Nevada Correspondence – December 2015

In this edition:

Baker, Carson Valley, Las Vegas(2), Lincoln County, Tuscarora, Railfanning in Weso



Christmas Bird Count

Goldfinches congregating at the birdfeeder
Goldfinches congregating at the birdfeeder

What birds live in your backyard? December is the perfect time to find out, as it’s the month for the Christmas Bird Count (CBC), the longest citizen scientist project in the world. On Christmas Day in 1900, an ornithologist proposed that instead of shooting birds, they should be counted. Others agreed, and thus began this birding tradition. Since then, the count has grown to over 2,300 locations in 17 countries. You’re invited to participate in the Snake Valley (Baker) Christmas Bird Count!

Worried about not knowing birds well? Volunteers of any experience level are welcome, as extra eyes and ears to spot the birds can make all the difference. The most common birds in the Snake Valley CBC are some you probably already know: mallards, European starlings, horned larks, Brewer’s blackbirds, and pinyon jays. Bald eagles sometimes appear on the ranches, a belted kingfisher is a sought-after find at the Spring Creek Rearing Station, and American goldfinches can be located at birdfeeders. The long-term data show some interesting trends. For Baker, a number of bird species have appeared recently and grown in numbers, including rock pigeons, red-breasted nuthatches, Eurasian collared doves, and wild turkeys. Meanwhile, some bird species are declining, including sage sparrows and white-breasted nuthatches.

Want to make a week of checking out birds? The Snake Valley (Baker) CBC is on Monday, December 14 (call 775-234-7541), the Ely CBC is on Wednesday, December 16 (call 775-289-1819), and the Elko CBC is on Saturday, December 19 (call 775-738-4270). If you’re not already a bird expert, you may be after doing all three!

Winchester Rifle

73Who would have left their gun behind in the woods, propped up against a tree? A Winchester Model 1873 rifle was found by Great Basin National Park’s cultural resource manager in November 2014, and the resulting posts went viral. Everyone imagined the story that had led to the rifle being left there. Over the summer, the rifle was taken to the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody, Wyoming to be cleaned and restored. Now it’s back at the park, and a grand unveiling will take place December 5 at 1 pm at the Lehman Caves Visitor Center. A special exhibit will be on display throughout the winter. For more information, call 775-234-7510.

December Sunsets

Sunset over the Snake Range - Gretchen Baker

Finally, although the shortest days of the year occur in December, some of the best sunsets are also found this month, bringing lots of color to cherish as we enter into the dark nights.

Gretchen Baker

(Recommended reading: Gretchen’s blog  Desert Survivor)


Carson Valley

A beautiful view from the River Fork Ranch Trail in Carson Valley
A beautiful view from the River Fork Ranch Trail in Carson Valley

We think the Carson Valley this time of year is the best place on Earth. The grasses with their warm yellow glow, the pristine blue skies, the panorama of snow-capped mountains, the crisp fresh air filling the lungs, the soaring raptors, the stark cottonwoods with their moldy-smelling leaves, and the meandering river are an absolute delight to the senses.

After spending the summer hiking in the High Sierra, Erik and I shift our focus to the valley and desert, and there is no shortage of fabulous hikes in the Carson Valley! The best place to start is by visiting the Carson Valley Trail Association (CVTA) website, for simple, free maps.

There is an abundance of trails along the western (Sierra) edge of the Valley, including the Faye-Luther, Jobs Peak Ranch and Genoa trail systems, ranging from easy to strenuous. These climb up into the forest and are beautiful, but can be snowy and icy in winter. At the north end of the Valley is the Clear Creek trail, a 10-miler through amazing rock formations and Jeffrey and Ponderosa pine forest.

