Heading Home with a Stop in Sparks, Nevada

Traveling without confirmed reservations or any idea where we’ll stop makes me nervous. For some reason, I felt a sense of freedom not knowing where we would land when we left Cortez, Colorado, on Tuesday, June 4, 2019. We were just heading toward Sparks, Nevada, and when we got tired, we’d stop.

Our route led us through farmland and canyons and one particularly interesting sight. This bulbous sandstone formation stood in the middle of a field all by itself.

Church Rock on U.S. 191 in Utah

To demonstrate how one perspective can differ from another, look what was behind.

Church, Beehive, Whale? What do you see?

A search on Wikipedia reveals a myth about how the formation earned its name, in case you are interested.

I’ve read many a blog post on Moab and Arches National Monument, but never got the impression the bustling town was more than a gas station and a convenience store. With over 20 RV parks and campgrounds, it was clear the population of 5,250 swelled with visitors during the spring and fall seasons. Too bad we couldn’t join them and fit in a hike or two in Arches.

We passed up a few eating establishments through town because they lacked enough space for us to easily park. Then, at the edge of town, we saw it. A Denny’s sign. With plenty of parking next door. This was our last chance until we hit the next town, which was hours away. I had not eaten at a Denny’s for over twenty years. My expectations for a quality lunch were extremely low.

When our server set down our plates piled high with old-fashioned grilled hamburgers including all the trimmings, I tucked away my restaurant snobbery and dug in. Even the salad tasted like the cook had freshly picked the ingredients from the garden.

Back on the road, I was so happy to see a pullout on Highway 191 at Wilson’s Arch. The preview of what awaits inside the park had me scouring the RV park listings for the perfect place to stay. We definitely need to arrange a trip this way again, including plenty of time for exploration.

Wilson’s Arch seen from U.S. 191

We pulled into the KOA in Green River, Utah, for the night. The next morning we bought lattes at the Green River Coffee Co. and a pound of freshly roasted decaf beans. That bag of beans had the cab of the truck smelling like a coffee roaster for the rest of the day.

Green River Coffee Co.

West Wendover, Nevada, was a good place to stop for the night. The next day we drove to Sparks, Nevada. After three days of driving, we needed a break so we settled in Sparks for two nights at the Sparks Marina RV Park.

Not content to sit still for too long, a visit to Virginia City was in order. It had been years since we were there last. The skies were clear making it a perfect day to view Reno and Sparks from Geiger Lookout Wayside Park.

Geiger Lookout – No need to climb the stairs unless you need exercise. The view is best from the parking area.

We marveled at all the housing developments that have sprung up in the area recently. Spurred by Tesla’s Gigfactory and other industries moving into the region, it’s easy to see why Nevada was the fastest growing state in the union last year.

View of Reno (to the left) and Sparks (to the right) from Geiger Lookout

I thought there would be an information sign explaining the purpose of the stone fireplaces scattered around, but I never found it. I did find mention of the park at livingnewdeal.org, which listed the overlook as a Works Progress Administration (WPA) project completed in 1938. What looked to me like fireplaces were barbecues. Picnic tables and restrooms were also once located there.

Picnic area ruins from a WPA project.

When we arrived in Virginia City we noticed several motorcyclists were in town. They must have been from the Spring Street Vibrations event.

Motorcycles parked in front of the Mark Twain Casino

It seems like Reno and Sparks have some kind of event three or four times a month throughout the year. Watch the Great Reno Balloon Race in the fall, drool over classic cars at Hot August Nights, cheer on cowboys at the Reno Rodeo, and vote for the best ribs at a Rib Cook Off. There’s always something happening in the Biggest Little City in the World.

Territorial Enterprise Mark Twain Museum

Virginia City proudly boasts its connection to Samuel Clemmons. On March 5, 1862, he published his first news stories in the Virginia City Territorial Enterprise under his pseudonym Mark Twain.

He eventually became the paper’s editor and stayed on until May 29, 1864. His time at the paper was not without controversy given his habit of mixing in fictional narratives with the news as a hoax.

