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Travels with Grama

Desert Ghost Towns

Road Trip - 2002

This was our second road trip so we were quite comfortable about everything - so comfortable in fact that with the car fully packed and gassed up, we actually drove away from my house before we realized we had absolutely no idea which direction we were going. We had to be in Vegas for the Pool Tournament again, but had made no plans on how to get there. So we pulled off to the side of the road (with Willie Nelson singing "On The Road Again" in the background) and formulated a plan of action.

Doreen had previously toured a few desert ghost towns and spent a couple of years researching several others so she was quite interested in actually seeing them. Some are still inhabited, some deserted, and some nothing more than bare field with couple of stones or wooden markers to indicate what used to be there.

Since my only criteria was to be somewhere hot - the desert seemed like the perfect solution. And thus a plan was formed ......find Nevada ghost towns!! Along with visiting Monument Valley and Valley of the Gods again, of course.

We headed down I-15 for the better part to get as far south in the shortest time possible. We did find a road looping around Salt Lake City but when we ran into delays from construction we had to get back onto I-15 to continue south.

2002 Desert Ghost Towns Photo Album

Arches National Park, Utah
Arches National Park Slideshow

We left I-15 at Provo and headed toward Moab in the hopes of seeing what we missed on Highway 128 the year before.  Once again, it was nearly dark when we got there so we scrapped that plan and drove directly to Moab on Highway 191. 

We had a delightful surprise, when just outside the town of Moab we came upon Arches National Park.  We spent the night in Moab and ventured into the park the next day.

After exploring most of the park on the tourist roads, we came upon a lift gate in the UP position. "Well, why not try that road too", we said. A quick look at the map showed what we thought was a road to Klondike Bluffs that routed back onto Hwy191 and what the heck - it was paved ----- Wrong.

As soon as we were committed and found ourselves hugging the side of a cliff (again with no guardrails) the pavement ended and the only place to go was down to the valley floor.

After an hour of traveling along the washboard trail which was no more than graded sand over rocks, a couple of young fellows on dirt bikes came towards us and Doreen hailed them. They were surprised we were out in the middle of nowhere and proceeded to tell us we weren't likely to get where we wanted to go as this wasn't a road it was a dirt bike trail.

They inquired about our fuel level (which was almost empty) and suggested we follow them back. So Doreen pulled a U-turn and we made the hour trip back in about 10 minutes. It's funny that washboard roads aren't that rough when you are going like a "bat out of hell".I think she was afraid of losing sight of the bikers.

I kept kidding Doreen saying we could kill a cow and live out there for a long time or at least until someone found us. A cow? There wasn't a cow within 50 miles of where we were. And where would we hang it...there are less trees than cows??

To this day, we still don't know what's at the end of that trail. That little gate is always closed. Wonder why??

I do wish to clarify one thing. We did not go into the desert unprepared. We had extra snacks, hats, jackets, blankets, lotions and of course, plenty of water packed as a precaution. Our intention is to "have fun" not to "die trying".

Wolf Cabin

John Wesley Wolfe, a veteran of the Civil War, built the homestead known as Wolfe Ranch around 1898. The cabin is located on Salt Wash, at the beginning of the Delicate Arch Trail. Wolfe and his family lived there a decade or more.

Native Americans first lived on this land, leaving behind petroglyphs still visible today. They a just behind the Wolf cabin. Arches National Park

Highway 261, Utah

This was the year we discovered Hwy 261 by fluke.

We left Moab, traveling south on Hwy 191 and stopped at a sub shop in Blanding. We got takeout, with the intention of finding a relaxing picnic spot. We were a couple of miles past a junction for Hwy 95 west, when I glanced at the map and noticed that Hwy 95 connected to another road which would take us to the west entrance of Valley of the Gods, and eventually onto Hwy 163. An unexplored road left us no choice but to backtrack and head west. We found a nice area and stopped for our picnic, before turning south onto the infamous Hwy 261.

Except for a couple of road signs saying tractor trailers and motorhomes are not recommended, this simple paved road gave little clue as to what might lie ahead.

It is a long, subtle climb on a flat plateau and slowly you realize the trees are now shrubs, the sky is within reach and it feels like you're at the top of the world. At about that time the signage was every hundred feet and the sense of misgiving suddenly hit us. "What were we getting into - again". Bravehearts that we are, we continued to the top of the plateau, where the world suddenly opened up below us.

This was called the Moki Dugway and is a trail originally carved by the ancients. It goes from the top of Cedar Mesa butte and winds back and forth, crisscrossing the face of the rocks to the bottom.

Modern man has expanded the road, and carved deeper into the rocks to accommodate automotive travel, but the thrill is still there - especially, when one has a fear of heights.

