Saturday, February 27, 2016

Goldfield Ghost Town, Arizona!

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     Goldfield Ghost Town!
     Goldfield Ghost Town is located in Apache Junction next to Superstition Mountain.  The entire Superstition Mountain region is famous for legendary tales of gold, lost riches and tragedy.  As far as stories of the old west are concerned, there is no better setting for a ghost town like Goldfield.
     Goldfield was a boom town in the early 1890's.  Like many gold rush towns, Goldfield became a ghost town after only a few years passed.  By the late 1890's only a few residents remained.  About a decade later, Goldfield turned into a gold processing center for ore that was mined in the local region, but after those mines played out, Goldfield permanently returned to its ghost town status.
     The Mammoth Gold Mine in Goldfield was a heavy ore strike that drew many characters that sought easy opportunities to gain wealth by dubious means.  One such character was the Lost Dutchman, who claimed to find a rich gold strike in the Superstition Mountains.  When the Lost Dutchman finally met his maker, his death caused plenty of folks that had gold fever to seek out his lost mine.  Thousands of fortune seekers have ventured into the Superstition Mountains ever since, without questioning whether the tail of the Lost Dutchman Mine was really true.
     Many historians say that the Lost Dutchman made the whole gold mine story up in an effort to cover his own tracks.  Apparently there is some old evidence cited in verbal accounts that claims the Lost Dutchman acquired his gold by killing miners working claims in the region while stealing their gold.  Tales of the early days of the Mammoth Gold Mine add credence to this story.
     One thing that the Lost Dutchman accomplished, was keeping the Goldfield Ghost Town on the map in this modern age.  The legend of the Lost Dutchman mine and the tales of the Superstition Mountain gold producing region was all the reason in the world that was needed to preserve the Goldfield Ghost Town as a showcase of old west history.
     Goldfield Ghost Town has now been rekindled as a major tourist destination and thousands visit this historic site each week.  That is of course till the thermometer rises up over the triple digit mark.  The heat of summer is more than just intense in the Sonoran Desert, so for the most part, Goldfield Ghost Town is only open to visitors while the weather is cool from late autumn till the end of the spring season.
     There is plenty of interesting things to see and plenty of entertaining activities to experience in Goldfield Ghost Town.  Wandering around in this restored old west boom town and the Goldfield Museum is enough to please any history buff.  Visitors can take tours of the legendary Mammoth Gold Mine and those with gold fever can try their luck "pannin' for the shiny."  
      Other attractions include the Superstition Zipline, Narrow Gauge Railroad and Reptile Exhibit.  Horse trail riding and a really cool shooting gallery are options too.  Those who want to see some old west good guys vs the bad guys action will get a thrill out of the staged gunfights that take place in old historic Goldfield Ghost Town!
     Goldfield is an old west style shopping haven too.  Everything from Native American silver jewelry to modern works of art made by the local blacksmith can be found at the old shops along main street.  The Mercantile Store is where refreshments, hand crafted gourmet fudge and unique confections can be found.  Those who have a craving for bacon will be pleased to know that the much sought after Bacon Soda is available in bottles at this ghost town shop!
     Where does one find some good grub in this old west ghost town?  At the Mammoth Saloon!  The Mammoth Saloon is one of the best steakhouse restaurants that I have run across in any ghost town in the west.  The Mammoth Saloon is comfortable and there is so much old west memorabilia hanging on the walls that it easy to sit for quite a spell while taking a gander.  Speaking of scenery, there is plenty of window seating that offers an ominous view of Superstition Mountain.  Live entertainers even play classic western cowboy music all day long.  All I can say is that the Mammoth Saloon is one heck of a great place to chow down on a big T-Bone Steak!
     Goldfield Ghost Town is definitely worth putting on the Southwestern travel bucket list.  While in Apache Junction, visiting both the Superstition Mountain Museum and Goldfield Ghost Town can all be done in one day.  So, saddle up, program the GPS and hit the dusty trail that leads to the Superstition Mountains!                  

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Historic Nipton, California!

