of the Lazy Literatus

On the Back Roads of Vegas with Bootleg Botanicals

In mid-June, I made a trip to Las Vegas for World Tea Expo, 2016. (As you, fair reader, already know.) It fueled at least six blogs that took me all summer to write about. (They can all be found on my tea blog.) But there was one tale I forgot to tell. It only . . . “kinda” has to do with tea.

I had one more day in Vegas after that whirlwind convention week. For some reason, I scheduled a flight for two days after the Expo. I figured I needed a day to decompress, and—as luck had it—I had friends in the area. Team Bootleg Botanicals—Ryan and Melanie Belshee—agreed to put me up for the night.

Who are Bootleg Botanicals?

Image owned by Bootleg Botanicals.

Image owned by Bootleg Botanicals.

Well, if you want my more detailed coverage of what they do, you can read my rundown here. Or you can visit their website. Long story short: They make herbal infusions that make grain alcohol taste good. And in some cases, make it taste like something completely different—like, say, adding a wormwood blend to 151 to make it taste like absinthe. No joke, it’s amazing. Even more recently, they just completed a successful Kickstarter campaign on a ginger beer kit.

As their company—“Bootleg Botanicals”—name implied, I should’ve known that the day was going to be anything but relaxing. The moment I showed up at their apartment, Ryan Belshee greeted me at the door.

“So, what touristy shit did you still want to do?” he asked.

“I hadn’t planned on doing touristy shit.” I replied.

“Well, too bad,” he smiled. “We love doing touristy shit.”

And, so . . . we did touristy shit.

But not the garden variety Las Vegas casino/strip/nightlife crap. Oooooh no. Bootleg Botanicals took me on the back roads. I never knew there was more to Vegas besides desert and lost dreams. Color me surprised.

Our first stop was . . . Hoover Dam!

Hoover dam

Apparently, I’ve either (a) never been, or (b) was too young to remember. The place was crowded, and it was swelteringly hot outside. I think it was upwards of triple-digit temperatures by that time of day. Still, it was a majestic sight. I snapped a couple of photos, and then we headed on our way.

Second pit stop, Techatticup Mine and Eldorado Canyon.

gift shop

I have no clue how to describe this place. It reminded me of a set-piece from Six-String Samurai—all post-apocalyptic. Lots of . . . stuff lying around. It was gloriously haphazard. We didn’t do the actual tours offered at the mine gift shop, but instead strolled around the premises.

And I got distracted by a piano.

me at a piano

Then insisted that my lovely tour guides get one of those couple-y type of touristy pics taken. By me.

Ryan and Melanie.

Ryan and Melanie.

Hey, they wanted to do touristy shit. Well, this is touristy shit.

Further down the road, we ended up at one of the many caves in the area. Ryan beckoned me forth.

creepy Ryan

Only mildly creepily.

Aside from copious amounts of douchebag graffiti, it was quite the sight.


I’m not even sure how the young Bootleggy couple even found the place. Some questions are best left unanswered.

Our last stop before heading back into town was Red Rock Canyon.

Which only had one, actual stretch of “red rock”. Sure, there were plenty of reddish rocks heading to the canyon, but as Team Bootleg told me, the tourist trap itself ended on only one Red Rock. That isn’t to say it wasn’t a majestic view besides.

I took it all in.


All the views.

that view

No seriously, that view!

seriously, that view

I was about to get up on one such “basking”, but then SQURREL THING!

squirrel thing!

Pretty sure he was the yeoman of the canyon.

Before leaving, I tried to establish dominance over the desert.

establishing dominance over the desert

And failed.

We moved along.

When we headed back into Las Vegas proper, they had to make a quick stop at Bootleg Botanicals HQ. It was quite the upgrade from their former Portland digs. Given seasonal demand and locale change, expansion was necessary. I was duly impressed. Ryan and Melanie grabbed some supplies, and then we headed back to their place for some R&D.

While I was a staunch “tea”-totaler these days, I still had an appreciation for what they did. That included some of the things they were working on. They even joined me at World Tea Expo on one of the days just to check it out. On one of their many booth stops, they picked up some Darjeeling green tea for an absinthe herbal blending experiment.

Absinthe green tea

Honestly, it came out really tasty. Darjeeling green teas complimented herbal apothecary-ing rather well. Some tweaking still required, but I loved sitting in on the “science”.

As the sun was setting, they offered me a drink. I had it in my mind to try one of their tinctures, but just with straight tonic water. No alcohol. Ryan and Melanie dished up a glass of virgin Gin 6 ‘n tonic, and . . .

virgin gin and tonic

Oh man, it was perfect. A little dash of sunset made it even better.

Following that moment of respite, we headed back into Vegas proper for dinner. After stuffing my face full of burger, Ryan asked me if I’d ever been to Fremont Street. I told him I’d never even heard of it.

“You have to do Fremont Street,” he said.

I didn’t disagree.

So, we hit Fremont Street.

Fremont Street

Cigars in hand, Vegas style.

It was . . . insanity. Pure craziness. It made Portland look like vanilla syrup by stark comparison. It was packed with tourists and . . . pasties! Pasties as far as the eyes could see! Just . . . madness.

I loved it.

At the end of the road, we ran into this. Ryan and Melanie offered to drop me off so I could observe it more closely. And, of course, I had to record it.

Click the pic to see it dancing and flaming.

Click the pic to see it dancing and flaming.

A Flame-Spewing Mecha-Mantis. What the actual fuck? From what Ryan told me, it was a relic from a past Burning Man exhibit, and now it was a set-piece. And I couldn’t have picked a more fitting “thing” to cap the whirlwind day off.

Early, early the next morning, I was on a plane bound for Portland. I, somehow, managed to do nothing Vegas-related for most of the week I was there, and then had it all packed in a one-day epilogue.

Moral of the story: If you want to really explore Las Vegas, take the back roads. Preferably with friends in tow.


Agarwood Puerh, and the Tale of Two J(G)e(o)ffreys


Tschanara, Germany’s First Tea Garden


  1. Margo Hutchinson

    Or have friends take you “in tow”. Great pics.

  2. Or go through Transformers meeting Karate Kid meeting Ocean’s Eleven; all this with a good tea.

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