NevadaGram #213 – Nevada Ghost Town Comes to Life


Ghost Town by Justin Panson
Keeping Secrets

by Justin Panson

The Ghost Town has the most beautiful name, drawn from botanical nomenclature, at once Victorian and old western. Ghost town banquetBut I omit it here, based on keeping secret places secret. With a place this unspoiled you have to be careful with the information. The old timer who told Whitey about the town looked long and hard at him before deciding he was worthy to entrust. So we’re carrying that trust forward.I think that’s why you never got a really clear map to get out there. There was some dead reckoning involved, as if you had to really want to get out there and had the get-up to figure it out. In the age of moment-by-moment self-broadcast and the perfect memory of Google, there are no secrets anymore. I’m a bit concerned about even sharing this account.

Also, full names are not used since people in these stories didn’t likely expect someone to write about all their unguarded moments and put it up on the internet.   ​

Every western story needs certain elements, heroes and rogues, booms and busts, wide open range…and in the middle of it, a lonely little town.

And every town needs a mayor and a sheriff. With a wink and nod to old west propriety, Whitey and Jeffy D. were our self proclaimed town officials, on the basis that they found the Ghost Town way up a forgotten road out in the middle of the Nevada desert.

Gun nutPrestonHappy hourEvery western story needs calamity—and that is a guy named Preston, a larger-than-life, big-hearted wild man out of Ohio, whose enthusiastic revelry once had to be subdued with a small handful of Tylenol PM crushed up and slipped into his drink.

Ghost Town Dude

Nevada Ghost town


Calamity was served in the Ghost Town by no shortage of antics and characters. There were sages, desert rats and a cat house madam; there were old cowboy songs and honky tonk numbers belted out in a little shack saloon beside an abandoned quicksilver mine. Pastimes among our band of eccentric townies included pyrotechnics, gunplay, heavy drinking, 4 wheeling, drugs, sometimes all in combination–and wrecked cars, as you would expect.

There were calmer pursuits like horseshoes, walks in the sagebrush hills and dutch oven cookery. There were potluck formal dinners in the multicolored dusk, at a long table hammered together out of scrap wood and topped with glowing thrift store candelabras. There were artists, musicians, historians, geographers, and a tall salvage guy whose exact role in life remains hard to describe. And there was musicThere were slackers and teachers and translators and programmers.

Above all there was resourcefulness and a DIY ethicrestoration of the old structures, reroofing projects, porch fixing. There was a charming fireman who sang lovely folk ballads and figured prominently in town affairs.

There was a brief span of time, a few years, when we regularly took trips out to the Ghost Town, all of us coming together in this rarefied, otherworldly place. It was more than just weekend camp outs. The place took on a life of its own. Looking back on the experience, the thing I like best is that we made our own world in this godforsaken landscape, a land that the Mayor and his friends found beautiful. I have come to understand this beauty. I have come to share their genuine reverence for western lore.

And I can see now how ruins and ‘old shit’ can capture the imagination.


Wide Blue Yonder

On the other side of the spectrum from daredevil antics and debauchery there was a sincere appreciation of the place—the remoteness, stillness and quiet, the sense of emptiness, the natural beauty. Beautiful viewThe desert has a sweep and grandeur unmatched by any postcard of an ocean or a snowy mountain. It’s what compelled guys like Maynard Dixon to paint bold, color-saturated western landscapes.
I asked Whitey once ‘what was it about the desert?’ ‘The blue of the sky’ he said. It sounds overly simple, but there’s something about the unreal iridescence of the blue and the flatness of the land. Distance and the quality of the light tend to force the world into a reductive set of lines and color blocks. And Whitey knows something about color—among all of his other talents, he is an accomplished landscape painter whose work is sold in galleries.
For those of us who toil in cubicles and mundane interiors, being out in the desert always felt like good fortune. Saloon and mine derrick at sunsetThe concerns of city life seemed to dissolve away into the bigness of the land.

