The best way to get to Kingston is by way of US 50 to Austin, then west down into the Reese River Valley a couple of miles and then south on the road marked for Big Creek. At Big Creek you turn east and climb into the Toiyabes.
But don’t do it in the family sedan. There are some tough stretches in the heights, and the switchbacks are a special challenge; for these you want a four-wheel drive or an atv.
The easy way to get there is by driving Old Lonely to Big Smoky on the east side of the Toiyabes, where US 50 is the top bar of a tee with Nevada Highway 376 as its stem leading south. Kingston is about 16 miles from the turnoff, beyond the little cluster of homes in the sagebrush at Gillman Springs.
Access to Kingston is by two inconspicuously marked access roads from Highway 376, Tahoe Road and Kingston Canyon Road, both of which will take you to the third largest community in Lander County (after Battle Mountain and Austin) at the mouth of Kingston Canyon.
Silver discoveries higher up Kingston Canyon in 1862 brought a community called Bunker Hill briefly to life, and mining persisted in a small way into the 1880s when a serious revival took place. The ruins of the Victorine mill at the top of town date to this revival. There have been flurries of interest, but no mining activity currently in the canyon.
Instead there is camping, hiking, fishing and lollygagging under a shade tree going on here now. The road up the canyon is good until it isn’t, but you don’t need to go that far to enjoy yourself.
Groves Lake is a favored spot, for obvious reasons, and is seldom crowded.
Kingston is home to about a hundred people in the mostly modest homes scattered around in the sagebrush. The splendid Miles End B&B, is at the center of town. Across from it is a minimally stocked General Store and the Silver Spur Saloon, hours 2 – 9 pm, is just down the road. The one-room Kingston 376 Motel & RV-Park-in-progress occupies Jim Kielhack’s former Sales Office. There’s a volunteer Fire Department, a clinic and a Town Board.
Kingston is as quiet as a ghost town. There are dozens of occupied homes and a small handful of businesses, but nothing moves except an occasional car, seldom more than one at a time anywhere in town, and then it is quiet again..
And there is a ghost, although he doesn’t haunt the place. At the beautiful little pond near the center of things, a cluster of ducks gliding about making eye music, there is a bench with a name on it: Carl Haas. Sit down, enjoy the quiet, the greenery, the water, the reeds, the ducks. Carl isn’t like the Lady in Red at the Mizpah (where he was an enthusiastic visitor) — he didn’t leave any ectoplasm behind and won’t appear suddenly on the bench beside you — but his presence is everywhere you look.
Carl owned the RO Ranch 20 miles farther south, and had “created, from what was generally accepted to be a wasteland in Central Nevada, a cattle empire that would ultimately encompass an area larger than some eastern states” as he wrote in his autobiography “Around the World in Eighty Years”. It’s available at the Miles End B&B for $20, all proceeds to the town —
When a California developer gave up his option on the abandoned Schmidtlein Ranch at the mouth of Kingston Canyon, Carl stepped up and bought it.
For the Schmidtlein property Carl had a grand vision. “It should be master-planned to resemble a European Village,” he wrote. “Home sites designed to fit the terrain with deed restrictions, a village site, open spaces. . . .”
His next paragraph begins “The cost would be enormous”.
Converting an abandoned 19th century ranch without electricity into a modern living village in the later 20th century turned out to require constant expenditures: two motels, a restaurant , a water system, intensive research into deeds and water rights, costly title searches, endless efforts to persuade the power company to bring electricity, expensive lawyers and expensive heavy equipment. Plus moving the Miner’s Union Hall up from Tonopah; that’s the General Store. Oh, and the twin-engine Cessna for flying in the pigeons who didn’t have planes of their own.
I visited Kingston during that hectic period, in company with Don Bowers of Nevada Magazine and had the unforgettable experience of hearing Carl Haas recite Edgar Allen Poe’s “Cask of Amontillado”, from memory, start to finish. I am still in awe of that performance. I’ll bet he did it for the pigeons too.