On these crisp late-fall and early-winter days, when we are craving the warming rays of the sun, we opt for hikes on the Valley floor or in the Pine Nut Range (just east of Carson Valley). River Fork Ranch is a cooperative Genoa Country Storeproject with the Nature Conservancy, located one mile east of Genoa at the confluence of the East Fork and West Fork of the Carson River. The trails here lend themselves to a relaxed stroll, with views that can’t be beat. There are dozens of species of birds, fish and even turtles to be seen. And very little shade. (There is, however, lots of mud, so dress accordingly. ) This would be a great place to take toddlers, but dogs are not allowed. After hiking, you might as well take a side trip into Genoa and grab a bite to eat at the Genoa Country Store sandwiches, snacks, and lots of fun local paraphernalia  or visit the Mormon Station State Historic Park.

If you wanna get your Holiday spirit on, there is lots to do in the Carson Valley this month!

The first weekend in December is the Carson Valley Christmas Kickoff. Festivities begin Thursday, Dec. 3, at Heritage Park in Gardnerville, with Santa wagon rides, bell ringers, singers, a light show, and fireworks.

On the 4th (Friday), Minden Park in Minden is the place to be with Santa and his elves, enjoying the gazebo lighting, fire pits and s’mores, and music. Next door at the CVIC Hall, the Elks will be holding their annual spaghetti feed followed by Christmas Tree Bingo  surpassed only by Turkey Bingo for pure silly fun! Cards are

Minden Meat and Deli offers 350 varieties of beer, including these bargains for customers on a modest budget.
Minden Meat and Deli offers 350 varieties of beer, including these bargains for customers on a modest budget.

only a quarter, the snacks are free to cheap, and there are lots of fun prizes. It’s a big, raucous all-ages party.

Saturday the 5th boasts the feature event, the 20th annual Parade of Lights, up Hwy 395 from Gardnerville to Minden. All manner of vehicles, motorized and otherwise, dress up in their holiday best, casting a warm glow into the dark frosty night. Near the parade’s end, at the CVIC Hall, there is a village of booths with activities and crafts which has a Dickensian feel. This event never fails to delight even the most curmudgeonly. Bring the kids, and be sure to dress warmly.

Speaking of getting in the spirit, one of our favorite drinking and eating establishments in the Carson Valley is Minden Meat and Deli, on Hwy 395. They have an unsurpassed selection of my favorite indulgences — beer and ice cream, 350 beers (over 30 on tap) and local ice cream from the Hoch Family Creamery. Mmmmmm! They also have the largest variety of oddball chocolates I’ve ever seen, anywhere. Erik’s delight is the local Bently grass-fed beef burger with sweet potato fries. Yum!

Amy Meeks


Las Vegas

In some parts of our glorious state, there is snow, sleet, hail and rain. In Las Vegas, there is sun, lots of sun. And because there is a lot of sun, there is a one-of-a-kind extravaganza where guests are encouraged to come in costume and drink from beer tubes, enjoy insane bottle presentations, and party with celebrity hosts.

TheGBDC at The Palms 9 Ghostbar Dayclub (GBDC) at the Palms Casino has a strong local following who bring out-of-town guests for a perfect mix of both.  Ghostbar is 55 stories up the Palms providing panoramic views of the iconic Strip. GBDC parties include themed costume events (Pajama Jam, GBDC Rodeo), spontaneous confetti explosions and gorgeous go-go dancers. Or take it one step further and purchase the $20,000 “Put a Ring On It” package that includes a marriage ceremony on the Ghostbar patio, two nights in a Sky Villa, 10 Bottles of Cristal, dinner for 10 in the N9NE Steakhouse private dining room, and have it all topped off with an elaborate marriage announcement on the Palms marquee.