St. Mary’s in the Mountains

Many prominent members of politics and society in Virginia City, Carson City, and Washoe County were not sorry to see him leave. Wikipedia details the saga here.

Chollar Mansion

Jon was able to walk from one end of the town to the other with the aid of plenty of benches lined up on the boardwalk.

On the boardwalk

A tip from a proprietor at one of the bars led us to The Canvas Café. When I heard the word canvas, a tent came to mind, which is what I was on the lookout for when we searched for the cafe.

The Canvas Cafe

I should have paid more attention while eating my lunch. Now that I look closely at the photo of Jon, I see that Canvas refers to all the art hanging on the walls. Duh!

JT waiting for his lunch

The Reno River Walk and the Truckee River was our next stop. With all the snow and rain received in the west this past winter, we were curious to see the height of the water.

Portal of Evolution by Bryan Tedrick

Here is the view of the Truckee River raging through downtown from one of its many bridges.

Truckee River in downtown Reno, June 2019

And here is a view from October 2014 when families dipped their toes and whole bodies in the middle of meandering stream.

Truckee River through downtown Reno, October 2014

To spend a few hours along the River Walk is to spend time enjoying nature, the sound of rushing water, and the delightful squeals of children. To finish off our time in Reno/Sparks, we found a comfortable place to sip a beer, reflect on our trip, and people watch along the River Walk at The Sierra Tap House.

Sierra Tap House has a patio with tables and umbrellas on the Riverwalk

And so we cut short our Late Spring Adventure with dreams of our travels ahead once Jon resolves his back issue. Our fingers are crossed his appointment with the spine specialist will reveal a solution.

But before we go, just for fun, here are a few random shots of flowers that didn’t fit in with the previous posts on Cortez.

Mountain Daisy
Blue Flax
Munro’s Globemallow

Safe Travels

Cathedral Gorge State Park, Tonopah, Nevada, and Home Sweet Home

We continued our westward trajectory on September 16, 2018, the 55th day of our Summer 2018 Tour. Caliente, Nevada, seemed like a good distance to drive, except we didn’t get that far. Cathedral Gorge State Park popped up on the map so we decided to try it. With plenty of spots to choose from, we opted for paying $15.00 without electricity. We should have paid the extra $10.00.

Cathedral hills and water tower

After about an hour, strong gusts of hot wind blew and sand pelted the side of the trailer until shortly before sunset. As if the fifth wheel wasn’t dirty enough, a thick layer of sand settled on the floor, the dining table, countertop, and every available surface. All I could see was a full day of deep cleaning ahead of me.

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Cathedral Caves

Once the wind died down, we were able to stretch our legs and explore a little before the sun settled in for the night. Cathedral Gorge State Park, consisting of nearly 2,000 acres once occupied by the Fremont, Anasazi, and Southern Paiutes, became Nevada’s first state park in 1935.

A stone water tower and restroom building built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) are no longer in use but still standing. The original picnic facilities continue in use today.

Water tower built by CCC
Restroom building built by CCC

The formations, composed of silt, clay, and volcanic ash, aptly contain the reference to cathedrals, with their tall spires and skinny slot canyons and caves. It would be a great place to play hide and seek.

Peek a boo.
Inside one of the cathedral caves

We took the Miller Point Trail which traveled up a canyon and through a dusty wash until a set of stairs appeared. The several sets of stairs took us to the point where we had wonderful views and watched the sunset.

On our way to Miller Point

Although the campground filled up with other RVs and tent campers, it was quiet outside. As the sky turned dark, and the campers across the road finished up their dinner, someone treated us to a little guitar music. I couldn’t remember the last time I heard a guitar while camping. In my younger years, it seemed like everywhere we went there was always someone playing guitar. Are people not interested in picking up the instrument nowadays?

Not much further.
Almost there.
Whew! We made it.
View of canyon and trail from Miller Point
Another view from Miller Point
Goodnight sun.
On our way back.

