Friday, September 03, 2010

Caliente, Nevada (more on my recent travels in the west)

As a general rule, at least of late, my Travel Tip Thursday appears on Friday! This writing prompt is an opportunity to give a few tips about what to see in a new area of the country. Today, I’m ending the posts on my trip out west with a stop in Caliente, Nevada. After Caliente, we went to Cedar City (see my post about the Shakespearean Festival), then on to Las Vegas for a wedding. I've already posted on that, too.

We continued on across Nevada as the light faded from the sky. Somewhere around the turn-off for Delamar, an old mining town from the early part of the 19th Century that Ralph and I had visited back in the late 90s, a jack rabbit darted across the road, I hit my brakes, but at the last minute, the suicidal rabbit turned straight to my headlights and there was a thump. I’m sure the vultures enjoyed their breakfast unless a coyote beat them to it. Further on, as we entered Caliente, a large snake slithered across the road. With a car coming at me in the other lane, I couldn’t swerve. I hit the brakes, but still ran over it, feeling the bump of its body under the tires. I’m not sure what kind of snake it was. It had the thick body of a rattler but I thought the only rattlers in this country were Great Basin Rattlers, a cousin to the larger Diamondback found to the south. If a Great Basin Rattler, it would have been a huge one. Curious, I turned around and tried to find the snake, but it was gone. I must not have killed it, but I’m sure it had a mighty bad back ache and I wasn’t interested in going into the ditch at night to find a pissed-off rattlesnake. As a desert state, Nevada doesn’t have a lot of wildlife and after hitting two such animals, I was beginning to feel that I was single-handedly eliminating what life there was.
The coal train on the right (with one engine on the back to help it up steep grades), pauses while a tank car train makes its way north.
It was dark by the time we arrived in Caliente and the full moon was rising over the Clover Mountains. I had stayed in Caliente many times in the past when I lived in Utah. In the winter, when I needed a retreat, I’d head over to Caliente for a few days and enjoy the town’s hot spring baths and throw darts in one of the local bars while eating at the Branding Iron. Caliente provided me a respite from work and life. I’d even used the services of this town mini-hospital (the only hospital within 120 miles). During the trip Ralph and I took to Delamar, I’d put a nail deep into my foot and stopped by to have it cleaned out and to get an updated tetanus shot.
The town is situated in a broad valley, but surrounded by canyons on all sides. It’s a railroad town, built along the old Salt Lake and San Pedro Railroad, which is now Union Pacific’s mainline from Utah to the Los Angeles area. As there are narrow canyons on both sides, there is a double track that runs through the valley allowing slower trains to move to the side as the faster ones are given the green light. We stayed at the Shady Motel. It was Spartan yet clean and my only complaint was the room rate, which was as much as I paid for a much nicer hotel in Las Vegas. But I couldn't complain too much, as it was nicer than the Hot Springs Motel that I had stayed in many times before and was just across the way from the railroad tracks. I dreamt of trains throughout the night as I heard their wail and their clicking as they passed through town. There was little shade at the Shady Motel, but since most of our time here was at night, that was fine with me.
In the morning, I was up early and went exploring former haunts. The town has a beautiful mission style train station (which looks more like something you’d find on a Sante Fe line than a Union Pacific one). When I was first in Utah, there was still passenger service through this area, but those days are long gone. The downtown is separated these days by a wide and empty field. In the past, there was a large train yard here as this was the junction with the Pioche Railroad, which ran to an old mining town north of here. Although gold was discovered in Pioche in 1873, mining continued in the town until the early 80s. In addition to gold and silver, there was a large zinc deposit there which kept miners active long after the gold had been mostly dug up. The rail line to Pioche was abandoned as mining in the region ended, but one can still see evidence of the tracks north and the large yard where that line met the mainline.
I stopped for coffee and then walked down the boardwalk, past a furniture store, a variety store and the grocery store. At the end of the boardwalk, a woman was sweeping up in front of her shop that sold accessories for motorcycles and four-wheelers. We chatted for a bit. I couldn’t imagine how she could make a living with such a business, and she assured me she couldn’t do it if she had to depend on the store for her livelihood. But she had retired as a teacher, giving her a pension and allowing her to run a business. When she learned I was from Michigan, she ran inside and pulled out a photo of her grandfather, who was a motorcycle cop in Detroit in the 1920s. In the photo, he was wearing a police uniform and straddling his motorcycle.

