Let's Travel - - UNITED STATES OF AMERICA - Words & im­ages by Shane Boocock

Turn­ing off the air­line mode on my mo­bile phone I ex­ited the United Air­lines Dream­liner when the first text came in: “Plane turned back four hours out from Syd­ney…nav­i­ga­tion prob­lems! I’m at a Syd­ney air­port ho­tel. Ar­rival now Mon. 9.30 am - call me. Mark.”

“The best laid plans of Mice and Men,” Stein­beck once wrote. Mark, my travel writer buddy from Syd­ney was fly­ing into San Fran­cisco on the same day I was, both within 30 min­utes of each other, or so we thought? This was not the best start to a 2,000 plus mile (3,218 km) road trip – mak­ing al­ter­na­tive ar­range­ments sud­denly be­came a pri­or­ity.

Note to self: ar­rive a day or two early be­fore the start of a trip like this to en­sure that any mishaps, delays, or can­cel­la­tions will not dis­rupt pre-booked ve­hi­cles, ho­tels or camp­sites and at­trac­tions. In our case I had to can­cel a night in a Lake Ta­hoe casino, res­tau­rant din­ner and a casino show as well as re­ar­range our five-hour fish­ing trip from Mon­day to a Tues­day. In­stead of both of us pick­ing up our ve­hi­cle, I did it alone and waited overnight parked-up in a su­per­mar­ket park­ing area (quite le­gal in the United States) near a train sta­tion for Mark to ar­rive a day later with a dif­fer­ent air­line… big les­son learnt.

Our first 200-mile (321 km) day was un­event­ful as we in­creased al­ti­tude head­ing into the Sierra Ne­vada Moun­tains on scenic Route 50 that twisted in and out of hair­pin bends. It was a be­daz­zling blue-sky day as the pine trees soared sky­wards above a wide rush­ing creek that pur­sued its boul­der­strewn course to­wards Lake Ta­hoe. Cross­ing the state­line which sep­a­rates Cal­i­for­nia and Ne­vada we pulled into Har­rah’s Casino Resort, to spend the first night in a cou­ple of casino ho­tel rooms as the lo­cal Emer­ald Bay Camp­ground had closed for sea­sonal ren­o­va­tions.

Af­ter a 5.30 am wake-up call we checked out of the casino at 6.15 am to head to the Ski Run Ma­rina for a five hour fish­ing trip on the lake with Sport­fish­ing Ta­hoe. Scott, the skip­per, slowly steered the boat, Hop­per 1, out of the ma­rina and then for the next hour we hur­tled across the lake un­til it was time to drop drift-fish­ing lines over the side for Mack­i­naw trout. In a depth of be­tween 100 feet (30.5 m) to 150 feet (45.7 m) of wa­ter we landed our first trout in­side 10 min­utes, and so it went on for the next three hours.

On board were two lo­cals both orig­i­nally from Columbia, Al Gomez and Al­varo Galindo along with a vis­i­tor from New Jersey, Wal­ter Has­sett, a youth­ful boat hand named Chad and a lo­cal gal called Mickaleah. By mid­day we had all re­turned to dock with an ice-chest full of fish and sat­is­fied smiles all around.

That af­ter­noon we headed our El Monte RV into down­town Reno, to park up at the Grand Sierra Resort RV Park. This is an­other casino and it cer­tainly stands out on the sky­line with its 2,000-seat theatre and fam­ily friendly ameni­ties. The resort is a re­ally good op­tion if you have an RV but still want the added fun of casino en­ter­tain­ment and a var­ied range of qual­ity restau­rants to dine at, which we did. Once again we were be­ing in­dul­gent.

From Reno to Tonopah is 235 miles (378 km), and so af­ter a lazy start we pulled out of Reno, chris­tened in 1927 as, ‘The Big­gest Lit­tle City In The World’, fol­low­ing I-80 east be­fore we turned south near Fal­lon Navel Air Sta­tion to travel be­yond Walker Lake past the gi­ant sprawl­ing desert base of the Hawthorne Army De­pot, which had both above ground sheds lined up like troops on a pa­rade ground as well as hun­dreds of con­crete bunkers hous­ing who knows what!

