I am back home, after spending two weeks in the Great Basin region of the United States. It was a two part trip as I spent a week at a conference at Lake Tahoe and the other week involved exploring old haunts and playing with a grandchild in Southern Utah. This is the first of at least three posts about the roads I traveled.
|Sage and his cotton candy at Simons|
I got into Vegas twelve hours later than planned, which meant that I had to reschedule a breakfast meeting with a friend. Luckily, he was able to meet me for lunch, but his wife had to work. Upon renting a car, I headed to the Palm’s Casino where we ate at Simon’s, a delightfully weird upscale diner in which you could get omelets, hamburgers, sushi, Japanese bento box lunches, all topped off with cotton candy for dessert!
After catching up over dinner, he took off for an afternoon appointment and I pointed my car north! I wanted to blow Vegas as quick as possible! Driving up US 95, I was amazed by the mid-day traffic and by how far out Vegas had expanded since I had last driven this road a decade ago. I drove on, through the dry Amargosa River Valley. It was 107 degrees, which ain’t bad for mid-July, but in the mid-day sun everything was hot and flat and boring. I wondered if the West no longer held it’s magic over me. I stopped for a bathroom break and for a drink in Beatty, Nevada, a town I’d stayed in a few times exploring Death Valley. As I continued to drive north, I passed the legal brothel just north of Beatty and abandoned brothels at Lila Junction. I drove on through Goldfield, stopping again at Tonopah, a town that has always been on my retirement short-list.
|Mizpah Hote, Tonopah|
While in Tonopah, I also stopped at Whitney's Bookshelf, a new addition to the town. Talking to Larry, the proprietor, who’d retired from Southern California, I learned that he opened up his book store four years earlier. He seems to like to talk to those who visit, but admits that if it wasn’t for selling books on the internet, he couldn’t survive. He had a deal on all paperbacks and I picked up a book on sail trim and another on racing techniques--not exactly books I'd expect to find in a desert. Before leaving Tonopah, I filled up my tank with the most expensive gas of the trip. Some things never change, but then Tonopah isn’t exactly on the beaten path. For another of my posts on Tonopah, click here.
|Abandoned store and gas station|
Not wanting to set up camp in the dark (yes, my reservation was for a camping spot, but one at a hot spring), I headed out of Tonopah around 6 PM. At the junction of US 6 and US 95, I took a left and drove over Montgomery Pass into California. The highway snaked through the pass under Boundary Peak, which is the highest point in Nevada even though the peak, which is higher, is in California. The road followed the long-defunct Carson and Colorado Railroad, whose cuts could be seen running back and forth along the side of the mountain. This narrow gauge line ran from Mound House, Nevada, along the Carson River, to Keeler, California. It never reached the Colorado River. D. O. Mills, one of the principal investors and President of the Virginia and Truckee Railroad once said that they’d built the line either 300 miles too long or 300 years too early. The Virginia and Truckee had a hard time maintaining the line so in 1900, it sold the line to the Southern Pacific. Shortly afterwards, silver was discovered in Tonopah and suddenly the line became a lifeline to the mines. A branch line from Sodaville ran to Tonopah eventually this section of track between Mound House and Tonopah was converted to standard gauge. The line over the pass and into California continued on as a narrow gauge although trains stopped running over the pass in the 1930s. A request to abandon the tracks around the time of Pearl Harbor was denied. It was felt the United States might need a north/south line east of the Sierras if Japan invaded the West Coast. When it became clear there would be no invasion, much of the track was removed, but the line kept running in the Owen’s Valley until 1960. Another portion of the line, between Churchill, Nevada and the Navy Storage in Hawthorne, Nevada, continues to be used today. Much of the narrow gauge equipment used on the line can be found in the railroad museum in Laws, California.
|my "private" soaking tub|
My destination for the evening was Benton Hot Springs which are located a few miles off US 6 on California 120. At the town of Benton, I stopped and picked up a sandwich and beer for dinner and drove on to the springs in time to get my bivy tent up before dark. I had questioned bringing it, knowing I’d be camping in the desert, but there was enough standing water around to keep a hardy group of mosquitoes airborne. But as the sun set and the color faded from Boundary Peak, this wasn’t a problem as the wind was blowing.
|my bivy tent|
After eating my dinner and preparing for bed, I spent an hour in my private tub, enjoying the warm water as the stars began to pop out. A waxing moon was also high, blocking many of the southern stars. As darkness covered the land, the wind died and mosquitoes took to flight and found myself staying mostly submerged, just my head staying out of the water, as a way to minimize my exposure. I crawled in bed at 9:30 PM and fell asleep to the sound of running water and buzzing pests. At 1:30 PM, I woke to the sound of what I thought was rain, but the wind had again picked up and was blowing through the cottonwoods whose leaves quake with a rain-like sound. The skies, however, remained clear and the moon was setting in the West. I didn’t wake again until early in the morning, in time to watch the last of the stars be extinguished. After making a few notes in my journal and reading a few Psalms, I got up and hiked around Benton Hot Springs.
|cemetary above the village|
|source of the hot water|
|old mining camp|
High above the springs is the cemetery with graves that go back into the mid-19th Century. To the east of where I’d camped was the actual hot springs in which water was piped to each of the tubs within the campsite. Along Highway 120 were a group of old buildings, one dating the community back to 1852, when miners would come to the springs to soak their aching bones. Miners also discovered some profitable ore in the area and across the highway from the springs was an old mining camp.
|Bed and Breakfast at Benton Hot Springs|
After my walk, I came back to came and ate a couple of granola bars and some dried fruit for breakfast and then sat in the tub, enjoying the warm water, as I finished reading a book for the conference I was going to be attending at Tahoe. When I finished the book, I packed up and got back on the road. (to be continued)
|A good ending photo|