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Wandering the West
Road Trip to Old Nevada
Mark Sedenquist

Historic Pioche

Pioche tram line
Old ore cars on the mine tram line in Pioche

Great Basin National Park
Great Basin National Park

Time machines are works of fiction, but a car, a tank of gas, and Highway 93 are all it takes to travel back to the Nevada of yesteryear. A trip north from Las Vegas to Ely and Great Basin National Park is not only a 600-mile road trip through ancient geological wonders, but also a journey into the Silver State's wild and wooly historic past. Las Vegas shrinks rapidly in a rear view mirror out past Nellis Air Force Base, which means it's wise to stock a cooler before setting out. Dining choices are as limited on the Great Basin Highway as lovely spots to picnic are plentiful. Among the most enchanting are the three small lakes that form the Pahranagat riparian refuge. Ringed with cottonwoods, populated with water birds, and amply furnished with shaded picnic tables, the upper lake offers a delightful spot for lunch just off the highway.

Just east of Crystal Springs, the highway bends to the east and climbs over Oak Springs Summit to the picturesque railroad town of Caliente, aptly named for the natural hot springs in the area. From Caliente, the road passes through Meadow Valley Wash, past Rattlesnake Point, and on to Pioche, a mining town with a serious reputation for wildness back in the 1860s. A short detour on State Route 321 (which parallels Highway 93) offers a quick look at the historic town center, where the "Million Dollar Courthouse" still stands. Originally built in 1871 for $88,000, it ended up costing a million dollars worth of state bonds. A reminder of the $40 million in silver ore mined in the area, old ore cars still dangle from a tram line that carried the ore down the mountain to the processing mill on the valley floor.

Nevada is the land of basin and range, and the next few miles bear ample evidence as the highway cuts through Lake Valley between sawtooth mountains on both sides. A pair of cottonwood trees at Pony Springs offers a nice roadside rest before the route heads up to Lake Valley Summit and, a few miles beyond, the junction with Highway 50, "The Loneliest Highway in America." Highway 50 rises over Sacramento Pass to the east, where signs point south on State Route 487 to the town of Baker and Great Basin National Park.

Next: Great Basin National Park, Lehman Caves, the Ward Charcoal Ovens, and Historic Ely>

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Mark Sedenquist
September 3, 2006


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