Tuesday, June 23, 2009
What's Behind Some of Those I-80 Exit Names, Anyway?—Part 2
Continuing with our trip across Interstate 80—and the stories behind the names on the exit signs found along the route—the next stop is Imlay, located six miles northeast of Humboldt. Imlay was a former division point for the Southern Pacific Railroad and once served as an important stop for pioneers on the Emigrant Trail.
The area around Imlay was originally known as Lassen (or Lawson) Meadows and served as the turn off for those traveling north on the Applegate Trail to Oregon. It was also the only place with much grass and water before heading west to Big Meadows (Lovelock).
In 1908, the small hamlet of Imlay was founded by the railroad, which built a roundhouse and shops. A post office opened and the town soon had saloons, a hotel, a church and other services. The town, which grew to several hundred people, also served several local mining camps.
Imlay began to decline after the mines closed and the railroad removed its facilities. Today, about 100 people live in the community. Adjacent to Imlay is a large, strange, man-made mound of concrete, glass and scrap metal known as Thunder Mountain.
This unusual folk art creation was built in the 1960s and 1970s by a self-taught artist who called himself Chief Rolling Thunder Mountain. Today, it remains an interesting roadside oddity that is open to the public.
Four miles east of Imlay is the Mill City exit. While only a handful of houses and a few ruins remain, in the 1860s, this was the site of a mining town with several mills—hence the name. By 1868, the town had become a railroad connection for the nearby mining towns of Unionville and Dun Glen.
From Mill City, the Interstate passes through Winnemucca before hitting the next roadside stop, called Button Point. This site was named after Frank Button, who operated a large cattle ranch in the area in the 1870s. Today, a shaded rest stop offers one of the best views of the bends and bows found along the meandering Humboldt River.
Six miles farther is the Golconda exit. In 1868, the railroad opened a freight station here, which was named after a famous town in India noted for its diamonds (the name apparently signified that it was a place of great wealth).
In the early 20th century, a resort hotel and spa was erected to take advantage of natural hot springs in the area. The resort operated until 1961, when it was destroyed in a fire.
Continuing east, the next exit is Iron Point, a railroad siding built in the late 1870s (it still serves in that capacity for local mines). The name is derived from the reddish, iron-ore rocks found in the region. Iron Point also overlooks the Pumpernickel Valley—surely one of the most descriptive names on the Nevada map. The valley was named for a nearby bread loaf-shaped mountain.
Stone House, located about nine miles away, is the next nowhere exit and gained its name from a stone Overland Stage station, built in the 1870s, that was once located here.
About five miles from Stone House is Valmy, a tiny enclave named after a French battle site. It was said that the local tribes continually fought over springs in the area. In 1910, the railroad established a supply stop for its trains to re-water and re-fuel. Today, the town offers gas, food, and lodging to travelers on the interstate.
About six miles from Valmy is the Mote interchange. What you see is basically what there is to Mote. Nothing. Mote was originally a railroad siding and that’s all it’s ever been.
Next up is Battle Mountain, located 10 miles east of Mote. The community was established in 1867 by miners who found silver and gold in the region. The name is apparently derived from either the fact that Indians attacked a wagon train in the area or they raided a road crew—no one is exactly sure. In the late 1860s, the Central Pacific Railroad established a station at Battle Mountain.
About 13 miles from Battle Mountain is the Argenta exit, a railroad siding established in the 1860s. The name, derived from the Spanish word for silver, also applied to a nearby mining camp which was picked up and moved to Battle Mountain in 1870. Ten miles from Argenta is Dunphy, a rail siding named after a nearby ranch.
The next noteworthy exit is Beowawe, located 7 miles from Dunphy. Beowawe is the site of a once-famous cluster of geysers—including one that rose more than 30-feet-high.
Unfortunately, in the 1960s, the geysers ceased to erupt when a geothermal power plant was built nearby that diverted the underground hot water.
Ten miles from the Beowawe interchange is the Palisade exit. From here, travelers with four-wheel drive vehicles can head 10 miles south to the Palisades, a 12-mile canyon with spectacular rock cliffs split by the Humboldt River.
Additionally, you pass through the ruins of Palisade, a former railroad town on the river that served as the connecting point for the Southern Pacific Railroad and the Eureka and Palisade Railroad.
Ten miles east of the Palisade turn-off is the mining town of Carlin. Originally a railroad stop, Carlin was named after William Passmore Carlin, a famous Civil War officer (Union side). About seven miles from Carlin, you pass through the 1,900-foot Carlin Tunnels and head toward Elko. Along the way, take time to notice the magnificent stone pillars located next to the interstate. These unusual rock spires were formed by erosion.
From Elko, the interstate continues to the town of Wells and along the way passes a handful of other nearly forgotten exits, including: Halleck, named for Camp Halleck, a 1860s fort once located 12 miles south of the highway; Deeth, a small ranching community that was once a railroad station; and Oasis, a roadside stop named after a local ranch.
From Oasis, it’s a straight shot to Wendover, the last Nevada stop before entering Utah, which has its own share of forgotten or unusual exit sign names.