Nancy Kidwell is a modern-day pioneer of the American desert, a rough-riding frontierswoman who built an entire town amid the lonely Yucca trees and sturdy sagebrush, where nothing existed before.
A half-century ago, Kidwell and first husband Slim turned a triangle-shaped gravel airstrip abandoned by the US military into a thriving community that featured a casino, store, camper van park, motel, bar and restaurant that drew high-desert wanderers from thousands of miles around.
Many travelers landed in private planes to frequent this gambling state's first-ever fly-in gaming emporium, that once advertised "seven hours of fun" where one-armed bandit aficionados could touch down in the late afternoon and taxi out that same night.
Now it's all up for sale -- a couple's dreamscape of 350 hardy residents, carved from hardscrabble land an hour south of Las Vegas, where Nevada's narrow southern tip comes within 10 miles of both California and Arizona.
Asking price: $8 million.
For the 78-year-old Kidwell, the sale is bittersweet. This patch of desert is all she's known since she and Slim first flew over the arid expanse in 1965, gawking at the isolation and sheer beauty of the spot they'd chosen to make a break from the California rat race.
- A new beginning -
But now her beloved Slim is long gone -- a victim of Alzheimer's disease in 1983 -- and Kidwell has grown weary of working seven-day weeks supervising 22 employees, playing the role of the town's mayor, police chief and sole businesswoman.
She wants to travel, maybe buy another airplane for a tour of the nation's parks -- Yosemite, Yellowstone and Gettysburg included.
"I'm going to find out what you do after you spend 51 years of your life working in one place," she said, "when you suddenly don't have to wake up at 5 am each day to get the work done."
Kidwell is selling a full square mile along US Highway 95, with 500 acres (202 hectares) of the parcel ready for immediate development.
After all, she and Slim already did the back-breaking work of building the infrastructure, bringing in utilities and digging the wells.
Years ago, when Kidwell put the town up for sale at $17 million, two developers got into a bidding war before the real estate market collapsed and her well-laid plans turned back to dust.
Now, at a mere $8 million, Kidwell is seeing sizable interest: "My broker says the whole thing has gone viral."
She has no idea what her town will become once it's sold, but has received calls from people who want to turn it into everything from a renewable energy project, motorsports park, guest ranch, survival school or shooting range.
Recently, Kidwell sat in the casino restaurant, drinking coffee and eating a biscuit and gravy, her frame still beanstalk-slim, her reddish hair worn in the same coiffed swirl she's kept for, well, forever.
Kidwell was born in rural Utah and later moved to Southern California, where the young adventuress made enough money in her airfield secretarial job to take flying lessons.
That's when she met Slim Kidwell -- she was 28 and he was 62, and the couple launched on a spring-autumn relationship that would provide the adventure of two lifetimes.
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