Stage 3 - Tonopah to Gold Point
As we exited Tonopah, @mrs.turbodb and I were more than a little curious about the route we'd take to Goldfield. We've driven the 27 mile stretch of US-95 more than a few times on our trips down and back from Death Valley and it just doesn't seem like there's much out there in the way of dirt roads and alternate routes.
And as it turns out, we were right! For the first 10 miles or so, we simply travelled the old (but still paved) US-95 that apparently works its way south just to the east of the modern highway. Eventually though, we veered even a little further east onto a dirt road and found ourselves climbing out of the valley towards our destination, Joshua Trees making their first appearance of the adventure.
With so few miles to cover, we quickly found ourselves coming into Goldfield "the back way," through a series of old mining roads, and the telltale signs of more than 100 years of digging shiney rocks out of the ground.
Miners here were looking for gold, they clearly didn't care about the sulfer.
As we wound our way through diggings, old mine equipment, and long-abandoned shafts that had been fenced off by the Nevada Department of Minerals, it soon became clear that the most recent - and yet still quite old - workings were part of a land area owned by the Florence Mining Company. With several large headframes and plenty of other heavy equipment, they'd done a reasonably good job of gating the roads they could - signs at each gate listing a phone number you could call for "tours."
Still, they couldn't close the public roads, and we were able to get reasonably close to one of the old sites - the headframe and powerhouse extremely well preserved.
I must admit, it was surprising to see how close these mines were to the town of Goldfield, having driven by maybe a dozen times and never noticed them. In fact, they were so close to the International Car Forest, that we didn't even need to drive through town in order to reach the small bluff that overlooks most of the carnage.
Having visited the spectacle a couple times in the past, we knew what to expect and were looking forward to it! The cars - buried and stacked in various positions around the forest - have attracted various graffiti artists over the years, and while forest itself is stationary, the artwork is quite the opposite.
If only they had the approach and departure angles of a 1st gen Tacoma.
This time, as we sauntered around in the evening heat - it was nearly 6:00pm at this point - we noticed two things about the forest. First, it looked like someone had recently vandalized the artwork - spraying derogatory remarks on many of the vehicles and detracting from the otherwise intriguing works. Second, there were many ghosts and aliens scattered about.
Friends or foe?
One last shot - that @mrs.turbodb insisted on exiting the Tacoma for - and we chalked up another enjoyable visit to the (free) International Car Forest. Again - if you're ever in Goldfield, this is a fun place to spend half an hour!
From Goldfield, we headed south toward the Silver Peak Range and Palmetto Mountains, snaking our way through a small-but-tight canyon that we could only imagine would be the perfect place for a stage coach ambush had we be driving for the Wells Fargo company some 100 years earlier. For us though, it was fun - the geology reminiscent of Death Valley's Dedeckera Canyon, without the dry falls to navigate.
Through the pass, the road opened up once again and we resumed our top speed of the trip - 45mph as we sped first toward Mt. Jackson and then toward the Palmetto Mountains. The heat in the valley - even at this time of night - was enough to push us up a bit higher in the hopes of a more pleasant evening.
Flat topped Mt. Jackson standing tall in the middle of the valley.
We soon found ourselves winding through yet another mountain pass and decided that we'd better find a place to stop, lest we start down the other side and end up in the heat again! And so it was, as we looked for side roads that would lead us to ridges, we were once again distracted, in a good way.
See, we stumbled upon this cabin that itself was about to stumble into a creek.
Not many wet seasons in this cabin's future.
A little exploration later, we opted not for a ridgeline camp site - the wind was too strong this evening for that - but instead for a site just below the ridge in a wash. Normally I wouldn't suggest that camping in a wash is the smartest idea, but in this case, we knew the weather for the next several days was going to be clear, and we could see the top of the wash a few hundred feet uphill - so we weren't all that worried that we'd be awoken to a gush of water.
We'd soon fixed dinner - an anti-pasta salad for me, and a quiche and green salad for @mrs.turbodb - and then decided to walk up to the ridge and see if we could catch the sun before it set along the horizon.
In the end, it was just a bit further to the ridge than we'd anticipated, and the sun was just below the horizon when we arrived. Still, the purples and pinks that it cast across the land were nothing to cry about!
To the east, the moon rose through the Joshua Trees as we headed back to camp, another day in the books.
We awoke to the howling of coyotes just outside the tent as the sun started to make itself known on the horizon. It was nothing to be alarmed about - simply a dozen or so of the furry little buggers, many of them pups from the sound of their howls - waking up and enjoying the same thing we were. Except for them, I guess it was in grayscale.
With only a few more miles to Gold Point and the end of the next stage, we lazied around a bit this morning, not getting out of camp until nearly 8:00am - 45 minutes or so later than had become our routine. Already reasonably warm temperatures meant that we almost immediately turned on the A/C as we continued up into the Silver Peak Range.
