Tonopah, 4 am
The city was sleeping with its night lights on, silent except for the occasional snore of a semi-truck traveling US 95 through its center. The night was warm and the air was still. No-one was about except me, walking from the hotel to the car to retrieve my camera, and back again.
As I approached the side door to the hotel a furious garble of shouting exploded into the night from across the street and just as quickly subsided.
“Did you hear that yelling?” I asked the desk clerk once I was inside; she had not. I went past the registration desk into the Great Room and looked out the front doors.
Five Years Ago in the NevadaGram
A Toast to Bobby Fitzsimmons
by McAvoy Layne
Born in County Armagh, the last of twelve children, Bobby Fitzsimmons became a professional boxer, and earned a chance to fight America’s “Gentleman Jim” Corbett for the World Heavyweight Crown. The year was 1897, the place San Francisco, and the date St. Patrick’s Day. Nevada’s luck was about to change. . . .
Only a few days before the much touted fight, California decided prize fighting was not a gentleman’s sport, and canceled the draw. Overnight, Nevada legislators legalized prize fighting. They welcomed the bout to Carson City, and kept the date, St. Patrick’s Day, 1897.
Well, four thousand people crossed the High Sierra to see that fight. Bat Masterson and Wyatt Earp were hired as bouncers. As the bell rang for the fourteenth round, Fitzsimmon’s wife could be heard shouting from the front row: “Hit ‘im in the slats, Bob! Hit ‘im in the slats!”
Fitzsimmons won the bout with his famous “solar plexus” blow, which some said was too low, but then Corbett always wore his trunks hiked up so high, who was to know? When the folks in Carson City added up all the money that was left behind they had to ask themselves, “If 4,000 people will cross the High Sierra to see one fight, how many more will come to spin the French Wheel, or get married, get divorced, visit a brothel?”
So Nevada’s romance with disrespectability began with the Corbett-Fitzsimmons fight, and everything we see around us today, from the arch above The Biggest Little City in the World, to an Eiffel Tower in Las Vegas, are a direct result of that fight. Nevada was on the road to becoming America’s foremost state of attractions.
I propose a toast today to Fightin’ Bobby Fitzsimmons, and too, a toast to poet Brendan Behan, who reminds us all that there has never been a shred of evidence presented to support the fact that life is serious. . . .
“Fuck you! Get out! Get out! Get out!” Across the street, a man in dark pants and a light t-shirt was standing on the landing outside a second story apartment, screaming down at a dark shape on the floor. With each “Get out!” he launched a kick into the otherwise motionless shape. I’ll spare you the rest of the language, but it was shocking to hear, not just for the words, but for the rage that fueled them, and the brutal attack that went on for way too long.
The desk clerk called 911 and we watched, entranced. In the dark of night we couldn’t see any detail, although the light spilling out of an open door illuminated what was happening. The yelling continued in bursts, and the kicks continued too. Several times the shouting man seemed to pick up the unresisting shape from the floor and throw it down again. We could see and hear what was happening, but we couldn’t stop it.
Did I mention this is not Disneyland?
The deputy was there within minutes and an ambulance shortly afterward. By that time I was back upstairs working on the photos I’d taken on the way here.
Through diligent internet research I knew that Beans & Brews at the south (uphill) edge of town, opens at 5:30 and I like to be on time for morning coffee. As I walked to the car again a breeze gently riffled my hair. By the time I got back with the lattes the breeze had grown into a gusting wind and I had a small struggle to get through the doors with a latte in each hand.
Once in the George Wingfield room again, I went back to work; Robin too. The city still slept, the hotel was silent. Only the desk clerk and I had witnessed the earlier episode. It had absorbed our complete attention, blotted out the rest of the world with its ferocious shouts and vicious brutality, but other than the participants themselves it hadn’t left any marks, no rips in the fabric of the city, not even a wrinkle — nothing except the Sheriff’s log to say it happened at all.
I took a break, stretched, went to the window and looked out at vague shapes in a milky world. A heavy wet snow was falling — a sudden storm had silently enveloped the old city. Visibility was next to nil, white on white.
The snow has stopped — a fast-moving rain squall in June is a fast-moving mini-blizzard in February. I can see beneath the stormclouds to the northwest where a bright ribbon of blue sky is showing. Here comes the sun.
The storm has passed. The sky is blue, the earth is white and the air is still. It’s a bright and cheerful morning with with sunlight bouncing happily around. A beautiful day in Tonopah!