Our night stop was the of­ten-over­looked min­ing town of Tonopah where we had booked rooms at the only four-star ho­tel on main street, The Miz­pah. Af­ter be­ing left derelict for 12 years it re­opened in 2011 to much cel­e­bra­tion and fan­fare. In its hey­day, The Miz­pah hosted politi­cians, prospec­tors, pugilists, phi­lan­der­ers and not sur­pris­ingly a few ‘ladies of the night’. One fa­mous pros­ti­tute in the 1920s was a young woman whose fate would leave its mark. A mys­te­ri­ous ‘Lady in Red’ was mur­dered on the fifth floor of the ho­tel in a suite that now bears this name . . . many peo­ple believe her ghost still roams the halls and rooms, with many a strange oc­cur­rence recorded in the ho­tel’s vis­i­tor book.

Prior to the build­ing of the four-storey ho­tel in 1908 (the high­est struc­ture in Ne­vada un­til 1925) stood a white, sin­gle-storey wooden build­ing also named The Miz­pah, where the fa­mous gun­slinger and for­mer sher­iff, Wy­att Earp used to drink and play cards. Earp made enough money to even­tu­ally fi­nance and put his name to an­other drink­ing es­tab­lish­ment in town, The North­ern Sa­loon.

For those of you won­der­ing about the ori­gin of the name, Miz­pah, it’s a bib­li­cal ref­er­ence mean­ing, “to come back to­gether with those you love”.

It all be­gan in 1900 when a prospec­tor named Jim But­ler out look­ing for his lost ‘burro’ stum­bled upon the sec­ond-rich­est sil­ver strike in Ne­vada’s his­tory. Within a few years the town had six sa­loons, restau­rants, as­say of­fices, lodg­ing houses, doc­tors, lawyers, ladies of the night and a rapidly swelling pop­u­la­tion of 650 peo­ple out to make a for­tune from the lo­cal mines that ex­ca­vated gold, sil­ver, cop­per and lead. To­day the area is the home to a sin­gle lithium mine, used in lithium bat­ter­ies, the brine op­er­a­tion ac­counts for all of the United States lithium out­put.

Tonopah, at an el­e­va­tion of 6,030-feet (1,838 m) still has many di­lap­i­dated wooden miner’s cab­ins, sheds and out­houses, close to the Tonopah His­toric Min­ing Park, and many orig­i­nal build­ings in­clud­ing a great book­store on Main St. and a host of very friendly res­i­dents. I asked John, the man­ager of the Min­ing Park Vis­i­tor’s Cen­tre & Mu­seum, “How much gold and sil­ver did these mines pro­duce? “Well they say the mines around the town pro­duced al­most US$ 750,000 in gold and sil­ver in 1901, the first year of full pro­duc­tion, and for the next 40 years, all the mines were con­sis­tent pro­duc­ers. Mine pro­duc­tion from 1900 to 1921, the peak years, was al­most US$ 121 mil­lion.”

By 10 am the next day we were on the road again. As we chat­ted away, Mark turned the RV onto Route 6 east to­wards the town of Ely, Ne­vada, and sur­pris­ingly we both ig­nored or didn’t com­pre­hend the road­side sign that stated, Next Gas 162 Miles (260 km). This is prob­a­bly one of the loneli­est roads in Amer­ica, with long stretches of noth­ing­ness; desert scrub, bul­let holed signs, oc­ca­sional salt­pans, moun­tain ranges, no towns, along with six road sum­mits rang­ing from 6,030-feet (1,838 m) to 6,999-feet (2,133 m) and the sev­enth and fi­nal sum­mit top­ping out at 7,317-feet (2,230 m).

Af­ter 72 miles (115 km), we fi­nally reached the turn off for the Lu­nar Crater dirt road, where we sud­denly had a mild panic at­tack as we con­tem­plated our rapidly dip­ping indi­ca­tor on the gas gauge. Look­ing at the map we could see two small com­mu­ni­ties be­tween our cur­rent lo­ca­tion and Ely but would they have gas?