When I woke up to close the windows in the middle of the night, I witnessed a spectacular show of twinkling stars along with the Milky Way streaking across the sky. That was something I hadn’t seen in a long time and it almost made up for the sand storm mess.

The next day, we drove through Caliente on our way toward Tonopah, Nevada. Young’s RV looked like it might be a decent place to stay. They even had tall shade trees and grass. The cute downtown area contained stores, restaurants, and shops. There was also a railway museum undergoing renovations that piqued our interest. Maybe we should have kept driving the day before. Oh, well chances are good that we’ll make it back there someday.

We drove the Extraterrestrial Highway 375. A couple of buildings and signs referred to aliens. And in Rachel, Nevada, where only about 50 people live, the Little A’Le’Inn Bar advertised food and lodging, but we weren’t in need of either so we drove on. For miles, there wasn’t much else to look at except the huge cattle ranches and open range. Pinon pines, junipers, and sage popped up going through Oak Summit, then we dropped into Tikaboo Valley, where Joshua Trees grow. We stopped at a BLM site that included information panels about the trees. This valley is unique in that both types of the trees are present, the tall tree-like western (Yucca brevifolia) species and the bushy eastern (Yucca jaegeriana) species. I found it interesting that each species of tree is pollinated by a different species of Yucca moth.

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Eastern Joshua Tree

Before we came into Tonopah, a group of hills looked like scoops of vanilla ice cream with crumbled Oreo cookies and caramel on top.

Yum! Vanilla ice cream topped with crushed Oreo cookies.

We were surprised to see a Tesla recharging center in Tonopah since we rarely see the cars in remote areas. It made sense once I thought about it though. The 7-hour 440-mile drive between Reno and Las Vegas on Interstate 95 puts Tonopah at about the halfway mark. The mileage range, depending on model and battery size, is 295 for the Model X to 335 for the Model S. The roadster, on the other hand, can make the trip with 180 miles to spare. (Mileage ranges obtained from Tesla’s website on February 8, 2019.)

Tonopah Information Center and Tesla charging station.

We settled into our site for the night at the Tonopah Station Hotel, Casino, Restaurant, and RV Resort. Boy, what a mouthful. I sure wouldn’t call it a resort, but for a quick stop, it fit the bill. RVs park behind the building on an asphalt parking lot with utility towers and trash barrels between each unit. The Tap Room at the Tonopah Brewing Company served up tasty BBQ and a nice selection of beer to satisfy any beer drinker’s taste.

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Tonopah Brewing Company Tap Room

The next day we traveled through Yosemite, staying the night at Yosemite Pines, a campground nestled in a valley on Old Highway 120. It offered covered wagons, cabins, retro trailers to rent, RV sites of all sizes, and tent sites. Outdoor play equipment, a pool, trail around the park with exercise stations, and an animal yard that included goats, burros, alpacas, and chickens. It would have been nice to stay awhile, but that didn’t work out so we drove the rest of the way home on September 19, 2018, our 58th day on the road.

For those readers who like statistics, here they are for our 2018 Summer Tour:

  • Days – 59
  • Total miles driven – 4,723
  • Miles pulling fifth wheel – 3,414
  • Diesel Fuel – 419.4 gallons
  • RV Parks/Campgrounds – 18
  • States – 4
  • National Monuments and Parks – 4
  • Museums and Historical sites – 12

It is February already and my recovery from surgery is going well and nearing completion. We are both itching to get back on the road. But before we do, Jon has a few fifth wheel projects in the works and we have other tasks to complete that will keep us at home until at least mid-April. I’m hoping we’ll be able to fit in a short trip here and there before April, so stay tuned.

Safe Travels

 

Escaping Smoky Skies in Nevada – Part 2

Continuing with our 2018 Summer Tour, we visit a historic railway, Ward Charcoal Ovens State Park, Cave Lake State Park, and a mining town, all within a short drive from Ely, Nevada.