1100 foot drop less than 4 feet from the side of the car, no guard rails and a small pile of gravel between you and the pearly gates does not give one a sense of security.

Valley of the Gods, Utah

We arrived intact at the bottom of the butte and west entrance to the "Valley".  A Chevy Cavalier is not exactly 4-wheeling it, but we made it through the 17 miles of dusty roads, washed out creeks and fallen rocks.

The Valley road had not been graded after the winter and a couple of vehicles were not as adventurous and turned back. I guess size isn't everything.  What's a little high-centering here and there?.  A quick check of the muffler and undercarriage and we were on our way to connect with Hwy 163.

Monument Valley

Our second trip through Monument Valley was just as spectacular as the first. Every time of day, every angle of the sun displays a different colour.  We stopped at Goulding Lodge, hoping to get a room but had to continue to Kayenta as the inn was full. We stayed long enough to have supper and tour the museum and John Wayne cabin.

Director John Ford's 1939 film Stagecoach, starring John Wayne, has had an enduring influence in making the Valley famous. After that first experience, Ford returned nine times to shoot Westerns — even when the films were not set in Arizona or Utah.

A popular lookout point is named in his honor as "John Ford Point." It was used by Ford in a scene from The Searchers where an American Indian village is attacked.

Lake Powell & Page, Arizona

This year we took the northern route above Grand Canyon through Page.  We stopped at the Marina at Lake Powell for a picnic and toured the interpretive center.  An interesting fact was the continuous receding of the lake water level.

Lake Powell on the Colorado River is the second largest man-made reservoir in the United States. More than 400 feet deep, 186 miles long and nearly 2,000 miles of shoreline, it straddles the border between Utah and Arizona. Upon completion of Glen Canyon Dam on September 13th, 1963, the Colorado River began to back up. The newly flooded Glen Canyon formed Lake Powell. It took 17 years for the lake to rise to the high water mark, on June 22nd, 1980. Since then the lake level has fluctuated considerably depending on the seasonal snow runoff from the mountains.

The Grand Circle - Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah

Lake Powell is part of the Grand Circle which includes six national parks - Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce, Capitol Reef, Arches and Canyonlands. Some other attractions in the area are Natural Bridges National Monument, Monument Valley, Bicentennial Highway, Glen Canyon, Meteor Crater, Petrified Forest, and Hwy 12 Scenic Byway.

The City of Page is one of the youngest communities in the United States. It is located in northeastern Arizona. The town began in 1957 as a housing camp for workers building the Glen Canyon Dam. In 1958, through a Navajo land exchange, Page was born. It became an incorporated town on March 1, 1975 and is now home to more than 9,000 people.

Colorado River flows have been below average since the year 2000, leading to lower lake levels. In the winter of 2005 the lake reached its lowest level since filling, an elevation of 3550 feet above sea level, which was approximately 150 feet below full pool. Since 2005 the lake level has risen 60 feet, to a seasonal high elevation in 2007 of 3610 feet above sea level. It is estimated the 2008 spring runoff may produce 50 more feet of water making the elevation 3630-3650 during mid-summer 2008.

Lake Powell 1995
Lake Powell 2004

Mileage to Lake Powell
Arches National Monument 285 Los Angles , California
Bryce Canyon National Park 151 Mexican Hat 151
Canyonlands National Park 271 Moab, Utah 280
Canyon Rims 277 Monument Valley 126
Capital Reef National Park 353 Natural Bridges 244
Grand Canyon North Rim 123 Phoenix , Arizona 272
Grand Canyon South Rim 139 Salt Lake City , Utah 420
Las Vegas , Nevada 281 Zion National Park 119

Las Vegas, Nevada

Once again, we refereed the VNEA pool tournament in Vegas, so spent 10 sunless days inside the Riviera hotel, constantly wishing we were on the road.  We visited Liberace's museum one afternoon, then a fast shopping spree (20 min) at the Outlet Mall to buy attire for the evening banquet. Next morning we packed up early and headed west for parts unknown.

Fifteen miles outside of Vegas we found our first accessible Joshua Tree cactus and of course had to take a picture. Then we boogied off into the desert in search of ghost towns.

Death Valley National Park, California

Located on the border of California and Nevada, Death Valley is the principal feature of the Mojave and Colorado Deserts Biosphere Reserve. Millions of years ago, there was an inland sea where Death Valley is today, but as the area turned to desert, the water evaporated, leaving behind the salt.

