Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Nevada's 'Marble-ous' Ghost Town of Carrara

Road to the ghost town of Carrara (Photo courtesy of Mark Holloway)

  In the southeastern Nevada mining town of Carrara, the big prize wasn’t gold, silver or copper—it was marble.

  In 1904, miners—who were actually looking for gold or silver—stumbled upon promising marble deposits in the hills south of Beatty. The marble, in fact, was said to contain as many as twenty different colors.

  Within a short time, a small quarry opened to mine the stone, which was valued for its beauty. The effort was quickly abandoned, however, when the marble deposits proved to be too fractured to provide the kind of large hunks that were commercially viable.

  But in 1912 larger deposits were uncovered and a company was formed to remove the stone. With great optimism—and a bit of hyperbole—the area was called Carrara in honor of Carrara, Italy, the source of the world's most famous marble.

  A town was laid out in the valley below the quarry on a site about nine miles south of Beatty adjacent to today’s U.S. 95.

  The new community was close to the Las Vegas & Tonopah Railroad line (long gone) so a three-mile short line railroad was constructed by the American Carrara Marble Company to provide a direct connection between the quarry and the main LV&T rail line.

  The smaller railroad was completed in 1914 and soon large blocks of marble were being shipped from Carrara to Los Angeles. By 1915, the town of Carrara had nearly 40 buildings, including a hotel, restaurants, shops, a saloon, post office, and a weekly newspaper called "The Carrara Obelisk."

  To reinforce the image that Carrara was an important community that would be around for a while, the marble company constructed a large outdoor fountain in the middle of the town that sent a plume of water six feet in the air. A pipeline was built from Gold Center, located nine miles north, to bring water for the fountain and the town.

  Unfortunately, the marble mine wasn’t profitable and in 1917 the quarry was closed. Within weeks, the newspaper went out of business, the short line railroad closed, and townspeople quickly began to pack up and move on to better prospects.

  Carrara had a brief revival in the 1920s when a spur was built by the Tonopah & Tidewater Railroad (the Las Vegas and Tonopah Railroad folded in 1918 and part of its line was taken over by the T & T) to link to the quarry. Like the previous effort, this one also failed and Carrara began to slowly fade into the desert.

  In the 1930s, a cement plant under Philippine ownership was constructed a mile north of the former site of Carrara. The facility, however, was abandoned in 1936 before production started.

  Extensive ruins of the cement plant, including a couple of graffiti covered concrete structures can still be seen from U.S. 95. These ruins are often mistakenly thought to be part of the old town of Carrara.

  In fact, little remains of the original Carrara. If you drive down the former road to Carrara, you must really search the weeds and sagebrush to find a handful of foundations. A few cement steps and a chimney or two are among the best reminders of Nevada's only marble-town.

  About three miles from the highway via a rough, dirt road you can drive into Carrara Canyon and find the old quarry site. A few pieces of rusted mining equipment litter the hillside.

  But while there isn't much to see of the old Carrara mining operation, the view of the surrounding expanse of the Amargosa Desert is spectacular.

Sunday, September 18, 2022

Update to an Older Entry About the Ghost Town of Rochester

 [NOTE: Sadly, this column, which first appeared in 2008, is no longer accurate.  In 2012, an arsonist or arsonists apparently set a fire that destroyed these picturesque ruins.]

