On Tuesday, we drove from Pahrump to Elko, Nevada. Most of today’s trip had us driving through the Great Basin Desert, a high altitude area dotted with mountain ranges (we were at 5000 ft plus after leaving Pahrump).
The previous evening, Monday night, we were at the Golden Nugget Casino, Pahrump’s finest(?) spot for high rollers. We are not high rollers by any stretch, but they still let us stay for cheap. Frankly, the online reviews of the place were just okay, which had me a little worried, but we enjoyed ourselves (clean, quiet rooms and cheap, but good food). In fact, our room had one of the highest volume shower heads we’ve encountered on any of our travels. We felt a few pangs of guilt letting so much water pour over us as we took our showers, but it felt so good!
We woke up Tuesday morning to glorious blue skies. Knowing we’d be traveling long stretches without gas, we topped off the tank with gasoline and the cooler with some drinks, then began our trek north.
“Doesn’t that sound like a good idea, to have some fresh fruit?” I asked her.
“No, you don’t like cherries,” she said with a deadpan response.
“True,” I said, “but maybe they’ll have something else?”
“All they have are cherries and you don’t get to have any of those kinds of cherries …”
That’s when it dawned on me that those folks weren’t selling cherries or any other kind of fruit at all! Clearly, we had entered a different world.
Soon, Highway 160 gave way to US 95. We began following that until we spotted a convenience store with aliens.
Next to it was another business, one that sold some kind of alien cat houses, but I didn’t look too closely as I was focused on the aliens. Yet, I wondered just how alien cat houses differed from regular cat houses. The answer was beyond me, soI decided I should investigate it, but Ann assured me that, just like the cherries at the Cherry Patch, I wasn’t going to find alien cats at the Alien Cathouse.
That’s when, upon closer inspection, I noticed the word “brothel” at the bottom. Ohhhhh.
Even stranger, right next door to the Alien businesses was the world’s largest firecracker. But, I’m pretty sure we’d seen the world’s largest firecracker in New Mexico and it was bigger than this one. Southwestern Nevada has got me confused.
Leaving the alien world, cat women and fireworks behind, we made our way north on US 95. We had decided on this trip to avoid Death Valley. We are saving it for when Scotty’s Castle gets rebuilt.
After some time, we landed in the struggling town of Toponah, probably most famous these days for it’s creepy Clown Motel.
I was quickly distracted from the motel by this early wagon, which was right next door:
On our way back through town, we spotted a couple neat sculptures:
We left Tonopah, then turned north on Highway 376, a remote road that took us past a series of open pit mines in central Nevada. The scenery was stark, but beautiful. After an hour and a half, we arrived at Highway 50, considered the loneliest road in the nation.
At the intersection of 376 and 50 is a billboard claiming that the town of Austin, Nevada, was this incredible place with SO MUCH TO DO. With a sign like that, shouldn’t we give Austin a visit?
Well, we went, we saw, and we concluded that the remote town of Austin, nestled amongst some hills, felt like a ghost town that a few people hadn’t gotten around to leaving yet.
So, we whipped around and drove east on Highway 50. Another hour and a half later, we arrived at Eureka, billed as “the friendliest town on the loneliest highway”. For me, the town has a family connection, as Eureka is where my great great grandfather, working with Otto Hahn, developed strategies for smelting lead-silver on a chemical basis, which they summarized for an 1871 paper titled “The Smelting of Argentiferous Ores”. It was a ground breaking paper in its time (In case anyone is curious, you can read it here by turning to page 91 of this document).
As we drove around Eureka, we found it a fairly vibrant town compared to others (Tonopah and Austin come to mind). There was even a new grocery store. We soon happened upon a museum. Since it was open, we went inside. The museum’s volunteer was indeed friendly and helpful.
The museum was established in a former newspaper building. When the former owners of the newspaper exited town, they left behind all the equipment inside the build! This was great for the budding museum.
Done with Eureka, we began our drive north on Highway 278, following the same valley the stage from Eureka to Palisade used to ferry people from the Transcontinental Railroad to Eureka between 1869 and 1875. I happen to have a letter written by Rossiter Raymond that explained one particularly awful stage coach ride he took with my great great grandfather. Raymond wrote on September 2nd, 1872: “We had a disagreeable ride last night—nine inside, plus a baby, and among the nine a quarrelsome man and a seasick woman. Eilers and I tried it outside half the night, but the drizzling rain drove us in. Feeling rather played out, I have resolved to go, with Eilers, to San Francisco, and take Virginia City on the way back.”
Fortunately, Ann and I had just two inside. Even better, we could travel at 70 mph rather than 10 mph (or less). What we did in an hour and a half would have taken them ten long hours at least. A grueling stage ride for sure. Yet, the landscape they covered has changed little in the last 145 years; the valley would have looked to them pretty near as it did to us. That’s how unsettled that region of the country feels.
Despite the comparatively few deprivations we endured during the day, we were still relieved when we arrived at our destination, the Stockmen’s Hotel and Casino in Elko, Nevada.
On Wednesday we’ll likely drive all the way back to Pasco.