Today was a long day mostly in Nevada. Wait! The last you heard, I was up in Yellowstone. Well, two days ago, I entered the unscheduled portion of my trip. While every other stop was booked back in January — as you must do with National Parks — that’s not my normal mode of roadtripping. Usually, I prefer to go in the off-season, have a vague itinerary and feel free to depart from it. Turns out, it was lucky I hadn’t scheduled these last few days. Andy texted me that he would be leaving on a ten day business trip the day I was due to return. That would extend to more than a month since I’d seen him. I was also feeling that I’d had so many incredible experiences that trying to cram in more would be overload. So I meandered down scenic routes past the Grand Tetons, stopping for the night on scouting missions to two ski resorts: Jackson Hole, Wyoming and Park City, Utah. Both were very pretty Western flavored towns, but quite manicured and upscale. For the real rough and ready Western towns I prefer, you have to head for Nevada.
I have what many people think is an irrational love of Nevada. Most say the scenery is boring. I find it and most semi-arid places endlessly fascinating. Remember, I’m someone who’s traveled The Loneliest Road in America and gotten the certificate from the Governor to prove it. My first goal was Great Basin National Park, our least visited National Park. I was last here on a roadtrip with Lucy the terrier as my co-pilot. Which meant I’d have to leave her in the car if I wanted to go down any trails. It was cool enough on that first visit, but I still didn’t feel comfortable leaving her. And then there was the fact that both of us were suffering from the altitude. You see the largest part of Great Basin is a drive up to 11,000 elevation on Wheeler Peak. It’s a fascinating way to travel quickly through all the ecological zones in the actual Great Basin of the United States. But if you’ve been traveling at sea level, it’s a tough change. This time I’d been living and hiking in the mountains, so I was ready to see the highlight of Great Basin National Park.
The hike in to the grove wasn’t long, but it was pretty technical, involving scrambling over a lot of boulders and scree. You have to wonder if Bristlecones live so long because they only grow in high elevations and difficult terrain where few people can bug them.
After communing with the Bristlecones, I made the decision to press on across Nevada on one of its only highways I’ve never traveled. It’s Route 6, once the country’s longest transcontinental highway, and designated as the Grand Army of the Republic Highway. My destination was Tonopah, and back in the Twenties when the road was opened, Tonopah, America’s last mining boomtown, was already starting to fade. At the turn of the century, it had seen one of the richest silver and gold strikes in America. Everyone who was anyone in mining and boomtown circles showed up, including Wyatt Earp and some of his brothers.
But Nevada and Nevadans are tough. The state is filled with former boomtowns that are now hanging on by their fingernails. A very few, like Virginia City, trade on their history and have managed to remain vibrant communities. Others, like those along the former route of the Pony Express, are barely wide spots in the road. Tonopah is in the latter category. But it’s still kicking, thank you very much. From a population high of thousands, the town has dwindled to under 3000, most of whom work at the Tonopah Test Range. But a Sonoma family with roots in the area have started to invest in Tonopah, starting a brewery and brew pub and restoring the glorious Mizpah Hotel, once the tallest building in the state and a place where everyone famous — from the Earps to Chuck Yaeger — seemed to pass through.
That’s exactly what I did and found myself installed in a room two doors down from one of the Mizpah’s resident ghosts. The Lady in Red was a prostitute who was strangled in front of Room 504. I was in Room 506. On may way up after registering, I dropped my bags in the lounge area and ran around the corner to read the plaque on the haunted room. I felt a cool breeze coming from under the door, although it was a stifling 102 outside. Now it could have been air conditioning. But I was more than a little spooked.
I hurried down to the gracious room long bar for a BLT and a much-needed Martini. I started chatting with the interesting woman tending bar. She seemed to have a mild form of Cerebral Palsy, yet mixed a perfect Martini without spilling a drop. I told you those Nevadans are tough. She told me about her encounters with the Lady in Red, who she said had, on more than one occasion, thrown a glass at her head. She said she found that profoundly unfair because she can’t throw a glass back at a ghost. I told you Nevadans are tough. On a lighter note, the bartender told me you can go rockhounding in the nearby desert and have a good chance of finding Turquoise and other semi-precious stones. And the Mizpah will even arrange for a guy to come around and polish up your finds. Oh, and since this is Nevada, there is gambling in the large lobby. I’m telling you, a trip across Nevada should have Tonopah as a destination.
Tonopah had special significance for me, as now I can truly say:
I’ve been from Tucson to Tucumcari
Tehachapi to Tonopah
Take it away, Linda.