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     Nipton, California!
     When traffic gets jammed up on I-15 between Las Vegas and Los Angeles, people inevitably attempt to navigate the two lane side roads that seemingly stretch out forever in the wide open spaces of the Mojave Desert.  Old little towns in the desert, like Nipton, California, usually appear as a tiny dot on the map and by the time the driver asks what the name of the town is, the little town is nothing more than a blur in the rear view mirror.  
     Some travelers get a kick out of taking the time to stop at one horse towns, just to take a look around and see what the mysterious little dot on the map is all about.  Getting out of the car to stretch the legs in a little town that is located out in the middle of nowhere can be a rewarding experience.  Travelers can read historic markers, take a few interesting snapshots and possibly find a place to grab a good bite to eat.  Striking up a little conversation with the locals is usually easy to do, because most people genuinely like folks that take interest in their community.  Often the conversations provide some valuable insight about the old little town.  
    Nipton, California, definitely fits the description of a tiny little town that is located out in the middle of nowhere in a vast desert expanse.  Niption is located just across the California border near Searchlight, Nevada.  On the California side of the border, Nevada State Road 164 changes its name to Nipton Road.  This road runs from Searchight to I-15 just about 30 minutes south of Primm, Nevada.  
     This region of the Southwest has a long history of major gold strikes and Nipton began as a gold mining camp near the end of the 19th century.  The gold camp was officially registered as the small town of Nipton when a stretch of railroad tracks were laid close by.  Nipton served the local open range ranchers as a railroad cattle loading stop.  Nipton also had a fair bit of mercantile commerce, because this place was the only railroad stop for quite a ways along the line.  
     Eventually Nipton turned into a stopover for travelers during the golden age of the automobile.  A café, campground and a lodge overlooking the vast desert expanse caters to people that really want to find some peace and quiet.  This little town became the residence of a few people that really like the old fashioned desert lifestyle.  Nipton also became a tiny little haven for artists too.
     In modern times, Nipton is famous for eco-tourism.  The Ivanpah Solar Power Facility is one of the worlds largest concentrated solar thermal power plants.  Gigantic mirrors located all over the valley redirect beams of intense desert sunlight to central towers that collect the heat of the sun to produce steam, which powers generators that produce electricity on high megawatt scale.  
     One look at the blindingly bright illuminated steam generator towers is enough to leave an onlooker spellbound.  The modern facility looks like it belongs somewhere on a planet in outer space.  When I first saw the Ivanpah Power Plant, I could not help but to think that I was standing in the middle of a 1950's science fiction movie.  All I can say is that Ivanpah looks really weird!   
     As one can imagine, Ivanpah produces intense heat.  The beams of light are so hot, that birds literally cook like fried chicken when they fly near the concentrated light.  This sent environmentalists up in arms and the activists demanded a solution.  Apparently Ivanpah found a way to keep birds away from the dangerous light, because nothing has been heard about this consequence in the recent past.  
     There is one more thing that Nipton is famous for in modern times.  Nipton is a very busy Powerball Lottery destination, because the lottery is banned in the State Of Nevada.  When a Powerball Jackpot is worth zillions of dollars, it seems like everybody in Nevada that has Powerball fever goes on a pilgrimage to California towns that are just across the border.  
     The little town of Nipton turns into a bustling community with long waiting lines on big Powerball Jackpot days.  When considering that the summer temperatures push over 120ºF, one can imagine that Nipton would be the perfect place to operate a lemonade stand on a big Powerball day! 
     By the way.  Nipton has been in the news during recent weeks for somewhat of an odd reason.  The entire town of Nipton is up for sale.  The asking price is in the multi million dollar range.  The sale of the town of Nipton actually presents an interesting entrepreneurial opportunity for those who specialize in the tourist trade.  Just think!  You can be the proud owner and mayor of your own little town that is located way out in the middle of nowhere in the Mojave Desert!     
     The winter and spring seasons are the best time of year to tour the Desert Southwest.  Taking the time to tour little towns that are off the beaten path, like Nipton, can be a rewarding experience.  If purchasing the town of Nipton is a possibility, then definitely check out the merchandise while the weather is somewhat cool!   

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Historic Elko, Nevada!

