NevadaGram #202 – Rural RoundUp in Tonopah, Big Spike in Boulder City, Reno Night on the Town


Rural RoundUp, the annual grand conclave of tourism workers from all around rural Nevada, was held this year in Tonopah. The speakers were insightful and entertaining, the workshops apt and informative, the meals ambitious and delicious and the schmoozing pleasant and productive . . . but what we most remember is the wind.

The bitterly cold, furiously battering wind that blew without letup, disturbed our hair, chilled our bones and drove us indoors.

We were greeted at the Opening Reception by Fred and Nancy Cline on the ground floor of the Belvada building. The Clines’ arrival in Tonopah was like a heart transplant for the old city. They restored and reopened the Mizpah Hotel in 2011.

They’ve since opened the Tonopah Brewery and rib house up the street and the Mizpah Club across the small parking lot on the north side of the Mizpah, and now they’re rehabbing the Belvada.

Belvada Building, Tonopah Nevada
Belvada Building, Tonopah Nevada

This was the toniest business address in the brash young city in 1910; but after the boom, as the air went out of the economy in the 1920s and the professional class departed, it became apartments, at first desirable and then less so. By the time the Clines acquired it from Nye County, which had acquired it for nonpayment of taxes, it had been looted of even its windows and interior doors. It will be — guess what? — another hotel. Thus are the Clines restoring Tonopah’s grandeur piece by piece. What an amazing gift!

Five Years Ago in the NevadaGram

My posse was down to one when we arrived in Laughlin. I don’t know where the other one went. Much of life is a mystery to me, actually, but as long as I have a full belly and a warm place to sleep I don’t worry about it.
Shorty the Wonder Dog at Harrahs LaughlinWe checked into Harrah’s for two busy days of photo shoots and research. I conduct research by nose, up close and personal, so we were up early the next morning. Even in May the days get hot; early mornings and early evenings are the best times to explore the North Reach Trail to Davis Dam.

There’s a fascination to the river, even for a little yellow dog. It’s perfectly stationary, and yet it’s constantly moving. That is, it flows past but it stays just where it is. It’s a puzzlement.

I have to admit I’m a little miffed that the posse has absconded with one of the very nice bowls the Harrah’s people included in my Doggy Swagbag when we checked in. They use it as a candy dish and think they’re very funny.

The Wonder Dog

Larry Friedman‘s absence was deplored and three of tourism’s silverbacks were paid tribute — Ed Spear of Ely, Bob Perchetti of Tonopah and Jim Marsh, who is at home all over Central Nevada.

We left after the Awards Banquet Thursday night and drove south to Pahrump where we took a space at Camp Wal-Mart for what was left of the night, and hurried on at dawn to Boulder City and the Nevada State Railroad Museum, home of the Nevada Southern Railway.

The little depot on Yucca Street was just coming to life when we arrived, not with choo- choos but with railbikes. These are industrial grade quadricycles-built-for-two that run on railroad tracks when pedaled, and they can be joined together so that whole groups can travel as one, all pedaling . . . gently at first, and then going like mad. Great fun!

Their adventure takes them west on track originally laid in 1931 to connect the UPRR from Las Vegas to Black Canyon and the Boulder Dam construction site, ending just northwest of the Railroad Pass Hotel/Casino at the US 93/95 Freeway. This has also been the end of the line for the weekend excursion trains since they began in 2002.

But on this day that would change in a big way. A special train was waiting to carry invited guests to a ceremony at the opening of a new bridge carrying the rails across the new Freeway to Henderson.

Celebrities arrived one by one and two by two; Governor Sandoval, Senator Heller and 40 or 50 people representing constituencies, contributors and participants in the project. And at 11 o’clock we got on board the two coaches, a dining car, an open-sided observation car (all acquired from Utah’s “Heber Creeper” in 1992) and the VIP Caboose and a vintage diesel pulled us gently to the bridge.

In 1985 the Union Pacific Railroad sold its Las Vegas-Henderson spur to the City of Henderson with an agreement that the city would maintain the rails and the UP would continue 5-days-a-week service to the city’s industrial businesses. Beyond Henderson the line was unused, and in 1988 NDOT paved over the rails that crossed the highway.

By 2000 the State Railroad Museum consisted of the track, the big shop across Yucca Street, the shaded platform and the fully rehabbed equipment from Utah. All of this was accomplished by the sole employee on site, Greg Corbin, working with contractors.

All that was lacking was running trains, so in 2002 Museums Administrator Peter Barton contacted southern Nevada members of the National Railroad Historical Society and asked if in addition to loving railroads they’d like to run one. It turned out they would, and they formed the Friends of the Nevada Southern Railway to fire up the locomotives and carry 2000 riders on the run to Railroad Pass the first year.

Annual ridership is now about 37,000 on the weekend runs plus the Special Trains — during December the Holiday trains all sell out, and carry some 10,000 passengers.