The village-building project came to involve Jim Keilhack who had a real estate license and an enormous fund of optimism, and Don Cirac, Carl’s old pal from Tonopah High who became Kingston’s ambassador to Las Vegas.
And Don’s son Paul —
Kingston! 14 years old, living at the RO Ranch 20 miles south.
Get up at 6, feed the horses, milk the fucking cow.
Cook breakfast, pack a lunch (lotsa canned corned beef) THEN go to Kingston to work. Clearing brush, greasin’ equipment, moving 4” sprinklers (effin mosquitos!!!) All the stuff slaves do, and the lifestyle too: slave wages, $5 a day, room & board — cook your own grub from Vigus’s store in Austin (a branch of the fabled Kent’s Market in Fallon).
A workman’s lunch of baloney sandwiches, and cold Campbell’s soup out of the can — Chicken Gumbo was a fave — and hard-boiled eggs, and eating cherries and pears from the trees in the village orchard . . . I learned how to drink brandy in that orchard, taught by an old itinerant jack-mormon brick layer (he did the Washoe County Library, too) and then catching a trout or two by hand to take home for dinner, and putting them on a willow gill stick to stay cold in the crick til work was over.
Friday nights, swimming at Darrough’s, diving for pocket change. An old guy named Cleo Bordine would toss it into the pool so we could then go to Carver’s and maybe get a cheeseburger and shoot a game of 8-ball. Then home on the ass end of Chris Loomis’ Hodaka 100, me holding a flashlight ‘cause the headlamp didn’t work. Ha! Never hit a cow. Petted a few, but never hit one square-on.
Best summer of my life.
Del and Carl were married in the late ’60s. Del’s father Bud Loomis owned the Bundox Restaurant in Reno across the river from what was Norman Biltz’s Holiday Hotel back then. They were both pilots, so the village had an airstrip off to the side, not just for their own convenience, but for the pigeons — prospective customers — flying in to look at property.
They pulled down the old ranch house to make a place for Carl’s big stone house. He called it Valhalla, “a rock house with walls of stone 3½ feet thick, which would withstand the elements for 1,000 years” and it is now the Miles End B&B at the center of town (note the round window).
The great stone structure is the unexpectedly modern Miles End Bed & Breakfast (and dinner can be arranged too), created and operated by John and Ann Miles over the last 10 years, and now by Chad and Candace Kelly (at left). With its ancient apple orchard in the lawned back yard and the outdoor kitchen and bar, the wood-fired hot tub, the unbroken quiet, the mountains rising up against the star-spangled sky at night, this place is a secret you’ll never keep to yourself.
Carl-freakin’-Haas built it, and Del’s brother Chris and I hauled endless truckloads of rock from a quarry at the south side of the crick at the mouth of Kingston, just up the hill from what used to be the “Lodge”.
The guy who actually built the rock house was named Jim Sloane (left, in the photo). A good guy, and the first “hippie” to invade Smoky Valley. He was fond of kicking off a meal with:
“Here’s to you and here’s to me.
And may we never disagree.
But, if, my friend, we ever do,
Well then my friend, to Hell with you.”
He was a man of conviction and a pretty fair painter — his watercolor of Cloverdale hangs in my living room. His wife Greta was a concert violinist, and I got to hear her play Bach for us in the meadow at Cloverdale as we put up the hay with Edsel Ford’s ne’er-do-well kid Tom, who was hiding out in central Nevada dodging divorce papers. We just about killed that poor sap by handing him a pair of T-handled hay-hooks. Haha!
The best story about the rock house is that Carl decided, in his strange, forward-looking way, to set an old steel tank in one of the walls in order to provide “natural” wood-heated hot water for the manse — an automatic wall cracker, due to heat expansion. I believe it’s now a circular window adjacent to the kitchen, on the north wall.
