NevadaGram #228 – Venturing out into the Sagebrush Sea

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After gamely sheltering in place for months, Robin and I decided to hit the road again during the last week in October. It was a relief, but it wasn’t a return to the way things were pre-pandemic — the presence of Covid-19 was always on our minds, interfering with the carefree attitude that cruising through the sagebrush sea has always inspired in us. Still, we were glad to be on the road again.

We’ve developed a routine for overnight hotel rooms — most lodgings are protecting guests with a commitment to wearing masks and to thoroughly disinfecting rooms. To feel extra safe we provided our own linens and brought our own disinfecting products in with us. We wear masks and distance socially outside the car . . . but many people do not. As for dining, we eat outdoors or order take-out, avoiding the chancier enclosed environments. We’re satisfied that if we are rigorous in our commitment to avoiding contact we will avoid infection.

It was almost a month ago, before the election, that we made our getaway, and now Nevada is experiencing a frightening spike in infections and deaths. More than a quarter-million Americans have died from Covid-19 and as I’m writing this more than a thousand of us die every day. So if you’re going to get away, be very careful as you go.

The Monsterburger, Middlegate NevadaWe made the 4-1/2 hour drive from Gold Hill to Eureka with one stop, for the splendid bacon cheeseburgers (that’s the Monster Burger in the photo) at Middlegate.  Beginning as a station of the Pony Express, this colorful relic survived as a stagecoach and freight depot until the arrival of the automobile, which killed it. But then the automobile revived it again as flivver traffic on US 50 created a reliable demand for food and gasoline.

And so we pulled back onto the highway and continued east.

One hallmark of our self-incarceration is the proliferation of suggestions for breaking out and roaming around, and one of the more creative of those is this one — 50 States of Wonder — from Atlas Obscura, the curator of Earth’s marginalia. Our page in this collection is titled 11 Wholesome Spots in Nevada” and introduced this way —

There’s more to the state than extraterrestrial-themed brothels and nuclear bomb test sites. Kids and grandparents might enjoy enormous Ferris wheels, unusual geysers, or pristine parklands. Even Nevada — home to Sin City — has a family-friendly side.

The snark aside, you may find the list illuminating . . . all except #6, US 50, which is described with unconcealed hostility:

There’s not much along this stretch of road from California to Maryland that could lead you to trouble. In fact, there’s not much of anything at all: Framed primarily by flat fields, with the occasional town or low-rolling hills, it’s easy to see how this stretch earned the dubious distinction of the “Loneliest Road in America”. Hint: there are mountain ranges and (apparently indescribable) beauty.

And #9: Free your family from the clutches of trans fats and film-franchise children’s toys at the place farthest from any McDonald’s location in the contiguous United States. From here, you’re 135 miles from the closest Big Mac. Huh? Gee, that’s . . . great.

So to provide you with useful suggestions for safe and enjoyable excursions in Nevada in this difficult time we’ve invited local travel and tourism experts around the state to offer invitations to their locales. Here’s one to start with, from one of our favorites—

Invitation to Carson Valley
Winter in Carson ValleyCarson Valley is one of the most beautiful destinations Nevada has to offer, and its storied communities offer enticing amenities, an easy drive from Reno, Carson City and Lake Tahoe. Sierra Safely is devoted to information and suggestions about enjoying a visit to Douglas County without undue risk. If you’re open to some creative ideas for the next time you visit, here’s one. Want more? Send the friendly people who represent the visitor experience here an email for other safe and open suggestions. The Carson Valley Visitors Center is located in the former High School, now a museum, at 1477 U.S. Hwy 395 in Gardnerville, 775-782-8145, open from 10 am to 4 pm weekdays, closed weekends.

Genoa CemeteryOne inviting (and maybe the safest) destination in Carson Valley is the Genoa burying grounds at the eastern edge of town. Like most pioneer cemeteries, this one provides plenty of food for thought, even if you’re not a knowledgeable local. You can acquire the local knowledge easily enough: get a copy of Karen Dustman’s engrossing guide, The Old Genoa Cemetery, at the bookshop down the hall from the Visitors Center at the museum.

Invitation to Eureka

When you are ready to travel in our beautiful Nevada, Eureka is safe and open for you. We have an awesome multi-use trail system for your motorized and non-motorized enjoyment. We have five restaurants, four motels, two saloons, and for supplies of all kinds, our Everything Store: Raine’s Market.

