NevadaGram #45 – Wendover, Wells, Elko and a New State Park for Tonopah?

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The Seattle Times attends the opening of Las Vegas’ new $2.7 billion casino hotel.
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photo by Max Winthrop

These days Wendover is illuminated by more than a lone light bulb at the edge of the Bonneville Salt Flats.

Wendover is an astonishing combination of urbanity and wilderness, a handful of casinos, gas stations, fast food outlets and other businesses looking out over the old WWII AAF air field and the broad expanse of the bleached white salt flats.

The air base is forever famous as the training center for the crew of the Enola Gay, the B-29 that dropped the A-Bomb on Hiroshima. Its hangars, barracks and other structures are in shambles now, sun-warped and wind-tattered, but the runways are maintained in good condition. Nowadays they are used, not by war planes destined for missions of death and destruction, but by charter flights from cities around the USA bringing gamblers in for a brief taste of excitement and luxury at the Peppermill, Rainbow and Montego Bay.

photo courtesy Boeing

Wendover’s “Million Air Express” is bringing hundreds of visitors to the hallowed runways of Wendover Air Base each month.

Everybody knows Wendover and everybody knows Elko, but Wells, halfway Cowboy Countrybetween them, remains a veiled mystery even though it’s at the junction of two major highways, I-80 and US 93.
One look at Front Street tells the story: the railroad doesn’t stop here any more. When it did, the storefronts, barrooms and hotels along the single side of the street were thriving. Now with one small exception they’re closed and empty. John Quilici operated the last store, his Quilici Market, into the 1990s. He is still remembered for his generosity, carrying many local people on the books much farther than they could ever repay, and handing out hot dogs over the meat counter to kids in return for a “Thank You”.

photo by Max Winthrop

Front Street was the commercial heart of the city when Wells was dominated by the railroad.

“Tremendous numbers of coast to coast railroad travelers stopped in Wells while engines were changed. The hungry flocked to the Bulls Travel NevadaHead or San Marin restaurant to eat, while the curious and thirsty made a bee-line to Al Fisher’s Saloon. One of the best-known westerners of his day, Fisher was an excellent raconteur. . . .” The Elite (pronounced Ee-light by the locals) Bar was next door, and after the fire of 1901, the Mint Club opened up down the street. But the monarch of Wells’ saloons was the Bulls Head Bar. The original Bulls Head was a shanty built of railroad ties that opened its door on Christmas Day, 1869, but the two-story structure that still dominates Front Street was built in 1887. It was damaged in the fire of 1893, somewhat rebuilt in 1898, sheathed in brick later on, and slowly undergoing restoration today.

photo by Max Winthrop

The bowling alley on Front Street was once a lively and popular spot.

Each of the structures on Front Street is graced with an informational placard detailing its history, with historic photos. They showcase the old street as a museum, and allow a self-guided tour. Some of the information is also contained in a booklet (from which the quote above was taken) available at the Wells Chamber of Commerce office at 395 6th Street, where the Trail of the 49ers Interpretive Center is located. There is also an interesting and informative website devoted to Wells).

The Bank of Wells, 1911 – 1960. For sale, price negotiable, inquire at Bottari Realty 775-752-3040, or call the Chamber of Commerce 775-752-3540.

But history isn’t the whole story of Wells. There’s lunch at the 4-Way (which is about to add a Holiday Inn Express on its east side), one of two exceptionally attractive structures in Wells. The other is the bank for sale on West Front street (see box at right).

Ruby Mountain Amber Ale, maybe the best in the world.

And after lunch there is beer. Some people put the beer at the top of the list, and for good reason since the Ruby Mountain Amber Ale that Steve and Maggie Safford make is the best. You can get it at some markets (Raley’s, Trader Joe’s) and at leading saloons around the state. And best of all you can get it at the brewery: take US 93 about ten miles south of Wells, turn west on the Clover Valley Road and pull into the first ranch on your right. The brewery is located in a metal building beyond the old two-story ranch house. If you plan to visit, call ahead (775-752-2337) to make sure Steve isn’t out moving cattle. You can taste the beer here, and buy it by the keg, pig, case and bottle.