When you find yourself walking in the Elysian Fields, of course you do the tourist thing and pull out your camera. Most of us were powerless to resist the allure of photography, even though playing the intrepid photog was sort of a well worn role. Our device-centric age has trained us to reflexively reach for digital capture as a shorthand expression of more profound things.
As a result, there were these absurd scenes where everyone was shooting the same picture. But I think the self conscious act of taking snapshots was a fair tradeoff for the record of what seems like a lost time.
Starry night in a Nevada Ghost TownAmong so many, there are a few I keep coming back to: a long exposure photo of the Saloon and mine derrick silhouetted against an evening sky. The gradation from light to deep blue is pinpointed with millions of stars, and the Saloon windows are glowing with lantern light and just the suggestion of activity inside.
Another indelible series of images is from what became known as Sunset point. Around dusk people would walk up onto the ridge above town. It overlooked the broad sweep of the valley below. There were these amazing photos of groups of us standing under the dramatic gathering dusk, the sky and distant peaks washed in incomprehensible shades of purple, orange and deep yellow.

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Looking around

Editor’s note: Comparison to Burning Man may be inevitable, but this is the other side of that coin. Be assured there are no corporate camps, no paid admissions, no marketing department. Participation at Ghost Town is by invitation only, and these invitations might be the hottest ticket in Nevada if there were any tickets. There aren’t. Invitations are only available through natural selection so naturally hardly anyone is selected. Rather than wait for an invitation to this place, find another place that needs saving and save it.

Editor’s Choice —

But Where Does He Live?

In the county that claims Mark Twain, an irreverent
online publisher faces off with a powerful developer
over who is a journalist

by Daniel Rothberg

Sam Toll, Lance Gilman

Sitting inside his cabin on a Friday afternoon, the tendentious Gold Hill editor Sam Toll sinks into a black office chair. His long hair sweeps the shoulders of his brown corduroy jacket. Toll rests his sunglasses on the brim of his cowboy hat. His bolo tie inches up and down as he speaks.

On one side of Toll’s coat, a Nixon pin. On the other side, a Carter pin. Toll, who might as well have popped out of a Thomas Pynchon novel, sits behind a Cuba flag and a photograph of Fidel Castro meeting Ernest Hemingway, a writer he says was an influence along with George Orwell and Christopher Hitchens. This is the newsroom of the Storey Teller, an often derisive blog run by Toll that is at the center of a libel case testing how far Nevada law goes to protect journalists.

His yellow cabin — with a sign that says “Old Miner’s Cabin BUILT 1867” — sits in the small community of Gold Hill, adjacent and underneath Virginia City, the seat of Storey County.

Read More Here


Snowy Egrets
Las Vegas is an oasis to more than just whales and gamblers. Thousands of migratory birds stop here to rest up, refuel and sometimes even mate while they journey back and forth across the globe. Think of it as the Pacific Highway, running north and south, but for birds instead of Beemers.

Many types of birds live in Southern Nevada. But many others pass through, including owls, eagles, hawks, falcons, waterfowl and bats (which are actually bird-like mammals). It’d be impossible to describe them all in one article, so here are a few highlights.

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Reno Drops Lime Bikes, So Does Lime

Lime bikes leaves Reno

by Bob Conrad

Say goodbye to the Lime bikes. Lime, the company, is dropping its pedal-bike fleet. The surprise announcement was made tonight at the Reno City Hall as the city council was considering renewing its franchise agreement with the company.

A spokesperson for Lime confirmed that it was moving to focus on scooters and e-bikes, saying that pedal bikes are not profitable industry-wide.

City Sustainability Manager Lynn Barker said that Lime’s ridership in Reno has dropped to the point of the company losing $10,000 a month here.


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Nevada History —

Myth Busted

Elko celebrates its Centennial-and-a-half this year. Railroad tracks were laid through the little city in December 1868, and the first train arrived January 25th of ’69. Completion of the railroad was celebrated May 10 at Promontory, north of the Great Salt Lake in Utah. The nation was then joined by the most modern form of transportation — rail.

