I finally felt comfortable enough with the RV that I decided it was time to head north. My plan was to avoid that steep hill where the engine had blown the last time. Once burnt, twice shy. The plan was to head west on I-40, maybe visit Hoover Darn, skirt the east side of Las Vegas on SR-93, and head due north to Ely, Nevada. I knew this would be an interesting trip as I’d never traveled this exact route before but knew from research that the roads I was going to be traveling were pretty remote. There was a long section where it was reported that the cell phone wouldn’t be working and if I had a problem in that stretch, it’d be a long wait before someone would pass by and be able to relay a message. But with the potential of some excellent views along the highway and little traffic.
As you can see, some of these roads are pretty stark. When I’m in areas like this, it’s fun to reflect on how the Indians must have perceived travel though desert like this. Did they have enough incentive for discovery to make a journey like this on a lark or were they forced by conditions at their old homes? Or both, or some other reason…like adventure or curiosity.
Suddenly you’re in a gorge. Keeps the trip interesting.
So the new bridge has been built and it’s a huge disappointment. You only get a glance at the dam from the bridge, it’s plain, unremarkable, and when I passed over it, there was too much truck and car traffic, had to pay attention so I wasn’t able to get any pictures. But it’s quite a ways away from the dam anyway and although there is a view point at the West end of the bridge, I choose to keep driving. Unremarkable view compared to actually being on the dam itself…which I’ve done several times. Even a couple times in my RV.
Then you get into Las Vegas proper and let’s face it, it’s an unremarkable town in the day time, so no pictures. I am not much of a gambler and it doesn’t attract me like it does many people, so I just skirted the Eastern edge of the town and soon was back in remote back country on SR-93. The road borders the Desert National Wildlife Refuge, there’s water here and there in small ponds attracting many birds and other critters. Lots of bird life around here as this area is on the migratory flight path of many species. But I didn’t head on in there since my genset wasn’t working right and I didn’t want to have to spend a night without any power. Looking back on it, that was silly of me as the house batteries would have gotten me though the night easily enough. Oh, well, next trip.
Then you start passing through a really neat valley where Alamo, NV is located. A small town of 1,000 or so. The main drag has 3 large filling stations designed to attract truckers passing through that sell alien do-dads since Area 51 is near here. As is the Extraterrestrial Highway. I had thought about visiting the area but, at the turn off a few miles north of Alamo, I decided it just wasn’t that much of an attraction and kept heading due north.
Arriving in Ely, Nevada, around 5:30pm, I settled in at Prospector RV Park. This is a park on the main drag in Ely, and the attraction for me is that it’s located close to town, and it is a casino. Food, a bar, games, nice RV park, pretty gurls hanging around and working there, etc. Oh, and it’s only $15/night. It was great being at a park where I could walk over to the bar in the evenings, have a great dinner and gamble a little. I played those little machines that are built into the bar. I know, I said I’m not much of a gambler, but they were right there in front of me and dropping a few bucks into them every night was a distraction from the loneliness that can be my life on the road sometimes. Harmless entertainment as it’s doubtful I’ll ever get hooked like some people I’ve known. Examples of this are the gal around my age who use to come into LT’s tavern years ago. She had lost her husband and just started playing occasionally. Over the next 3 years she got hooked. Eventually got so bad that she wouldn’t even leave her seat when she had to pee. My favorite table was right next to her favorite machine and every once in a while I’d notice urine dripping off her stool. I’d call Mary the owner over and point it out and she’d send the gal home. Finally, she’d done it 2-3 times and Mary 86′ed her. Then there was that guy who started out just playing occasionally, and four years later he’d sunk his houses equity into those damn machines. Got it refinanced and turned around and sunk another home equity loan into them. He finally stopped coming into the bar at all. I made a joke about gamblers that had gone off the deep end one night while he was coming in there regularly and was deep into playing too much…not even talking about him…he over heard and was ready to beat the crap out of me. The bar tender jumped in and chased him off before it progressed too far. I was stunned as I hadn’t been talking to him at the time.
Anywho, examples like that have kept me from to much gambling, though I do enjoy the entertainment on occasion. Here in Ely, I was loosing around $5 per night after playing for an hour or two when one night, I kept winning and winning and winning. Soon, I’d accumulated over $200 on a $5 beginning bet. Cool. When I’d played back down to $138, I cashed out and calculated that I’d won all my play expense over the previous week back. More then broke even. Even made a profit. So, didn’t play much after that.
Here’s a shot or two of the homestead that the hotel had decided to keep when they bought the property.
After a few days of roaming around on my bike, ordering parts for my genset, and general screwing around, I decided to visit the Nevada Northern Railway Museum. It’s not all that expensive, just $5 for the museum and $24 for the train ride, a two hour trip on an old steam train up into the hills where there is a huge mine. Followed by a tour of the roundhouse. Neat!
Have to say that I was pretty excited when the train finally pulled into the station. We watched it get the water it needed on another track before it got to us and it looked really cool.
After topping off, she pulled back a 1/4 mile or so, switched tracks and finally steamed up to the dock where we were waiting.
