With two weeks remaining before the end of the first Silver State Scavenger Hunt, our trip to loop around Northern Nevada began from the sidewalk in front of the Governor’s Mansion in Carson City.
The itinerary would first take my navigator, Charlotte LaCombe, a retired state auditor and Nevada history buff, across central Nevada on U.S. Highway 50 with required stops in Austin and Eureka.
Governor’s Mansion — The home of Nevada’s governor is a magnificent structure built in 1908-09. Acting Gov. Denver Dickerson and his family occupied the building first in 1909.
Located at 606 N. Mountain St., the mansion was designed by Reno architect George A. Ferris. The second floor contains the private living quarters of current Gov. Brian Sandoval and his family, while the first floor has a reception hall, a formal dining room, the kitchen and the governor’s study room.
On our way to Austin, our second stop, several interesting sites along U.S. Highway 50 were worth mentioning:
Silver Springs: A herd of wild horses stopped highway traffic as they crossed Highway 50;
Lahontan Reservoir: Four years of drought reduced the reservoir to a big mud puddle;
Fallon: The old Churchill County Courthouse glistened in the morning sun.
Middlegate and Cold Springs: About one mile east of Middlegate is the new shoe tree where visitors toss their sneakers and other shoes onto limbs. The Pony Express stopped at Cold Springs.
Stokes Castle — Looking for Stokes Castle is difficult because no signs mark the road to the most interesting landmark in the area. Coming from the west, we turned south on a dirt road next to the Chevron service station and took it to Stokes Castle.
An East Coast mine developer from New York, Anson Phelps Stokes, built the three-story castle as a retreat for his family to spend the summers in Nevada. The family, though, used the castle — or what many call “The Tower” — for two months in June and July of 1897. The legend of the castle also reveals Stokes built his castle to lure his wife to come to Nevada. It didn’t work.
Austin: We spent some time in Austin, an old mining town from the late 1800s. Austin has kept much of its original charm, and the old Lander County Courthouse is still in use today to serve southern Lander County.
Eureka County Courthouse — Because of a fire that ravaged Eureka in the late 1870s and destroyed many wooden structures, town fathers decided the next courthouse must be built from brick. Workers finished building the courthouse in 1880, and according to some reports, the final cost was between $38,000-$50,000.
The brick building stands 51-feet high, and has one of the most preserved courtrooms in the state. Most county offices are located at this building.
Eureka is another mining town found along U.S. Highway 50. In the 1860s, the discovery of silver drove miners and opportunists to Eureka and at one time, the population rose to 10,000 people. Now, the population is one-tenth of that.
Many of the town’s old buildings remain including the opera house, a few stores and the courthouse.
Ruth: From Eureka to Ely, we stopped at Ruth, a company town erected west of Ely for the Robinson Mine, an open-pit copper mine. The mine is operational.
Ely: After stopping in Ely for dinner and watching the Northern Nevada Railway chug into town, we drove to Cave Lake State Park to camp under the stars.
Today’s mileage: 313 miles
Ward Mining District — Both the Ward Charcoal Ovens and Ward, another old mining town, are located 16 miles south of Ely.
Ward was once the largest town in the county with a population of about 1,000 people. Buildings sprung up in the late 1870s, but those buildings stand no more, many of them destroyed by fire. Nearby are the Ward Charcoal Ovens. Six beehive-looking ovens burned local pinion or juniper trees as charcoal for the smelters.
After backtracking through Ely and gassing up the Jeep, we headed north on U.S. 93, going through McGill, another town important to the copper-mining industry until its smelter was torn down years ago.
Schellbourne — Located 39 miles north of Ely, Schellbourne served as a Pony Express Station, and like Ely, as a stop for the Overland Stage line.
The area began to grow because of mining in the 1870s, and at one time, Schellbourne was a thriving little town. When miners found another rich strike at Cherry Creek, the importance of Schellbourne dwindled.
One of the ranches has a preserved ghost town within its property. On U.S. Highway 93, a vacant gas station and motel still stand.
Wendover — When Highway 93 forks at Lages Junction, the alternate route takes travelers toward Wendover, a vibrant Nevada/Utah border city known for games of chance.
Gambling began in the area in the 1930 and over the years has expanded to make Wendover a must-see stop … if gambling’s your thing. The tall Wendover Will neon cowboy at the west end of town welcomes visitors.
For military history aficionados, though, the most interesting site at Wendover is not in Nevada but Utah at the airfield where airmen and their crews trained during World War II. The two B29s and their crews that dropped atomic bombs on Japan 70 years ago trained at here.
Pilot Peak: Heading west to Wells on Interstate 80, we passed Pilot Peak, a noticeable mountain that was used as a landmark for various parties crossing the desert.
Wells: Wells and Elko emerged as railroad towns. Wells’ old downtown, especially the older buildings facing the railroad tracks, were damaged in a February 2008 earthquake. Most of those buildings have been razed.
Elko: Hub of commercial activity for northeastern Nevada and a mining boomtown, Elko is the county seat. Since the mid-1980s, Elko’s population has more than doubled. The city of 20,000 also lies along the California Trail.
Lamoille Valley — This stop for the scavenger hunt took us to the foothills of the Ruby Mountains, a 20-minute drive south of Elko. Travelers who don’t take the time to see Lamoille are missing some of most spectacular scenery in Nevada. Several restaurants line the main road in Lamoille, and at the eastern end of the town sits a pastoral white church with its original stained class windows.
Once we took photos of Lamoille and the Lamoille Canyon, we returned to Elko to spend the night.
Today’s mileage: 303 miles
The third and final day began with a stop at the California Trail Interpretative Center 8 miles west of Elko. The center tells the story of those pioneers who headed West via wagon trains to California.
Valmy — A little European flavor surrounds this stop on Interstate 80 about 14 miles west of Battle Mountain. Named after a battle in France, Valmy was the center of mining and railroad activity. All that stands are a café, gas station, a motel, several old buildings and a church.
Unionville — Like Lamoille, Unionville is an out-of-the-way ranching area that first began as a mining community in the 1860s and 70s. For a time Mark Twain lived there to prospect, but he left without finding his fortune.
To get to Unionville, we took a two-lane state highway from the Mill City exit and headed south to a valley dotted with ranches. Three miles from State Route 400 is Unionville, but only a few buildings remain including a few houses and barns and several bed and breakfast inns.
Washoe County Courthouse / Reno — After a long day of crossing the Nevada desert and encountering a thunderstorm near Fernley, we finally arrived at the courthouse that was completed at a cost of a quarter of a million dollars in 1911. Frederick DeLongchamps, who designed buildings in almost every Northern Nevada community including Fallon, won a contest to design the courthouse with a neoclassical facade.
The courthouse was a symbol of Reno’s reputation as the “Divorce Capital of the World” because of its proximity to the Truckee River where — word has it — newly divorced women would throw their old wedding rings off the Virginia Street Bridge into the rushing waters below We saw 10 out of the 14 sites in three days. The final leg of the trip took us south to Carson City where the travel hunt ended at the Nevada Appeal building, 1,002 miles of exploring Northern Nevada in three days.
Today’s mileage: 386 miles