Coming up out of Death Valley (at sea level or below) and headed eastward, we noticed a significant drop in the temperature as we climbed in elevation and entered Nevada. Only a few significant towns in Nevada; most of it is wide open spaces, driving miles without seeing a town or even another car.
Our destination was Ely, Nevada, one of the former mining towns we drove through that had survived, even though the primary industry of mining is now but a shadow of the heyday that produced tons of copper, gold, silver and borax. Many of the towns were barely hanging on, while others had turned to resting places for ghosts and broken down buildings. Beatty, Goldfield, Tonopah and the miles on route 95 rolled by…
Our host had warned us to top off our gas tank in Tonopah before we turned onto route 6 because there was nothing for 150 plus miles until we reached Ely. Sage advice.
Ely, with a population of 4300, is a huge metropolis compared to others towns in this part of the world. It would be our base to explore one of least visited national parks in the U.S.A., Great Basin.
Great Basin is located in central Nevada, near Baker, and 12 miles from the Utah border. Established in 1986, it contains 121 square miles of wilderness, a natural cave, and one of the darkest night skies. There is a fee to enter the park and one for the cave. They had an astronomer’s weekend when we were there, with large telescopes to look at the sun and the stars…even the Milky Way.
There is also a drive to an overlook at 10,000 feet up a very narrow road with steep drop-offs and no railings. We made it to 9,000 feet and chickened out.
Lehman Caves has two tours; take the 90 minute one to see the most formations. If you have claustrophobia, close your eyes when the guide closes the outside tunnel entrance and gives her talk before opening the cave entrance door. The passageway is reasonable although there are a couple of “fat man” squeezes.
Ely turned out to be interesting. Take time to visit the railroad museum and the Lone Pine museum. Worth the time and meager fee. Lone Pine Museum has a prehistoric cave bear skeleton, fairly rare, I understand. The engine house was my favorite at the railroad museum.
All the hotels, bars, most restaurants and even gas stations have slot machines in Nevada, so you can lose your travel money anywhere. Choose wisely.
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Richard Allan Jones is the author of “Drafted” an adventure/comedy and “Identity Check,” a political thriller.