   A strong wind sweeps across the tumble-down buildings in the old mining camp of Rochester. In the fading late afternoon light, they become harder to see and mysterious. The ghosts are coming to life in Rochester Canyon.
   Rochester Canyon was once one of north-central Nevada’s most successful mining camps. In the early 20th century, the region produced more than $6 million in silver, gold, copper and lead.
   The ruins of the Rochester Canyon communities are located about 10 miles southeast of Interstate 80 at the Oreana exit. To reach the site, exit at Oreana (14 miles northeast of Lovelock), then travel three miles on a paved road. At a fork in the road, turn right onto a maintained dirt road and continue another seven miles to Rochester.
   Rochester Canyon was first explored in the early 1860s by prospectors from Rochester, New York (thus its name). Small-scale mining was initiated but proved largely unsuccessful.
   In 1912, Joseph Nenzel discovered large bodies of silver ore in the canyon, which sparked a significant boom.
   By 1913, more than two thousand miners were working the area and a two-and-a-half-mile long ribbon of miner's shacks, commercial businesses and other buildings began to line the center of the canyon.
   Several separate town sites were actually laid out in the canyon. Near the top was Rochester Heights, which had a popular local saloon. Farther down the canyon was Rochester, which quickly became the largest settlement with several substantial stone buildings to house hotels, saloons and offices.
   At the mouth of the canyon was Lower Rochester. At its peak in 1913-14, the town of Rochester had its own orchestra, regular freight service, dance halls and a 100-ton mill to process the ore.
   By 1915, following completion of a short line railroad that connected to the nearby Southern Pacific line, Lower Rochester grew into the biggest camp. In 1917, an aerial tram system was completed to carry ore from the mines to the mill at Lower Rochester.
   Rochester’s mines continued to be productive throughout the 1920s and 30s. The mines were shut down in 1942, as a result of shortages of equipment and supplies during the Second World War.
   Efforts to restart the mines continued after the war but none succeeded until the 1980s with the development of a large gold mining operation, the Coeur Rochester Mine, which operates on the mountain above the canyon.
   Despite the years of neglect, Rochester, as the whole area is referred to today, offers intriguing glimpses at an early 20th century mining camp.
   When you enter the former site of Lower Rochester, you will find a handful of impressive wooden mining head frames and decayed buildings on the southern hillside.
   Wandering among the ruins, you can spot the mostly intact fly-wheels, cabling and other pieces of equipment on the head frames. Additionally, there are also the partial remains of the ore-cart track and bridge, adjacent to the head frames and buildings.
   One note of caution: be very careful walking around any part of Rochester Canyon because there are many open mine shafts. Also, do not touch anything. Most of the buildings are barely standing and probably won’t survive too many more years and any abuse.
   Up the canyon from those ruins, you will find a large mill building, mostly intact. The structure seems in fairly good condition, although not safe enough to enter Opposite the mill building, you can also spot the large concrete foundations of what must have been another, larger mill site.
   The road continues up the canyon, with a handful of stone foundations and crumbling, wooden miner’s shacks peeking through the surrounding sagebrush. A commemorative plaque telling the story of Rochester can be found in front of one of the former miner’s homes, adjacent to the road.
   From the plaque, the road heads farther up the canyon but becomes rockier and there aren’t any more ruins along the way. About a mile from the plaque, you reach a locked fence and the entrance to the Coeur Rochester Mine, which is closed to the public.
   For more information about Rochester, contact the Lovelock Chamber of Commerce, P.O. Box 821, Lovelock, NV 89419, 775-273-7213.

Friday, September 16, 2022

Eastern Nevada's Hidden Scenic Spot: Beaver Dam State Park


  Because of its remoteness, most people never get a chance to experience the beauty of Beaver Dam State Park, located about a half-hour east of the community of Caliente in eastern Nevada.

  Beaver Dam is one of the least well-known and least visited park facilities in the state park system. Even the description of Beaver Dam on the state park web site notes that that it is Eastern Nevada’s most remote park and is noted for its “natural, primitive and rustic beauty.”

  However, there are good reasons for checking out the park, which offers not only scenic beauty but also fascinating history.

  Historians believe the first visitors to the area were Native Americans, who camped and hunted along Headwaters Creek and Pine Creek, which run through the park. In the 17th and 18th centuries, Spaniards may also have passed through the region while establishing trade routes.

  According to one account, in 1849 an emigrant party traveling to California crossed through the region. The rugged terrain and bad weather, however, caused them to abandon their wagons on the eastern rim of nearby Pine Park Canyon and the group continued on horseback and foot.

  Before leaving the area, two of the party, Wesley Smith and Henry W. Bigler carved their initials and the date in a cliff (“WHB, Saturday, Nov. 3, 1849”). Bigler later served as California’s governor and was the original namesake for Lake Tahoe (it was first named Lake Bigler).

  The first permanent residents of the Beaver Dam area were members of the Hamblin family, which homesteaded a ranch in the 1860s. By the turn of the century, the Hamblin ranch had become a popular spot for picnics and outings by local residents.