For sporting excitement come out to Perdiz shooting range, and check out our seasonal indoor swimming facility. For history, mystery and fun take the self-guided walking tour through town, and our historical ghost and tunnel tours starting at the Jackson House. Visit the unique Eureka Sentinel Museum, the beautiful Eureka Opera House and the authentically preserved 1880 Eureka County Courthouse, both museums in their own right. Masks and social distancing are required. Stop by the Eureka Tourist Information office at the 1877 Jackson House Hotel or call us at 775.230.2232. Eureka, you’ve found us!

Ely is a happy little city slightly more than an hour’s drive east of Eureka. We like its easy-going nature and the civic pride and energy that has produced the Renaissance Village as an homage to the people from around the world who created a haven in White Pine County.

Invitation to Ely
Downtown ElyWelcome to Ely! All our restaurants and lodgings are open — visitors can always get good meals and clean and safe rooms. Face masks are now required at commercial establishments. The Downtown Mural walking tour is really great for getting outside to explore Ely. The Ely Art Bank at 399 Altman Street showcases the work of local artists and craftspeople. The basement of the Garnet Mercantile next door is Nevada’s Louvre, where selections from the Cuchine Collection (the largest privately assembled collection of Nevada art in the world) is displayed. The White Pine Public Museum is east of downtown at 2000 E. Aultman Street; open 7 days a week, 10-4. A mask is required The guided tour of the train yard at the Nevada Northern Railway is amazing and can be done in all seasons no-touch in small groups and mask on.

Ely’s outdoor activity opportunities are legendary. You can rent all necessary winter gear at Sportsworld, from cross-country skis to ice fishing gear. If there’s no snow, indulge yourself with glorious opportunities for hiking and mountain biking. Great Basin National Park is just an hour east of Ely via US 50, and the ghost town of Cherry Creek is just an hour north on US 93. The Visitors Center is at 636 Aultman Street in Ely, or call 775-289-8877; is open weekdays 9 am – 4 pm, closed on weekends.

From Eureka we drove the 90 miles north on Nevada 278 to Carlin and 25 miles east on I-80 to Elko, where we made a long-overdue visit to the Gallery Bar. As far as I’m aware this is the closest that Elko has ever come to a fern bar (spoiler: no ferns) and it may be the most sophisticated retail establishment in town. It gets its name from the space adjoining the barroom, a showplace for exceptional paintings, photography, pottery and jewelry by local artists. Larry Hyslop, who wrote one of the best Nevada books in print (Sagebrush Heart), also makes superlative pottery, which he learned to do at Dennis Park’s pottery school at Tuscarora, and which you’ll find here. Splendid prints and paintings crowding the walls!

Capriola’s is next door to the west, the Cowboy Gear and Art Museum is a few doors to the east and the Western Folklife Center is across what was once the railroad switching yard and is now a huge parking lot, so there’s a lot to see here, both inside and out. And, although it may seem like heresy to some, here’s where you’ll get the best Picon Punch in town, along with the best wine list.

From Elko we headed north on the Mountain City Highway the 50 miles to Tuscarora.

This is the memorial to an early Tuscarora artist named Lee Deffenbach. She came in the late 1960s, Departed in 2005.

There’s a lot to say about Tuscarora, but not a lot that translates into a reason to visit. It’s world-famous (in a small way) as home to the Tuscarora Pottery School, founded by Dennis Parks in 1966. He migrated here four years earlier at the invitation/suggestion of Lee Deffebach. She’s buried in Salt Lake City, but there’s a memorial to her in the local cemetery, created by Laura Moore and Sidne Teske; Susan Church cut the words into the metal: “Just Resting”.

Trick or Treat, Tuscarora-styleOur main purpose was to visit with friends, but our visit coincided with Nevada Day/Halloween and so we joined in the get-together at the Society Hall. This was once the last commercial building in town — the saloon. Now there are none, so if you come, bring what you’ll need, including gasoline, because all you can buy here are postage stamps.

This is a disincentive for most tourists to visit because even the most enthusiastic and acquisitive art lovers can’t get much satisfaction from gazing on the homes and studios from the outside. Pre-pandemic there was one weekend every other year when you could go inside and buy art; it was called Open Studios. But with the arrival of Covid-19 that went off the calendar along with everything else, but now it’s back on again, in a new form.