Preparations for the advent of Interstate 11 have had a big impact on the operation of the NSRy, starting with the redesign of US 93 and US 95 at Railroad Pass. When those plans were announced, Corbin reminded NDOT that the original rails had been paved over 20 years before, even though the right-of-way, despite being unused at the time, had never legally been abandoned. As a consequence the bridge we’d gathered to inaugurate was added to the highway realignment plans and constructed by NDOT. The small bridge a little farther west carries the bike trail.

Another consequence of I-11 was that Boulder City officials realized that rerouting highway traffic around the city would hurt local business. They came to the Railroad Museum wondering if it could be expanded to become a more significant attraction.

Governor Sandoval drives spike spike at new bridge over US 93/95 FreewayThat, of course, is up to the Legislature and it’s

anticipated that funding the three phases of development will take a mix of public and private financing. A federal grant is being sought to develop and maintain the biking/hiking trails, and the museum itself will be a mix of State bonds and private money. Phase One is a $15 million Visitor Center/Passenger Depot at the now undeveloped east end of the property. Phase 2 is to be development of the access drive from Yucca Street into a landscaped greenbelt roadway, and phase 3 fills in the gap between the current platform and the new Visitor Center with more exhibits.

Oh but that’s just the beginning. After the ceremony by the bridge (after hearing that Governor Stanford went 0 for 3 when trying to drive the Golden Spike at Promontory Point in 1869, Governor Sandoval practically got onto his knees to tap-tap-tap the Silver Spike carefully into place) we reboarded the train and made the first passenger run to Henderson.

The tracks don’t extend very far beyond the highway crossing yet but preliminary plans suggest that an operating agreement now being negotiated with the City of Henderson will extend the run on a regular basis by about a mile, to the end of current UPRR directed freight service. An anticipated operating agreement between the City, the Museum and Union Pacific would allow Special trains to a Henderson passenger platform where the tracks run near to Water Street, the original downtown, and ultimately to the area of the Fiesta Casino, about seven miles west of the bridge.

Tourist trains back and forth between the two cities are a natural; there are even giddy thoughts of establishing daily commuter trains from Boulder City all the way to Las Vegas.

Hurry up with it, ladies and gents. We want to ride that train too.

She came out dancing

I’ve never seen Tina Turner perform, and I don’t know that I’ve ever heard her on the radio or tv, so when Stephanya came skipping out from the wings at Sammy’s Showroom in Harrah’s Reno and announced that this would be a Rock and Roll night, not a Sinatra night, I was a little bit disappointed. I like Sinatra.

But along with her there were four dancers, two back-up singers and a five-piece band wailing away in the antic sprays of color spiraling down from the lights spinning and doing cartwheels on the ceiling.

And in out there in the middle of it all was Tina, head shaking, teeth flashing, singing loud and nonstop:

We don’t need another Hero!
We don’t need another Waco! (Can that be right?)

And then a surprise! In came a man in a pink dinner jacket, prancing in time to the tumultuous music and flinging himself — OMG! It’s Mork!

It wasn’t though, it was Rod Stewart, singing his heart out at the top of his lungs:

I want your hind legs!
Hind legs and saddle shoes!

That doesn’t sound right either, but it didn’t seem to matter at all in the endless flood of music, the audience and the performers alike iridescent in the lights sparkling down from above, Tina back on stage, standing in the spotlight but not standing still: arms up, arms out, head back, voice enveloping the room, high energy buoyed up by high spirits.

What’s love got to do with it?

And then Rod was back with a sob in his throat:

Maggie I really tried!

And he waded into the flood, pulling the audience in behind him:

He sang: I wish                    We sang: I’d never seen your face
He sang: Forever Young      We clap-clap-clapped

And throughout it all the dancers danced, the singers sang, and the musicians each (except the drummer) stepped forward for a showcase solo that suggested a wider repertoire than allowed by the relentless, urgent, ecstatic drive of tonight’s playbook.

If Tina Turner was as good as Stephanya it’s no wonder she was so popular.

That effervescent show was the high point of our night on the town, but there were a couple of other events that made it perfect.

Before the show we had the Friday/Saturday night Steak and Seafood buffet at Carvings. The experienced buffet browser understands the difficulty of keeping food both warm and fresh indefinitely, and deploys his tongs accordingly. The rare roast beef makes every other offering on display into a side dish; choose the ones you see as they arrive from the kitchen. The desserts are excellent.

After the show and a nightcap in the Sapphire Room we returned to the dog-friendly 4th floor where we’d left Jones and Mojito watching Fox News in one of the recently renovated pet-friendly rooms.

Pet-friendliness seems to consist most obviously of tile floors replacing carpet for the sake of cleanliness. Unlike, say, Bert Woywod’s Prospector Casino/Hotel in Ely, there’s no big dogbed in the corner for Pooch to spread out on. Still, with a walk on the rainy streets of Reno, and a visit to the postage stamp size poop zone on 2nd Street the dogs were quite content, and so were we.