  In 1935, at the urging of Lincoln County residents, the state recognized the area’s natural beauty and designated it an official park, making it one of the state’s earliest parks.

  In 1961, Beaver Dam was built, which created a 15-acre reservoir (called Schroeder Reservoir) for fishing. In 2005, flooding damaged the dam and four years later the reservoir was drained and Beaver Dam Wash was restored to its pre-flood condition.

  Today, fishing is permitted in several small streams that pass through the park.

  With its high canyon walls, picturesque streams and thick foliage, Beaver Dam offers a lovely place for an outing. In a number of places, the canyon walls are colored with volcanic rock ranging from pink rhyolite to spectacular white ash-fall tuffs.

  Hikers can explore the park via four developed trails including: the one-mile Waterfall Trail, which leads to a lovely seasonal waterfall; the Overlook Trail, which takes you above the wash and offers a panoramic view of the entire park; and the Oak Knoll Trail, which leads to the creek below the wash.

  The 2,393-acre park’s plant communities include sagebrush and piƱon-juniper woodlands as well as ponderosa pines, oaks, willows, cottonwoods and some species of cactus.

  The name, Beaver Dam, is related to the fact that there are beaver in the area, which—surprise—often construct dams on the various creeks and streams. Other animals that can sometimes be seen in the park include mule deer, rabbits, frogs and a wide variety of birds.

  The park has two developed campgrounds with individual sites that have a fire pit, picnic table and parking pad. Water is available between April and November.

  While open year-round, the park’s high elevation (5,000 feet) means that it can be extremely cold and might even have snow in the winter months.

  Beaver Dam State Park is located 34 miles east of Caliente via U.S. 93 and a marked, graded gravel road that leads to the park. There is a park day use fee and overnight camping.

  For more information, go to http://parks.nv.gov/parks/beaver-dam.

Sunday, September 04, 2022

Austin's Historic Churches Have Colorful Backstories

St. Augustine's Catholic Church, Austin
St. George's Episcopalian Church, Austin

  One of the first things you notice when driving through the historic central Nevada mining town of Austin are the churches. There are three magnificent red-brick frontier-style houses of worship that are nearly a century and a half ago.

  The churches are reminders of the days when Austin was one of the largest communities in the state, when, at its peak in 1865, as many as 10,000 people lived there.

  Located 170 miles east of Carson City via U.S. 50, Austin was established in mid-1862, following the discovery of silver in nearby Pony Canyon by William H. Talcott, an ex-Pony Express rider.

  In less than a year, Austin had grown sufficiently to be the obvious choice for the Lander County seat (in the Territory of Nevada).

  By the late 1860s, the community boasted its own railroad, the Nevada Central, as well as several newspapers, banks, a thriving business district, its own mining stock exchange and those impressive churches.

  One of the oldest is St. Augustine’s Catholic Church, on corner of Court and Virginia streets, which held its first services on Christmas Eve of 1866.

  While no longer owned by the Catholic Church, St. Augustine’s Church is in remarkable shape despite its age. A local, non-profit group was able to receive state and federal grants to pay for stabilizing and renovating the structure, which is now known as the St. Augustine’s Cultural Center, and hosts art shows and other events.

  St. Augustine’s boats a distinctive front bell tower and, inside, a series of religious murals that were painted on the walls in about 1940. It also contains an historic Henry Kilgen organ.

  The Methodist Church on Court Street was also built in 1866 and was considered one of the finest churches of its day. The Gothic Revival structure, now used as a town hall, is the largest building in town.

  Its construction was financed in a rather unusual way. In about 1865, the newly arrived Methodist minister, Reverend J. Lewis Trefren, discovered that his flock badly wanted a church but there was little cash available to build one.

  Reverend Trefren, however, had a brainstorm. He would form a business corporation to finance the church, which would have as its assets share of mining claims that had been donated to the congregation. Then, he would sell shares in this new corporation and use the proceeds to pay for the church.

  Thus was the Methodist Mining Company created. According to Thomas Wren’s 1904 “A History of the State of Nevada,” Reverend Trefren headed east and managed to sell some $250,000 in stock.