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     Historic Elko, Nevada!
     Taking a scenic drive through Northern Nevada during the winter season will reward travelers with snow draped Great Basin Desert landscapes and a chance to visit historic towns that offer plenty of old fashioned hospitality.  Northern Nevada destinations, like Elko, offer an opportunity to escape the hectic pace of the big city and find comfort in a relaxed small town atmosphere.
     Nevada covers a large portion of the West and the distance between points of interest can be several hundred miles.  This is especially true in Northern Nevada.  During the winter season, it is easy to be mesmerized by the white color of the snowy landscape when traveling long distances.  This is not to say that the driving experience is like going "stare crazy" from sheer boredom, because the opposite is true.  It is more like the pristine landscape of snow white color mountains, rolling hills and vast plains are so interesting to look at, that it is easy to slip into a dreamlike state.  
     After a while of driving in the bright white color of the wide open desert country during winter, one simply does not want to interrupt the endless dreamlike visual experience.  Before you know it, the illusion of time disappears and hours pass by quickly, then the destination appears on the horizon sooner than expected.
     Elko definitely is an out of the way destination in the eyes of many travelers.  There are only a few two lane state roads that lead to Elko, but traveling on these roads can mean driving an extra 150 miles just to find a place to make a pit stop.  The old country roads also take longer to clear after a big snow storm, so the major highway routes are a better choice this time of year.  
     Old U.S. Highway 93 runs north from Las Vegas and it intersects with Interstate 80 in Wells, Nevada, which happens to be just a stones throw from Elko.  Elko is about halfway between Reno and Salt Lake City on Interstate Highway 80, so this location is a good place to take a break when doing this long drive.
     Elko did not originate as a pioneer town, even though the California Trail was close by.  Elko began as a railroad town in the late 1860's, when the construction of the Transcontinental Railroad was underway.  Elko eventually became a major stopping point for travelers heading west and for those who had gold fever.  Money flowed and Elko had some wild times back in that age.  As time progressed, mining, ranching and tourism became dominant in Northern Nevada and Elko catered to these industries, while retaining the character of an old west railroad town. 
     Elko is surrounded by open range cattle ranching territory, so this town caters to cowboys and cowgirls of all ages.  Downtown are some great western wear shops and saddleries in town that are well worth checking out.  Many rodeo stars come from Elko and I saw a few of them perform at the Las Vegas National Finals Rodeo a few months ago.  
     The Northeastern Nevada Museum is located on the main street area and the chamber of commerce is located a few blocks away in an old 1800's home that was constructed with rough split timber.  Relics of the old west, the Transcontinental Railroad and the mining industry can be seen at these places.  There is even a Western Folklife Center downtown and it was busy with elementary school group outings on the day that I visited Elko.  Just like the sign says, the Western Folklife Center is Cowboy Poetry Reading Headquarters!
     The mountainous region surrounding Elko is renowned as being an outdoor sportsman's paradise, because the Elk and Mule Deer hunting in this area is some of the best in the west.  There are some great trophy and taxidermy shops in town.  There are plenty of local hunting guides for hire too.
     Elko is a Northern Nevada gambling mecca and the casinos still value doing things the old school way.  Customers are greeted with smiles and classic old school western hospitality is spoken here.  Regional country music stars headline at some of the casinos.  The slot machine payout schedules are pretty good and many of the poker machines pay better than 8 to 1 on a full house.  What this means is that a gambler can have fun playing for a longer time while in pursuit of a big jackpot and this is much more entertaining than watching the money vanish in just a few seconds at a modern casino that only offers short odds.        
     Culturally, there is a fairly large population of people in Elko that are descendant of Basque sheepherders.  Sheep herding has been part of the Northern Nevada ranch industry for a long time.  Elko happens to be one of the few cities in America that has restaurants that specialize in traditional Basque cuisine.  
     After walking around taking pictures of the scenic sights for a few hours, hunger finally set in.  I looked at plenty of restaurant and casino menus that were posted in windows around town.  Comfort food fans will really like Elko, because it seems like almost every restaurant offers good old fashioned western diner style comfort food that is easy to recognize.  This is the kind of food that cowboys like!
     Later in the day while I was fiddling around with a poker machine in the Gold Country Casino, "Lady Luck" was present and I hit a small jackpot.  I decided to give the daily special a try at JR's Bar & Grill inside the casino.  All I can say is that the Triple Decker Hamburger Club Sandwich with Tabasco Fries was an awesome munch for lunch! 
     Is it worth driving some distance, just to spend a little time visiting Elko?  I guess that the answer just depends on how much one likes to drive in the wide open spaces or whether the need to just temporarily get away from it all is more important than all the gold in the world.  Elko has plenty to offer, especially if being in a good old fashioned western style comfort zone is a high priority!