And speaking of downtown Reno hotels, there’s one — the Whitney Peak — that’s included in a list of the World’s 12 Coolest. Not the World’s 12 Coolest Hotels, although it is a very cool hotel, but the World’s 12 Coolest Climbing Gyms.

Whitney Peak Hotel in Reno NevadaSay what?

“The popularity of indoor climbing has skyrocketed in recent years, and so have the number of gyms,” says the Travel Channel. “We looked all over the world to find some of the coolest, many of which have saved historic buildings from being demolished. Pack your climbing shoes next time you travel. You’ll want to see these places first-hand.”

First on the list is CityROCK in Colorado Springs, Colorado, followed by fabulous-verging-on-astonishing climbing venues in Spain, Scotland, Germany, even Canada. And then, #6:

Fifteen Years Ago
in the NevadaGram

One of the unforgettable images I carry around in my mind is from the Carson City Rendezvous a few years back. Participants are intensely committed to practicing the lifeways of the frontier, each striking his own chord in this mad mix of historical moments. The men wear extravagant whiskers, the women are subdued. I was strolling past an Indian village in a crowd sprinkled with civil war soldiers, Scottish clansmen and gun-toting desperados of every colorful kind when I noticed a couple walking toward me through the turbulence.

They were splendidly made up as Mountain Man and Mountain Woman in dressed hides and furs. Their breeches were decorated with conchos and fringes, and they both wore big knives in their belts. Maybe they were on their way back to their booth, but they cut a majestic figure as they promenaded along together, accouterments ajingle. and as they passed me I turned to watch them go. And saw that their breeches were seatless — chaps, really — and that these two large people were butt-naked at the back-end of all their finery. Their butts were big and dead white, refrigerator white, huge beacons of brilliance reflecting the early summer sun, the King and Queen of Authenticity on parade. You’ve gotta like that.
Overheard at The Stockmen’s in Elko: “So I asked this Swiss guy, ‘How come you’re so docile about paying such high taxes?’ and he said, ‘What’s it worth to live in a country with no homelessness, no hunger, where everybody has access to health care and a good education?’”

Basecamp at Whitney Peak Hotel, Reno, Nevada

It probably does not surprise you that the world’s tallest artificial climbing wall is at a hotel in Reno, Nevada — little Vegas. It’s worth a visit. The 164-foot-tall climbing wall at Basecamp scales the side of the posh Whitney Peak Hotel. If that’s a little too tall for your liking, you’ll also find 40-foot auto-belay routes alongside the big one and a 3,200-square-foot bouldering gym indoors.

Don’t let the dismissive silliness of that “Little Vegas” remark start a fight; most people outside Nevada are ignorant about our cities, even the famous ones. (An article about the hotel in the Huffington Post had this notice at the bottom: “CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post stated Reno was “not far” from Las Vegas. If you plan to hit Sin City after your climbing adventure, be advised that Las Vegas is about a seven-hour drive away.“)

But these guys do know Climbing Gyms, and the Whitney Peak may be the only one you can rent a room inside of. It is indeed posh, but not in a way you’ve seen before. Everything about it seems ultra new, already halfway into tomorrow. As such, it’s the opposite of Harrah’s (see above) which is all about nostalgia, from the superlative Steak House to the international buffet to Sammy’s Showroom itself, all still reliably top of the line as they’ve been since Bill Harrah’s day.

We enjoyed the contrast between the two and recommend you visit them both in either direction during your next night on the town in Reno.

A Foodie Find in Las Vegas:
The International Marketplace at 5000 Decatur in Las Vegas is a great food shopping experience with thousands of products from all over the world.  You could easily spend an hour or more just going down the aisles to see what’s available. It’s a huge store, more like a warehouse than a standard grocery store.

Lots of canned and packaged goods as well as fresh produce and fresh and frozen seafood.  The fresh seafood is beyond anything you’ll see in traditional food stores.  Some fish are even raised on site and you can see them in the huge tanks.

The produce was interesting with unfamiliar fruits and vegetables. There is also Asian kitchen equipment, accessories and dinnerware.  We purchased some products we were familiar with like haggis, assorted pates and dolmas.  And we purchased many that we had never seen before or even knew what to do with, like some soy bean pastes from South Korea, which we’ll experiment with for flavor additions.

The one thing we didn’t find was lamb bouillon which I brought back from Scotland many years ago and have never been able to find again.

— Robin Cobbey

Parting Shot —



  1. Dear David, Thank you so much for your kind words and inspirational post about The Rural Round up, and your mention of our participation in restoring the incredible buildings in Tonopah. It has truly been a great honor to be a part of reinvigorating these old buildings to their former glory, and the best way we know how to honor those pioneers that forged their way through the formidable Nevada desert. Thank you for your accolades, and thank you for honoring all of Nevada with your great publication!


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