GBDC at The Palms 12And weather is never a problem because the beauty of Ghostbar is the indoor-outdoor environment that allows guests to dance in the rain or party inside. Ghostbar Dayclub, 1-6 p.m. every Saturday thru March 12. 702-942-6832

A new Starbucks in any other city would just be another Starbucks. But the new Starbucks that opened at the Grand Bazaar Shops in front of Bally’s on the Strip is not your father’s Starbucks. This one features grandstand seating inspired by coffee terraces found in Europe and several U.S. cities. It offers all its traditional coffee drinks, along with Starbucks Reserve, a special collection of rare, exquisite coffees selected from small farms from around the world. Additionally, guests can enjoy coffee brewed on The Clover Brewing System to discover new layers of flavor in each freshly-brewed cup of coffee. There’s more: a cup of Starbucks Cold Brew coffee that has been steeped in a container of cool water for 20 hours. A cup of Joe? Never again. Starbucks at the Grand Bazaar Shops is open 24/7. 702-232-1644

Diamond Jack Bulavsky


Las Vegas Get Into the Spirit!

Bellagio ConservatoryThere are so many musts-to-do if you are in Las Vegas in December. The obvious are the Bellagio Conservatory to view for free their elaborate and over-the-top Christmas decorations which are on display between December 4th and January 3rd. Just walking through the display will put the spirit of the season in your heart before you add the spirit to your belly at one of their bars.

The Ice Rink at the Cosmopolitan Boulevard Pool is a must, whether you strap on the skates or just observe with a little hot cocoa or toddy rink-side.  You are on the rooftop where the spirit is in the air. They feature “snow,” which is actually soap bubbles that fall between 6pm and 10pm, Wednesdays through Sundays, and it is free to get into the area.  Skating is from 3 p.m. until midnight during the week and noon until midnight on the weekends.

Cosmopolian Ice RinkFor more holiday fun, The Venetian also has an outside skating rink located in their canal area for their Winter in Venice display. They have a 65-foot Christmas tree as the centerpiece of Doge’s Palace plaza lit with 50,000 programmable LED lights.  Carolers, fashion shows and parades are featured nightly from 6 until 8 p.m. throughout The Venetian and Palazzo hotels.

Since snow in Vegas has become “an event,” check out Winter Parq at the Linq.  Last year for the holidays was the first year they set up tubing on a 30-foot-high snow hill behind the High Roller. It is made of real snow, so you can have a blast tubing in Vegas on the Strip! Not sure of the prices for this year; however, it was $5 per ride and $20 for an all-day pass last year. They also have snow scheduled to fall every half hour in their decorated promenade complex, starting on December 8th.

Winter Parq at The Link 3Downtown Summerlin gets into the spirit for the first time with the Downtown Summerlin Holiday Parade and will open their Rock Ice Rink. You would think you might miss the parade, but your family should be able to hit it one of the nights.  It is a free 20-minute parade in the evenings of December 4th and 5th and every evening from December 11 through 24.

The Santa Cruise is going on again this year at Lake Las Vegas, a beautiful, relaxing community several miles east of the Strip off of Lake Mead Parkway. The current schedule is for 10 a.m. departures on the Saturdays of December 5, 12 and 19, with an additional cruise at 1 p.m. on December 12 and 19.  The cruise lasts 1 hour.  The cost is $18 per adult and $12 for children under age 12.

And don’t forget the rodeo is in town December 3rd through 12th! If you can’t get tickets to the rodeo, it is fun to go to the Cowboy Christmas Show held at the Las Vegas Convention Center on Paradise Road. They have over 400 vendors and 300,000 square feet of floor space dedicated to custom western wear, jewelry, boots, art, and furniture.

Pauline Cimoch


Lincoln County

I trust you all had a Happy Thanksgiving. And now it’s December and the Christmas season. Here in Lincoln County, there are a number of activities that fill up the holiday calendar.

Kershaw-Ryan State Park will hold their 7th annual Wonderland and Toy Drive. They have a nicely done winter holiday scene at the park and even a visit from Santa for the kids. The Toys for Tots Foundation has an event there, as well. Last year, over 150  people participated, and over 250 toys were collected for the families in the local communities that found themselves in need. Park Supervisor Andrew Porter is the event coordinator.

Families line up to ride the Polar Express at the old Moapa train station, built in 1905 by the San Pedro, Los Angeles and Salt Lake Railroad and later moved to its present site on Highway 93 south of Alamo.
Families line up to ride the Polar Express at the old Moapa train station, built in 1905 by the San Pedro, Los Angeles and Salt Lake Railroad and later moved to its present site on Highway 93 south of Alamo.

