It began well.
We were underway from Gold Hill more or less on time, found the new location of VN Pho in Fallon (behind the Wells Fargo bank) for the take-out we put in the fridge for dinner, and turned off US 50 just past Middlegate Station onto Nevada Highway 722 (Old 50) to take the scenic route to Austin.
722 is a paved and pleasant drive that climbs to Carroll Summit (7,492 ft) descends into Smith Creek Valley, continues east to the Reese River Valley and returns to US 50 just west of Austin. Our plan was to turn off 722 onto the graded and well-maintained Elkhorn Road for the 9-mile drive into Reese River Valley and then continue on to Austin.
Which we did.
But four miles along we blew a tire to smithereens.
Bummer, huh? Yes and No.
Yes for obvious reasons, but No because we were traveling in company with friends from Silver City, so rescue was close at hand and there was plenty of time left in the day. And we not only had AAA cards in our wallets, but also cold beer in our fridge.
So we arranged to meet the tow-truck AAA was sending from Atlas Tow in Elko the next day, piled into our friends’ van, and rode to Austin in comfort, leaving our van in one of the safest places in America.
We stayed at the Pony Canyon Motel in Austin. Small rooms meticulously clean with friendly and helpful hosts just a two-minute walk from the local inconvenience store (actually quite nice; both recommended).
Also recommended in Austin: the Toiyabe Cafe, but it was closed the next morning (and appears closed indefinitely) so we went to the low-rise Trump Tower, aka the International. It was so festooned with Open signs that we missed the one saying “Masked Prohibited”. Big mistake.
We entered with visions of bacon and eggs dancing in our heads, and saw the cook in the kitchen in the back of the big room. A talk radio program was spewing grievance and discord at high volume.
“Are you open?” we called to her.
“Well, the door is open.”
“So . . . are you serving breakfast?”
There was a plate of cookies and a muffin or two on one of the tables.”Are you selling these baked goods?”
“Yes,” she said and launched into a spasm of heavy coughing which prompted us to put on our Covid masks.
“You can’t wear a mask in here!” she croaked through her coughs, “And I’m CLOSED!” So we left.
Back on Elkhorn Road we met the flatbed “tow-truck” in late morning, watched the friendly driver load the van, and resumed our journey. But instead of the detour to Reese River we rode with our friends on 722 to US 50 and turned north to take Nevada Highway 305 to Battle Mountain.
We took care of the van at the Point S Tire shop, booked a room at the Rodeway Inn, and decided on an early dinner at the HideAway Steak House. Four thumbs up for our dinners and for Mayra, our waitress-bartender-chef — the food and the service were memorably good and probably got even better when the rest of the staff arrived. To improve the experience even further, one of the men at the tire shop came to find us and explain a detail in connection with the new tires on the van. We were well served in Battle Mountain!
By the next afternoon we were in Eureka. Like a lot of small towns on lonely roads, Eureka has suffered from the pandemic — not so much from Covid-19 as from the lack of traffic.
We had a nice dinner at the Owl Club and learned the bad news that the Pony Express Deli at the top of town had closed and DJ’s was about to shut down as well, leaving the Owl Club, the Urban Cowboy a couple of long blocks west, Sacha’s Sugar Shack between the Eureka Opera House and the Jackson House , and the deli counter at Raine’s Market serving food.
The Eureka Visitors Center is in the Jackson House, with its entrance around the corner on Bateman Street. It is easily the most elegant Visitors Center in the state, and the reliable source of all current information about the town and its environs. A major upcoming Event at the Opera House: the Nevada State Old-Time Fiddlers’ Contest. The Eureka Museum, a block west on Bateman Street, is the source of all historical information about he region and contains an excellent locally-oriented bookstore.
On to Ely in time for a business lunch at Rack’s downtown. We stayed the night south of town on US 6/50 at the KOA — a well equipped and outfitted RV park. Our stay there was unexceptional until about 3 a.m. when somebody touched something and our horn started to blast and blast and blast. And blast. And blast and blast!
And as we were almost ready to drive outta there as fast as we could, it stopped. So we went back to bed and pretended it never happened. A little later on we drove back into Ely for breakfast at the Prospector on the east side of town: chicken-fried steak with poached eggs — splendid!
By the way, the portable Viet Nam wall will be in Ely from July first through the 4th and the traditional horse races will be held the third weekend in August — the equally traditional chariot races, alas, are no more.
And then via US 6 to Tonopah. This is the real “America’s Loneliest Road”
We booked a slot in the long line of hookups behind the Tonopah Station just uphill from the Central Nevada Museum and noticed that the Scolari’s supermarket next door has become a Raley’s. We had breakfast in the 24-hour restaurant at the casino. The menu is classic American, the service brisk and cheerful. Thumbs up.
It’s hard to believe that ten years have passed since Fred and Nancy Cline presided over the unveiling of the restored and revived Mizpah Hotel, and it’s even harder to believe that they are doing it again, but they are. This time it’s the Belvada Hotel, kitty-corner across Main Street from the Mizpah, conjured by transforming the rundown office building that was already a bustling hive at the center of business life in young Tonopah when the Mizpah was built.
The building was constructed in 1906-1907 and as the Clines discovered, it was built to last. Even though it had fallen on almost a century of hard times, growing increasingly shabby and looted of much that wasn’t built in, its bones were good.
Today’s lobby was once the Nevada State Bank (which went broke four years after it opened) and today’s rooms on the upper floors were once offices — Key Pittman (later Governor) had his law office here. Also upstairs were other lawyers, doctors, dentists — and a hat shop on the fifth floor. In the basement was a six chair tonsorial parlor with a steam room. How classy was this building and its occupants? The Nevada Club Saloon, opened in 1908 on the main floor with its entrance on the side street, was listed as one of the 10 best bars in in all of America in 1910.
On Saturday April 17th the doors of the Belvada were opened to more than a hundred invited guests who were welcomed by Nancy Cline and entertained by Dave Stamey. Yes, he did sing “Tonopah” for us. Click the Go button below and he’ll sing it for you.
We spent a few minutes the next morning talking with Nancy about the Belvada. Click the Go button below to hear what she had to say.
There was food, there was wine, and there were good feelings all around as the Hotel Belvada was officially launched.
The Belvada isn’t all that’s new in Tonopah — you can charge your Tesla here now, and hopefully make it all the way to your next destination.
From Tonopah we headed for home, with one final high point awaiting us — breakfast at Socorro’s in Mina. I’m tempted to say it was our favorite breakfast of the trip, but then I remember the breakfast at Margarita’s in Ely. Nothing was better than that. But nothing could be better than our breakfast at Socorro’s either, so I hereby declare the chicken-fried steak at Margarita’s to be the Best on US Highway 93 and that fish sandwich and chocolate malt at Socorro’s in Mina to be the Best on US Highway 95.
There, that’s settled. Now we’re looking at the map again to plan our next cruise out into the sagebrush sea in search of off-the-beaten-track restaurants tht are worth seeking out.