We are non-commercial, all volunteer and supported by our readers. Please help sustain the Dew by making a donation.
Silver State Summer Vacation 2012, Part 2
A travelogue from parts out West.
“The view was always fascinating, bewitching, entrancing. The eye was never tired of gazing, night or day, in calm or storm …” —Mark Twain
All sorts of things stand out on my 2012 Nevada summer vacation (more spider webs and dragon flies at the desolate and shimmering Walker Lake than I’ve ever seen in one place) from Las Vegas to Carson City and back again by way of Convict Lake and U.S. Route 395 in California.
These are the towns you pass from the neon city at the southern end of Nevada (when aliens land, they will recognize their kin in Las Vegas) to the capital of the Battle Born State some 440 miles to the north.
On U.S. Route 95: Weed Heights, Indian Springs, Beatty, Scotty’s Junction, Goldfield, Tonopah, Coaldale, Luning – the metropolis of Hawthorne, population 3,269 – through the Walker River Indian Reservation and Fallon before breaking west on U.S. 50 through Silver Springs and the city named for the Indian fighter Kit Carson [1809-to-1868].
After two nights at the Resort on Mount Charleston high above downtown Vegas, the true road trip began for me and Phoebe: eating instant oatmeal with hot water from gas stations (in an especially hungry pinch I have slopped it up with cold water); stopping at the oasis of parking lot espresso shacks only to discover no one was home and stopping to pee.
Stopping to pee, stopping to pee, stopping to pee and not always in a bathroom.
In Goldfield, 175 miles into the journey, we strolled through a miner’s cemetery where folks who’d been born during the War of 1812 were buried during the Civil War. Part of it was cordoned off for the Catholics. Many of all faiths had fought in the Indian Wars.
Civil War veteran Joseph Bown [1839-to-1906] was one of them. In an essay by his great-grandson George Kuhn, we learn that Bown ran a boarding house for miners near Goldfield in a place called Jumbo Town.
Back in 2009, George traveled to Goldfield from Pittsburgh with a headstone to replace the weathered wooden markers of his great-father Joseph Bown and wife Mary. While there, volunteer groundskeepers worked with snow on the ground to keep undergrowth off the walkways. We walked those paths in early July when a snowball wouldn’t have had a snowball’s chance.
And then, 30 miles north, THE QUEEN OF THE SILVER CAMPS.
When silver made Tonopah in 1900 – to the tune of more than $30 million mined daily in the years leading to World War I – Tonopah helped make Nevada. It was the second largest silver strike in state history, launched when prospector and town founder Jim Butler went to throw a rock at an errant burro and found the stone heavier than it should have been.
The town has preserved many of the original mining shacks in an open-air museum, complete with saloon, tool repair shop and general store. We didn’t see a hoosegow. Perhaps bad guys and claim jumpers never made it that far.
At the Mizpah Hotel, built in 1905, its lobby right out of the great late ‘60s CBS show “The Wild, Wild West,” we had lunch beneath old mining stock certificates. Rooms go for about $95 a night. Down the street, not far from a metal sculpture of the mining fire hero Big Bill Murphy, the shrimp with rice and beans platters at the El Marques restaurant were fresh and affordable.
But across the street is the spot we should have stayed had we just held out a block or two past the Best Western, the place where all of us have passed at least one night whether we knew it or not: the Clown Motel, 521 North Main Street alongside of the Tonopah Cemetery.
It’s for real: clean rooms, circus décor featuring hundreds of clowns and bikers welcome.
As one honeymooner said: “This place freaked my peaches …”
We were beat when we fell into the clean sheets of the Hampton Inn off on Hospitality Way in Carson City. Downtown was three miles south and after a little bit of rest it was off to the Firkin & Fox across from the State Capitol.
We chose the F&F because it was on the ground floor of an old brick hotel, the St. Charles. It was okay for a couple not interested in pints and almost too tired to eat. But our young waitress enhanced the meal with stories of living in an Italian village before a spoiled marriage to a paisano returned her stateside with bambino.