Although there are still lots of trains that come through Caliente, none of them stop except to let other trains pass. The town appears sleepy. As it is down wind of the Nevada Test Site, where nuclear weapons were tested above ground during the 50s and early 60s, the town has a fancy weather station that includes radiation monitoring. There are also signs by several homes opposing nuclear dumping in Nevada. But the town doesn’t glow, at least not yet. Just before pulling out, a coal train came down from the Utah mines, probably heading to the large coal fired power plant at Overton, Nevada. This train, with its double-ended engines, came to a stop on the south side of town. I suspected that there would be another train coming true and got myself in position for photos. Sure enough, there was a northbound train that came through a few minutes later. I suspect the tank cars were empty, as they appeared to have been hauling corn syrup. After the photographs, we loaded up and drove on to Cedar City, two hours to the east.


  1. cool that you stopped and talked to the lady....that is one of the things i enjoy most about towns...meeting the people and hearing their stories...and hot spring baths dont sound bad either...have a great weekend...

  2. I don't think I've ever seen a trackside town's story captured to artfully - in words and images. I admire how you paint pictures so thoughtfully and carefully. Wish I had your gift!

  3. You need to visit the Roadkill Cafe on Route 66...

  4. Great photo shoot, love the last one with the amazing reflection.

  5. I love how your travel posts always contain history of the area. That was so cute that the lady wanted to show you the pic of her grandpa.

  6. Lovely post. Thanks for the visit. Always a pleasure meeting other sojuourners and travelers.

  7. sage, a true sojourner are you! thanks for stopping by His Garden. i enjoyed the tour you provided here :0)

    grace&peace to you!

  8. It's nice to mix with the locals when you travel, and to know the history, anecdotes and curiosities of the place you're visiting. I enjoyed reading!

  9. I'm not sure I'd want to live in a place called "hot."

  10. Brian, I'm with on meeting strangers. The hot springs are nice in the winter and maybe early in the morning in summer, but not when its 90 degrees

    Carmi, thanks, but you also have a gift with words and photography!

    Jen, I don't know where the Roadkill Cafe is at. I've done part of 66 through AZ

    Janie, thanks for stopping by

    Stephanie, I always like to find out the history of the towns and places I go... and to hear the stories

    Lakeviewer, I enjoyed your TTT! Thanks for stopping by.

    Sojourner, love your name--my old AT hiking name--you're a talented poet

    Leni, traveling is an adventure!

    Charles, the name refers to the hot springs... it's actually not nearly as hot as say Vegas, as it's over 4000 feet in elevation

  11. You make me yearn for road travels and adventures.

  12. large snake....what would you have done if you had found it? I would have run the other way.
    Nice report as usual, great pictures. Makes me want to travel except for the snake part

  13. Pseudo, I'm currently reading a book titled "The Art of Pilgrimage" and am wanting to get back on the road, but won't be going anywhere until the end of October

    Just Because, I'd left the snake alone, but would have had my curiousity settled.

  14. I've come to a conclusion that whenever I see a motel with the word 'shady' in their title, they are not referring to the absence of light due to trees blocking the sun but to the character of the owner.

  15. I thought the same thing Ed did - maybe the motel owners are staying true to their name!

    I really love your travel posts - you make me feel that I've been there, too. And seeing things that I wouldn't normally, such as a train hauling coal.

  16. Two train photos in one post - must be at Sage's blog!


    You know what caliente means, right?