As we drove the dirt road I cal­cu­lated how many gal­lons of gas we would con­sume, and the re­sult­ing an­swer was it could go ei­ther way – we might very well run out of gas or reach Ely on the smell of an oily rag. With 90 miles (145 km) left to go Mark coasted down­hill from each road sum­mit keep­ing our rev counter as low as pos­si­ble, when even­tu­ally the ‘empty’ red light indi­ca­tor flashed on with a lit­tle over 50 miles (80 km) to go.

We even­tu­ally guessed that gas tank when the empty indi­ca­tor flashed on had about 5-6 US gal­lons (about 20 US liters) left…al­low­ing us to smile broadly as we reached one of Ely’s down­town gas sta­tions.

We still had 65 miles (104 km) to reach our next night­stop, Ne­vada’s Great Basin Na­tional Park, the only one in the state if you dis­count about two per­cent of Death Val­ley Na­tional Park that sneaks over the Cal­i­for­nia bor­der into Ne­vada. With day­light fad­ing we found one of only two sites left in the park’s camp­grounds that were still open. As the evening shad­ows length­ened, a res­i­dent flock of fat ‘wild tur­keys’ gob­bled loudly as they wad­dled in a gait-like pro­ces­sion past our site ig­nor­ing the flames of our camp­fire to climb the slope of the hill­side above us. This was so they could achieve ‘lift off’ (their fly­ing abil­ity is very lim­ited) to fly into the higher branches of the higher reaches of the sweet-smelling pine trees for the night.

As the tem­per­a­tures dropped we added more wood to the fire and cooked steaks for din­ner on the bar­beque grill pro­vided, tuck­ing into the eye-fil­let, foil-baked pota­toes and corn on the cob.

Morn­ing broke as we made our way to the Lehman Caves Vis­i­tor’s Cen­tre, to ex­pe­ri­ence one of Ne­vada’s pre­mier at­trac­tions – the un­der­ground sin­gle cav­ern labyrinth of sta­lac­tites, sta­lag­mites, he­lic­tites, col­umns, shields, draperies, flow­stone and soda straws – cave for­ma­tions that sci­en­tists call speleothems. First dis­cov­ered and ex­plored in 1885 by lo­cal rancher and miner Ab­sa­lom Lehman, they at­tract hordes of ‘cave dwellers’ from all over Amer­ica as well as lo­cal school groups and a cou­ple of odd travel writ­ers.

The For­got­ten Winch­ester! In Novem­ber 2014, ar­chae­ol­o­gists at Great Basin Na­tional Park un­ex­pect­edly en­coun­tered a man-made ar­ti­fact lean­ing against a tree. They found a 132-year-old Winch­ester Model 1873 Lever Ac­tion Ri­fle. They posted a pho­to­graph of the ri­fle in its lo­ca­tion on Face­book. The Post asked, “Can you find the man-made im­age in the pho­to­graph?” That one ques­tion sparked a me­dia sen­sa­tion. The “For­got­ten Winch­ester,” as some have called it, went vi­ral on­line and at­tracted in­ter­na­tional at­ten­tion.

Like much of this re­gion, Na­tive Amer­i­can In­di­ans knew of the caves ex­is­tence long be­fore the “For­got­ten Winch­ester” was left be­hind, and Ab­sa­lom Lehman stum­bled upon the caves, but that is just one of hun­dreds of sto­ries about events that shaped Amer­ica’s fron­tier states and Ne­vada is no ex­cep­tion; a place ex­tol­ing it’s his­tory, ge­og­ra­phy, gun­fight­ers, ranch­ers, min­ers, and not for­get­ting the tales of woe for gals like the ‘Lady in Red’ who fre­quented sa­loons that left a ghost-like legacy for us all to wonder about.

Lehman Caves

Lake Ta­hoe

Old mine build­ings Tonepah

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from New Zealand

© PressReader. All rights reserved.