Sunday, September 28, 2014

Ely Nevada

September 25-28, 2014:

The trip from Eureka to Ely is about 80 miles on route 50 east, another long desolate drive, no services, through beautiful country.  There were three mountain passes along the way and there was a wind advisory in effect, 30-40 MPH gusts, the Grayhawk felt like it wanted to fly at times.  As you come out of the hills down into the valley at Ely (6,435 foot elevation) you pass a huge active mining complex and then the highway runs adjacent to the rail line.  I happened to see the Nevada Northern Railway excursion tourist train going down the tracks, I pulled over and got a photo of it, in perfect "rail nut" form. 

Route 50 is the Lincoln Highway built in 1913

The Northern Nevada Railway excursion train

The Prospectors Hotel, Gambling Hall and RV Park was easy to find, just off route 50 and spots were available, it is a first come, first served (no reservations) operation. It is a bargain at $15 a night, full hookup, decent views, use of Hotel pool and hot tub, Casino, WiFi and even a free Margarita in the Casino bar.  Oh, also they hope to take some of your money in the Casino ! 

Prospector Hotel, Gambling Hall  and RV Park

Ely is wide open desolate spaces, big sky, mountain views, copper mines, cowboys, casino's, neon lights and steam train sounds.
Ely's downtown is actually in better shape than most other old boom towns.  There is a renaissance group in Ely that is trying to revive the downtown and doing some good work.  They started a mural project, there are now around 20 nicely done murals scattered around downtown.  They also have saved several old railroad and mine worker shacks and relocated them to a section of town calling it Renaissance Village.  It is a work in progress, but they plan for it to be sort of a living history park to show how the early Ely people lived.

The Nevada Hotel

Mining Mural in Ely

Club Rio sign

Looking down the sidewalk, lots of neon

Another Ely mural

Ely street view

Liberty Club in Ely

Another Ely mural

Next was a quick visit to the White Pine Public Museum in Ely which was pretty incredible, such a varied collection of interesting, historic items in a small town.  The outside stuff was even more special to me, an old well drilling rig, old fire trucks, old wagons, plows, an old school house, a early settlers cabin.  We had to cut our visit short as we had tickets for the Northern Nevada steam train ride. 

Old Stage in barn outside

All wood Well Drilling machine

Manure spreader

Very rare prehistoric Short Faced Bear skeleton found locally

Old Lincoln Highway sign with many bullet holes

A number of boom towns sprang up in the early 1900's after the discovery of Copper in this area.  At the time electrification was taking place all over the US and there was a huge demand for copper wiring.  There were hundreds of mines and a number of big productive ones in the Ely area. Some of these mines continue to operate today however there are no smelters here to separate the Copper from the Ore.  As a result, the Ore gets trucked out, put on ships to Japan where the smelting takes place, then returned to the US.

Active mine view
The Northern Nevada Railway was established in 1905 to haul ore from the mines and really connected Ely to the outside world.  It also ran passenger trains and hauled about everything in and out of the area.  It was a very progressive and prosperous rail line.  Eventually, the closure of the mines along with the advent of the auto and truck resulted in the demise of the railroad.  After it's shutdown, somehow, the infrastructure, the fully equipped shop, the offices, most of the buildings and a few of the Locomotives and rolling stock were saved.  Baldwin Locomotive #40 was bought new by the railroad in 1910 and is still there operating, recently rebuilt and being used for the tourist excursion train.  The train ride included a guided tour of the original rail shop along with a visit to the museum.  The train ride was great, there were two old coaches and an open flat car, pulled by #40.  The tour was narrated and went for about 5 miles, through two tunnels into the mining area outside of town.  The weather was threatening at the start with very dark skies, even a rainbow in the distance, but the storm front blew by.

The Northern Nevada Railway

View looking towards the shop

Old car with nice mountain view

Guided tour of the shop

No. 93 in the shop

No. 40 pulling into the yard

No. 40 ready to roll

The fire is hot !

Corral view from the train  leaving the rail yard

Twinkles loves a train ride !

Around a curve

Back in the yard

The shop cat named "Dirt Bag"

Done for the day

Another Ely attraction is the Renaissance Village area.  The houses there represent many ethenic groups that made up pioneer Ely.  The houses have been adopted by area residents and filled with period furniture and appliances.  The Village is adjacent to the Northern Nevada railroad tracks and they even have a rail stop.  There is a general store that sells assorted items and the Ely farmers market is held there in season. 

Window reflection

Village house 

The Village General Store

The historic Hotel Nevada and Gambling Hall is probably the biggest tourist draw in Ely.  It was built in 1929, is six stories tall and when built was the tallest building in Nevada.  The place is filled with old Ely photos, mostly involving the railroad and the mines.  They have photos and murals in the hallways on all six floors, we checked them all, including the basement.  It is a far more folksy casino experience than any of the new giant mega casino's. They are very biker friendly, (as in Motorcycles), in fact the area on the street in front is reserved for bikes only.  There was a Motorcycle club in town, the Goat Heads, who had the bikes all lined up. Their motto was "Live to Ride, Ride to Bars".