More About Murals
photo courtesy the Big 4

Ely is known for the number and quality of the murals that decorate the local cityscape. Visitors are charmed by the big burro flipping a flapjack on the eastern facade of The Hotel Nevada, but only a few fortunate voyeurs have seen the impressive scenes of Pigalle painted on the interior walls of the Big 4 Brothel on the western edge of Ely. According to the Big 4’s website, they were painted in the 1930s by “by a gentleman who fell in love with one of the working girls”. You can view the entire collection here.

photo by Max WinthropBut Ely isn’t the only city with murals to point to with pride. In Elko the Stockmen’s Hotel has set the prolific Larry Bute to decorate the public spaces of the famous old hotel with his artistic vision of cow country life. The results (below) are spectacular, and they echo his other hotel work on the exterior of the Commercial across the way, and in the interior hallways, floors 3 to 6 at the Hotel Nevada in Ely.

There’s a strong effort underway to add a new state park near Tonopah in an area called Monte Cristo’s Castle. 35 miles south of Mina on US 95, the road to Silver Peak takes off to the west at Blair Junction. A few yards farther south, a dirt road takes off to the east; take it about three miles and you will enter this magical realm of oddly shaped rock formations.

photo courtesy Frank Bradick

The Monte Christo’s Castle area north of Tonopah is proposed as a new state park.

If it’s accepted as a State Park, hiking areas and interpretive trails will be developed, with informative displays about the unusual geologic formations including natural arches and others resembling castle walls, animals, mythical people, all in variety of colors, and the processes that created them. The area supports an unusual array of desert spring flowers, even in dry years, and is habitat for larger desert animals such as big horn sheep.

photo by Max Winthrop

Among the local celebrities to welcome the resumption of the V&T Railroad connection with Carson City was Lt. Pierce Powell, Silver City Guard (ret).

If you make a preview visit, remember there’s no water available for your picnic, no tables, no benches, no parking places, no campsites, no facilities at all (and no-one to clean up after you), just the naturally exotic beauty of mama Earth.

Nevada reverted back to the 19th century in Gold Hill, as work began to restore steam railroad service to Carson City. The V&T was the bonanza railroad that served Virginia City and the mines of the Comstock Lode in their glory days of the 1870s, but the last train left Virginia City in 1938.

photo by Max Winthrop

Scenic Airlines now connects Reno, Elko, Ely and North Las Vegas with daily flights.

In the 1970s Bob Gray brought the V&T back toReno Tahoe Territory life with excursion runs between Virginia City and Gold Hill. Now the rails are being extended south around the rim of American Flat, through Mound House, across US 50 and along the Carson River to arrive eventually at a terminal station with lots of parking on Carson City’s east side. The earthmovers rev up at 7:30 each morning to build the new grade across the Overman Pit, and they’re busy chewing, scooping, hauling, and smoothing all day. The new roadbed will pass along the western edge of the Gold Hill cemetery.

In the north and east meanwhile, Scenic Airlines has begun regularly scheduled flights connecting Ely, Elko, Reno and North Las Vegas. Elko friends who took the trip tell me they had a relaxed and pleasant flight from Reno.
Want to vote on the design for the new Nevada quarter? You can do that here.

Death Valley Blossoms
photo by Craig Young
photo by Craig YoungDeath Valley’s glorious wildflower show featured cholla, above, and creosote bush below, native plants not often associated with resplendent blossoms.

 

Quick notes from beyond the mountains: . . . California Highway 190 between Furnace Creek and Death Valley Junction is now open to through traffic. Pilot cars are guiding vehicles through the construction zone and traffic may be delayed up to 30 minutes. Zabriskie Point, theDante’s View Road, the Twenty Mule Team Canyon Road, the Echo CanyonRoad, the Hole-in-the-Wall Road and all other access roads off of California 190 will remain closed. Zabriskie Point, in particular, is the staging area for the heavy equipment being used in the road construction. To celebrate its long-awaited reunion with Death Valley National Park, the Longstreet Casino Hotel is making a two-for-one offer: stay 2 nights, pay for only one . . .

photo by Max Winthrop

Stop in and check out the nice job that’s been done to bring Battle Mountain’s Owl Club back to life.

A historic walking tour in Lovelock?: Yes, and here’s a brief preview

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