Saturday, May 28, 2016

Historic Tonopah, Nevada!

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     The old historic community of Tonopah has been mentioned in several Nevada ghost town articles that were published in this website so far.  Tonopah is a recurring reference point when discussing historic towns, like Beatty, Rhyolite, Gold Point, Goldfield or Carson City.  Many decisions and trends that developed in Tonapah in the days of the old west eventually influenced policy for the region and the entire state.  
     Tonopah was a place where savvy characters made fortunes.  The story of how Jim Butler discovered a rich gold and silver ore strike while chasing down his unruly burro is what legends are made of.  After the gold strike, Tonopah soon became the hub for the Central Nevada silver and gold mining industry.  
     Tonopah also was a place where the casino gaming industry took a strong foothold.  A gambler with savvy named George Wingfield is a great case study of how a gambler constantly seek ways to increase his fortune while accurately predicting economic trends.  
     Wingfield amassed sizable earnings while dealing Faro in saloons and he invested his earnings in licensed casino partnership back in 1903.  In short time he invested his gaming revenue in the local mining industry and his fortune grew to a few million dollars.  Wingfield then invested in a local bank that bought the rights to many mines in the region.  
     Within a span of less than a decade, this legendary gambler was worth well over $30 million dollars and the story does not end there.  Wingfield accurately predicted the trend of a declining local mining industry in 1910 and he sold off the mining stakes long before the Tonopah mining industry completely crashed.  Wingfield then parlayed his fortune by investing heavily in real estate and casinos up north in Reno.  This is one of the greatest rags to riches stories of all time, because Wingfield rose from a saloon gambler to being the richest man in Nevada!
     Wingfield and many other investors never lost sight of Tonopah being the halfway point between Las Vegas and Carson City or Reno.  Tonopah not only took shape as a mining industry hub, this town became a famous stopover for travelers and high rollers.  All good things come to an end and by 1920 the mining industry was pretty much caput in Tonopah.  The Great Depression sealed the fate of Tonopah by relegating this once famous place as being a living ghost town.
     The dust never completely settled in Tonopah, so calling this community a ghost town is not really justifiable.  Even though the population declined dramatically, small local mining ventures and the halfway point stopover status kept Tonopah alive.  In recent decades, the solar power industry, nearby military test ranges and the recent trend of old west tourism have kept the local economy alive.

     Many old west towns that have historical significance are now prime tourist destinations.  One might say that Tonopah is the leader of the pack, solely because of its prime location.  Road weary tourists that drive on US Highway 95 between Carson City and Las Vegas sure do appreciate the hospitality that Tonopah provides.  
     There is plenty to see and do while in Tonopah, so it is not realistic to just describe this destination as being just a halfway point stopover in modern times.  It can take a day or two to explore all that Tonopah has to offer, so this town truly is a destination of its own that is worth getting acquainted with.  
     When first arriving in town, the Tonopah Station is a good place to start.  The Tonopah Station is an old time Nevada casino that is chock full of local historical memorabilia, artifacts and antiques.  This is a great place to get a taste of old Nevada and the famous local mining industry.  The food in the Stage Stop restaurant has an old west theme and a bowl of their chili sure does stick to the ribs!
     The Central Nevada Museum is located a few blocks north.  This museum offers guided tours of the old west exhibits and mining industry relics.  A short jaunt north toward the center of town lies another historical destination.  The Tonopah Mining Park offers hours of exploration of the golden age of the mining industry.  Guided tours and group outings are offered, but visitors can also wander the grounds on their own.  Just like many old west outdoor museums, there is no admission fee, but donations are appreciated for maintaining operations.  For the price of a few dollars, visitors can learn quite a bit about what it took to get the silver and gold ore processed, while ensuring that the Tonopah Mining Park will be there for future generations.  