 Nevada Northern Railway Museum, a National Historic Place and a National Historic Landmark District

Originally owned and built in 1905 by the Nevada Consolidated Copper Company, the railroad and yards served the copper mining region of White Pine County.

Nevada Northern Depot
View of railroad yard at Nevada Northern

The depot, built in 1907 in the Mission Revival and Renaissance Revival, provided service for both freight and passengers.

Nevada Northern Railway Museum

Kennicott Copper Company took over the mining operations in 1933 and gained control over the railway, yards, and depot. Kennecott discontinued passenger service in 1941 although they continued to occupy the offices until 1985 after donating the yard and railway to the local non-profit for preservation.

Not only did Kennecott leave behind train engines and cars, they also abandoned office equipment and all of the accounting records dating back to the inception of the Nevada Consolidated Copper Company. The state of Nevada then acquired the depot for the museum in 1990.

After riding the rails in Skagway, Alaska, and the Black Hills of South Dakota, we decided a guided tour of the machine shop might be more interesting to us.

Waiting for the train to cross
All Aboard

On the tour, we saw building after building of old train engines, train cars, and all the equipment needed to keep them in working order.

Engine 40 at Nevada Northern
A cat named Dirt is the mascot of the maintenance yard
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Dies for casting various wheels
A 200-ton steam-operated press
Maintenance building with a crane and a complete machine shop for restoration and repair still in use today
View from inside maintenance building looking out

We’ve seen recreated and renovated train depots before, but never have we come across one that contained mostly original furniture, office equipment, and documents that date back 100 years. It was a researcher’s treasure trove of payroll and other accounting records. Genealogists would be in heaven if they wanted to fill in the story of an ancestor that happened to have worked for the railway in the past.

The docent who gave us a tour of the offices
Supply room with office equipment and supplies
Note the ergonomic desk. I didn’t know they made them like that. I sure could have used one when I worked in an office and typed all day.
Mimeograph, check printer, and rubber stamps of all kinds

Cave Lake State Park

Cave Lake is a 32-acre reservoir open for fishing and boating for catching rainbow and German brown trout. The no reservation camping facilities looked nice with a fire pit and grill, a table, and space for parking. Showers and flush toilets, but we didn’t see any sites with hookups so campers need to come prepared.

Cave Lake and dock
View of canyon driving to Cave Lake

Ward Charcoal Ovens State Historic Park

The Ward Charcoal Ovens are accessed on a seven-mile gravel graded road about 10 miles outside of Ely. When I see gravel roads on the map I cringe, but there is no need for shying away from Nevada graded roads. They are sometimes in better condition than our California concrete or asphalt roads.

Charcoal Ovens

So what was the purpose of these beehive structures? The 27-foot diameter and 30-foot high ovens, constructed during the mid-1870’s, were stacked with up to 35 cords of wood which was burned for 12 days to produce 50 bushels of charcoal per cord. The smelters required 30 to 50 bushels of charcoal to separate silver and lead from one ton of ore.

View from inside a charcoal oven

In three short years, the silver boom went bust, the trees were stripped from the mountains, and the need for charcoal ended. Prospectors, stockmen, and maybe even a few stagecoach bandits, used the ovens for shelter until it became a State Historic Park.

We took a short trail to the remnants of kilns, and along a stream that gave us great views of the valley.

Remnants of a kiln
View from Charcoal Oven trail
Equipment found along the Charcoal Oven trail

Today the ovens stand as a reminder of Nevada’s history and allow us to peek into the past.

Ruth Mining

Someone recommended that we drive out to the town of Ruth where mining operations are still underway. I’m not sure what I expected to see in Ruth, but the last thing I thought I’d see is a town looking to be swallowed up by the stair steps of a mine.

A neighborhood in Ruth, Nevada

Ruth was founded in 1903 as a company town for the Robinson open-pit copper mine, which as of 2018 was still in operation. In 1955, the houses were offered for sale to the occupants who had been renting. In 1978 Kennecott closed the mines in Ruth and the town went into decline. The mine reopened in 1996 only to close in 1999 and reopened again in 2004.

