Pahrump: the only city in Nevada that will turn you into James Bond after a single visit. OK…while that statement is mostly a tasteless hyperbole, there is a bit of truth to it. When I first watched the original James Bond actor Sean Connery make his great jetpack escape in 1965’s “Thunderball,” I knew I wanted to fly like that someday. And when I found out this futuristic technology is available to the average Joe in Pahrump, I was all in. Plus, what better way to get grounded after a jetpack flight than a glass of wine—or possibly a good martini (shaken, not stirred)?
Do I have your attention yet, 007?
Of the tens of millions of annual Las Vegas visitors, only a fraction make the hour-long drive from The Strip to Pahrump to escape the casino royales and explore a different side of southern Nevada. Wineries, jetpacks, and even a firearms training institute make Pahrump an outstanding option for anyone wanting to feel like they’re in an action movie.
I had absolutely no idea what to expect when I first found out I would get to fly in a water jetpack. I’ve been prone to some broken bones and scars throughout my life, so I couldn’t help but wonder if this jetpack would lead to the same perilous end. Boy was I wrong. The folks at Jetpack America in Pahrump did a fantastic job at making sure I didn’t, in fact, fall from the sky.
Located at Spring Mountain Motorsports Ranch in Pahrump, Jetpack America offers water jetpack flights for anyone wanting to soar above this oasis in the desert. The jetpack facility opened in October 2014, collecting water from a natural spring in the desert. The man-made pond is used for jetpacks and paddleboards, and is complete with a silky, white-sand beach.
In March, I met up with Flight Center Manager Chris Wilson, who showed me the ropes of jetpack flying. Chris fitted me with a wetsuit and walkie-talkie helmet, and taught me a bit about how the jetpacks fly.
The pack receives its lift from attaching a long hose to a Jet Ski engine, and allows the user to control direction by pulling on each of the pack’s control arms. “Be sure not to grip the control arms too tight,” Chris says. The advice turned out to be some the most important I would receive that day, given that my death grip on the control arms was turning my knuckles white before we even got started.
Before I blasted off, my mind flashed to an internet video a friend had showed me a while back, of people on water jetpacks diving like dolphins. Following the same way a dolphin instinctually glides through the ocean waves, the people on the jetpack were diving below the surface and popping back above the water, only to submerge and resurface several times.
I wanted to do that.
The flight started off slow, with Chris controlling the throttle and ensuring I could properly flip myself over in case I lost control of the pack. After that, I was airborne. Just a couple inches off the water at first, but soon I watched my feet leave the surface below me and I was completely above the water. I was surprised at how simple flying was. Being able to hear Chris through my helmet made maneuvering the pack much easier than it otherwise would have been. “Turn a bit left, alright now I’m going to bring you up a bit higher,” Chris said through the helmet.
Some small tricks and maneuvers came first: walking on water, flying around the perimeter of the spring. Then, before I knew it, I was flying about 20 feet up, and feeling pretty comfortable. Chris brought me back down so I could attempt to dive like a dolphin. I would say the maneuver was half successful, as I was submersed one or two times before painlessly—and very ungracefully—losing control and wiping out underwater.
My solo ride was a blast. Jet Pack America offers many different flight time packages. They also offer tandem rides for children as young as five to act like their favorite superhero. Chris told us that they’ve flown people in their 80s, as well as people with disabilities.
All in all, I did feel like James Bond and a superhero while I was flying, but there’s one more popular culture character I certainly cannot leave out. I’m not entirely sure Marvin the Martian ever did have a jetpack, but I sure felt like him. The helmet and neon green on my wetsuit sealed the deal.
From Nevada, With Love
I was tired and hungry by the time we reached Pahrump Valley Winery, yet excited all the same to finally be visiting a place I’ve heard so much about. Plus, what’s better than wine tasting and excellent food when you’re tired and hungry?
We were greeted by our gracious host for the evening: Pahrump Valley Winery Owner and Winemaker Gretchen Loken. Gretchen and her husband Bill took over the winery in 2003, proving that tasty, award-winning (49, to be exact) wines can be made in the desert.
Gretchen gave us the grand tour, walking us through the budding vineyards and spacious event area before bringing us where the real magic happens: the winery. “One of the most rewarding parts about winemaking is that I’m still learning more every single day,” Gretchen said while she gazed up at a massive wall of charred-oak wine barrels.
There’s something inherently unique about the smell of a room that is used to make wine, the scent is personally one of my favorites. Cold, damp, bitter, woody; you know the smell. After Gretchen told us more about the winemaking process, we decided to taste for ourselves.
It would have been borderline blasphemous for me not to try all of the Nevada wines. Barbera, red, floral, citrus, plum, nose, Syrah, tannin; the terminology and adjectives were somewhat overwhelming. I’m not going to pretend to be a wine snob, because I am not; but I can attest that for someone with a relatively scant knowledge of wine, every sip I tried was darn delicious.
After being properly educated on the finer points of Nevada wines, it was time for dinner. The upscale casual in-house restaurant—Symphony’s—is open daily for lunch and dinner, serving seafood, pasta, sandwiches, steaks, and everything in between.
We had our fill of Black Angus steaks and Nevada wine, and departed to our hotel for the night. Even though we’d had quite a day in this desert oasis, it felt like we had barely scratched the surface. There is one thing we learned for certain, though: Pahrump is well suited for both British Secret Service agents and the casual out-of-towner.
Editors Note: Story originally ran in the July/August 2015 edition of Nevada Magazine. For more awesome stories and information about subscriptions, please click here.