Thursday, Oct. 22, 2015 | 2 a.m.
As floodwaters pushed mud and rock across the blacktop of U.S. 95 and a fire burned at a radioactive waste dump in the nearby desert, travelers found themselves stranded on Sunday in the sleepy town of Beatty, population 1,010.
There were few food and hospitality options in the old mining town that sits 115 miles northwest of Las Vegas. Beatty's 300 vacant hotel rooms filled quickly. Some people slept in their cars and others gambled at the Stagecoach Hotel and Casino. The lucky ones found a place famous for chili.
Happy Burro Chili and Beer offers just what the name implies. Walking across the patio into the bar, visitors enter a relic of the town’s boom days in the 1920s. The original wainscoting remains on walls covered with photos of burly ranchers, old beer ads, awards from chili contests nationwide and a busty mannequin with one-dollar bills stuffed in a bra. The centerpiece: the image of an evil-eyed cowboy gripping two guns, painted on a old car hood hanging on a wall above the bar. The cozy interior has one table and half a dozen seats at the polished wood bar. Featured beers: Pabst Blue Ribbon and Budweiser. Behind the bar, a black kettle bubbles with the secret family recipe. Because everything on the menu comes with their signature chili.
Wendy Caskey, the Happy Burro's owner, welcomed stranded travelers into her restaurant and on the patio. She saved five families who were without a place to sleep, packing them into five trailers she owns and filling them with chili and beer. Other Beatty residents opened the doors to their homes, she said.
“If there is a problem, in this town we help each other out,” she said. “Strangers help strangers.”
The media buzzed with reports of a low-level nuclear fire 10 miles from town on Sunday. Heavy rains and debris blocked the roads as the plume of smoke — determined by the state and federal government to not be hazardous to public health — billowed. The town’s residents, though, were unaware of the details of the emergency situation as helicopters and other aircraft swooped low to the ground to take air quality tests and government officials swarmed the desert to manage the situation. County officials apologized Tuesday for not updating the public fast enough on the events of the fire-flood.
But as they say, ignorance is bliss.
On Tuesday, Nathan Wadsworth, a resident of the area, recalled talking at the bar to a few of the stranded passengers. After a few drinks, a few of the passers-by waiting out the rain were annoying, he said.
But then Wadsworth had a change of heart about the town's visitors.
Members of the Voodoo Cowboys, a Las Vegas-based country band, went to their van and unpacked their gear after unwinding from a 350-mile road trip. They plugged in and did their own rendition on a Lynyrd Skynyrd classic — substituting Nevada into "Sweet Home Alabama."
Wadsworth captured a video of the performance on his phone. Travelers were dancing and singing along with beer and chili in hand.
“They weren’t so annoying anymore,” Wadsworth said with a laugh.
On the band’s Facebook page a day later, the group expressed its gratitude.
"What a long strange trip it's been,” the members wrote. "I can't say enough about our new family at the Happy Burro. We love you guys.”