Tonopah is changing and there’s more than sunshine in the air, there’s optimism too. It’s not the forlorn hope that has sustained the old city since WWI, that the past would reappear and the silver mills would roar again. This isn’t a revival, it’s a rebirth.
The two most notable symbols of this new Tonopah are the elegant old Mizpah Hotel, which Fred and Nancy Cline have restored to pre-eminence in central Nevada, and the 640-foot concrete tower at the Crescent Dunes solar project a few miles north of town.
You’ll see it off to your left as you drive up the long grade to Tonopah from Miller’s: a tall tower with an opening at its top.
The dark smear at its foot is actually an array of mirrors — more than 10,000 of them! — that reflect focused beams of sunlight into the aperture at the top of the tower to generate electricity. More about this below.
We are at the Mizpah of course, the city’s great jewel, the 56-room hotel that has presided over central Nevada since it was built in 1907-08 and which has lately been restored to its place as a symbol of gracious elegance in the unforgiving desert.
It’s impossible to overstate the importance of the arrival of the Clines in Tonopah. They not only brought the bags of money required to bring the Mizpah back to life, and the personal commitment to carry it off in grand fashion, they also brought the savvy to recognize that the hotel by itself wasn’t enough.
About 5,600 cars a day come through town. To induce these travelers to stay for the night in sufficient numbers, there had to be more.
Presto! The Tonopah Brewery appeared in the utterly remodeled Midland Motors building (once upon a time the local Ford dealership; the smaller building to the left was the tire shop).
We made visiting the Brewery a priority stop and shared a rack of ribs along with a couple of the house brews. The great copper kettles that produced those beers are visible through a big viewing window. The service was great and we’re already planning a return visit.
Shopping in Tonopah
The Mizpah: There’s a small but very nice Indian jewelery gift shop in the old walk in safe on the main floor. Very nice selection. The Mizpah also sells high quality t-shirts, bath and lotions by the front desk.
The Whitney Bookstore: This used book store is sure to have something you can’t live without. For the number of books they have, it’s well organized. And inexpensive. I always find something for myself, plus books to give as gifts.
New Craft Shop: This is directly across the street from the Mizpah. Knitting, crochet, quilting and other craft items. And a number of finished products for sale hand-made by local women.
Pawn Shop: Looks like it’s full of interesting items, but alas it was closed when I tried to go.
Perchetti’s Western Store: Lots of clothing, don’t know what else because I didn’t get there this trip.
— Robin Cobbey
Abracadabra! The Mizpah Club across the parking lot to the north, a small but spiffy casino with spacious meeting rooms upstairs and actual dealers at three games downstairs, is being readied for an April opening.
Oh and the Bel-Vada, kitty-corner across Main Street from the hotel was once the toniest business address in the city. After the 1920s it went downhill along with the rest of Tonopah. It was converted to apartments and slowly lost economic traction as it became an increasingly unfashionable address. And yet like the Mizpah it has survived, despite becoming a bird sanctuary in its upper floors. Plans are being drawn for high-end apartments at the top, offices and meeting spaces in the middle and public use at street level.
Thus another treasure from the past is being re-created and preserved as a sustainable attraction, another reason for a traveler to pull over and stay the night. The boomlet of the solar plant and the Clines’ investments have attracted other new business to town. A young couple from Las Vegas has reopened the Tonopah Liquor Company as a bar and the new Hometown Pizza adds another culinary tradition to the mix.
Tonopah’s visitors don’t all stay at the Mizpah either — there are more than 400 other rooms in town now. They range from the excellent Best Western High Desert Inn on the south (uphill) side of downtown — described by a friend as the most successful business in Tonopah over the last 50 years — to the slightly surreal Clown Motel on the north (downhill) side. The Jim Butler is just south across the street from the Mizpah. Jim Marsh’s Tonopah Station, built during the boom of the 1980s is at the far south (uphill) end of town and the new “Mancamp” — actual name: Tonopah Hospitality Services — is far to the north (downhill) and across the line into Esmeralda County at the old Lambertucci property. The accommodations are Army surplus units, designed to provide all the comforts of home in bleak environments. They were plunked down in a line to provide housing for the workers building the Crescent Dunes solar project. Now that the solar workforce is down to about 50 workers, available units are being offered as overnight accommodations.