When a pigeon was flying in, he’d buzz us and waggle his wings to let us know he wanted to land, and then it was up to the nearest kid to grab one of the chariots — the 1914 REO touring car or the ‘32 12-banger Lincoln limo — and haul ass down to the airstrip to open the barbed wire gate that kept the cows in.
In three years Carl was broke. Not just because of the development costs, which were humungous, but also because of the “100-year flood” that destroyed one of the motels and many of the homes, and the rise in gasoline prices, and the collapse of the water system, and, and, and. He sold everything he’d accumulated, a lot of it at discounted prices because he needed the cash in a hurry, and spent the money on his dream until it was all gone.
“Kingston Village was a financial failure,” he wrote, “so i felt i might as well walk away and let Kielhack, Cirac and the other brokers have it.” He paid what debts he could with land and moved from his Valhalla back to the Wine Glass Ranch. Don Cirac moved to Las Vegas with Paul and little Lisa, and launched a barrage of publicity about Kingston, and when a curious pigeon drove up, there was Jim Kielhack to meet him.
All of that is ancient history now. It has mostly faded from memory except for those who were there to experience it first-hand. But if you have a taste for digressions, make this one the next time you’re driving US 50. You’ll see the remnants of a dream, an inviting Bed & Breakfast, make a beautiful canyon drive, explore the roadside ruins of the Victorine mill, sit for a quiet moment with Carl at the pond. Time well spent.
Robin and I attended a unique Chattauqua at Lake Tahoe a few days ago in which a talented group of presenters created a vivid history lesson in the South Shore Room of Harrah’s. It’s called “Solid Gold Soul” and led by Bobby Brooks Wilson, the presenters acted, sang and danced the story of how American music evolved from Motown to Disco. It’s an ambitious pageant to produce, and it’s terrific!
I was barely aware of these cultural currents as they swept past from 1959 into the 1970s. I lived in the canyon in Gold Hill with an old (tubes) Philco console radio that only got one station, and only at night: WGN Chicago. I don’t recall any music at all.
My musical awareness ended with the Beatles but when Bobby threw himself down on the stage and burst into song, I got interested.
Bobby’s father was Jackie Wilson, one of the early stars in this universe of song, and Bobby’s lineage was obvious when he sang the first million dollar hit “Just Say You Will”. And he told how Alonzo Tucker wrote music with his dad, and when Jackie was rehearsing “Baby Work Out” Alonzo would yell at him, “Shout Jackie, Shout!”
And Barry Gordy heard, which is when Motown was born. Maybe it wasn’t quite that simple but soon enough Bobby was singing Otis Redding’s “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay” and telling how Otis had been a roadie, and at a recording studio one day he was tinkling around on a piano while the band was setting up. Someone failed to show up at the session and Otis was recruited to take his place. Kismet.
Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, Little Anthony and the Imperials, they moved down into the audience shaking hands, high-fiving, bumping knuckles, giving little hugs, blowing kisses and otherwise connecting. Sam Cooke, Diana Ross and the Supremes, Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Little Richard, Donna Summer, and Marvin Gaye.
Bobby introduced one big name after another to sing one big hit after another. “Good Golly Miss Molly!”, “In the Name of Love”, “I Just Called to Say I Love You”, “the Book of Love”, “Natural Woman”.
The audience by this time had risen so often in standing ovations that many of then stayed on their feet, boogieing in place as the band wailed on. It’s a rich show, smartly produced and beautifully performed. The musicians, the costumes, the dancers, the singers — there is so much to it, all top of the line, and Bobby did his daddy proud.
Solid Gold Soul runs five nights a week through September 3, with Tuesday and Wednesday dark. It will also be off for two days during Celebrity Golf, Friday and Saturday, July 13 and 14. On Friday and Saturday nights they turn the room following Solid Gold Soul and open at 10:30 as PEEK Nightclub.
