real experience awaits as you enter the main building. Directly in front of you as you enter is the oh-so-special gift shop - replete with most any traveler needs - and the multi-purpose counter that serves as motel/RV park check-in as well as restaurant/casino cashier. A slight jog to the right finds the bar - the 3 foot difference from the front door assured that it was in Nevada. It’s a somewhat pathetic little bar - only about 6-8 stools - but liquor is welcome (and encouraged) throughout the adjoining restaurant and casino.
The restaurant is remarkable neither for it’s appearance or its food. In fact - if there was ever a place that screamed out to Chef Robert Irvine and the rehab crew from Restaurant Impossible it is the Border Inn. But you know what - not only would such an up-do be lost on the place, it would ruin some of the very things that make it endearing. The food is mediocre at best - standard diner fare - and mostly poorly executed. To be fair - there were a few of the cooks that actually knew what they were doing but for the most part they quickly learned that it really didn’t matter. When we lived at Great Basin National Park damn near the entire valley would turn out in “shifts” for Mexican dinner on Friday night - it had nothing to do with the quality of the food - it had everything to do with being part of a small misfit community out in the middle of nowhere - my kind of social event!
The casino is nothing to get excited about - it has a couple of dozen or so of mostly nickel slot machines and that’s it. They’re as tight on payouts as the law allows - but of course we still held out hope for a payout now and then. I’ll always remember the Mormon Bishop from Milford, Utah who came every Friday night to play the slots - I would imagine that if anyone from his flock would have asked he would have told them he came for the Mexican food on Fridays - to think that anyone would drive the 88 miles from Milford to the Border Inn for the fine Mexican dinner is just beyond any possible explanation.
Yup - it’s easy to poke fun at the Border Inn - easy to make it sound like the most unappealing place on Earth - but I am so glad that I can see beyond any of the first impressions. I love the place. Yes, I make sure I’ve got some Tums or Pepcid with me before I eat there - sure - I hate paying the extra dime or two for gas - but it’s damn hard to put a price on a hug from Denys - a nod from some local - a smile from someone from Eskdale or a “hey you” from a resident of the commune at Home Farm - I hardly ever got annoyed with any of them.
And for God’s sake - if you are ever on Highway 50 between Ely and Delta - stop at the Border Inn!
peace be with you - Hendo