Sunday, August 05, 2007

This Town Is Dying

It's taken me over an hour to establish an internet connection here at the hotel, and it will possibly be the last time I'll be able to be online for the next few days--so here's what's been going on so far.

I picked my son up at the airport last night, and we were on the road before 9. Making great time, we pulled into Fallon, NV, shortly before midnight. That was the scheduled start of the trip.

This morning we headed east on Highway 50, The Loneliest Road In America. I didn't give it that name--they've got signs for it and everything! There are places where you can see miles in front of you and miles behind you, and there are no other cars in sight. Being manly men who do manly things, we took the opportunity to give the car a little test. Road: perfectly straight. Overdrive: on. Windows: up. Accelerator: down. Top speed: faster than I've ever driven before--by probably 20 mph or so. We did it again on another road several hours later, but that road wasn't near as good as US 50, so we didn't go above 110 mph that time. Note to MikeAT, a loyal blog reader and cop: since I'm admitting to it, can I still be busted, or does an officer have to catch me in the act?!!

We stopped first at a picnic area near the site of ancient Indian petroglyphs. I've always wanted to stop there before, and this trip is the ideal time. The carvings range from 500 to 7,000 years old (500-6,000 years old if you go to Liberty University). Turns out there used to be a huge lake there; by the time man came on the scene the lake had receded considerably, and the rock outcropping was a peninsula in the marshy part of a lake. There's certainly no lake anymore! We took several pictures, some of which will be posted when I have the capability to do so.

Our next stop was Austin, NV. Find it on a map, it's almost dead center of the state. Former mining town, county seat, etc. Population of probably only a few hundred. Currently it's known for outdoor recreation. Anyway, the only place I'd ever stopped there before was the Chevron station at the west end of town--it has the cleanest service station restroom I've even been in, and that's after having used it several times over the course of several years. This time we skipped the Chevron, walked the main road through town (US 50), had a milkshake, then headed east.

Not too far past Austin we got on a dirt road. Well, I guess it was kinda sorta gravel, and moderately well maintained, but there was no pavement of any kind. We took this road through some mountains, in search of Toquima Cave and its cave paintings. We found the picnic area, but no cave. It was rather forested there (in Nevada? yes! the Toiyabe National Forest) so we wandered through the woods, looking at every rock outcropping we could find, but to no avail. After probably 45 min of no luck, my son stayed at the car to get a snack as I headed to another rock outcropping. He read the description on the map, instead of just looking at the map itself: the cave is just a short 1/4 mile hike down an easy footpath from the picnic area! When I got back to the car he showed that to me--and from where we were parked, I could see a very small sign in the distance. It didn't even say it led to the cave, but I was sure that the footpath below it had to lead to our destination. It was more than 1/4 mile, that's for sure, but at the end we found the cave--fenced off by the Forest Service to preserve the drawings. These were painted, unlike the carved petroglyphs we saw earlier, and we were close enough to take pictures. Again, pics will posted when I'm able to!

Back to the dirt road, we headed east, then south through the Monitor Valley. When I saw the white, shallow-dome-shaped hill in the distance, I knew that was our next destination. Diana's Punchbowl was more interesting in person than I thought it would be, and that's saying a lot. Several dozen more miles down the dirt road brought us to Belmont, a half-ghost-town (a few people live there now), some cool ruins, and a paved road! Less than an hour later we were in Tonopah, our planned stop for the night.

And Tonopah is dying.

It was founded as a mining town (like just about every other place in Nevada) in 1900, but later made its way as a "military town" and as a crossroads town (US 6 and US 95, which leads to Las Vegas). I don't know what, yet, but something's happened here. Did the last mine stop operating? Did the military leave? Or what?

The two big, historic hotel/casinos in the center of town are closed. One is scheduled to reopen late in 2008, and the other is for sale for $1.65 million. Shops along Main Street (US 95) are closed. There's plenty of real estate for sale here, and it's all for sale by the same realtor. This town has the look and feel of a town that's losing jobs, people, and life itself. Somebody needs to turn this place around--perhaps market it as an outdoor mecca, as does Austin. If something doesn't happen, this town will just stop existing. I told my son to come back here in 20 years and see what it looks like. I won't predict the future, but right now I don't think putting money on Tonopah would be a wise bet. Sad--there's so much character here.

After what I hope will be just as interesting a day tomorrow, we should be in Las Vegas tomorrow night--and for the next few nights.


Anonymous said...

Tonopah has already died. I made the mistake of staying there a few years ago and learned my lesson. The people I dealt with in Tonopah were spooky. Like they weren't quite there mentally. This was the case at the Best Western, where simple requests/instructions could not be communicated effectively using English. I didn't dare venture into a locally-owned eatery and opted for McDonalds. But communication was difficult there, too. I was happy to leave and never looked back. Only other town that gave me the willies like that was Arco, ID. One lives and learns.

Ellen K said...

There's alot of smaller towns in the west that are simply disappearing. There's no employment, so kids leave after schooling is done and never come back. The exception is college towns. College towns tend to stay.

Darren said...

We ate at a local Mexican restaurant, where the price was right and the portions huge--and the food was fantastic.

Turns out that the reports of Tonopah's demise might have been premature--my hotelier told me that a new mine had opened up and was bringing plenty of jobs with it. I hope he's right.

Darren said...

Oh, and I think I saw a University of Nevada extension located in town, so there's hope yet!

happychyck said...

When I first took a job in Nevada, I drove through the night across Hwy 50 , coming from the east. I've traveled across the state alone several times in the past decade, but after that one time, I tended to take the freeway because I was so afraid of being stranded in the middle of nowhere. There are some very cool places out there, though! Much more interesting than Las Vegas!

I distinctly remember my first impression of Tonopah, which is where I stopped to crash for a few hours before driving on to a morning interview in Hawthorne. I couldn't believe how rude the people were in Tonopah, and to this day I've not meet such unfriendly people in the ENTIRE state. Anyway, there might be hope of a mine opening in Tonopah, but much like in many of those small, dying towns, there are peeople who are always trying to hang on to some hope that things will be better again.

Darren said...

I've driven across Nevada on Highway 50 several times. Yes, it's more empty of people, but it's *so* much more interesting than the sleep-inducing boredom of I-80.

I've also driven down 95 from Fallon to Las Vegas, passing through Hawthorne and Tonopah. Great drive! For my fellow Sacramentans, taking 5 or 99 south to 58 and then I-15 to Vegas is the *wrong* way to go. It takes more time than taking I-80 east to Fernley (not too far past Reno), Alt 50 to Fallon, and taking 95 south to Las Vegas. So much to see, so much variety, and about an hour less time to boot.

Catch Thirty-Thr33 said...

I'd have to say that the ALCAN is much lonelier. Of course, since 1100+ of it is in Canada, I guess it can't be called the "loneliest road in America" now, can it? :-)
I drove it when I was freshly commissioned and sent to Elmendorf AFB. It is a drive that is highly recommended.