Even though the workforce of as many as 1,000 workers is down to about 50 now, the Crescent Dunes project continues to be a huge boon to the old city, as it has been since construction work began in the fall of 2011. The workers built the concrete tower and encircled it with mirrors that follow the sun from sunrise to sunset, staying in position to focus the sun’s rays into the top of the tower, where they heat a dense salt solution to extreme temperatures. The molten salt flows down out of the tower into a large container where it it is stored just as if it were energy itself, to deliver electricity to the national power grid. The system can produce more than twice as much net annual output (megawatt hours) as any other currently available solar technology, enough energy added to the grid to power 75,000 homes day and night.
In fact, until last week there was only one fly in the ointment: the project is more than two years behind schedule and millions of dollars over budget, still with no sustained production. But that was last week, and since then the switch was thrown for real and the plant is now sending power to the grid. “The facility will ramp up to its full annual output over the coming year”, the company stated.
How it works:
- Sunlight is concentrated and directed from a circular field of 10,347 heliostats a mile and a quarter in diameter, each one weighing more than four tons and standing 38 feet off the ground, to a receiver comprising the top 100 feet of the 640-foot tower.
- Liquid salt from the cold salt tank is pumped to the top of the tower where it is heated in the 1,000-ton receiver to 1050°F (566°C).
- The molten salt from the receiver is piped down the tower at the rate of 5,000 gallons per second and stored in the 3.6 million gallon hot salt tank until called for to power the steam generator. Heat loss is only 1° a day, so the hot salt tank holds a 10-hours of full load electricity generation and the system provides reliable, on-demand energy.
- Hot salt is pumped from the hot salt tank through a steam generator which produces steam to drive a turbine, creating electricity.
- Cold salt at 550°F (288°C) flows back to the cold salt tank.
- Condensed steam from the turbine is recirculated for reuse.
Nearly 20 Stone-Tool Sites, Dating Back Up To 12,000 Years, Discovered In Nevada
[As if to emphasize my suggestion that Time Travel is one of Nevada’s greatest attractions, antiquity and lessons from the past have made headlines again.]
And even though the sites are remote, they weren’t discovered by accident. Scientists expected to find them there. [Continue]
Mining is still a factor in this part of the world; there are two large mining projects presently undergoing the permitting process south of Goldfield but they won’t begin operations until the price of gold justifies it.
The Tonopah Mining Park just up the hill behind the Mizpah, is a wonderful collection of mines, buildings and paraphernalia from Tonopah’s golden age of silver. It’s the real deal, and will give you a sense of how primitive the process was.
The Nevada State Mining Championships are held here on Memorial Day weekend as part of the Jim Butler Days celebration. All comers, both women and men, are invited to participate in a wide variety of events including double and single jack drilling, individual and team mucking. Prize money is all donated by supportive companies and individuals, and in addition to prize money, winners of the mens’ events take home silver shovels and hammers.
Admission to the Visitors Center is free, the walking Tour is $5 for adults, $4 for Seniors, $3 for Students age 8-17 and free for children, veterans and active military.
The Central Nevada Museum is part inside, exhibits and books, and part outside, a ramshackle collection of structures gathered from mining camps that played out three generations ago: miners’ cabins, a saloon, a blacksmith shop and early mining equipment, all scattered around and connected by paths through the sagebrushwith a 10 stamp mill, ore cars and more.
Ten Years Ago in the NevadaGram
The Eureka Opera House is an enjoyable destination any time.
The Edlos are four guys who sing a capella, somehow managing to get a full orchestral sound from just four voices, eight eyebrows and some fingersnaps. They sang their fool heads off to an enthralled audience of about 30, most of whom had braved the perverse weather to travel from Reno, Wells, Gold Hill, Austin and other metropolitan centers of northern and central Nevada.
After the performance the Edlos piled into their car and drove off into a blizzard, doubtless singing all the way, while the audience moved a block north to the warm and welcoming Owl Club. The apres-theater party continued late into the night with local bon-vivants.
Overheard at Beans and Brews in Tonopah — Don’t worry about it son, failure is the condiment that gives success its flavor later on. Consider it an investment in the future.