After dinner we crossed Carson Street to the wide and illuminated lawn of the State Capitol [1870 cornerstone], which were far less grand when Mark Twain described them in “Roughing It,” his 1872 memoir of the Sierra Nevada and the barely settled American west.
It was in Nevada that the author first began using the immortal by-line “Mark Twain” in place of his given Samuel Clemens. “Roughing It” [published 1872] describes the capitol grounds as a vacant lot having more in common with the North Point Road flea market than the seat of government.
That would change with amenities like floors and wainscoting carved from 20-ton blocks of Alaskan marble shipped to San Francisco.
After inspecting the statues by moonlight – memorials to miners and frontiersman, Kit Carson on horseback – we climbed the steps and peeked in the front door at a long hallway of portraits. Somewhere inside is a chair made of elk horns upon which Teddy Roosevelt rested his fearless haunches.
As we peered inside, cupping our eyes against the glare, an armed, middle-aged woman in uniform strolled down the long hallway, opened the door and started talking. And talking and talking and talking. Carson City’s own Marge Gunderson pointing out the treasures of her beloved Nevada.
An ambulance peeled off from the main drag near the downtown casinos and Officer Friendly predicted which neighborhood they were headed to before confirmation came over the radio. If we were only staying longer, she said, we could skip over to Tahoe, go horseback riding or walk along the Carson River.
No better ambassador could a town have, a knowledgeable local taking time to gives the ins and outs to a couple of strangers.
Marge went back to the marble hallway of long gone elders and Phoebe and I called it a night.
And that was our point A to point B tour of the Silver State over the long, 2012 Fourth of July weekend.
The next morning – saddled up with boiled eggs, instant oatmeal and fresh fruit from the Hampton Inn breakfast bar – we crossed over into California for a long ride south through the green beauty of central California.
One of our stops was Convict Lake, which got its name in 1871 when a bunch of convicts escaped from a Carson City jail holed up here and killed a couple of men in the sheriff’s posse.
But that’s a Golden State story.
Worthy of Comment
Also on the Dew
What kind of idiots shell out, or commit themselves to borrow, two hundred thousand dollars for a row house and then sign on to a "warranty" that warrants nothing other than their responsibilities as buyers and owners? Rubes from the hinterlands of Georgia, mostly, but also a bloke in New South Wales. Imagine! I have written earlier about the mortgage notes that condition a loan on the buyers of property ceding their civil rights to the financier--e.g. on a standard Georgia form the borrower: (2)Waives all rights which Borrower may have under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution of the United Read on →
I arrived in Beijing on an old Boeing 707 China Air flight in November 1978 after a week in Japan. The entry formalities at Beijing Airport were slow but considerably quicker than the Shenzhen Railway Station where I had previously entered China from Hong Kong. I caught a taxi from the airport to the Beijing Hotel on Dongchangan Jie. Taxis were a new experience for me in China, previously it was the “foreigners bus”. The Beijing Hotel had a long and fascinating history. It was built as a five-story brick building in 1915 and two years later a seven-story French sty Read on →
We left Shanghai’s Hongqiao Airport for Guangzhou where we spent three days before flying on a small CAAC Ilyushin 14 aircraft to Guilin in the Guanxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. The airplane was noisy, basic transportation and typical of Russian-built commercial aircraft. We nicknamed it the Friendshipski because of its similarity to the Dutch-built Fokker Friendship commonly used by airlines for service to small airports. The view as we approached the Guilin area was spectacular. Perfectly shaped limestone mountains rose straight out of the countryside, providing an eerie landscape and seeming to almost touch the wheels of the airplane. While I t Read on →
The excitement and acclaim that greeted both the Peachtree and the Broadway premieres of producer David O. Selznick’s adaptation of Gone With the Wind seventy-five years ago this week seems genuinely cringe-worthy today, after multiple indictments over recent years of Margaret Mitchell’s novel as racist and historically distorted. Mitchell is clearly culpable on the first count, although by no means uniquely so, but latter-day critics who charge her with distorting history would be well advised to consider the history she had to work with and, in some aspects, even undertook to revise. Released in mid-summer 1936, Mitchell’s book had already sold more Read on →