Within 15 minutes or so, we were distracted. A tailings pile - high on the mountain side to our east - caught our eye, and a lightly travelled road seemed to lead that direction. "Want to go?" I asked @mrs.turbodb.
Of course she did. We soon found ourselves staring down a mine shaft that had vomitted up a lot of tailings and was reasonably deep given the drop time of a few pebbles we tossed into the void.
In the end, neither the tailings pile nor mine shaft were the most interesting discovery of this little side trip however. No, the most interesting thing we found was an old claim, posted a few feet away from the hole.
Mostly illegible, this claim was registered in 2011.
Our first claim discovery ever now behind us, we headed back to the truck and continued on our way toward Gold Point, desert wildflowers and expansive overlooks the next highlights of our morning!
Not long after, we wound our way out of the Palmetto Mountains and onto the outskirts of what was once a reasonably happening town of Lida. Now just a few residences along Nevada-266, we stopped to read a historical sign before almost immediately setting off on dirt again near Palmetto Wash.
Here, we climbed into the Cucomongo Mountains where within just a few miles we rounded a bend to find ourselves head on with this full-sized Ford F150. Luckily, I noticed in time and was able to take evasive action to avoid what would have been a very unfortunate situation for us.
As it turned out, the truck was empty and after a bit of poking around, we noticed a few concerning aspects to the situation. First - of course - there was no one around. While that could be chalked up to the owner being out-and-about in the woods, the fact that the back window was broken and had a sleeping bag hanging out, the plate was from out of state, the key was in the ignition, and a completely dried out pineapple was decaying on the extended cab floor made us wonder - was everything OK?
For me, the nail in the coffin that everything wasn't OK was the fact that the truck had been parked in the road long enough for rain - of which there'd been none in the last 17 days - to completely wash away any sign of tracks leading up to this spot.
With no cell service, we made a note of the GPS coordinates and continued on. Later in the day, as we were entering Death Valley and finally found ourselves with a hit of cell reception, I'd make a call to the Esmerelda County Sherriff's Office to report the situation. But now I'm getting ahead of myself.
With nothing much we could do at the time, we continued on through the Cucomongo Mountains, until we rounded yet another bend in the road and stumbled upon a quaint little cabin surrounded by a reasonably tidy yard. Unsure if it was occupied, we pulled out of the road and announced ourselves verbally, then knocked on the door before letting ourselves in.
The interior of the cabin was truly a time capsule. Abandoned since sometime before 2011 based on the visitor log, it was clear that the mice had found their way inside and chewed through some of the quilts on the neatly made beds, but by and large the place was in great shape.
To add a bit of intrigue and mystery, a latched briefcase sat on the counter. Should we open it?
Of course, the briefcase was simply a way to keep the mice from getting to the visitor log, and after signing our names - only the third visitors of the year - we carefully locked everything back up and continued on our way.
Remember how I mentioned in an earlier part of this story that the NVBDR often seemed to take circuitous routes that would ultimately lead us to within a few miles of a place we'd passed many miles earlier? Our trip through the Cucomongo Mountains had been exactly that. As we left them in our rear view mirror, Mt. Jackson once again rose up out of the valley, now a mile or two to our north rather than the mile or two to our south when we'd last laid eyes on its flat top.
A wild black stallion looking fine in front of Mt. Jackson.
Not that we were complaining about our roundabout route to Gold Point - now just a few more miles across the valley desert floor. We'd had a great time in those mountains, making discoveries we'd never expected and hopefully helping to either find a missing person, or at least recover a missing vehicle.
And so it was - at 10:26am - that we pulled into Gold Point. Now this was a ghost town!
Like Belmont and Manhattan, Gold Point clearly still had a few residents - but the town wasn't overrun with RV trailers and new single- and double-wide construction. A few of the old buildings had been restored, but by and large the town appeared to be frozen in time.
Along main street, a few of the old structures still stood, including the jail and gallows.
So, how must it feel to be in jail, only to have the floor drop out of the gallows and your partner in crime pop in for a visit?
Like most of the other towns, Gold Point too had sprung up around - you guessed it - gold, and two nice headframes still stood near the edge of town, guarded by what are clearly considered the strongest of watchmen here in Nevada.
A wooden headframe, familiar to us in our adventures.
A hybrid wood-and-steel headframe, several decades newer than most that we see.
Like his buddy in Belmont, this guy works for grasshoppers.
And with that, we'd completed our fourth of six stages of the NVBDR, with plenty of time left in the day to make a good dent in the fifth - the push into Pahrump.
But, that wouldn't happen until we'd stumbled upon two naked ladies and a penguin in the desert; clearly a story for another day...
The Whole Story
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