On a recent car trip back to Las Vegas, I actually saw Nothing.
The faded billboard sign pictured with this post, along with an abandoned falling-apart convenience store nearby, is all that’s physically left of Nothing, Arizona.
Nothing is about 180 miles southeast of the New To Las Vegas world headquarters at an elevation of 3,269 feet. It sits near the center of Arizona rattlesnake country along an extremely remote desert portion of U.S. 93. That’s the ancient, often treacherous direct road between the Phoenix and Las Vegas areas. U.S. 93 actually went over the narrow top of the Hoover Dam until a nearby bypass bridge partly prompted by post-9/11 concerns of a truck bomb was finally opened in 2010.
The population of Nothing, founded less than 50 years ago, topped out at something like 9. From what I know and could see, it’s down (appropriately enough for its name) to zero and has been there for maybe a decade. In my experience this is a pretty short time frame for creation of a ghost town (or perhaps ghost settlement, as Nothing never even rose to anything near the level of a town), especially in the present-day West. But then again, unlike the 19th and early 20th century mineral rushes that at least lasted until the mines played out, there wasn’t anything resembling a boom that triggered Nothing.
Literally, Nothing is the Seinfeld of places. And like the TV “show about nothing” with its seemingly inconsequential plots, the vicinage imparts a clear message even if at first not obvious.
Nothing was founded in 1977 on about five acres bought by Richard (Buddy) Kenworthy, a liquor store owner from Coolidge, south of Phoenix. He apparently thought it the perfect place to service travelers plying the 300 miles between Phoenix and the Las Vegas casinos. According to a long-ago Arizona Republic account, the name was suggested by a friend “since there ain’t nothing there.” Up on the northbound side of the road went a liquor establishment (called the “Taint Much Ado Bar,” some kind of nod to a William Shakespeare play), convenience store, gas station, garage and taco stand. Locally collected rocks and minerals were sold on the side.
Nothing certainly lacked geographic competition. But in my observation, remote single pit stops on roads to Las Vegas have an inherent behavioral economics problem, especially with better-mileage vehicles. Eager gamblers are in a huge hurry to get to the slot machines of Sin City to make a killing, and won’t stop unless absolutely necessary. And once their clocks have been cleaned, mad gamblers are in a huge hurry to return home from the slot machines of Sin City and won’t stop unless absolutely necessary. Also, it goes without saying that gas usually costs a lot more in the boonies. So sustainability of such establishments is difficult.
There was also the image problem of U.S. 93, which passes through four states for 1,359 miles all the way to Canada. A few years ago a consumer group, citing federal traffic fatality data, called the Arizona stretch the “Most Dangerous Highway in the Country.” More than a third-of-a-century ago, the Midwest working-class blues band The Unidynes recorded the song “Killer Road.” The lyrics began, “I quit my job, lost my house, my wife left and my dog just died … Goodbye … I’m on that killer road, pray for me. I’m driving south, U.S. 93.” The term “Killer Road” was intoned a total of five more times in the song. Last year, The Unidynes were inducted into the Iowa Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame.
Nothing, which never was incorporated, also had a problem making all maps and travel guides so travelers might know there was a there there. With Google Maps, it’s now even possible for a home-based business to get listed. No such luck in the 1980s. That apparently was one reason for the erection of the battered billboard in the nearby picture proclaiming “Nothing”.
There was also a smaller sign. It read in part, “The staunch citizens of Nothing are full of Hope, Faith, and Believe in the work ethic. Thru-the-years-these dedicated people had faith in Nothing, hoped for Nothing, worked at Nothing, for Nothing.”
In 1988, a fire destroyed Kenworthy’s emporium. He partly rebuilt but clearly some of the mickey went out of the enterprise as it lingered. In 2005 he sold the troubled property to ex-pig farmer Mike Jensen, who promised a “new Nothing,” In an odd way this oxymoron proved to be true. Jensen eventually opened a pizza stand with a portable oven on the site but was gone by 2011.
Since then? Mainly crickets (or perhaps rattles from rattlers). A part of the extremely indie, extremely little-noticed 2011 movie “Jesus of Malibu” was shot in Nothing. In 2016 the Century 21 real estate firm ran a promotion offering to give dads who routinely say they “want nothing” for Father’s Day a one-day deed to a part of Nothing, complete with a “Certificate of Nothing.”
Otherwise, the extreme forces of Mother Nature have taken their Mohave Desert toll. Aside from the tottering billboard, the only thing that seems to be functional now is a parking area suitable for taking photos from.
A travel writer once quoted one of the few locals as saying, “When you’ve seen Nothing, you’ve seen everything.” And that, my friends, is the Seinfeld-style message of inconsequential Nothing.