Tuesday, October 28, 2014

After the Silver Rush



Looking at the map of Nevada, it must have been Jarbridge I tried to find late one summer in 1988 or 89, taking an old logging road off the highway in Idaho, and working my way into the mountains of the Humboldt National Forest.  According to a story I had read, if you could find your way into the town you would get free lodging.   Unfortunately, the road became impassable after a certain point and I was forced to turn back.  I was afraid I would break one of the axles on my long-bed Ford Ranger.  I probably took the wrong approach.

Nevada is an amazing state.  I've covered quite a bit of it on my travels and was only disappointed this one time, at myself mostly.  I love tracking down these old mining towns and Nevada has many that are much easier to find.  The territory was initially part of Utah, until the Comstock Lode changed the map.  Virginia City, which figures heavily into tales of the Old West, became the epicenter of this silver rush in the 1850s. The Nevada Territory was created in 1861 and three short years later it became a state, much to the chagrin of Utah, which remained a territory.

From the start, this was a state of big ambitions, with much of the development focusing around the Virginia Range on the western boundary of the state.  With the damming of the Colorado River in 1931, the southern part of the state began to boom, or should I say bloom, with the population center shifting to Las Vegas in the 20th century.  The capital remains Carson City to the north.  Gaming became the new way to strike it rich in the state when the silver ran out.


Bugsy Siegel is the mobster credited for developing Las Vegas into the gambling epicenter it is today.  He saw the opportunity the newly constructed Hoover Dam provided for a small town like Vegas, a straight shot from LA.  He bought William Wilkerson's Flamingo Hotel and turning it into a gambling resort at an enormous sum of money and bribes.  He didn't live to enjoy the fruits of his labor, gunned down at his home in Beverly Hills shortly after the hotel was completed in 1946.

Vegas today is a far cry from the golden era of the 50s and 60s when the Rat Pack reigned supreme.  It was a stylish Vegas captured in the movie Oceans 11.  Gambling and entertainment went hand and hand, but not even Bugsy could imagine the scale to which Vegas has grown over the years, with its fabulous new hotels dwarfing the old Flamingo, which still stands in the heart of the city, although it has been greatly expanded in size to try to keep up with the other casino resorts.

In 1999, I stayed with my family in a suite in the Bellagio, unable to find any lodging anywhere else due to a tobacco and fire arms convention.  We pulled in our rented green Cadillac.  It should have been white, but the porter treated us just the same.  The lavish resort hotel and casino was featured in the remake of Oceans 11 in 2001.


However, to me the real beauty of the state still lies to the North.  This is where the mountains lie and where you can still feel the sense of the Old West.  On another occasion, I took Highway 50 from Reno, which has to be one of the most desolate stretches in the country, punctuated by three small towns of Austin, Eureka and Ely, all of which had seen their better days, but I liked it that way.

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