Cutting, Pasting, and Rearranging Reality in Las Vegas
Five Years Ago in the NevadaGram
I can tell you where to get coffee in Battle Mountain at 4:30am: Bakker’s Brew, within a stone’s throw of the central freeway exit on Battle Mountain’s busy south side. . . . And the Cookhouse Museum, 905 Burns Street, will hold its annual sit-down barbecue dinner on September 14. The Museum, once the cookhouse at the 25 Ranch northwest of town, is open Tuesday-Saturday 10 am – 4 pm, an impressive building now put to effective use as exhibit and activity space . . . Jack Jacobs writes from the Jacobs Family Berry Farm in Carson Valley:
“We picked 59 pints of Triple Crown blackberries today — they are delicious! Also, we received our first 48 jars (16 oz) of honey this week and are selling it for $8. This honey is from bees working at our berry farm. Let us know if you want honey in larger sizes as our bee keeper is holding 250 pounds and there is a price break for larger containers.” . . . At their last meeting the Storey County Commissioners approved a liquor license for the Virginia City Tourism Commission. If you think that’s strange, the Storey County School District has one too. Meet you in the Principal’s office for Happy Hour . . .
Overheard at Cafe Del Rio in Virginia City: I know there are decent honest caring people in the world, and when I was somewhere in my 40s I decided I would try to be one. I wish I’d thought of it sooner.
Ten Years Ago in the NevadaGram
Since he went to Baghdad at the head of the Surge, my son John and I have been planning a celebratory cruise through the sagebrush sea on his return home.
Last month we spent four days out in the quieter parts of the state, and I recommend the experience (and the route) to anyone who wants to explore the wilder regions of Nevada.
We set out from Virginia City, just a mile from home (no, we don’t live on the Ponderosa Ranch) and the perfect jumping off point for a Nevada journey.
We took the steep, twisting Six Mile Canyon Road to US 50. This was once a major highway, and it was up this road that a galloping rider brought the news of Lincoln’s assassination to Virginia City in 1865. It was paved a few years ago and now serves as a commute route from the bedroom communities of the Dayton Valley to Reno and Sparks.
We continued across US 50 and followed the Carson River to Fort Churchill, about a 15-mile drive on a well-maintained dirt road. It took well over an hour because the river is so inviting we stopped three times to let Shorty prospect for jackrabbits and give ourselves a chance to enjoy the cool river moving quietly through the desert landscape.
It was here, as we paused to watch the river slide by, with Johnny Cash and Louis Prima filling our world with music, that I finally believed he was home. And wondering just how it was that the chubby-cheeked 5-year-old who used to pedal his bike around Gold Hill had become this big ranger-trained paratrooper. How did that happen?
We spent most of another hour inspecting Fort Churchill. After 15 months in Iraq John found it easy to imagine the lives of the soldiers in their adobe barracks, serving under the burning sun.
Ward Charcoal Ovens Historic Park near Ely
15 Years Ago in the NevadaGram
Goldfield’s 4th Annual Land Rush Auction will take place August 23. Dozens of parcels, in town and out, will be auctioned off (but with no guarantee of clear title).
The magnificent Goldfield Hotel is the most spectacular property on the list, but the Coaldale Junction truck stop is also for sale (with some EPA clean up requirements attached) and there’s Fish Lake Valley acreage too. I’m planning to be there, hoping for a stake in Goldfield. If you’d like to be a modern-day Tex Rickard, call 800-884-4072.
An E-Mail from Ely, Cambridgeshire, England brought greetings from John Sime. “It’d be fun to be in touch with fellow Ely people particularly as my wife and I are planning a trip to California next year, and may visit Ely. So it’d be nice to get some more info about the place — meet some folks. Hope you can help.”
We forwarded John’s note to our friends in Ely (Nevada, that is), and we wonder how White Pine County compares with Cambridgeshire. Perhaps we will find out.
Parting Shot —
Groves Lake, Kingston Canyon – by Max Winthrop