While some of the homes showed signs of pride of ownership, other buildings looked like they were sitting there waiting for the bulldozer to show up.

This old church has seen better days

Where did that deer come from?

We didn’t expect to see deer near here

Current mining operations not far from the town continue in 2018.

And the mining continues as of 2018

As much as we enjoyed our visit to Ely, Nevada, it was time to pack up and continue our forward motion toward Colorado. Next up, we move out of Nevada and into Utah where we make our first stop in Fillmore.

Safe Travels

Escaping Smoky Skies in Nevada – Part 1

While in Mammoth Lakes, smoke continued its invasion into the Eastern Sierras making the sky look as bad as when we drove through Yosemite a week earlier. On July 28, 2018, we headed north on Highway 395 toward Carson City, Nevada. A four-night stay at the Silver City RV Resort in Minden would afford us time to clean out the trailer, wash our clothes, restock the pantry and fridge, and plan our route to Colorado.

We gulped the clean air free from wildfire smoke when we got to Bridgeport, only to be disappointed to roll into Minden, Nevada, where a layer of smoke hung over the valley. Each day the foul air from California consolidated with that from a fire north of Reno.

We scrapped our sightseeing plans around Carson City, turned on the AC, and stuck close to the trailer to avoid breathing in the particulates. The highlight of our time in Carson City was seeing Bobby Freeman’s 1959 Rockin’ Piano in the RV Park.

Rockin Piano

The owner turned it on and played a couple tunes for the other RVers in the park. He was on his way to Hot August nights in Reno/Sparks, which is held each year during the early part of August.

By August 1, the smoke was at its worse as we drove east on Highway 50 toward Ely, Nevada. The smoke finally started to clear a few miles past Fallon allowing us to make out puffy white clouds in the sky. We stopped in at the Toiyabe Café in Austin, Nevada, for lunch where we found space to park and enjoyed a good old-fashioned hamburger and salad.

The weather was cooler in Ely than it was in Minden and much less smoky. Lightening streaked across the sky with very little thunder and no rain. The KOA was a perfect place to stop and explore the area. I loved waking up to the sound of doves cooing and we had a clear view of the goat pen where we could watch the animals play king of the hill while we ate our breakfast.

With air that we could breathe, it was time for some Ely, Nevada, sightseeing.

City of Ely and Renaissance Village

With murals decorating sides of buildings and statues planted out front, visitors get a sense that the City of Ely celebrates the arts. The city also celebrates its heritage with restored historical buildings. The art focus is thanks to the Ely Renaissance Society, which was founded in 1999. They commissioned the murals to depict the history of the city.

Mining Mural
Train coming to town
Communication past and present
Tsaam Pll Wai Hyunna Yewekante (“Living Well Because of Mother”) by Joe Pachak
White Pine County Courthouse
Garnet Mercantile Restored in its 1920 Art Deco style

The group also purchased a piece of property made up of 12 shotgun houses and a barn that we were told once housed brothels. Each of the houses is decorated with a different nationality.

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Village General Store

Living history presentations and re-enactments are held in the village. Although the village was closed on the day we visited, a woman watering the beautiful gardens opened a few of the houses so we could peek inside.

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Shotgun house bathroom
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Shotgun house kitchen
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Shotgun house living room

Not all of the buildings in town have undergone renovations and gambling and bordellos continue to draw people to the city. This is Nevada, after all.

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A little TLC, please
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Local Saloon & Brothel
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Hotel Nevada Gambling Hall

It may not look like Ely, Nevada, has much to offer while driving by. Digging a little deeper, though, we came to embrace the small town charm that brings tourists in to stay awhile and visit. There are no fancy highrises or gourmet restaurants, just good old-fashioned western establishments that bring to mind American history and a slower pace of living.

Next up we continue exploring the area around Ely, Nevada, visiting the Nevada Northern Railway Museum, Cave Lake State Park, the Ward Charcoal Ovens State Historic Park, and Ruth Mining.
Safe Travels