  His sales pitch was simple—the Methodist Mining Company would pay dividends in Heaven as well as on Earth.

  Unfortunately, the financing scheme collapsed before work on the church was completed. Lander County briefly acquired the church to settle outstanding debts before selling it back to the congregation. In the meantime, Reverend Trefren decided to leave town and, in 1868, was transferred to a California congregation.

  St. George’s Episcopal Church on Main Street was built in 1877-78 and is the only one of the town’s historic houses of worship that is still used as a church. The building is said to have been largely paid for within a few months of being proposed.

  According to the local newspaper, the Reese River Reveille, about $300 was collected on Easter Sunday 1877, which got the project rolling.

  Shortly after, Allen A. Curtis, one of the richest residents in Austin, pledged to pay for the “frame of the building,” which included carpentry and woodwork, while another member of the congregation agreed to pay for an organ.

  A local merchant donated a 900-pound bell for church. The bell was made in New York and contains silver that was mined in Austin (which is said to give the bell a “silvery” tone).

  St. George’s still have its original Mills pipe organ, which traveled around horn by ship to San Francisco and was brought to Austin by wagon. A rather unique feature of the church is that the entrance to the bell tower is also a bathroom. A person must stand on top of the toilet to reach the rope that rings the bell.

  For more information about the town of Austin or its historic attractions, go to www.austinnevada.com.

Sunday, August 28, 2022

Tuscarora Keeps Beating the Odds


  Over the decades, the remote Northern Nevada mining town of Tuscarora has outlasted a mining boom—followed by the inevitable bust—as well as a rapacious mining company wanting to demolish the town in the 20th century, invasions of Mormon crickets, and a host of other challenges.

  But in spite of it all, the town has survived and remains home to about 120 residents as well as the prestigious Tuscarora Pottery School, which offers summer workshops.

  The latter was established in 1966 by artist Dennis Parks, who, sadly, passed away in 2021. It continues to be spearheaded by his son, artist Ben Parks, who also works as a nurse at the Northeastern Nevada Regional Hospital.

  The elder Parks, in fact, played a key role years ago when a mining company announced plans to develop a large-scale, open-pit mining operation adjacent to the town site. Nearly overnight, a huge hole began to spread across the northwest edge of the beautiful, wide-open Independence Valley, creeping toward the foot of the town.

  The mining company discovered additional deposits beneath Tuscarora, which had less than two dozen permanent residents at the time, and attempted to relocate all of them to another site.

  Parks and his wife and family rallied the townspeople as well as local and state residents to oppose the plan. The classic ‘David-vs.-Goliath ‘appeal of the fight attracted national attention, including coverage by the major TV networks, and led to the town being saved.

  A visit to Tuscarora is a chance to visit a fairly intact 19th century Nevada mining town that features a number of picturesque and historic structures, many in various stages of decay.

  The town traces its beginnings to the late 1860s, when a local Shoshone Indian showed gold to a trader on the Humboldt River (located about 25 miles to the south).

  A small camp quickly developed to work the area and was named Tuscarora by a miner from North Carolina in honor of an Indian tribe in his home state.

  By 1869, several hundred miners, mostly from the Austin district, were working the area, along with hundreds of Chinese laborers, who had been released by the Central Pacific Railroad, upon completion of the transcontinental railroad line earlier that year.

  The following year, many of the Chinese workers were hired to construct a series of ditches to transport water from Six Mile Canyon and the upper McCann Creek, located a few miles to the north.

  In early 1871, W.O. Weed discovered considerable silver reserves on nearby Mount Blitzen and by July, Tuscarora had a post office. Other discoveries attracted additional people and by the late 1870s, more than 3,000 people lived in Tuscarora.

  The booming town had a handful of saloons, restaurants, hotels, two weekly newspapers, shops, several churches, several mining mills and a public school. Additionally, it had a fairly large Chinese district, located on McCann Creek, below the town.

  Tuscarora began a slow decline in the early 1880s, with only 1,400 people counted in the 1880 census. While mining continued to be productive on a smaller scale for the next several decades, by 1915 the town had dwindled to only a handful of optimists.

  Today, Tuscarora is notable because it has some great, photogenic ruins. An old brick store, with classic frontier facade, still stands on the main street, its collapsed wooden awning barely hanging over the two windows and doorway.