Over the past few years, Western Elite has sponsored their Polar Express Christmas extravaganza. This will be the 5th annual family fun time featuring horse drawn carriage rides, hay rides and caroling, a barrel ride for kids age 8 and under, and the Polar Express: two authentic old time railroad passenger cars, one from 1928 and the
other from 1940, pulled by diesel trucks. There is even the original 1905 train station house that served as the Moapa Train Station. It was once a private home as well, but now it serves as the start and return site for the Christmas Express trains, located on the Western Elite property 33 miles south of Alamo.

Western Elite decided to run things a bit differently this year and have reserved nights for their four-night celebration. Vice-President Scott Seastrand said the reason was to avoid the heavy crowds and long waiting lines. So, you had to reserve a given night, “and people did,” he said. “Except for a few spots, we’re all booked.”

December always seems to bring out the biggest hearts in the area. Organizations like Toys for Tots, Tip-A-Cop dinners, Shop-with-a-Cop, donations from local churches, the Masonic Lodge, and others help to give to children
who might otherwise go without a very Merry Christmas.

After the funds are raised, the local schools select a number of needy students who are then taken by bus to Walmart in Cedar City, Utah, each accompanied by a local law enforcement officer, given a certain amount to spend, and told to go to it.

“The kids have a ball. They can see Santa, if they want to, have a picture taken,” said Sheriff Kerry Lee. “Then we treat them to lunch in Cedar City, and come home.”

And of course, as in so many other places around the state, local churches will hold various types of gatherings, Christmas Eve services and events to keep the focus on the centuries’ old, true meaning of Christmas.

Dave Maxwell



The Tuscarora Ladies Club

Tuscarora Ladies Club 1Making apple and pumpkin pies for Thanksgiving and Christmas is the Tuscarora Ladies Club biggest fundraiser. A couple of Saturdays before Thanksgiving, club members convened at Society Hall, our community center, to peel and chop eighty pounds of Granny Smith apples, roll out pie dough and prep pies for the freezer.  The club takes orders from folks in the valley and also delivers to Elko, even in a snowstorm.

There’s an old-fashioned scrapbook in Society Hall filled with newspaper clippings from the Elko Daily Free Press about the club’s origin:  “On October 12, 1943 the ladies of Tuscarora and Independence Valley met at the home of Mrs. Stanley Ellison at the Spanish Ranch to form a Community Club.”   World War II influenced their initial activities:  “For Christmas of 1944 the club  packed eight boxes … of candies, cookies, an afghan crocheted by the members, slippers, magazines and books … and sent to eight soldier boys in the Bushnell Hospital at Brigham City, Utah.”

The Tuscarora Homemakers were good old-fashioned ranch cooks and produced two cookbooks,  in 1965 and 1983.  For anyone with hunters in the family, here’s a classic recipe for mincemeat from the 1983 cookbook:


(Made when she lived at the Dinner Station, about 1905)

Della PhillipsTuscarora Ladies Club pie 2

10 c cooked, chopped meat

12 c apple cider

6 c chopped suet

2 T ground allspice

10 c. peeled and chopped apples

2 T cinnamon

4 c finely chopped citron

2 T cloves

6 c raisins

2 T salt

4 c currants

2 c brandy

10 c brown sugar

juice of 4 lemons

Cook meat until tender; let stand in juice all night. Take off all fat and any gristle. Grind with large knife of grinder (or food processor chopping blade). Skin suet well; grind with small knife. Peel and core apples; grind with large knife.  Warm lemons to get all juice.  Mix all together, using hands.  Be sure to mix very well.  Put in 5 gallon crock and cover with thin cloth; keep in a very cool place. This recipe can be halved successfully.  It is better after it sets for a week or so.  It will keep for months in a cool place.

Renamed and revived in June of 2013, the Tuscarora Ladies Club carries on the tradition of community service and socializing.  

