The Backyard Traveler: Southern Nevada's gold is in Eldorado Canyon

Not all of the gold and silver found in Southern Nevada has come from its casinos. In fact, southern Nevada has a rich mining history in a handful of places-now mostly forgotten - including Goodsprings, Searchlight and Eldorado Canyon.

The latter, located about 40 miles southeast of Las Vegas via U.S. Highway 95 and State Route 165, was among the first mining camps in Southern Nevada.

On modern maps, the Eldorado Canyon area is usually listed under Nelson, which was the name of an early 20th century mining camp established in the canyon.

Gold and silver were found in Eldorado Canyon is the early 1860s (about the same time that Virginia City was developing in the northern part of the state), making it one of the oldest mining claims in the state.

There are also several stories about Native Americans, Mormons and even the Spanish having mined in the area in the late 18th or early 19th centuries.

According to one legend, in the late 1870s a group of Spaniards and Mexicans arrived in the canyon. They had with them a well-worn, yellowed map, which they said they found in an old Mexican church. The map pinpointed the exact location of one of the most productive mines in the canyon and seemed to indicate earlier visits to the area by the Spanish.

Following the gold and silver discoveries of the 1860s, a handful of town sites were staked in the canyon and supplies began arriving via steamboats plying the nearby Colorado River. By the mid-1860s, records indicate there were more than 500 people living in the canyon, working the three main mines (the Techatticup, the Wall Street and the Savage).

A town called Eldorado developed near the mouth of the canyon, which literally spills into the Colorado River. Additionally, a small stamp mill was built to process the ore.

Because of its relative remoteness - the local sheriff had to come from Pioche in Lincoln County, more than 300 miles away - the area gained a deserved reputation for lawlessness.

Eldorado began a gradual decline in the 1870s and was eventually abandoned. Today, the site of the original town is underneath the waters of the Colorado River, which rose following construction of Hoover Dam.

The newer town of Nelson was created in 1905 following another mining boom. It was established about seven miles west of the earlier town of Eldorado and included a post office and saloon.

Newer mining operations were built and opened, including a giant smelter and several large cyanide mills. These were only marginally successful, but Nelson refused to die, experiencing later boomlets, including one in the mid-1930s, when the road through the canyon was paved. Even today, there are a handful of small operators still mining the area (although there are no services in the community).

Turning off of Highway 95, the drive into the Eldorado Canyon takes you through some rugged, wide open country filled with yuccas, mesquite bushes, sagebrush and beautiful, flowering barrel cactus.

The small town of Nelson consists of a handful of older homes, newer mobile homes, a couple of dozen people and a few abandoned structures. Above the town, at the southwest end, is a small cemetery with marble headstones as well as a few nearly indecipherable wooden markers.

The most unusual building in the town is a small metal shack, privately owned, that is lined with old bottles on shelves and features on its walls several old road signs from the area, which indicate mileage to places like Nipton and Searchlight.

The hillsides around the town are covered with scattered piles of tailings and farther east you can find the stone foundations and shacks of an old mine. Another mine, which still has a small, rusted building covering its entrance, can be seen across the canyon.

About a half mile east of the main part of Nelson, you can find the remains of a huge cyanide mill operation. Impressive empty wooden tanks, large concrete foundations, the remains of a small ore cart system and a headframe on the hill above are reminders of the area's mining history.

Across the road are the ruins of several other buildings, including residences, which once must have been businesses and homes for those working at the mine.

From here, the drive continues for another few miles to Nelson's Landing, where the road ends at the Colorado River.

For more information about the Eldorado Canyon area contact the Clark County Heritage Museum, 1830 South Boulder Highway in Henderson, (702) 455-7955.

Richard Moreno is the author of "The Backyard Traveler," "The Backyard Traveler Returns," and "The Roadside History of Nevada" which are available at local bookstores.


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