Hotel view at night

Hotel Nevada mural

Mural inside Gambling Hall

View looking down a hallway

On Saturday we returned to the Northern Nevada Railway to go through the museum that we had previously missed.  It is located in the original building housing the management offices with much of the original office furniture, office equipment, business files, Locomotive drawings, supply room full of forms used on the railroad.  I was amazed at the record keeping, the dozens of forms used (inspection sheets, time sheets, expense reports and such) and it was really cool to see production drawings for a 1910 Baldwin Locomotive. They also had great exhibits on the amazing history of this railroad. 

The General Superintendents  office

Everywhere we go in Ely we keep seeing, Dale, (the town character) first on his bike feeding the ducks at the pond, then at the Pharmacy downtown, next on the train ride they said to wave to him along the route, then again at the Northern Railway shop area.  He seems to ride around town on his bike with his safety helmet and safety vest and everyone knows him.

Dale is everywhere
OK, enough of these cool western towns for a while, back to the wilderness.  Our next stop is Great Basin National park where we will hopefully find a campsite inside the park and be able to keep warm for a few days.

Twinkles and Slick

Eureka, Nevada

September 24-25, 2014:

We both left Elko around 10 AM, but then split up with Twinkles making a food stop at Walmart while I made a stop at the California Trail Interpretive Center. 

View leaving the RV Park at Elko

The Trail center was large with great exhibits inside and outside, with a lot of personal information about the trials the pioneers faced on the California Trail.  There was so much there to see, I could have spent hours, but I didn't want Twinkles to get too far ahead of me.  There were things in the exhibits that reminded me of the decision to go full time RV'ing.

Seeing the Elephant is a little like going RV'ing full time

There is the Elephant

Getting rid of stuff, like full time RV'ing too

Learning how to deal with the natives

In the wide open facing the unknown

Things don't always go as planned

Going places you've never been

So, it was back onto interstate 80 west for a few miles to the exit for route 278.  Route 278 was another solitary state highway with hardly any traffic, no services for close to 90 miles, but with beautiful valley and mountain vistas.  The valley had many large ranches that had huge hay fields which was different. The valley has water and is fairly green due to irrigation which enables hay to be grown.  This is high desert country in the 5-6,000 foot elevations and the roadside was blanketed in bright yellow Rabbitbush and green sage which made my eyes happy.

We then arrived at the intersection with route 50 and a few miles away was the town of Eureka, Nevada.  We had two small RV parks to look at, no reservations, although we tried, no one answered the phone.  The first one said full on the sign and looked pretty rough.  The second one, Silver Sky Lodge & RV Park, had openings, but no one at the office, but self service instructions on what to do.  We settled in then drove downtown to explore.

Eureka is a old mining town that retains much of the old western charm with a great restored old Opera House.  The Opera House is open to see and the interior is impressive, especially the hand painted old stage curtain.  The Court House is equally beautiful and a guy on the street said we had to see it, even held the door for us !  We went up the staircase to the original court room right out of the early 1900's.  There are many old interesting buildings downtown in various states of disrepair. The food market downtown was really unusual, have never shopped in a food market before with dozens of mounted animal heads on the walls all around. They say that in it's silver and gold mining heyday that Eureka had 100 saloons which is difficult to conceive, it's not that large.  It was also so smoke filled from it's 16 smelters that they called it the "Pittsburgh of the west".  We also noted that much of the downtown is for sale, you could conceivably buy this town.

Eureka Court House

Beautiful window

Food shopping in Eureka

Interior of food market

Eureka Opera House

Eureka Opera House

The Court Room

Bannister at the Court House

The Jackson House

The Opera House stage

Performers get to write stuff on the walls

In the balcony at the OPera House

Louies Lounge, where the fun was, now closed

Colannade Hotel

Old Eureka Hotel - Cafe

We're got a way to go still

General Store for sale

We went back downtown in the evening to the Owl Tavern for a couple of beers and had an interesting conversation with a guy originally from Montana who has worked for the past 20 some years in construction traveling around the west living in an RV.  It was interesting to talk to a "real" work camper for a change.  The campground we stayed at in Elko was filled with these types and they even had a small bar and gaming room that was nice as could be, it was like walking into "Cheers" where everybody knows your name.  In Nevada it seems that many of these small campgrounds are filled with people working in the mines.

The sign coming into town says; "Welcome to Eureka, the friendliest town on the loneliest highway".  Riding around the town, we couldn't help but notice a police car was pulling cars over constantly for speeding in the extended 25 MPH downtown speed trap area. We didn't think that was so friendly ? 

Welcome to Eureka

In the morning prior to levying town I went for breakfast on the campground owners recommendation where they have real Mennonite cooking.  It was really good and there were a few locals in there talking about hunting, with one of the guys waiting for the Donuts to be ready.  He got his Donut, then a woman came in and bought all the rest of them, that's life in a small town. 

Next stop Ely Nevada;    
Twinkles and Slick