Man In A Suitcase

US 50 advertises itself as the loneliest road in America. But sometimes lonely is just what you want. Such was the case as I finished up a 2600 mile adventure across six states. US 50 was my most direct route home, separating from westbound Interstate 70 as the Interstate turned south toward Las Vegas and civilization. US 50 would take me the remaining hundred miles across western Utah and then all the way across Nevada. How could I resist a road that claimed such a solitary experience? Besides, there were towns to explore along the way, places neither I nor anyone I knew had ever heard of, much less seen.

Ely, Nevada

Once I left the Interstate behind, I had nothing before me but... well, really nothing. That last hundred miles of Utah is arid and mostly flat and mostly uninhabited. I only knew that I'd arrived into Nevada because of the usual welcome sign and the usual casino, in this case more a beat up general store and gas station with some slot machines. My next destination was another sixty or seventy miles west. Ely is the first Nevada town you encounter on US 50. And it has its surprises, including probably the only McDonald's for a hundred miles in any direction. I guess it helps that Ely is at the crossroads of two interstate (with a small I) highways. Given the traffic I encountered on 50, I can only guess there's more life on US 93.

Eventually I got past the chain motels and gas stations and rolled into Ely proper. I was drawn immediately to the Hotel Nevada, which advertises the only live gaming in town. (I shudder to think of the alternative.) Amusingly, the Nevada is among the five oldest hotels in the state and was once its tallest building! I liked the look of Ely; it was handsome in a weathered desert sort of way. This is a place where gambling isn't theater; it's just part of life. All in all, about as un-Vegas as you'll find anywhere.

I suppose the casino trade is like any other business: location, location, location. And Ely's a long way from anywhere. Far enough that a handsome old place like the Collins Court couldn't make a go of things. The Jail House Casino seemed to be doing a little better. Maybe people get a kick out of staying at a place where the rooms are called cells. I guess we all have our fantasies, although that's not one of mine. But I did wonder at the sign for the White Pine Soda Company painted on the building at right. Exactly what kind of soda are we talking about? Come to think about it, after a hot drive through the desert I'd kill for a Coke...

It is believed that the Grand Canyon was formed by many and many years of sediment settling out of an ancient ocean and then carved by the Colorado River.  Get a reservation in a Grand Canyon Hotel before all of the rooms are filled. Another great way to see the Canyon is hiking in using a sort of Grand Canyon Lodging as a base camp.

Eureka, Nevada

Eureka is a small gem amidst the emptiness of US 50. This was once a center of lead and silver mining, a western Pittsburgh where the air was black with the smoke of smelting plants. But that was far into the past; today's Eureka is the sort of town you always hope to find at the end of a boring road and hardly ever do.

I arrived in Eureka around three in the afternoon and just knew I'd never find a better place to spend the night. A gleaming brick Best Western at the western end of town looked promising. But when they offered me a room at the historic Jackson House, to the left of the Opera House in the picture at left, how could I resist? It was comfortable, located right in the center of everything (not that you're ever far from the center in Eureka) and even cheaper than the more ordinary accomodations at the BW. I took a moment to unpack and then went in search of a post office (the brick building on the other side of the Opera House). Mission accomplished, I took a quick look inside the brilliantly restored Opera House itself. And was invited to explore and to come back that evening for a most remarkable performance of folk songs and stories celebrating the lives of miners and railroad men. Which I did, after enjoying a gourmet meal at the Jackson House's restaurant. And no, I am being neither sarcastic nor ironic. I speak only the unvarnished truth. (On this page, anyway.)

But before I could discover the delights of the hotel restaurant or the evening's performance, I had to explore the rest of town. It doesn't take long; within a half hour I'd walked from one end to the other and back. There was a combination of the essential and the touristy; the country western club, the gun shop, the market, the bar and slot club, a few restaurants and the places selling souvenirs of US 50 and the mining country it connects. And it all looked old and, if not entirely prosperous, pretty comfortable with its situation. Not that I blame it a bit.

Having run out of main street to explore, I noticed the Eureka Museum behind the Chevron station. The building started out life as the home of the Eureka Sentinel, which started publishing in 1870 and finally shut down in the 1960s. A few years later the job would have been a whole lot easier; the town was finally got electricity in 1970! The museum was a special treat; the new curator greets each visitor and provides a personal tour of her collection. Clearly a labor of love by someone who is proud of her home and can't wait to share it.

And that describes Eureka in a nutshell: a place where lots of folks are tickled that you came and can't wait to show the town off. The lady at the museum insisted I check out the courthouse (she was pleased I'd already explored the Opera House and practically insisted I eat at the restaurant at the Jackson House) and especially the old jail cells. So off I trotted to check out yet another perfectly restored brick building. And encountered one of the courthouse staff, who took me back to see the cells (now storage for the most secure office supplies in the state) and made sure I went upstairs to see the courtroom. I felt kind of funny taking pictures in court; kept wondering if I was violating some rule and if they'd empty out one of those supply rooms and turn it back into a cell!

Austin, Nevada

I was up and packed bright and early the next morning. Austin, the next town on the highway, was an hour and a half ahead. My guidebook didn't think much of Austin, describing it as dark and depressed and everything Eureka isn't. As I rounded the last curve of mountain I got my first sight of town: the rusting relics of an auto graveyard. Austin is more strung out along the highway than the other towns I'd visited, as if the buildings didn't want to get too close. One sign did catch my attention: a small billboard pointing to a combination Baptist church and RV park that I'd already missed. I thought about turning around for a look. But I have no affinity for churches or RVs, at least not at 8:30 on a Saturday morning. And even a combination of the two, as novel as that is, just couldn't push me over the edge.

Like the other towns I'd seen along the way, Austin got its start in mining. But the boom years didn't last; within a decade it was history. Some towns just blew away and became ghosts. Eureka found a kind of magic that made it want to smarten itself up for company. But Austin just couldn't make up its mind whether to live or die. Still, there was one relic of those long ago glory days that caught my attention.

At the western end of town there's a dirt road that winds its way up into the mountains. And at the end of the road there's a tower. Stokes Castle was built in 1897 for a wealthy and perhaps not entirely sane mine and railroad owner by the name of Anson Phelps Stokes. This must have been a big deal in town, seeing as how the mining boom had ended two decades before. When the tower was finished, Stokes moved in. Two months later he'd had enough. For a hundred years the tower has sat vacant, brooding over a vast and empty landscape.

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 Comments to: Hank Shiffman, Mountain View, California