Ghost towns are very "alive" for me, more than history, a part of the culture at Nevada...
I grew up at Carson Valley when there were 1,200 people in the valley, and the crest of Kingsbury Grade to Lake Tahoe was still a dirt road. My graduating high school class at Gardnerville consisted of 49 students. Into the early 'sixties, silver dollars were still in circulation, handed out as change at the grocery store. The two mercantile stores had pot bellied stoves and plank floors, we had the rodeo grounds and our fishing path to the Carson River, where pheasants burst from the hedgerows lining a sea of alfalfa fields in this cattle country. We hunted ducks, geese, quail and pheasants, deer in fall, both before school and after football practice.
We learned respectful land use from ranchers, Native Americans and public land managers—how to appreciate every bit of Nevada's sparse, often fragile high desert country...The mean elevation of Nevada is 5,500 feet, with 125 mountain ranges running primarily north to south. The tallest peaks range above 13,000 feet.
When I drive across Highway 50 ("Loneliest Highway in America") toward Moab each year, it's not a theme ride or reality TV segment. For me, it's a reunion. During early high school years, I attended Nevada Range Camp south of Austin, sponsored by the U.S.D.A. Extension Service. We traveled to the Native American ranches, forty miles down a washboard gravel road to the bottom end of the Reese River Valley. Surrounded by pungent sage and majestic mountain peaks, the area provided sustenance for cattle and people. Our nights were a camp at Big Creek, its headwater a tiny pool of snow melt that you could jump across. I landed a native 14-inch trout from under the grassy bank, a thrill rivaling steelhead I would later catch at Oregon's big rivers.
The town of Austin holds a special lure, once a thriving mining district during the heyday of Virginia City. My Nevada...Tonopah, where the Mizpah Hotel has the oldest elevator in the state—and several ghosts according to staff and certain television programs...Goldfield produced enormous wealth and hosted the famous Gans-Nelson boxing match in 1906...Ely, once flourishing with copper mines and currently host to a large elk population...Elko County with its Basque sheepherder heritage, vast cattle country, the majestic Ruby Mountains and today's richest producing gold mines in the United States...Winnemucca, also in a mineral boom, where I ran heavy equipment on the swing-graveyard shift in the fall of 1975, and our crew moved 1.6M yards of earth fill on the I-80 bypass of the town...Much more to Nevada!
For me, Las Vegas is the SEMA Show annually and my drive down Highway 95 through Mina, Tonopah and Goldfield on the way there...Wild burros, cactus and history, don't miss the courthouse stop at Goldfield. You'll find displays of early Nevada cattle brands, barbed wire, motor vehicle and other legal titles, plus artifacts from a living ghost town that once hosted 20,000 people and thrived at this high, harsh desert country. Watch out for blizzards on this section of highway in late fall, winter and early spring, you're approaching 6,000 feet elevation!
That's just a glimpse, there's much more! Tom Willis shares his own vantage in his columns at the magazine: http://www.4wdmechanix.com/Tom-Willis-OHV-Trails.html. Click to this lead page, there are also a number of subpages that follow. Mina, a back country travel theme for one of Tom's books, is still an active mining district!