Through Mining Country To Home

Friday, March 22, 2019

I am writing this edition of our Jil and Mike blog from the comfort of my easy chair in our home. Yes, we are home! Two months, three weeks of adventure now over. We arrived two days ago. Those of you who travel know that arriving at the ol’ barn in itself is a nice feeling but then the work begins. The coach has to be off loaded- clothes, food, etc. most goes into the house. Everything inside the coach is cleaned, everything outside the coach is cleaned. It’s a two day job and all of that is behind us. I can now catch up and conclude the adventures of Jil and Mike. No, our adventures are not over, just this episode. Below you will find the account of our last 400 miles on the road.

The last leg of our trip brought us through some very interesting country. It’s still over 400 miles to our home so we stopped in Hawthorne overnight. On the way from Pahrump to Hawthorne we stopped in Beatty (1000 souls) at an interesting store. The proprietor makes his own toffee covered nuts and sells honey. Haven’t sampled the honey yet but the butter toffee almonds were great!


We also stopped in Goldfield. We almost didn’t when Jil thought it was just another down and out town. Well, she was correct about the down and out but the place has one hell of a history.

Mining was in deep decline from the 1880’s until the early 1900’s in Nevada. As a matter of fact the state lost one third of its population because of the downturn. Then gold was discovered in 1902 in Tonopah and Goldfield. The economy boomed, a railroad connecting Goldfield with Las Vegas was built and population swelled to 20,000, making Goldfield the largest town in Nevada at the time. Between 1903 and 1940 $86,765,044 in precious metals were mined in Goldfield alone. The current population is 288 souls.

If one has never been through the State of Nevada one can only envision a desert wasteland as Nevada is the driest state in the Union. The latter is true, Nevada is very dry.

Those who have never traveled through the state may not realize is that most of it is not flat, ugly desert. There are mountains- range after range of snow capped mountains-snow capped mountains this time of year. Valleys, sure. Ya can’t have mountain range after mountain range without valleys in between.

The towns on US 95 vary in elevation from 3000 feet to over 6000 feet. Beatty (1000 souls) is fairly low at 3300 feet. Beatty is located in the Oasis Valley, home of the indigenous Shoshone people.

The town came to be the railroad hub for the mines in the Oasis Valley, including the Montgomery Shoshone Mine in Rhyolite. Tonopah (2400 souls), the site of the second richest silver strike in Nevada, is located on a hillside at over 6000 feet in elevation, yet still looks like desert. Jil liked the Clown Motel in Tonopah. NOT! She loathes Chuckie!

Jil’s Favorite Place in Tonopah!

Mining is a major concern in Nevada. Casinos mining the pockets of gamblers, sure, but I’m talking about mining minerals out of the ground. Gold and silver were discovered in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. Many mines still exist but many more do not.

Rhyolite is one of those boom to bust gold towns which grew rapidly near the Montgomery Shosone Mine. It’s located about four miles west of Beatty near the Gold Well Open Air Museum. We didn’t visit either one of those places as we were dialed in for home. If we are ever back in this area we sure will!

Except from Wikipedia:

Industrialist Charles M. Schwab bought the Montgomery Shoshone Mine in 1906 and invested heavily in infrastructure, including piped water, electric lines and railroad transportation, that served the town as well as the mine. By 1907, Rhyolite had electric lights, water mains, telephones, newspapers, a hospital, a school, an opera house, and a stock exchange. Published estimates of the town’s peak population vary widely, but scholarly sources generally place it in a range between 3,500 and 5,000 in 1907–08.

Rhyolite declined almost as rapidly as it rose. After the richest ore was exhausted, production fell. The 1906 San Francisco earthquake and the financial panic of 1907 made it more difficult to raise development capital. In 1908, investors in the Montgomery Shoshone Mine, concerned that it was overvalued, ordered an independent study. When the study’s findings proved unfavorable, the company’s stock value crashed, further restricting funding. By the end of 1910, the mine was operating at a loss, and it closed in 1911. By this time, many out-of-work miners had moved elsewhere, and Rhyolite’s population dropped well below 1,000. By 1920, it was close to zero.

If one’s not interested in ghost towns Death Valley National Park can be accessed from Beatty or Armargosa Valley. I understand that a ten mile long lake appeared at the bottom of Death Valley a while ago. That’s what lots of precipitation can do to the desert.

Approaching Hawthorne- Mt. Grant elevation 11,300 feet.

Hawthorne (3300 souls) is where we spent our last night on the road. Its the seat of Mineral County and the nearby Hawthorne Army Depot is the primary economic base of the town.

The Depot is the “World’s Largest Depot” according to the write up. Ammunition is divided into three ammunition storage and production areas, plus an industrial area housing command headquarters, facilities engineering shops and the like. It covers 226 square miles and contains over 2400 bunkers The depot was established after an accident virtually destroyed the Lake Denmark Naval Ammunition Depot in New Jersey in 1926, causing heavy damage to adjacent Picatinny Arsenal and the surrounding communities killing 21 and seriously injuring 53 others. The loss to the Navy alone was the equivalent of $1 billion today. A court of inquiry recommended that a depot be established in a remote area within 1000 miles of the Pacific Ocean. The Depot received its first shipment of high explosives in 1930. During WWII it became the staging area for ordinance for almost the entire war.

Walker Lake

Just north of Hawthorne is 5 by 11 mile Walker Lake. The lake is fed by the Walker River and has no natural outlet. Again we follow the valleys. Some of the valleys have enough water to raise a cows, sheep and goats. Occasionally a river runs through it as is the case of the Walker River that runs through Yerington (3100 souls). We traveled through fertile valleys where farmers grow alfafa, hay. Couldn’t tell what else as growing season has not yet begun.

Wild horses and burros share a lot of grazing land with domesticated animals. Some ranchers don’t want to share their land with wild horses so their presence can be controversial.

Silver Springs (5,000 souls) is where we leave US Alternate Highway 95 in favor of Nevada State Route 439, better known as the USA Highway. Nearby is Lake Lahonton fed by the Carson River. The reservoir was created in 1905 to supply water to farmers.

Nevada 439 is a new road connects the Tahoe Reno Industrial Center located adjacent to Interstate 80 just east of Reno/Sparks. The industrial center is the largest in the US at 107,000 acres. Its home to over 100 companies employing 4000 folks including the Tesla Gigafactory.. The facilities include rail service, water, sewer, natural gas and five power plants.

Turning westbound onto I-80 we follow the Truckee Canyon to Sparks, then through Reno. Five miles west of downtown is where we live. We have great views of the Carson Range and the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Ahhh, it’s so nice to be home!

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