The Tuscarora Pottery SchoolThe Tuscarora Pottery School and the Friends of Independence Valley will
host a community event on June 19, 2021. The Pottery School will offer raku demonstrations, tours of our facility and the gallery will be stocked with Tuscarora t-shirts and beautiful pottery and artworks by many artists connected with the school. Live bands will provide music to entertain guests, who can enjoy it from the Society Hall’s new deck and stadium seating. For further information, call Elaine Parks at 323-636-6262.

Until then you may content yourself with a visit with the Wild Women, some of them who live and work here, and others with close connections to Tuscarora.

USS TuscaroraFun fact about Tuscarora: more than a dozen US Navy ships have been named for Nevada people and places over the years, but Tuscarora is the only Nevada place that was named for a US Navy ship. One of the placer mining camp’s founding fathers had served aboard the sloop of war USS Tuscarora during the Civil War (does he appear in this photo, I wonder). She was named for a Native American nation of the Iroquois confederacy, launched in 1861 to chase Confederate blockade-runners, and served until 1880 when she was decommissioned at Mare Island California.

Wheezer Dell

That’s not Tuscarora’s only claim to fame. In 1886, when the town was booming, Willam George Dell was born here. “Wheezer” Dell grew up to be the first Nevada native to play baseball in the big leagues, for St. Louis and Brooklyn. He pitched an inning in the 1916 World Series and is a member of the Nevada Hall of Fame.

Invitation to Carson City
Overlooking Carson CityNevada’s heart beats here in the capital city. Carson City is the centerpoint of your northern Nevada experience, allowing an easy drive to surrounding areas and a short, scenic 30 minute drive from the Reno-Tahoe airport. Discover Carson City’s outdoor spaces including invigorating trails as well as a storied history in our museums. The Carson City community has banded together to take all precautions with our local businesses for when you’re ready to Visit Carson City safely. Stop in at the Carson City Visitors Center for current information about what interests you. We’re at 716 N. Carson Street, visit Monday – Friday 9-5 (closed weekends) or call us at 775-687-7410.


The last leg of our voyage was a treat, far lonelier than “The Loneliest Road.” The 83 miles of well-maintained (in good weather) dirt road west from Tuscarora to Golconda via Midas is a drive through the 19rh century.

Entrance to Midas
The original discoverers wanted to call their town Gold Circle in the summer of 1907, but post office officials refused to allow another Nevada postmark with ‘Gold’ in it, so they settled for Midas. Two thousand people crowded into the camp the following year, which turned out to be about 1,750 more than the mines could support; they were gone when the snows fell.
Downtown Midas
Production was small until 1915, when a cyanide mill was built and Midas prospered in a small way. Production ended suddenly when the mill burned in 1922, resuming spasmodically until 1942. It ended for good when mining was shut down by federal fiat in that year. The Post Office shut down then in sympathy, and Midas has been quiet and peaceful ever since. And you can get a cold beer at Andy’s.
The road is pleasantly hilly from Tuscarora to Midas, flatter and somewhat busier (3 pick-up trucks vs. none) from Midas to Golconda, just you and Mom Nature. From Golconda to Winnemucca you’re on I-80, back in the thick of things.
Nevada Jane Haywood's tombstone at WinnemuccaOnce we arrived our agenda called for a visit to the cemetery to photograph the tombstone that Nevada Jane Haywood shares with her parents. She was a teenager living at Willow Creek, about 60 miles north of Winnemucca, when she married Big Bill Haywood, a future member of the Nevada Hall of Fame. Bill is buried in Moscow (Russia, not Idaho), one of only two Americans entombed in the Kremlin wall (the other is John Reed, immortalized in the movie “Reds”).
From Winnemucca to Gold Hill was a familiar three-hour jaunt. One especially happy aspect of a pandemic homecoming is the welcome relief of letting down your guard. We’re always glad to be home again and it was an especially happy experience this time.
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1 COMMENT

  1. Hey Dave and Robin: Great trip report! Now that I’m “retired,” hope to get out to some of those places this summer, pandemic permitting. Meanwhile, thanks for “getting out there” for all of us. Stay safe. John…..

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