  Across a street is an impossibly-twisted, wooden structure, the original use of which was hard to determine. Long and narrow in shape, part of the roof has collapsed, but the rest has somehow warped and shaped itself in a way that allows it to maintain some semblance of structural integrity.

  Just north of the main portion of the town, you can see the solitary remains of a towering brick smokestack, which was once part of a large milling operation on the hillside.

  The Tuscarora cemetery is located near the southern entrance into the town. Additionally, there are a dozen former miner's homes and shacks, some renovated and inhabited, scattered throughout the townsite. A few of the abandoned buildings still contain torn curtains and other furnishings.

  In the summer months, visitors should stop to see if the Tuscarora School of Pottery, located in an historic two-story wooden hotel on the main street, is open. Amazing hand-crafted works by members of the Parks family and others are often on display and for sale.

  For more information about the school, go to: www.tuscarorapottery.com/workshops.

  Tuscarora is located about an hour north of Elko via Nevada State Route 225 North and Nevada State Route 226 West.

Sunday, August 21, 2022

Hiking Lake Mead's Historic Railroad Tunnel Trail


  The wind whistles. It doesn’t sound like a train whistle—but pretty close. Which is appropriate because the trail is named after the U.S. Government Construction Railroad, which once ran along this route.

  The railroad once carried thousands of tons of material used to construct nearby Hoover Dam, which has been called one of the world’s most impressive engineering projects.

  The trail along the old railroad line has been designated an official historic hiking trail in the Lake Mead National Recreation Area. The trailhead for the fairly easy hike is located about four miles northeast of Boulder City on U.S. 93.

  The U.S. Government Construction Railroad was a 6.7-mile rail line that was built in 1931 to link the Union Pacific Railroad line at Boulder City to the Hoover Dam site and to the Six Companies, Inc. Railroad. The latter carried gravel and other materials used in constructing the dam.

  Built by the federal government (hence its name), it was a challenge to construct because it required digging five tunnels (each of which is 300 feet long) in rough, dry, remote terrain. Additionally, builders contended with a number of road-cuts and fills of more than 100 feet high.

  Yet in spite of the obstacles, the line was completed in six months. Railroad historian David Myrick notes that from September 1931 to December 1961, when the line was abandoned, the U.S. Government Construction Railroad handled some 35,000 carloads of construction materials to Hoover Dam.

  The trailhead is located at a marked parking lot opposite the National Park Service’s Alan Bible Visitor Center. The trail winds out of the lot, in the shadow of the Hoover Dam Lodge & Casino (formerly known as the Hacienda Hotel and Casino), located a quarter-mile away.

  About 300 yards from the parking lot, you reach a massive metal gate that blocks vehicular traffic from the route. The trail extends about 2.5 miles from this point (5 miles roundtrip or about two to three hours).

  You pass around the gate, which was originally built during World War II and erected on the road leading to Hoover Dam (it is so large because it was designed to prevent war-time saboteurs from reaching the dam). It was moved to its present location in 1975.

  From the gate, the trail begins a gradual climb. Ahead you see marvelous views of Lake Mead, the artificial lake created by Hoover Dam. Along the way, you can see rough-faced, red volcanic rock walls, the gray-yellow bunches of desert grasses and thin, waving mesquite bushes.

  Below the trail is Boulder Beach, a popular swimming and boating spot, as well as the Lake Mead Marina and Hemenway Harbor. On the opposite side of the lake, you can see the Muddy and Virgin mountains as well as Sentinel Island (identifiable by a dark lava cap on its top), which rises from its waters.

  About a quarter mile from the parking lot, you reach a steep embankment. Huge concrete chunks beside the trail are remnants of plugs taken out of Hoover Dam when its generator turbines were installed. A side trail near here leads south to the Gold Strike Casino.

  The path continues east toward the lake and affords increasingly impressive lake views. You walk through a few large road cuts and round a bend that leads to the first tunnel.

  These holes in the rock were built large. Measuring 25-feet high and 18-feet wide, they were oversized to fit the penstock sections and large equipment needed for the dam’s construction.

