Where Neon Signs Go to Die: The Neon Boneyard in Las Vegas

Note: Please do not use or share the images in this post.

While my past three or four trips into the glittery desert have centered on pure debauchery, I’m slowly learning that Vegas isn’t just about the cards and the cocktails. (Or perhaps it is, but you need those little journeys off the Strip to reset from the night before. To breathe. To keep yourself from slipping into a slot machine abyss.)

Not that that isn’t pleasurable in a sick, sad way.

This time around, on my 11.11.11 pilgrimage, I finally managed to do something different: I visited the Neon Boneyard, an outdoor museum on Las Vegas Boulevard, about 15 minutes from the Strip.

The simplest description of the Neon Boneyard? It’s where Sin City’s signs go to die.

But that sounds rather morbid, and I guess it’s better to say the neon signs in this approximately two-acre park—most of them vintage and from the golden era of neon—rest elegantly in ruins. Established in 1996, the boneyard has over 150 donated and rescued signs, like this deep lavender Algiers Hotel sign:

neon boneyard

We toured the boneyard just before a part of the site—the future La Concha Visitor Center—was scheduled to be closed for construction. Boneyard guides are volunteers; ours gave us a one-hour walking tour inside a fenced-off lot of massive neon displays, hotel and casino marquees, fallen letters, and signs with broken bulbs.

Neon Boneyard

The neon signs in Vegas, leased by hotels and casinos, are made by YESCO (Young Electric Sign Company). YESCO started the sign biz in Vegas in 1932—the first sign sold in the city was to the Oasis Cafe on Fremont Street—and set up shop in the area in the 1940s, ushering in the grand age of “neon spectaculars,” like the classic Golden Nugget sign.

Neon Boneyard

For $15, you not only see these gorgeously dilapidated signs up close, but are also treated to a history lesson of Las Vegas. You learn random tidbits about the beginnings of the city; its expansion; and the major players, casino kingpins, and mafia figures that have built and shaped the Strip through the decades.

Neon Boneyard

While you’re not allowed to wander away from the group, you’ve got time to linger and snap photographs. (The section of the boneyard open to tours isn’t that big to begin with, so it’s not like you can escape anyway.) I loved the colorful, unattached letters on the ground: upright, on their sides, or upside down. Stacked, clustered together, or lonely and on their own.

It’s eerie and still here. Yet…also vivid and alive. Decades of history, frozen.

Feels also like some of the letters and signs are speaking to you.

Neon Boneyard bulbs
Broken bulbs. Dirty pink. Stacked letters in the background.

Neon Boneyard arrow
I loved the rusty, peeled-off displays, like this yellow arrow and 24-hour cocktail sign.

Neon Boneyard shadow
A girl on her side, and a shadow of a person quietly looking upon her.

Neon Boneyard
One of the casino signs near the entrance of the park.

Neon Boneyard detail

It’s cool getting up close to the bulbs within the “channeling” of the signs. When lit, the channels on the signs had helped shield the bulbs from the elements and keep the illumination strong and concentrated. Our guide said that while none of the signs are currently set up to be electrified, the museum hopes to do this someday. (Night tours of this site would be sweet.)

Neon Boneyard shadows
Our group silhouette in front of the massive red Stardust sign, partially shown above.

neon motel sign
The washed-out blue on this distressed motel sign is beautiful. Not all the colors on the signs are vibrant, yet even the duller, weaker shades are healthy splashes.

neon stardust sign
More of the Stardust sign, which rests near the tail end of the tour.

Neon Boneyard
Not-so-random placement of N, E, O, and N.

So, there you go. Despite what you may have inferred from my tweets this past weekend (losing my phone, jacket, and other belongings; incessant drinking; and the like), I did manage to soak into something local and non-gluttonous.

Please visit and support this nonprofit. And do note that you must purchase tour tickets in advance.

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