Last year on a trip to Las Vegas, I was on the lookout for off-the-beaten path places to visit. Of course, I had to hit up Redd Foxx’s old house, but even more fun and further off the path was the Boulder City Pet Cemetery, which got a brief mention in Weird Las Vegas and Nevada. There was surprisingly little online about it, especially about its specific whereabouts. I was able to find a blurry map and enough of a textual description to get to the general area. Given that it’s in the middle of the desert right off of route 95, you might figure it’s obvious and easy to see, but it’s amazingly well obscured considering it’s only a hundred feet off the highway. It’s not something you see when driving by, even if you’re looking for it.

It’s rumored that people started burying their pets in this surprisingly expansive area as early as the 1930s. Over the following decades, dozens–if not hundreds–of families came to build memorials to their dogs and cats. Some are very simple crosses with a name written in pen while others are more complex, involving fences, decorations, and professionally chiseled headstones. The cemetery is on what was originally federal land (and now owned by Boulder City) and it was never legal to bury any remains there, yet folks did anyway. And the remains are undisturbed to this day.

This site (which refers to the “El Dorado Pet Cemetery,” but it’s the same place; I’ve also seen it referred to as the “Searchlight Road Pet Cemetery”) offers up an explanation from Brok Armantrout, Director of Community Development for Boulder City:

The pet cemetery was an unsanctioned use of federal land from the very beginning (1931). At one time, friends of the cemetery tried to work out a deal with the federal government to legitimize the site, went as far as getting congressional assistance, but for one reason or another, the project stalled and died. If you have three hours of free time, the history of the effort can be found at the BLM field office on the far northwest side of the LV Valley.

When the City purchased the Eldorado Valley in 1995, roughly 85,000 acres were designated as Desert Tortoise Habitat through a formal easement designation that was adopted by ordinance. The ordinance prohibits all sorts of activities, one of which is the internment of remains.

It’s unclear why citizens started burying their animals in the desert (I don’t believe for a second the idea laid out in this piece that offers the unlikely possibility it’s a mafia dumping ground). I suspect it grew out of a simple need: folks needed to bury their pets, had no where to do it, and wanted to find a location that would remain undisturbed.

While there is an element of eeriness about this rogue pet cemetery (I swear I heard the sound of a leash jingling), I found myself moved by the tributes to clearly beloved family members. If it hadn’t been 150 degrees outside, I suspect I could have stayed there all day.

Here’s a video I shot in an attempt to show the expanse of the cemetery. Excuse the annoying lens dust.

And some photos:

The cemetery has still-readable graves dating back to the mid-1960s and technically shouldn’t be there, but the (first federal and now local) government has wisely left it alone.

The cemetery is still in use today and had a grave that was only a few months old.

There were some heartfelt tributes, like this one to “Mr. Kitty.”

Magic’s was amongst the more elaborate, complete with a fence, dog house, and a sitting bench.

Friskey’s grave was adorned with dozens of stuffed animals.

Jazz’s name seemed to be written out in dried poop… but that can’t be, right?

No caption needed.

Here’s the full slideshow of all the photos I took at the cemetery.