There are many small boom towns in Nevada that were once thriving communities back in the days of the old wild west. Many of these small communities are mistakenly labeled as ghost towns, even though there is a sizable population and a few businesses are thriving. "Living Ghost Town" might be a more accurate description, but the residents may take offense to being referred to as ghosts. On the other hand, a small town that has the reputation of being an old west ghost town will certainly capture the attention of tourists. This is especially true if the ghost town had a dangerously wild reputation back in the old days. People are interested in reliving tales of the old west by visiting old ghost towns that were once famous for lawlessness and gunfights. The more corrupt and dangerous a town was, the more that tourists seem to be interested. Historic destinations like Tombstone, Deadwood, Virginia City and Dodge City always seem to be at the top of the list of wild west tourist destinations, but they pale in comparison to a relatively unknown place in Nevada. By all accounts, Pioche actually was by far the most dangerous place in the entire history of the old west!
The town of Pioche started as a silver mining camp back in the mid 1860's. At that time, Nevada was not exactly settled and this remote silver camp was abandoned because of continual raids by local tribes. A few years later, the abandoned boom town was bought by a man named Pioche. Soon the boom town was revived and the silver mining operations went full tilt. Because of the combination of promises of untold riches from mining and the remote location, the little town of Pioche attracted unsavory characters from all over the west. In fact, 50% of the population of Pioche was once described as being composed of dangerous hardened criminals that held no regard for the law. According to encyclopedic resources, over 70 people were killed in gunfights, before the very first natural death occurred in the little town of Pioche. These facts and figures make the legendary town of Tombstone look like a Sunday School in comparison. Pioche was indeed the most dangerous outlaw town in the entire west.
By the late 1800's, some of the outlaw dust had settled and because of the railroad this region of Nevada was no longer a remote place. The lawlessness in Pioche was toned down a few notches, but this was all in the name of organized crime. Pioche soon turned into a heathen boom town full of saloons and brothels. A couple of hotels and a very expensive courthouse were also built, then Pioche eventually became the county seat.
As the old story goes, the fortune from mining played out and most of the population moved on to new boomtowns elsewhere in the west. Pioche was being abandoned once again, yet enough people chose to remain to ensure that this little town would never completely become dust in the wind. Local businesses catered to ranchers and travelers on Highway 93 during the golden age of the automobile and things have not changed much since. Pioche has been a living ghost town for many decades and many of the old original buildings from the old west heyday still remain.
Present day Pioche is as close to being an authentic wild west town as it gets. This historic town was never purchased and turned into a hokey glamorized wild west tourist attraction, like so many other ghost towns in the west. The old Overland Hotel is still there, the million dollar courthouse still stands tall and even the original ore buckets dangle from cables that are strung through the tramline that runs over the top of a steep hill. The old jailhouse still stands and the original gravestones can still be seen in the Pioche Boot Hill Cemetery. The famous murderer's row section of Boot Hill was never defaced or destroyed, so visitors can see the names of every cutthroat killer that was brought to justice in Pioche way back when.
There is plenty of real old west history to experience in Pioche and this is the attraction of this unique Nevada living ghost town. Pioche offers modern accommodations with old west hospitality. There are saloons, art shops, antique shops and places to get a good bite to eat. The old Overland Hotel is still in business and this is a popular destination for motorcycle rally clubs and car clubs that go for a long scenic drive on U.S. Highway 93. Other attractions near Pioche include the historic town of Caliente and the picturesque Cathedral Gorge State Park. The Great Basin Desert National Park is only a couple hours away and somewhere in between is the Mount Wilson National Back Country Byway. Rustic lodging and gold prospecting await those that venture onward to the rustic Mount Wilson Ranch on this 80 mile stretch of road.
On a side note, the Great Basin Desert is full of life in this region, especially during the early summer monsoon rain season. With the lush green sagebrush growth comes plenty of food for jackrabbits. The old expression "breeding like rabbits" is evident in these parts this time of year.
After coasting into a rest area on Highway 93 to take a little break near Pioche, I heard some rustling in the bushes. After going to investigate, a big jackrabbit bolted for cover nearby, so I grabbed the camera with the hopes of getting a good photo. I chased that jackrabbit from bush to bush, but it never ended up in a spot where I could get a clear photo. I just scratched my head in dismay and gave up the chase, while thinking that this was the only jackrabbit in the area.
As I turned to walk back to the car, I glanced at the intersection of a ranch road across the highway. My jaw practically dropped, because there must have been at least 50 jackrabbits all bouncing around and playing on the ranch road. A lot of little baby jackrabbits were in the mix too. I just had to laugh because after shooting a few pictures, I captured a few young jackrabbits rubbing noses with each other, which is the same as a jackrabbit kiss. My first thought was "They sure do breed like rabbits!" and I chuckled a bit while driving away. This part of the Great Basin Desert is full of those long eared critters and they sure are entertaining to see!
From the baddest meanest town in the old west to a place to see cute baby jackrabbits rub noses, Pioche demonstrates the meaning of living to extremes. Those who choose to be in a hurry and take the Highway 93 Pioche Bypass will probably never even know that this little historic old west town is even there. Those that take their sweet time when taking the road less traveled will choose the Highway 93 Business Route through Pioche and the experience will create memories that last a lifetime. Pioche is old west history at its best and this little ghost town is very much alive in this modern age!