     The Clown Motel is another Tonopah destination worth checking out or checking into!  This definitely is not a good place for folks that suffer from severe coulrophobia.  The Clown Graveyard is located just behind the Clown Motel and there is also a local graveyard where many miners met a tragic end.  As everybody knows, clowns and graveyards add up to just one thing and that is paranormal activity to an extreme! 
     Along the main street shopping district is where the world famous Mizpah Hotel can be found.  This historic hotel was built in 1907 and it was named after the local Mizpah Mine.  The famous Tonopah gambler turned millionaire, George Wingfield, financed the original Mizpah Hotel.  The Mizpah is one of the finest examples of luxury hotels from the golden age of the mining industry.  Every item in this hotel has historical significance and the Mizpah is the source of many old west legends.  
     There are stories about Wyatt Earp, Jack Dempsey and Howard Hughes being involved with the history of the Mizpah, but at best these stories are only partially true.  There are also legends about how this hotel is haunted by a ghost called The Lady In Red that many guests have seen.  Some of the legends associated with the Mizpah have to be taken with a grain of salt, but without a doubt this hotel definitely is a great place to romance dreams of an age gone by.   
     All it takes is for a visitor to step through the doors of the Mizpah to experience Tonopah in its heyday.  Plush leather chairs, fantastic old west style woodwork and drapes that look like they belong in a mansion were par for the course back in the old days when the gold and silver flowed freely.  Old time slot machines and a long bar greet patrons and the level of comfort is superb.  
     The Mizpah offers some of the best dining in Tonopah too.  I tend to eat simple while on the road and a Western Burger with a beer from the Tonopah Brewery at the Pittman CafĂ© in the Mizpah sure hit the spot!  For those who dream of dining where the gold and silver tycoons lived it up, the Jack Dempsey Room is the perfect choice.  The Jack Dempsey Room in the Mizpah offers luxurious old west style fine dining and this place is famous for great steaks.

     Traveling on US 95 from Las Vegas to Carson City or Reno is a great way to see the panoramic expanses of the Great Basin Desert.  This long road offers great opportunities to experience one of the most famous halfway point stopovers in the entire west, but there is one thing that should be kept in mind.  Booking accommodations ahead of time is advisable, because even on a weekday every available room in Tonopah can end up being filled shortly after the sun goes down.     
     Tonopah is just as much of a precious gem today as it ever was and many travelers eagerly look forward to returning to this destination time and time again.  Those who want to experience old Nevada to its fullest, surely will fall in love with historic Tonopah!    

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Lida Ghost Town, Nevada ~ Dust Devils!

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     Lida Ghost Town, Nevada ~ Dust Devils!
     Today's Lida article is a follow up to the Gold Point Ghost Town article that was published a few days ago.  The connection between these two historic ghost towns was water.  Lida was the closest source of water for processing the silver ore that came from Gold Point.     
     Lida is just down the road a few miles from the Gold Point access road, so both of these destinations can be experienced in the same day.  When traveling on US Highway 95 between Beatty and Tonopah, Nevada State Road 266 is the route to look for.  SR 266 is a long stretch of road that runs west through some very desolate Nevada territory onward across the border to California.  Just like with all open desert country road ventures, is best to fill up the gas tank, pack some food and plenty of water, in case car problems arise.
     SR 266 passes through a few vast dry lake basins on the way to Gold Point and Lida.  Where there is extreme heat and dry lake beds, there certainly will be plenty of Dust Devils!  Dust Devils are a tornado like weather phenomenon.  These dust tornadoes can vary greatly in size and numbers.  
     While driving on the road through the dry lake on my way to Gold Point and Lida, there were dozens of Dust Devils.  Most of the Dust Devils were average size that day and their duration seemed to be controlled by some kind of a playful spirit.  It seemed like every time that I got the camera to focus sharp on a Dust Devil, it would disappear into thin air.  Trying to photograph these phenomena was like playing some kind of a devilish game with a spirit.  Basically, I had to anticipate when a Dust Devil would disappear and reappear, just to get a good snapshot.  Honestly, I spent about 45 minutes out in the middle of the desert dry lake watching the Dust Devil show.  This was what is called good old fashioned cheap entertainment in the Great Basin Desert!            
     Currently Lida is a small living ghost town that has a few residents and ranchers.  When visiting Lida it is best to keep in mind that most of this area is private property, so it is not a place to go relic hunting.  It is okay to visit and take pictures, but it is best to leave things be. 
     Both Lida and Gold Point share a bit of history, but the old Lida outpost has been around much longer.  Lida is a natural water source that lies in a series of mountain passes that lead to California.  In fact, this little spot on the map has always been a central hub point for Native Americans and traders that pass through this region. 
     During the Aurora Mining Boom in the early 1860's, Lida took shape as an outpost settlement because of it's central location.  Lida became a prospering community that catered to Native Americans, traders, miners and ranchers.  Many pioneers that wanted to skirt north of the perils of Death Valley passed through this area too.
     Lida first started fading off the map when railroads were built to haul ore out of the Silver Peak mining operation in the late 1800's.  The Lime Point (Gold Point) silver mine kept Lida in business for a while, but after it was deemed that processing the ore at Lida was no longer feasible, the silver mining operations at Gold Point came to an end.  Gold was discovered in the silver mine at Gold Point in the 1920's, but by then the modern age of transportation was well underway, so Lida was pretty much resigned to being a watering hole for local miners and ranchers.    
     What was once the central hub for the Southwestern Nevada gold and silver boom trade, now was destined to be a ghost town that has one precious commodity that kept it on the map.  When driving on SR 266 it seems odd to see a big patch of lush green cottonwood trees out in the middle of this vast stretch of parched desert.  This natural water source ensured that Lida would not just fade away.                        