Nancy Harris McLelland


Railfanning in Weso


Union Pacific locomotives near Weso 3This month’s railfan dispatch is all about watching trains in Weso, Nevada.  Wait, where? 

If you try locating information about Weso on the the internet, you will be hard pressed to come up with anything substantial.  If you are lucky, you will find a map with a tiny dot marking Weso just a few miles northeast of Winnemucca.  That will be about all, as Weso has largely receded into history.

Despite its obscurity, Weso is a very significant location for railroading in Nevada, undoubtedly one of the top ten most important railroad locations in the state.  Weso is where the Western Pacific Railroad’s Feather River Route converged with the Southern Pacific Railroad’s Overland Route.   Both routes connected the San Francisco Bay area with Salt Lake City, but took quite different paths over the Sierra Nevada Mountains.  Their paths met at Weso after crossing the mountains and ran more or less in parallel the rest of the way to Salt Lake City.

This 1939 Western Pacific Railroad map shows the area of "W.P. - S.P. Paired Track Operation" between Weso, Nevada, on the west end, and Alazon, Nevada, on the east end.
This 1939 Western Pacific Railroad map shows the area of “W.P. – S.P. Paired Track Operation” between Weso, Nevada, on the west end, and Alazon, Nevada, on the east end.

In one of the most unlikely developments in railroad history, the two railroads agreed to share their tracks between Weso and Salt Lake City to allow directional running by trains.  Eastbound trains headed toward Utah ran on the Western Pacific’s Feather River Route tracks and westbound trains going to California ran on the Southern Pacific’s Overland Route tracks, an almost incredible display of cooperation between the two railroads.  Throughout United States history, railroads have tended to be quite ruthless when dealing with each other, so this cooperation was quite a departure from normal practices.  Heavy rail traffic generated by industrial operations during World War I and government interest in expediting rail operations in the west at that time were significant factors in the establishment of trackage agreements between the railroads which continued after the war, despite the slowdown in traffic after hostilities ceased.

The Union Pacific Railroad bought the Western Pacific and the Feather River Route in 1983, and then it purchased the Southern Pacific and the Overland Route in 1996.  After taking control, the Union Pacific retained the directional running practices established decades earlier, and at Weso, you can still watch the westbound trains get routed to Sparks via the Overland Route, or into the Feather River Canyon.  Likewise, you can see eastbound trains mostly get placed on the former Western Pacific tracks for the run from Weso to Salt lake City.

To visit Weso, Take I-80 to Winnemucca and exit on the east side of town at East Second Street. Take East Second Street in a northeasterly direction, and you will soon see both sets of tracks closing with the road, the Feather River Route on the left and the Overland Route on the right. After a mile or so, the tracks will be about 100 yards apart, with the street in between them.  The tracks will continue to close to within about 50 yards of each other, and then the street will make a 90-degree turn to the left.  This is a good spot for railfanning, as you can observe both sets of tracks from short range.

You can also cross the Feather River Route tracks on East Second Street, then the street will make a 90-degree right turn and closely parallel the tracks for about a mile.  You can stop abeam the switches which route the trains from one set of tracks to the other and watch the trains pass by. The new switches at Weso allow trains to change tracks at 50 miles per hour, and it is something to watch.

Because trains for both routes pass through Weso; you can see more rail traffic there than along either route. So, you may never have heard of Weso before, but if you like trains, it is certainly worth a visit.

We would like to take a minute to remind you of the Christmas holiday trains that excursion railroads are running around the state during this Christmas season and invite you to go for a ride aboard one of the trains with your kids to go see Santa.  We talked extensively about the holiday train rides in last month’s railfanning dispatch, a link to it is HERE.

These rides can be had in Carson City, Virginia City, Ely, and Boulder City.  Everyone loves the train rides, especially the kids, and we suggest you make a holiday train ride part of your Christmas traditions.

Once again, best wishes for a joyous holiday season and a prosperous 2016.

John Gaffney