Always on the lookout for a tour of some kind, Jon and I lucked out getting reservations for one at a working gold mine. We met the bus and tour guide, Derek Sikes, at the Northeastern Nevada Museum in Elko. Derek showed a short video of how the Newmont Mining Corporation produces 60-pound gold bars from tons of earth that contain microscopic traces of gold. We boarded a bus that took us to the Gold Quarry Mine thirty miles west of Elko and north of Carlin. Once the bus entered the gate, traffic switched to the UK pattern of driving on the left side of the street. This is so the drivers of the earthmovers can see objects in their way. I found it disconcerting to see these giants lumber toward our dwarfed bus in between tall berms that mark the streets’ route.
The bus pulled up next to one of the gigantic earthmovers, and we all got out marveling at the big yellow beast with tires almost twice Jon’s height of 6’ 2”. A petite young woman climbed into the driver’s seat, started the motor, and caused the behemoth to shimmy like an elephant wearing a tutu. Then she raised the bucket to simulate how the ore is dumped.
Our next stop was the pit where the company started its mining activity in 1979. Since then this site has produced 20 million ounces of gold and estimates show an additional 7 million remains. The pit is 1.5 miles across and 1900 feet deep. Production plans call for them to dig down another 300 feet.
On the left side of the pit, are terraced walls while on the right side the wall slopes evenly. This is due to a slide that occurred. Engineers monitor sensors that detect such an occurrence. Fortunately, the company was able to stop activity at the mine so no one was injured during the slide.
Newmont is also working an underground mine at this location. Buildings, a tractor, and an entrance to a tunnel are shown here. From the rim of the pit, the tunnel entrance appeared small but after watching one of the earthmovers disappear through the dark hole in the side of the mountain we got a sense of its size.
The technology of mining for gold sure has changed since the Gold Rush era when men waded up to their knees in a river and sifted sand and pebbles with tin pans to find little nuggets.
The next day we took NV-225 north from I-80 on the way to Tuscarora Ghost Town. Left at NV-226 took us through canyons, rolling hills, and sagebrush where ranches sprinkled the landscape. The turn off at County Hwy-723 made us a little leery about driving on the gravel road, but we found that it was in better condition than many of our California paved roads. Although considered a ghost town, people still live and even work in Tuscarora.
The Tuscarora Cemetery greets visitors on the right and as the road curves into town, the post office sits on the left. Next to the post office is the museum, which is only open on Sunday. Evidence of old mineshafts is marked with mounds of dirt used to cover the gaping holes. Many of the lots contain ruins of homes, rusted out cars and trucks. Even tin cans and bed springs litter the grounds of what once was a large house or hotel with facing fireplaces. Although some of the buildings look like rundown shacks with their weathered wood siding, tin fences, and overgrown grass, a few residents inhabit other homes, and modern cars seem out of place in this once thriving community.
Whenever I cross paths with a cemetery, a desire takes hold to stop and wander among the mausoleums and tombstones with etched names and dates on granite or simple crosses, and around the protective wood and iron fences. I wonder about the lives of the people laid to rest. Take the simple markers for Kate and T.C. Plunkett. Who was this couple, when did they come to Tuscarora, was James their son, and what was the secret to their long lives?
The town boasts The Tuscarora Summer Pottery School where a person can spend two weeks learning about and creating pottery. Our friendly tour guide, one of the students, said she had made some 60 pieces so far. Simple but comfortable accommodations are provided in the once-upon-a-time hotel, along with three meals per day.
Not interested in making pottery? Nancy Harris McLelland, a retired writing teacher from Mendocino, offers one-on-one writing retreats. Her accommodations include a vintage Airstream trailer or a cozy sheep wagon. Click on Nancy’s name above for more information.
We had been in Elko for six days, and every night we counted the RVers that pulled into their site and set up for the night. Each morning, the couples and families coiled up their electrical, water, and sewer hoses and stored their camp chairs and stoves before driving up the steep hill to the main road. I wanted to shout, no, don’t leave, stay awhile and explore. I was somewhat glad we ended up stuck in Elko. We would have missed a lot had we just passed through.
On Saturday, we took in a little local culture at the Nifty Fifty Family Fun Day held at the senior center. The advertisement announced a carnival, ’50s music, a soda shop menu, and a car show. We didn’t expect the show to be as big as the events produced by the GoodGuys four times a year at the Alameda County Fairgrounds, but we expected more than nine cars.
We decided to skip the outdoor 1950s movie night at the museum and headed out to Carlin Canyon. The National Historical Trail and wayside interpretive kiosks provided us another opportunity to visualize ourselves camping along the Humboldt River on our way from Missouri to California.
A short stop at the Chinese Garden Nature Study Area and its algae infested pond completed our trip for the day.
On Monday, July 18, we arrived early for our appointment at the dealership and dropped off the truck with the anticipation we would be back on the road by Tuesday or Wednesday. No such luck. It would be another week before the parts would arrive. We enlisted help from General Motors customer service whose function is not to provide service, only to listen to complaints and pass them back to the dealership. At first, I was okay without having a vehicle to tool around in for a day or two. It gave us time to relax after our long drives to see the sights and catch up with the clothes washing. By the fourth day, however, I had developed camper fever from having our travel radius restricted to only a couple of miles. Finally, a loaner came in. My attitude improved markedly when I snuggled into the soft leather seats of the GMC loaner pickup. Yeah! We were free to roam again.
Now that we had wheels again, visiting a few more sights was in order. First up was a drive to Ruby Lake on the other side of Harrison Pass on County Road-718. We didn’t actually see the lake, though. A miscalculation of the fuel range in the loaner truck required us to turn around so we would make it back to town before running out of gas. The drive wasn’t as beautiful as Lamoille Canyon. It’s more of an off-roaders dream with different routes to explore the Ruby Mountains.
Our next drive was to Rio Tinto, another ghost town, and an abandoned National Forest Service complex on NV-225.
The highlight of the ride was Wild Horse State Recreation Area and reservoir. The campground (not shown) looked like a great place to spend a couple of nights.
Two weeks had been a week too long to stay put in one place. Now when I saw the RVers loading up and driving away, I wanted to shout, wait, take me along. We wished, hoped, prayed, and crossed our fingers and toes that we would be back on the road Tuesday morning.