We were able to occupy the flatcars so we could take pictures and enjoy the weather. Which had turned nice a couple days after I’d arrived. About 4 days before this train trip, I’d been wandering around the RV park after dropping off my trash and this freak wind came up and started throwing loose stuff around. I got behind a large light pole to wait it out and here comes the strongest dust devil I’ve ever been in. It was whipping stuff all around that it had picked up on it’s way into the park and in the park and then, BANG, the roof of an RV across the street from where I’d hunkered down blew off. It quickly tore apart and scattered pieces inside the park and into the open field to the North. When it finally settled down, I high tailed it back to my RV to see if there was any damage there. While I’m inspecting this guy in a pick up truck drives into the park, and was parked in the road looking puzzled at all the stuff laying around the area and in the road. I wandered over and let him know what had just happened. Let him know about the roof being torn off and all, and it turned out that it was his RV. I volunteered to help him pick up the pieces but he was on top his RV by that time and decided it was a lost cause. It was a one piece fiberglass roof and it was too far gone, he thought, and the pieces were scattered over a wide area and he didn’t think it would be productive to try to accumulate them all. He told me he’d been a fiberglass repair guy in a previous life. So, I went back to my RV, climbed up on the roof and checked all around but didn’t find anything amiss.
But, I digress…so the train is finally ready and comes to pick us up. But while it’s waiting for everyone to load, I wandered up to the engine and climbed aboard to take a look. That’s allowed so I didn’t have to sneak in.
Everyone running the train is a volunteer. The conductor gives a history lesson while we travel. The engineer was a real train engineer before retiring and volunteering here. Ran electric trains though so had a steep learning curve to get use to steam power.
This is mining country and we’re heading for what use to be a major mine up in the hills. Before we get there, we have to pass across a few streets in regular neighborhoods. We’re only traveling around 5 MPH on the first leg and we pass an older gentleman who’s job it is to block a street where there’s no railroad crossing gate. He puts up barriers and takes them down twice a day. Seemed to enjoy it though. After we get out of town our speed increases to 10 MPH as we chug along…steam billowing out of the power cylinders and black smoke out of the smokestack. We even go though a short tunnel where the grit from the smoke gets in your teeth. And the smell is of oil and water.
We pick up speed as we leave the more populated areas of town but we’re only going around 10 MPH. Slow enough to enjoy the passing flora and vistas but fast enough to provide a nice breeze to counter the burning sun.
That’s a man made hill over there after nearly a hundred years of mining.
The purple color was pretty cool. Note the old wood stove.
This was the original destination of this rail line and the buildings were being restored. All would fall to ruin otherwise.
We were here for 1/2 hour as they moved the engine (and the caboose right behind it) to the back of the train. Then we headed back down the ravine.
The conductor told us that this was a pioneers homestead back in the day, and in the early sixties was bought by a hippy family after the pioneer died. They lived here for years trying the impossible…improving the building enough that it was comfortable to live in, farming the land and raising pig, chickens and goats. They eventually failed and had to give it up. It’s several miles from Ely and difficult to get to in the best of circumstances, in bad weather, nearly impossible. But the family stuck it out for quite a few years according to the story, they raised some young’ens here too.
Back down the ravine we went. Since we headed downhill, we’re going a little faster and the engine doesn’t have to work as hard so it’s not blowing as much thick black smoke. We paralleled a small creek that had been put to good use while the mine was going full throttle in the old days. But as you can imagine, it was a chemical soup after a few years. Rendering it a toxic wasteland whereas previously it supported much wildlife. Now that the mine wasn’t such a big production, reclamation is helping restore some of that watershed. Some portions of the creek were actually run through pipes to avoid picking up some of the hazardous metals along it’s route. As you can see it’s starting to look pretty healthy and is attracting birds and other wildlife. This is a farm along the route and they’re responsible folk, trying to be good shepherds of the land, and wetlands.
This is a high desert area so they can get a lot of snow on occasion. And many creeks in the area flow year round.
Arriving back at the rail yard we disembarked at an old shipping dock. Thousands of feet of storage space that once was as busy as an airport is these days.
Everyone was given the choice to continue our tour with a visit to the roundhouse or to bale. Some did but most of our group trudged back to the roundhouse for a wee visit.
We all crowded into the shop heading down a few steps into a 1920′s type work shop. Even had those leather belts running to several machines.
This is a huge shop with all sorts of giant machines to keep trains running. Can’t remember for sure, but I believe the shop was working well into the ’80′s. It was abandoned by company that owned it but the displaced workers felt it had historical value and kept it lively and in peoples minds long enough that it’s now a museum. Thanks people. It’s in incredible shape. And it’s still a working shop. Certainly not as busy as it once was but it’s still used to refurbish the rolling stock that’s scattered all around here and used daily. And, they’ve been used to refurbish other stock by other museums around the country as they are about the only people with the skills. The guide was an old timer that actually worked here in the day and was full of factoids for us. Very interesting hearing from someone who walked the walk.
Above is one of the pistons used in a diesel engine. You can tell how large it is because that can of Liquid Wrench is full sized.
There were engines and machines in here that were all in various stages of restoration or simply being repaired. I’d love to work here for a year or two.
Then we walked into the work house as one of the engines was pulled into the shop for a little work. We got to talk to the crew a bit.
The guide gave us a history of this show remover and a primer on how it worked. Had a huge engine driving it, and plowed though 12′ snow drifts like they were butter.
After that neat tour I wandered over to the actual museum. It’s not very large but does have some interesting items.
So that’s the end of the train tour in Ely. I spent a couple weeks in Ely enjoying the mostly fine weather and the casino. And the occasional foray into old downtown and some of the seemingly turn of the last century architecture. And, I ordered a part for my genset and installed it, link to the story here: Genset repair…
See you all next installment.