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Thursday, June 28, 2018

Photo Essay: Digging Into the Silver Royalty of Nevada's "Other" Side

I'll admit that it was my love of trains—not mines—that brought me to the "Queen of the Silver Camps," Tonopah, Nevada. And it wasn't just the fact that I was stopping over there on my way to take a "traincation" in Ely.



Because I'd learned about the Tonopah and Tidewater Railroad back n 2012 while doing some exploring around Death Valley—and even though that Borax-owned rail line never actually made it to Tonopah, walking along its abandoned right-of-way at China Ranch put Tonopah on the map for me, so to speak.



I didn't yet know that Tonopah actually already had its own railway...



...the Tonopah and Goldfield Railroad, which served the mining interests of both towns in Nye County along the Nevada Silver Trails.



And it turns out that the only place you can go to see the last remaining structure of T&G RR is not in Goldfield, but at the Tonopah Historic Mining Park.



There, among the displays I found a train trestle that had bee in use from 1905 to 1946, built along the "burro vein" of silver in this wide swath of mining claims.



The vein got its name from the legend of how Tonopah founder Jim Butler struck silver in 1900, a strike which resulted in the establishment of the Desert Queen, Silver Top, and Mizpah Mines, among others.



Apparently his pack of burros were slacking—or, as one version of the legend tells it, one burro was wandering off from the pack—and Butler picked up a rock to throw at it. Noticing the rock was particularly heavy, he took a closer look at it and realized it was glinting with silver ore.



Now, in reality the discovery might not have been quite so serendipitous. The indigenous Western Shoshone people may have tipped him off. Or he may have been looking more closely and concertedly for fortune than he let on.



But two years later, he'd staked his claims and was mining the land with the help of a head frame and hoist house, which lowered mine workers down the primary mine shaft (originally 400 ft deep) to a labyrinth of tunnels, shafts, and stopes.



And at Tonopah Mining Park, as I wandered over to the old warehouse and framing building (both circa 1903), I was very aware that I was walking precariously on severely scarred earth, atop that underground network of passageways.



After all, holes have opened up in the ground before. Whenever it rains or snows, there's a risk of a car getting swallowed up whole into the depths beneath. As it is, you can peer over the "glory hole" and into one of the wood-framed stopes from such cave-ins.



Most of the extant structures—including those of the Silver Top Mine that have been preserved in a state of arrested decay—were used through 1948. The biggest year during that time was 1913, though the bonanza managed to persist even through the Great Depression.



However, in the 1960s, after billionaire Howard Hughes had left Hollywood and relocated to Vegas, he bought "every mining claim in sight" to control much of the Tonopah District silver reserves—though he quickly proved unsuccessful at reviving the mine (and the town, for that matter.) Hughes' former assay office now serves as the mining park's gift shop and visitor center. (More on Hughes' time in Tonopah forthcoming, when I post about my stay at the Mizpah Hotel.)



Hughes was never really the boon to the Tonopah economy. He never even reopened the mines after buying them. So, for the last 70 years, the former mining camp has survived despite hard times. It's not abandoned, but its current population is a mere

It's been called the "other Nevada"—because it's neither Vegas nor Reno. And most people don;t have the pleasure of experiencing this side of the Silver State.

But I had a great time during my brief stay in Tonopah and would love to go back.

Why? Well, the people who live there seem to love it—mines or no mines.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: Paying My Respects Along the Nevada Silver Trails
Photo Essay: Clown Motel, Gateway to the Haunted Miners' Cemetery
Photo Essay: The Abandoned Rail Trail to the Amargosa River Waterfall
Photo Essay: The Scenic Route, Nevada Edition

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Photo Essay: The Scenic Route, Nevada Edition

I got really ambitious with this last road trip, which meant I had to make some changes to the way I normally travel.



This time, I left my car at home and hopped on an Alaska Airlines flight...



...that landed just an hour and a half later at Mammoth Lakes, which would've easily been a five-hour drive.



From there, though I landed with less than an hour's worth of daylight to spare, I hopped into a rental car and drove a couple of hours to Tonopah. There, I checked into the Mizpah Hotel (photo essay forthcoming) and checked out the stone headquarters of the Tonopah Liquor Company—which, fittingly, had one of the most interesting whiskey selections I've ever seen.



I only spent one night and a few hours during the day in Tonopah, using it merely as a stopover point, as I had more hours of driving ahead to get to Ely for the "main event" of my road trip (again, photo essay forthcoming). But that didn't mean I was going to rush along the way.



I most certainly made time to detour along the Back Country Byway, past outcroppings of desert mallow...



...to the centerpiece of a huge volcanic field in the Pancake Range, known as the Lunar Crater.



It was too dry in the season to have collected any water, as it occasionally does in its "crater lake" phase...



...and the wind was so strong, it nearly blew me into the extraplanetary depression.



So, I got to see it as the astronauts who were training to land on the moon did—as an approximation of a meteoric impact site, all 400 acres of it.



I almost didn't make the turnoff, deliberating whether I wanted to make the 16-mile drive to see something for just a few minutes...



...but then again, I knew that I may not pass this way again.



It had taken me this long to get to the Great Basin of Nevada, Nye County, and US-6—after having added it to my wishlist as far back as 2011, maybe earlier—and I was going to make my visit count.



Even in Ely, where I'd centered my travel plans (for the sake of a "traincation," which you'll understand once I post more about the Nevada Northern Railway Museum where I spent a couple of days and nights), I diverted my attention to the 1920s-era airport—one that I wasn't allowed to fly directly into on a commercial jet but was worth a side trip to regardless.



And in Ely, there was also the 1930s-era single-screen movie theatre, with its fantastic neon blade sign—but no time to linger and catch a movie there, because I had so much else I wanted to see.