We turned south at Amargosa Valley to Death Valley and stopped at Furnace Creek National Park Visitors Center where the temperature was 125° F. How anyone could live in this area without air conditioning is beyond me. We walked around a display of mule team and mining antiques for a few minutes but it was virtually impossible to breathe so we headed to the Gift Shop (and air conditioning) where we felt inclined to buy out the store. As usual, we wanted to spend more time exploring the area but were running out of time. Another promise to ourselves to return again and finally in 2006 we kept our word.

Temperatures in the Valley can reach 130° F in the summer, to below freezing in the winter. The National Climatic Center reports that Death Valley's temperature reaches 90°F 327 days a year while freezing temperatures occur on an average of 11.7 days each year.

Death Valley holds the record for hottest temperature ever recorded in the United States at 134°F on July 10, 1913. The lowest temperature on record is 15°F. Annual precipitation is 2.33 inches.

Dante's View

From Dante's View at 5,500 feet above sea level one can see the central part of Death Valley, Badwater Basin, which is the lowest dry point in North America at 282 feet below sea level.

I actually had to take Doreen by the hand and lead her to the sign so I could take a picture - not to mention that I had to go back and get her unglued from it. It's that "fear of heights" thing.

Rhyolite, Nevada

Rhyolite is located 4 miles west of the town of Beatty, 35 miles from Furnace Creek Visitor Center, on Nevada on HWY 374. Rhyolite was founded by Shorty Harris and E. L. Cross, who were prospecting in the area in 1904. They found quartz all over a hill, and described it as just full of free gold.

The town immediately boomed with buildings springing up everywhere. One building the Cook Bank, was 3 stories tall and cost $90,000 to build. A stock exchange and Board of Trade were formed. There were hotels, 50 saloons, a jail, a red light district, stores, schools, a swimming pool, an ice plant, two electric plants, foundries, machine shops, and a hospital. With a population of over 10,000 at one time, Rhyolite was no small town.

The financial panic of 1907* took its toll on the town and businesses started to shut down. Production began to slow down by 1908. The town continued to struggle to stay alive hoping for a new boom that never came. By 1910 only an estimated 675 people remained in Rhyolite. The mine and mill were closed in 1911. By 1919, the post office had closed and the town was abandoned. The population had shrunk to fourteen by the beginning of 1920 and the last resident died in 1924.

The Bottle House, a house built from thousands of beer and liquor bottles by Tom Kelly in 1906, was restored by Paramount Pictures in 1925 for use in a movie. Recently rebuilt, it remains standing and complete.

* The Panic of 1907, also known as the 1907 Bankers' Panic, was a financial crisis in the United States. The stock market fell nearly 50% from its peak in 1906, the economy was in recession, and there were numerous runs on banks and trust companies.

Goldwell Open Air Museum

In the 1980's Belgian sculptor Albert Szukalski came here and created the Last Supper, twelve ghostly figures in a ghost town. In subsequent years he invited other artists to create their artwork launching the Goldwell Open Air Museum making Rhyolite a town with an engrossing history, even after it was deserted.

What drew our attention to this ghost town was literally a row of ghosts. At a distance, we couldn't figure out what we were seeing but the figures became clear as we got closer. There were several works of art on display and we were finally able to discover how this came to be.

Some of the walls of the Cook bank building (above) are still standing, as is part of the old jail, the the train depot, a caboose and the Bottle House.

Doreen and I have since been back to Rhyolite and noticeably the walls are crumbling. These buildings are now protected behind wire fences which was not the case on our first trip.

Goldfield, Nevada

Goldfield is an unincorporated community in Esmeralda County about 170 miles southeast of Carson City, along U.S. Route 95. Goldfield was a boomtown in the first decade of the 20th century due to the discovery of gold. For several years it was the largest town in Nevada reaching a peak population of about 30,000 people in 1907. Between 1903 and 1940, Goldfield's mines produced more than $86 million. Gold exploration still continues in and around the town today.

The largest mining company left town in 1919. In 1923 a fire destroyed most of the town's flammable buildings. The old hotel and high school survived the fire. By the 1910 census, Goldfield's population had declined to 4,838 and in 1950 it had a population of 275. While a small permanent population remains in Goldfield, it is largely a ghost town.

Goldfield's famous former residents include Wyatt Earp and Virgil Earp. Virgil was hired as a deputy sheriff in Goldfield in January 1905. He died of pneumonia in October 1905, and Wyatt left Goldfield shortly thereafter. Author Jeffery S. Miller wrote the short story, The Witch of Goldfield in 2007, about Wyatt and Virgil Earp's encounter with a witch. Miller fictionalized the Goldfield fire, blaming the fire on a satanic witch who cursed the town and the Earp brothers.

