Neon (Again)

Five years ago, I toured the Neon Boneyard in Las Vegas for the first time. The post I published from that trip is the most viewed on this blog, even years later. I visited again over Labor Day weekend, this time with my husband and mother-in-law.

I love the colors and textures of these signs, and how they rest together, happily, in this neon graveyard. I love Las Vegas — and how the city reshapes itself over time. It’s a place that means something to me, Nick, and our relationship, and has also evolved into a playground where I can spend time with my parents, who have a love for its controlled chaos in their own way.

Wandering the boneyard, it’s easy to feel the collective history of the city, and to think of Las Vegas as a place where things rise and fall, where potential is often left to dissolve, and where glorious moments are frozen in time.


Imagine each bulb
has a story within it:
win, loss, double down.

We used to be great,
flickering under the moon—
an electric state.

Wired like the ones
unraveling with purpose
in a timeless space.

Alone, we despair.
United, we burn inside—
ruined together.

A light extinguished,
’til the day we meet again
in the desert sun.
















All photos taken with my iPhone 5s. While the other images on my blog are under a CC license, please do not use the images in this post.

Published by Cheri Lucas Rowlands

Senior editor at Longreads / Automattic

22 thoughts on “Neon (Again)

  1. Great photos Cheri.
    My youngest sister used to live and work in Vegas. I visited several times but never came across the Neon Boneyard. Looks pretty cool, but I think I would still prefer to day-trip at the Valley of Fire.

    1. Yes, go! You can’t wander it on your own and must go on a guided tour, but there are one-hour photo tours for photographers a few times a month. It’s a fun thing to do and a nice change of pace from the casinos/strip/downtown.

  2. First of all, I really like the format of your post, and I was taken off guard with the poem – I hadn’t expected the view described by your narrative to inspire these sentiments, so when I looked at the photos, it all came into place. I think you’ve captured this experience brilliantly, and thank you for the inspiration!

    Second of all, I never knew about this place either, and now I feel like I’ve missed out when I went to Vegas. It looks massive! How long does it take to walk around it would you say? I might just have to visit Vegas again, just because of this post 🙂

    1. The guided tour is about an hour, which they offer daily (you have to make a reservation in advance, as they sell out). There are also hour-long photo tours for photographers offered a few times per month. It’s worth a visit!

  3. Wow! Imagine what it would look like if they were all in working order and lit up! I think a lot of people would go to see that. It’s such a shame that they are left to rust away

    1. There’s also a night tour, though not all of them are fully restored and lit up — but I’d like to see that next time.

      They’re rusting away, yes, though the organization maintaining them educates the public about the city’s history and makes sure the signs have a home where people can see and appreciate them. At least they’re rusting gracefully 🙂

  4. That’s a pretty sentiment in your poem there, to go inside those bulbs and personify them. I like the contrast you probably observed there between those old, worn-out signs and the desert landscape, kind of different worlds clashing, and an element of the unwanted, orphan toys feel from that Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer film. And it’s really neat you’ve established a past-time with your family, to share in it together — I like most that Fremont neighborhood in LV because it’s got more of a sense of its past for me than other parts of the city. It’s neat how U2 gravitated there for that record in ’87 and captured some of that sentiment in their videos, a similar love/appreciation for something so American, with such an unusual beauty about it; you’ve conjured that here too and good reason it’s most viewed. Thanks for resharing! Bill

  5. Although I’ve been to Vegas quite a few times, I’m ashamed to admit that I didn’t know anything about the Neon museum. I went back to your original post and agree that night tours would be fantastic. Maybe because Halloween is lurking around the corner. Your photos from both posts are stunning. I’m thinking of a book, unless there is already one.
    These ‘dead’ neon remind me of Route 66, where most of the road is kind of a boneyard now. And many books have been published on the topic.
    Not surprised that your first post was the most visited on your blog. Beware, this one could be a hit too.

  6. “a place where things rise and fall, where potential is often left to dissolve, and where glorious moments are frozen in time.” This sounds like the opening line to a great story. Somehow your photos are taking me back to my childhood memories of watching the Planet of the Apes series.

  7. I never knew such a place existed in Las Vegas — a perfect reminder of how incredible this city is and very true in saying how the city reshapes itself over time. The photographs are a trip down memory lane, whether from scenes in movies, books or visits ~ the Binion’s sign making me smile. As much as I often say I cannot stand what Las Vegas stands for, I love it. It is such an attraction as everyone I know who have visited there has a story ~ so very apt your first line “Imagine each bulb, has a story within it…” and great times with friends and family. The wasteland of neon and bright-lights you have shown with your photographs tell a story of why the city was great, is great and will continue to be the All-American city that evolves like no other. Great post.

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