Wonderhussy invites you along to explore the strange reaches of the desert

“Everyone knows about Reno and Vegas, and they think there’s nothing in between but this apocalyptic wasteland, Test Site, aliens and Area 51. Well yeah, there’s a lot of that, but there’s also way more…”

Sarah Jane Goodall is a YouTube creator often found searching out the forgotten or unusual corners of Nevada and the Desert Southwest. Known through her online videos as Wonderhussy, she’s always had a curiosity that has drawn her to the vast spaces on the maps. Places like ghost towns, hot springs, plane wrecks, dusty small businesses, and places of uniquely strange historical interest. She’s built her 260,000+ follower Youtube channel around it.

Having posted her first video in 2016 – a first person walkthrough of an abandoned building on the side of the road while driving back home solo from Burning Man in which she realized she had stumbled into a weathered and abandoned brothel – Wonderhussy has taken her camera with her as she as explored a variety of interesting places that most others drive on past, or that lie at the distant ends of isolated dirt roads.

For the majority of her time exploring places on video, Las Vegas was her home. A city as spectacular as it is anomalous, the area gave her plenty of locations to explore within city limits. We get on the subject of Commercial Center, a large strip mall that my own group of friends explored years ago owing to the completely surreal list of tenants – namely businesses that catered to what one might call the city’s ‘alternative sex scenes’ – but that has been cleaning up lately as these holdouts to a slightly seedier era of Vegas slowly fades.

“Oh, but the grime! I knew it as swingers clubs and dungeons and gay bathhouses!” she says of the shopping center. “I like the sketchy stuff, but I guess progress is progress.”

“I was working as an artistic nude model. Photographers would hire me and I would take them out Into the desert and I would pose nude.”

“There’s so many beautiful women in Vegas. I was definitely not the best looking out of all of them. I always say I’m the opposite kind of person to ever be a model. I’m short, flat chested, I’m built like a penguin, I have short legs, long torso. But I was willing to take these guys out to the desert, to take them to these weird places, and pose nude.”

Wonderhussy would work with photographers who wanted to shoot in ghost towns or in abandoned mines.

“I was starting to get too old for modeling. Frankly, I was getting bored of it. And that’s when I got more interested in the exploring than in the modeling itself.”

With just shy of 800 videos posted to her channel, her videos have run the gamut from locations that require hiking dozens of miles to reach, or lie down burley roads only passable by slow going 4WD vehicles. Some of her videos take on more of an interest in the forgotten or hidden histories of a place.

She describes a more in depth video she made on the Cottontail Ranch, an abandoned brothel that stood at a dusty crossroads called Lida Junction until the building burnt down in late 2022.

“Now that’s one of my favorite stories ever because of the Howard Hughes connection. I always wanted to do a proper documentary about that. It’s so sad that place burnt down.”

Wonderhussy recently contributed to the liner notes of Ghost State Records’ re-release of Coming My Way, a spoken word recording made by Beverly Harrell, the madame of the Cottonail Ranch recorded at the brothel during its heyday in the 1970’s.

Ironically, in a state that tends to implode its history, or keep it hidden behind “No Trespassing, Military Property” signs, or just leaves it to rot after the boomtown years no longer panned out, the past in many instances has been kept alive strictly by the efforts of curious individuals and collectors. Places like The Neon Museum Las Vegas, Ken Layne’s Desert Oracle publications and radio show, or amateur historians in Northern Nevada taking on the task of restoring the Sutro Tunnel which would touch off the Gold Rush and ultimately play a role in reconfiguring the West are prime examples of Nevada’s history remaining alive and visible owing to those outside of well funded official historical institutions.

As prolific a video creator as she is, Wonderhussy, even if unintentionally, falls into this group of folk historians that illuminate some of Nevada’s overlooked and forgotten corners.

“I’m just nosey,” she interjects. “I’ve always been very curious so I’ve always been poking my nose into stuff. Nevada’s great for that. I look at the map a lot and it’s a big big state and there’s only two cities in it. Well what the hell is going on in the rest of the state? I want to find out.”

While the places and travels portrayed in her videos tend to be pretty awe inducing, Wonderhussy will admit that it can be a labor intensive process to travel, film and produce so constantly.

“I put out two videos a week and I have self imposed high production values: it’s gotta be edited, it’s gotta have background music. It’s very time consuming. Sometimes it can feel like I’m on a treadmill and it’s set to the highest setting. But I’m one of those people, I like to work. I like to share this stuff with people.”

In the end she brings it back to the Cottontail Ranch, illustrating her feelings on what motivates her video making.

“Nothing lasts forever. The Cottontail burned up, now it’s gone. I’m glad I went in and covered that one when I could. Don’t wait because it might not be there…”

Dive into the nearly 800 videos of strange desert storiese at Wonderhussy’s Youtube page.

ABOUT Shaun Astor

Shaun Astor
Shaun Astor cites pop music singers and social deviants as being among his strongest influences. His vices include vegan baking, riding a bicycle unreasonable distances and fixating on places and ideas that make up the subject of the sentence, "But that’s impossible…" He splits his time between Reno and a hammock perched from ghost town building foundations. Check out his work at www.raisethestakeseditions.com

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