Goldfield Hotel

The town's four-story Goldfield Hotel opened in 1908 at a cost of $450,000 and was reported to be the most spectacular hotel in Nevada at the time. At the opening of the hotel, champagne flowed down the front steps.

The rooms were outfitted with pile carpets, many with private baths, and the lobby was trimmed in mahogany, with black leather upholstery and gilded columns. It also featured an elevator and crystal chandeliers. The hotel ceased operations in 1946 but the abandoned building remains intact.

Tonopah, Nevada

Jim Butler discovered silver at Tonopah Springs (an indian camp) in 1900, which sparked one of the biggest mining booms in the state. The first stagecoach, carrying 7 passengers, arrived in Butler on March 24, 1901. The camp consisted of seven shacks, a number of tents and a population of 60. Within weeks, the population had grown to 250. By 1902 the town was booming with over 3000 residents boasting a stagecoach service, competing newspapers, more than 30 saloons, and two churches. The city was renamed Tonopah in 1905. By 1907 five banks, several theaters, numerous hotels, five newspapers, the Big Casino, a dance hall and a brothel were thriving in Tonopah.

Wyatt Earp was a resident of Tonopah from 1902 to 1904, running the Northern Saloon and helping out with the law every once in a while. Stages from all over the state arrived in Tonopah. In true western fashion, one was held up on the outskirts of town.

Tonopah's boom years ended during the depression. By 1947, the ore had played out. All the major mines had closed. The final blow came in 1947 when the Tonopah and Goldfield Railroad folded and its rails were torn up.

At dusk, we sat in the car in front of the abandoned Mizpah Hotel just looking at it - quiet - each in our own thoughts about days gone by, gun fights, gold mines, the glory days of the hotel - and ghosts.

Suddenly, Doreen saw a shadow in her peripheral vision that scared the hell out of her. She hit the gas, peeled rubber and took off - only to look back and see a stunned young teenager standing on the street staring after our fleeing car. No doubt, he was probably going to ask if we need directions or something, and to this day he must figure we were just a couple of kooks - or worse yet criminals.

The Near Disaster (a little tale worth telling)

It was in Tonopah that Doreen and I came close to having our first argument. It was dark, very dark, by the time we arrived and booked a hotel room and I was in desperate need of a washroom.  We had to use a spooky back entrance from the parking area to access our room - first through a locked entrance, then down a flight of stairs to another locked door just to get to our hallway.

We went into our room, turned on the lights and I headed over to the A/C unit to turn it on.  When I came back to the front of the room, the bathroom light was on and the door was closed.  So I turned on the TV and sat at the foot of the bed to wait my turn.  And I waited.  And I waited.... getting quite perturbed because she knew I really needed the use of the bathroom.

As I'm thinking how "rude" she was being, the room door burst open, and there stood Doreen in all her "Jerry Lewis as The Bellboy" glory -  totally weighted down with luggage, pillows, coffee carafe, hats and coolers. 

While I was impatiently cooling my heels, watching TV and waiting for her to come out of the bathroom, Doreen had been emptying the car, hauling all this stuff through the first set of doors, down a flight of stairs, through the second door into the hall and finally through our door (all locked of course). 

As she was kicking coolers and suitcases into the room she let out a curse and said "what the hell are you doing?". (this is polite version)

I know I had a "deer in the headlight" look when I responded "waiting for you to come out of the bathroom!"

Then I just couldn't contain it any longer and the laughter overtook me and I was a "goner" I still don't know how I finally made it to the bathroom without wetting my pants. It took Doreen a minute or so to see the ludicrously in this scenario and then we were both off into fits of hysteria. Even today, we cannot reminisce about that night without bursting into tears of laughter. I know she has her side of the story but you'll have to visit Doreen's 2002 Travels to hear it.

It came close, but to this day while I'm posting this in 2008 we have yet to have a disagreement during our travels.

Nez Perce Historic Park
We continued following hwy 95 north through the south east tip or Oregon into Idaho and spent the night on the Oregon/Idaho border at Jordan Valley. Once we crossed into Idaho, we entered the Nez Perce area. Historical signs all along the route designated battle areas.
The Nez Perce National Historical Park, comprising 38 sites located throughout the states of Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington was established in 1965 to facilitate the preservation and interpretation of sites pertaining to early Nez Perce culture, the Lewis and Clark expedition, the fur trade, missionary activities, gold mining, logging, and the Nez Perce War of 1877.

We continued to follow hwy 95 through Coeur d' Alene and connected with hwy 3 at the Creston. The Fernie/Sparwood road was overrun with deer and elk. We were traveling through this area at dusk and had to drive about 30 mph for safety.

Next - 2003 Eastern and Southern States Road Trip