December 15, 2017

Photo Essay: The Ghost Town Where Eldorado Canyon Meets the Colorado River

The first thing you should know about the ghost town of Nelson, Nevada is that it's not in Searchlight, as maps may tell you. It's in Nelson. If you get to Searchlight, you've gone too far.

The second thing you should know about Nelson is that what you'll find there now isn't exactly original. It's a rebuilt reinterpretation of what the gold mining town of Nelson once was, kind of a Calico Ghost Town just across state lines.

It sure looks like something, but that's by design. It now operates as a privately-owned tourist attraction.

Sure, some elements have been preserved, but mostly it's a junkyard full of what you might think you'd find at a ghost town...

...with odds and ends collected from here and there over the years put on display for the enjoyment of those who come here to rent a boat to take out onto the Colorado River.

Among the corrugated steel shanties, you'll find an abandoned, upright piano...

...that's come a long way from the Straube Piano Company in Chicago...

...and whose wooden keys have been stripped (mostly) of their ivory...

...whose hammers no longer hit much of anything...

...and whose dampers need not dampen any sound.

What does it need power for? Most of the buildings are just for show.

But maybe the outlets are just for show, too, having been so haphazardly wired that you can't imagine them actually connecting to anything.

Tucked away in the El Dorado Mountains, Nelson is a time-warp town for sure, and its present condition at least gives you a sense of what it was like at one of the first gold strikes in the state of Nevada at the turn of the last century.

The Coca-Cola building with the truck outside of it is original.

So are a couple of the cabins, which still get rented out.

So is the old doctor's office...

...which you can step into and look out through its tattered, eggshell-colored curtains.

But if you walk around the giant barn...

...after, of course, registering at the front desk as a guest... can see that there's not much separating Nelson from, say, Pioneertown or Paramount Ranch.

It's a movie set.

It's also a popular wedding venue.

But although the trucks may not be original, you can't argue with the drama of what really did happen here back in the late 1800s...

...when men deserted the Civil War...

...and were shot by thieves in search of silver and gold.

Nelson was once the epitome of the "Wild West," at the confluence of lawlessness and greed and striking it rich and steam ships and the railroad.

Maybe that's why Hollywood has been so drawn to it, blowing up planes there...

...and leaving the wreckage behind as though the Vietnam fighter aircraft had just crashed there on its own.

Although so few original structures remain, one of them was accidentally burned to the ground by a film crew, leaving only a stone fireplace behind.

It all adds to the charm, of course, but don't be fooled into thinking that all these depictions of violence were just made up for the movies.

Nelson saw its share of murderous shootouts, too. Not just film shoots and photo shoots.

There used to be more to Nelson, including Nelson Landing by the river. But, as many towns that are built along raging waterways do. much of Nelson got wiped out by flooding.

Now, you can take a tour of the property, with a focus on the mine operations. (The rest, after all, is mostly set dressing.) Just don't try to explore any of it without a guide, because the onsite caretakers will not hesitate to shoot trespassers.

At least, in keeping with tradition...

Look familiar? You may have seen the town blow up in the film 3000 Miles to Graceland:

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: Calico Ghost Town
Photo Essay: Robber's Roost Ranch Fake Ghost Town

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