Monday, May 16, 2016

Gold Point Ghost Town, Nevada!

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     Gold Point Ghost Town!
     Gold Point is an old Nevada ghost town that began as a small camp in the late 1800's.  The name of this ghost town changed several times in the early years.  This fact may be helpful to those who enjoy researching old west history.  More factual matter and lore can be found when looking up the previous names of any old town in the west, because old historical references are not always updated and the original written material can act as a window to specific periods of the past.   
     The original rancher and miner camp was called Lime Point.  When silver ore was discovered in the area, this ghost town was renamed as Hornsilver.  Soon after, it was decided that the silver ore was not abundant enough and the cost of hauling the ore for processing at the nearby source of water in Lida, Nevada was too high.  Even after the silver mining came to an end, Hornsilver remained on the map as a small rancher and miner settlement.   
     The name Hornsilver stuck for many years, till sometime in the 1920's when the silver mine was purchased by an investor from back east.  The investor took over the rights to the mine and as luck would have it, a substantial deposit of gold was discovered running with the traces of silver ore.  As a result, the name Hornsilver was changed to Gold Point.  
     Gold mining continued at Gold Point even after the gold mining moratorium of WWII.  Gold Point still had gold producing mine shafts up till the 1960's, when tragedy struck.  An accidental cave in occurred and it was deemed that it was not feasible to clear the damage.  The major gold mining operation ceased and eventually most of the residents parted ways.  Even so, some residents and ranchers remained at Gold Point, because of its proximity to Tonopah, Beatty and the mountain pass that leads to Southern California.  The living ghost town status of Gold Point helped to preserve many of the old historic buildings and gold mining artifacts. 
     Gold Point is a living ghost town and this is important to keep in mind when visiting this place.  People live in the old split timber buildings and the old artifacts that are lying around on the ground belong to the town.  Visitors are more than welcome to poke around in the living ghost town of Gold Point, but they can only take photos and good memories back home!
     What is there to do in Gold Point?  Well, there is plenty of old west mining town stuff to see.  Rusty old antique cars and industrial mining equipment line the streets.  The main street area buildings still exist and there actually are a few shops.    
     The old post office is still open and there are several historical markers.  There is an old mercantile store that is kind of described as being a little museum of the past.  Rumor has it that a bed & breakfast business opened up in Gold Point too.  For those who really want to get away from it all and experience the old west, staying over in Gold Point definitely is the way to go.
     Just an odd observation that I noticed while strolling around is that this living ghost town must hold the world record for most amount of intact old west outhouses.  Nearly every direction I looked, there was an old split timber outhouse.  I always get a kick out of seeing an outhouse way out in the middle of a vast desert expanse and this weird imagery presents great photo taking opportunities.       
     Many organized events are happening in Gold Point each year.  Apparently Gold Point hosts a Memorial Weekend Chili Cook-Off that is quite a shindig.  Staged old west style gunfights, mock trials and public hangings take place in Gold Point and these reenactments are fun for visitors of all ages.     
     The living ghost town of Gold Point is famous for being RV friendly.  Yes, there are electrical hookups and facilities!  There is a saloon that caters to special events, like the yearly RV Camper Jamboree.  The RV Jamboree was just starting when I visited Gold Point and several big "land yachts" had just wheeled into town.  I met one of the organizers of the event and he mentioned that county permits were pulled for food and beverage service.  Over by the old saloon, dozens of picnic tables were awaiting the jamboree BBQ party to begin.  By the look of things, the Gold Point RV Camper Jamboree certainly is something that RV enthusiasts should check out!
     Gold Point may not be the most famous ghost town in the west, but this destination is definitely fast becoming a major point of interest.  Many old Nevada ghost towns are currently turning there local economy around by catering to the tourism market.  Tourism commerce keeps old west ghost towns alive.  One thing is for sure, people naturally take interest in the old west.  Visiting an old living ghost town like Gold Point is a great way to experience history, while helping to preserve this destination for future generations.