And then, after spending one night in a caboose (more on that later), I started to feel under the weather—so much so that I canceled my plans to venture out to Great Basin National Park (on my bucket list) and refocused the rest of my trip on getting to the Vegas airport for my flight back to LA without keeling over behind the wheel.



I weighed my options carefully, and I plotted my route out on a map several times. GPS wanted me to take a more direct route to Vegas—along NV-318—but I decided to take the more scenic US-93.



I figured if I was going to have to drive four hours to Vegas, I might as well drive five or six and see a lot more along the way.



And despite the wind, my sneezing and sniffling, and alternately feeling parched and having to pee, I managed to squeeze a few tourist stops in—not the least of which were the Ward Charcoal Ovens.



Sure, I had to bypass the Ward Mining District. No time for that. But these ovens—or kilns, as it were—are far better preserved than the ones at Cottonwood by Owens Lake in California, which have been left more or less in ruins and look more like beehives than a feat of stonemasonry. 



Besides, though it was approaching summer back home in LA, June had only just begun to bust out in the high elevation hinterlands of Nevada...



...showing off its wildflowers that were both exotic and familiar...



...like the prickly poppy (Argemone pleicantha) that looks remarkably similar to the matilija or "fried egg" poppy (Romneya coulteri) that's so common in Southern California.



And there was the first time I'd actually seen any of the open-range cattle that so many road signs had been warning me about since I first departed Mammoth three days before.



Supposedly the area along this stretch of the US-93 is good for spotting elk, though I came up empty despite scanning both sides of the road as I drove.



With coughing fits and a runny nose nearly knocking me down for the count, I wasn't sure how much more I'd be able to see on the drive to Vegas. I wasn't even sure I would make it to Vegas.



But I had to try.



So, I turned off for a lunch stop and some impromptu industrial archaeology in Pioche...



...a vista point in Panaca...



...which gave me an eyeful of otherworldly landscape...



...though I could barely make it down the easy trail through Cathedral Gorge.



At least I got a quick look at the Mission Revival-style Los Angeles and Salt Lake Railroad depot in Caliente, though I was in no shape to get out of my car and check out the neighboring Boxcar Museum.



I'd also planned on taking a tangential trip off the US-93 and onto the NV-375—a.k.a. the "Extraterrestrial Highway"—but at that juncture, I threw in the towel.

At that point, I had to focus on my destination—the Las Vegas airport and its rental car return—rather than the journey.

I'd already seen a lot, and the aliens were going to have to wait for the next trip.

I don't think they're going anywhere. And I'm pretty sure I'll get to them... eventually.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: Paying My Respects Along the Nevada Silver Trails
Photo Essay: Clown Motel, Gateway to the Haunted Miners' Cemetery
Photo Essay: Seeing the Forest from the Cars
Photo Essay: No Scene Twice Seen, Through Rivas Canyon

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Photo Essay: Paying My Respects Along the Nevada Silver Trails

Most of my recent trips have been so quick and so planned out, I haven't been giving myself a real opportunity to explore.



But that all changed on my road trip to Northern and Central Nevada earlier this month, when I gave myself 10 hours to drive six hours from the Nevada Northern Railway Museum to McCarren Airport in Las Vegas. Then, I took the scenic route. (More dispatches from that journey forthcoming.)



And one of my most magnificent discoveries was the Pioche Aerial Tramway.



Without a cell phone signal and without a clear address of a destination, I knew I wanted to see something in Pioche, Nevada's so-called "liveliest ghost town" (and the Lincoln county seat since 1871), but I didn't really know where I was going.



Earlier that day, I'd read that the former boomtown had a cemetery—well, a "boot hill"—situated under an old silver mining tramway, but I didn't know whether the cables had carried passengers, supplies, or products.



And then I saw it with my own eyes—a glorious blast from the mining past, easing down from Pioche's Treasure Hill, guided by gravity.



The carts are absent of ore, but they're remarkably intact.



And they hauntingly creak with the howling wind...



...no longer propelled by a 5 horsepower motor and no longer on their way to processing at the Godbe Mill (named after Salt Lake City businessman and Mormon covert William S. Godbe).



It is an incredibly breathtaking sight to see—and almost unimaginable that it still stands where it was originally installed in the 1920s, without a hint of damage or vandalism.



Then again, not many people probably pass through Pioche—and the ones most commonly found by the aerial tramway are buried six feet under.



Sure, there's the advertised "boot hill" cemetery for the Wild West outlaws who were buried so quickly that they still had their boots on, but there's also a more "proper" and "civilized" cemetery that resides under the death knell of the clanking iron edifice above.



But for once, I wasn't nearly as interested in the dead and buried as I was in the surrounding infrastructure.



The ore carts bear the insignia of A. Leschen & Sons Rope Company of St. Louis, Missouri—a company that had been making cables (a.k.a. wire rope) since 1857 and whose Denver branch served the "great mining interests of the West."



The company knew that "lives depended on the tensile strength of a single rope"...



...and the quality that it promised nearly a century ago is now clearly proven to any passersby.



The Leschen Company had built a similar automatic tramway for Silver King Mining Company in Park City, Utah—though those aerial tramways have since been converted into chairlifts for skiers and tourists.



These extant structures in the Pioche Mining District, however, mark the end of the Ely Mining District bonanza—one that began with its first silver mine in 1864 and ended in the 1930s when the "mother vein" was essentially depleted and the workings were abandoned.



I didn't know what I was looking for in Pioche, the most successful of the settlements along the Nevada Silver Trails—but honestly, I couldn't have found anything better.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: The Death Toll of Tombstone
Photo Essay: Route 66's Daggett, From Silver to Solar
Photo Essay: Bloodthirsty and Money-Hungry Shenanigans in the Colorado Mining District