What they’re saying about us: Nevada’s Getting Nervous About The Planned $1 Billion Faraday Future Plant – the future of Faraday
Brief notes from Beyond the Mountains: On February 28th the old Silver City Schoolhouse was crowded with folks from neighboring towns mixing with the locals. The occasion was Ray Bonneville (left) and Richie Lawrence playing a benefit concert to raise funds for the building’s use as a community center. Heads were bobbing and toes were tapping throughout, prompting talk of another concert in August . . . Spring looms imminent and soon we can all wear shorts and relax a little. But not yet, although it is warm for early March, a barrage of customary spring storms are likely to resurface here in Nevada. While the sun is on us however lets enjoy it while we can. Starting in Pahrump come out to the Silver State Chili Cook-Off on March 19th . . . Farther south Boulder City hosts the (photo) DVO Winter Gravity Mountain Bike Race Series that commences on March 11th and runs through the 13th . . . Next door in Las Vegas is the International Beer Wine and Food Festival that starts on March 4th and runs through the 6th, later in the month join the excitement at the Monster Jam World Finals XVII on March 17th through the 19th . . . Over in Henderson you
won’t want to miss the St. Patrick’s Day Parade & Festival
on March 11th through the 13th . . . Off Highway 50 on Nevada’s east side visit Ely for its
Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation Banquet on March 19 . . . Going west on Highway 50 brings you to Eureka where you can see The Scarlet Verbs on March 20th at the Eureka Opera House . . . Farther west on Highway 50 brings you to Fallon where there will be an Evening with the Arts on March 5 at the Churchill Arts Center . . . Off of Interstate 80, The new Copper Kettle Café at 600 east Wendover Boulevard offers breakfast, lunch and dinner at reasonable prices seven days a week, 9 am to 9 pm. A daily special is chosen by chef Manni Carrillo, who was the chef at the Red Garter from 2000 until its Nugget buyout in 2012 . . . In Fernley it’s St. Patrick’s Day Dinner and Dance on March 16th . . . Travel deeper into Cowboy Country to Winnemucca to enjoy the Ranch Hand Rodeo that starts on March 2nd and runs through the 6th . . . Winnemucca will host its St Patrick’s Day Fair on March 12th at St. Pauls Catholic Church. . . Up on the Comstock in Virginia City come on out to the 25th Annual Rocky Mountain Oyster Fry on March 12th that starts at 10 am, the St. Patrick’s Day Parade will start at noon.
The very next week in Virginia City is charged up by a locals favorite, the
Mucker Madness Basketball Tournament that begins on March 18th and runs through the 20th . . . On March 26th in Virginia City goto the Easter Bonnet & Pet Parade . . . In Gardnerville the Saint Patrick’s Day Green Ball Bash Golf Tournament will be held on March 12th . . . Also in Carson Valley is the
Douglas-Carson Rodeo Club Rodeo on March 25th through the 27h . . . In Carson City feast yourself at the 13th Annual Crab Feed at the Carson City Community Center on March 5 . . . Also in Carson City see Lisa Lynne & Aryeh Frankfurter a multi-instrumentalist duo with Celtic
harps at the Brewery Arts Center on March 12th . . . Up at South Lake Tahoe check out The Banff Mountain Film Festival at MontBleu Resort on March 28th . . . The 2016 Amgen Tour of California Return to Lake Tahoe for Men’s and Women’s Stages is on May 19th – The men will take off in Lodi, California and finish at Heavenly Mountain Resort’s California Base Lodge in South Lake Tahoe. The women will also start/finish at Heavenly Mountain Resort . . . In North Lake Tahoe on March 5th through the 6th go to the Rahlves’ Banzai Tour – Silver Belt Race. Better yet stick around for North Lake Tahoe Snowfest starting on March 4th and lasting through the 13th. In March in the Sierra winter still reigns supreme, so why not trek Cross Country the Tour D’Euer at Tahoe Donner on Mar 27th . . . Down in the valley in the middle of Reno-Tahoe Territory check out Hidden in Plain Sight: The Basques at the Sparks Museum. The event runs through May 14th . . . On March 18th through the 20th at the Sparks Nugget is the High Desert Steam Con, a super hip event where all things are Steampunk! . . . The University of Nevada, will present the Time Travelers Ball . . . In Reno you won’t want to miss the Midtown Mural Tour on the second Saturday of every month through December 10th . . . The exhibit “Whose Land is It? The Dann Sisters and the Western Shoshone Defense Project” is on the third floor of the Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center through March 18 at UNR Special Collections Department . . . Don’t miss the one-hour show featuring the National Championship Air Races on NBC Sports, Sunday, March 27, 12:00pm pacific standard time.
Parting Shot —
Great Heron, Lake Mead —Alan Goya