  According to park service information, the first tunnel has eight sections of vertical supports, several of which have horizontal planks to prevent loose rock from falling on the tracks, which were in use for 24 hours a day during the dam’s construction.

  The second tunnel is only a few hundred feet away. Its interior is a little different from the others (it is covered with a red-colored shotcrete) due to a 1990 fire that required it be given additional support.

  Tunnels 3 and 4 are located a half-mile or so farther. The third tunnel is said to house a colony of bats.

  The fifth and last tunnel, located another half-mile or so away, was actually closed following a fire in 1978, and then reopened in 2001. This tunnel is a bit longer than the others and has a slight bend in the middle, which makes it darker than the others.

  From the other side of the tunnel, the trail leads through another gate (the trail is not open at night) and continues on to Hoover Dam (another three miles away). At Tunnel 5, you can retrace the journey back to the parking lot or head to the dam.

  For more information on the Historic Railroad Tunnel Trail, go to the Lake Mead National Recreation Area web site, www.nps.gov/lake/planyourvisit/hikerr.htm.

Sunday, August 14, 2022

The Show That Refuses to Die: PBS's Wild Nevada

Wild Nevada Co-Host Dave Santina above Diana's Punchbowl

  Nearly 20 years ago, I had the pleasure of assisting the crew of the Wild Nevada television program that is broadcast on Reno’s PBS station (KNPB) and shared on other affiliates around the country.

  My role was to research various places around the state that could be featured on the program and, on a handful of occasions, serve as a guest “expert” on some historic place or geological area being visited by the crew.

  It is an understatement to say that I had a blast. The hosts, Dave Santina and Chris Orr, were friendly and accommodating—and helped me get over any jitters about talking to a camera—and the rest of those involved in the program, including producer Jack Kelly and camera artist Ethan Salter, were easy to work with.

  I think I appeared on about five or six episodes during that time, joining the team for visits to Walker Lake, Virginia City, Virgin Valley, Manhattan, Diana’s Punchbowl, Belmont, the Sump, Hickison Summit, and several other places.

  My recollection is that the station filmed some three seasons of Wild Nevada, before funding apparently ran out and no new episodes were made. I moved on to other endeavors as did the KNPB team.

  But then something interesting happened. The shows, which proved popular from the beginning, remained in the station’s rotation over the years, shown over-and-over. I can recall relatives calling me up in subsequent years to tell me that I had just appeared on TV (again).

  A couple of years ago, during the height of the pandemic, the two co-hosts, Chris Orr and Dave Santina, created a behind-the-scenes look at Wild Nevada, offering comments and memories about the filming of those episodes. Called Wild Nevada Memories, the shows were a new way to look at the old programs.

  And, again, some of my relatives called me to ask if I knew I was on TV.

  The new show proved to be so popular that it spurred the filming of brand-new episodes of the show for the first time in more than a decade and a half. As a result, there are now five seasons of Wild Nevada episodes, all of which can be viewed at any time on the KNPB website.

  Additionally, Orr, Santina and friends are back out in the field, continuing to explore the backroads and cool places of Nevada in additional new episodes (I am so jealous!).

  So, what is my favorite memory about the show? Perhaps the one that means the most to me was episode 5 in season 2, when my daughter, who was then about seven years old, came along on the journey.

  During the filming of the episode, we walked the streets of Paradise Valley, hiked a portion of the Santa Rosa Range, took a drive on Hickey Summit Road, visited with acclaimed western photographer Linda Dufurrena at her rural gallery, and dug for fire opals at a mine in the Virgin Valley.

  At one point while searching for opals, my daughter accidentally appears on the video, squatting next to me and digging through the mud looking for one of the precious stones. Most people probably assumed she was just some kid who was at the mine. But, for me, it will always be a special memory.

  Wild Nevada is broadcast in Reno on Thursdays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 3 p.m., Sundays at 6 p.m., and Tuesdays at 1 p.m. Or you can watch on the KNPB website, www.pbsreno.org/watch/wildnevada.

Nevada's 'Marble-ous' Ghost Town of Carrara

Road to the ghost town of Carrara (Photo courtesy of Mark Holloway)   In the southeastern Nevada mining town of Carrara, the big prize wasn’...