Promontory Point celebration May 10, 1869There was great ceremony, with engines from the Central Pacific Railroad and the Union Pacific Railroads meeting nose to nose. To commemorate the occasion, three ceremonial spikes were made, one of gold from California, another of silver from Nevada, and the third of a gold, silver and iron alloy from Arizona.

Virginia City assayers, E. Ruhling & Co., provided 25 ounces of silver which Robert Lodge of Dowling Blacksmith Shop forged into a 6-inch long, 10 1/2 ounce spike. Leland Stanford representing the Central Pacific and Thomas Durant of the Union Pacific, using a special silver plated maul, gently tapped the special spikes into predrilled holes of a specially made laurel tie. Gandy dancers from the two railroads, Chinese and Irish, aligned and pounded in two final rails. After the ceremonies and speechifying, the “special” spikes and tie were removed for safekeeping and standard material were placed.

3 spikesFor years, there was a rumor that Nevada’s Silver Spike had disappeared during the festivities. HOWEVER, with a little bit of telephoning-to the Golden Spike National Historic Park in Utah, I learned that California’s Golden Spike and Nevada’s Silver Spike are on permanent at the Art Museum at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California. During the 150th year celebration they are on display at the University of Utah Art Museum, moving to the Utah State Capital by May 10, 2019 for extended display.

Union Pacific Railroad has generously donated kiosks and replica Golden Spikes to pioneer Nevada towns. Elko’s is on display at the Cowboy Arts & Gear Museum, 542 Commercial Street. For more information on the 150th events. Contact the National Golden Spike Historical Park, 435.471.2209

— Jan Peterson

5 Years Ago in the NevadaGram

High Roller Ferris Wheel, Las VegasThe High Roller Ferris Wheel in Las Vegas is the main attraction of The Linq, an open air retail and entertainment district between the Flamingo and Imperial Palace. It took almost three years to build and opened on March 31, 2014

This is the tallest observation wheel in the world at 550 feet of altitude. It is comprised of 28 enclosed, air-conditioned, transparent pods each with an area of about 225 square feet and can easily accommodate 40 passengers. This amazing experience will take you and your 39 closest friends, roughly 30 minutes for one full rotation.

Michael E. Wetzel, Henderson

Read it All Here

Overheard at Gema’s Cafe in Beatty “Look Jeanette, when you counsel someone, you should appear to be reminding him of something he had forgotten, not of the light he was unable to see.”

10 Years Ago in the NevadaGram

Gold Point Goes to Hollywood
In October 2007 a Hollywood film crew came to Gold Point to film a psychological thriller titled “Blood River”. As Herb Robbins reports, “They filmed in the Post Office and the Saloon and all around outside. Red Dog Lil was in the film at the end of the movie. She even had a speaking part when she picked up one of the stars of the movie in a 1966 black mustang.
“We were invited to the premier in the Egyptian Theater on March 24th so we all went down. Red Dog Lil was even invited to walk down the Red Carpet, dressed in her fancy Saloon outfit, to have her picture taken by a mob of paparazzi and filmed and interviewed by other media. Sheriff Stone, of course, escorted her.”

Read It All Here          Watch the trailer here.

15 Years Ago in the NevadaGram

Ely is Nevada’s great undiscovered city, now that Elko’s been found. It is becoming increasingly visible, however, as the city’s imaginative mural project is bringing international attention, and work is getting underway to bring the old Kennecott mines back into production again. Garnet Mercantile, Ely Nevada“All of the equipment needed to operate the Robinson Mine has been secured and workers are being hired,” the Ely Times reports.
This prospect has added a rosy glow to one of the municipal cheeks — the other one was already glowing from a slap by J.C.Penney & Co. which closed its Ely store and seriously inconvenienced the community. In response, local people have organized a co-operative mercantile store, and, just like in a Jimmy Stewart movie, fundraising is underway and optimism is running high.

Read it All Here

Parting Shot — V&T Railroad still chuggun' after all these years! Steam locomotive of the Virginia & Truckee Railroad chugs up from Carson City to Virginia City in fine 19th century fashion. Photograph by Angela Mann.




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