Five months ago, when I first conceived of this road trip (nobody thought this was all Dawn’s idea, did they? She’s a good sport about it, but she would never have suggested this) today’s drive was exactly what I had in mind. Long open roads, scenic vistas, and lots of interesting stuff learned, including a town I had never heard of, but didn’t want to leave.
Before we get to today, though, I promised that I would share a picture of the lobby of the Clown Motel in Tonopah. I am a man of my word:
Yeah, lots of clowns. By the way, several people instant messaged me last night, expressing concern for our well-being because the hotel was haunted or attached to bad spirits. I am happy to report that I had a terrific night’s sleep. Dawn’s wasn’t so good, because the bed was not all that comfortable, but we didn’t get a single bad vibe. In fact, the people who run the place are so friendly, I would happily stay there again. Here’s a recount of an actual conversation I had with the front desk person this morning:
Me:”I’ll take these six postcards.” She: “That’s one dollar, please.” Me: “Wait, I have six of them, and they are .50 each.” (I hold out three dollars to her.) She: “I’m overstocked on them and want to get rid of some of them.” Me: “Yes, but I was already going to buy these six. Here’s my three dollars.” She: Reaches out, takes one dollar bill, and says, “Thank you.” Nice people.
A bonus of staying at the Clown Motel is that there is a 100 year old cemetery right next door. Many of the headstones could no longer be read, but a number of them noted that the people buried were part of several mine disasters in the first decade of the twentieth century. Apparently, there was also a “plague” that nearly wiped out the entire town of Tonopah 100 years ago. It made me think of the old song “Swamp Witch” by Jim Stafford. If you’ve never heard that song, please click the link and listen. I’ll wait for you right here.
The whole cemetery just seems tired, old, and neglected, as seen here:
We thought that would be our cemetery-highlight for the day (yes, we are cemetery junkies) but, man, were we wrong.
Last night, we were planning on driving south, because I really wanted to see a house built of bottles. When I looked this morning, though, I realized that we would have to either continue on to Las Vegas, or back track. We are trying to avoid most major cities on this trip, and I hate to backtrack, so instead we turned east and drove through eastern Nevada. If you’d like to know what a road looks like that cuts through eastern Nevada, your wish is my command.
This road was so straight for so long, I told Dawn it was like we were on a treadmill, or stuck in one of those Road Runner cartoons where Wile E. and Road Runner keep running, but the scenery never changes.
Eventually, though, we turned south on the Extraterrestrial Highway, so named because it skirts the infamous Area 51. Area 51, of course, is hidden inside a massive Air Force base, so we knew wouldn’t be visiting it,but we did skirt around the general area. We also found massive amounts of Joshua Trees, and learned a little something about them. By the way, in this next photo, Area 51 is on the other side of those mountains.
Here’s what I learned about Joshua trees, thanks to the Nevada department of something or other: Joshua trees and yuca moths are in a completely symbiotic relationship. The yuca moth is perfectly suited to pollinate the Joshua tree. It spreads pollen while laying its eggs inside the flower. Meanwhile, its offspring will eat some of the trees seeds to survive infancy. Neither would survive without the other. Absolutely stunning how nature evolves in this way.
Most of the Extraterrestrial Highway is a long stretch of nothing, broken up by more long miles of even less than nothing. If it hadn’t been named the Extraterrestrial Highway, we probably wouldn’t have even driven that route, showing, once again, that marketing works.
Eventually we did stumble upon a couple of small businesses that are attempting to cash in on their nearness to Area 51. Almost unbelievably, we drove by this 30 foot tall alien the first time, until the lady at ET Jerky down the road pointed out our mistake. Yes, we bought some jerky. ET is delicious. Tastes not like chicken, but just like beef jerky. Here’s a shot of Dawn Adele and our very tall friend:
I thought that maybe meeting Mr. Tall, Metal, and Good-looking was going to be the highlight of our day, but I was way off. Our plan was to drive into Utah to get ready to make our assault on the many National Parks that reside in that state, but we made one more side trip on the way, to Pioche, Nevada. If you’ve never heard of Pioche, don’t feel bad. I hadn’t either. But, some of my research had found a mention of it, so we drove out of our way to check it out.
We are so glad we did. First, it is an almost-ghost town. At the height of the gold rush, Pioche had 10,000 hearty souls in it. Today, there are 900 people living there, trying to keep the town going. Our first stop was the Lincoln County Museum. It was my favorite kind of museum – just a whole bunch of stuff thrown out so that you could look at things up close and personal, and you could even touch most of the items, including this massive old cook stove:
The gentleman who was volunteering today stayed late and kept the museum open for us so we could look around. He’s also a budding writer, so we talked about writing and publishing for a while until I sensed that Dawn was slowly losing the will to live, listening to us talk shop when she knew what was next: boot hill.
Deadwood and Tombstone get a lot of press for being the toughest towns in the old west, but here’s an interesting statistic in favor of Pioche: the first 70 people interred in the cemetery were put there by violence. It took a long time before anyone had a chance to die of natural causes in Pioche. Of course, this led to a super-interesting cemetery, where all the murderers (and some of their victims) are literally fenced off from the good, normal citizenry in what is a true Murderer’s Row:
Please note the abandoned carts used for moving ore from the mine, still running directly over the cemetery. We spent a lot of time wandering down Murderer’s Row, reading the headstones that were still visible. Some were laconic – “Shot by Sheriff 5 times” – and some told a short story – “Killed in a dispute over a dog.” One read, “Shot by a coward as he staked his claim before anyone could find out his name.” In all, it was the coolest cemetery I’ve ever seen, and we were so glad we took this little side trip.
One last thing about Pioche – it has what is known as the million dollar courthouse:
I know it doesn’t look like much, so why did it cost a million dollars? Because the town of Pioche was run by crooked politicians. You didn’t think that was a new invention did you? Initial cost overruns made the construction cost of the courthouse climb from $27,000 to around $70,000. The city didn’t have money to pay that much, so they started taking out bonds. Then bonds to cover those bonds. Etc., etc. After adding to the debt, they finally got the courthouse paid for at a cost of approximately one million dollars in the mid-1930s. Unfortunately, the courthouse had fallen into disrepair in the early 1930s and been abandoned for a new courthouse on the other side of town. By the way, some estimates show that the mayors, councils, etc., of Pioche were earning up to $60,000 a year in bribes – a pretty healthy income in the late 1800s.
To make up for inflicting the Clown Motel on Dawn yesterday, I found a beautiful place to stay in Cedar City, Utah. We love this little town, which seems to be booming. Lots of new businesses, and things are inexpensive here. Gas is $2.29 a gallon, Dawn ordered Surf and Turf for dinner and it was $12.99, and this motel, the Abby Inn, is the nicest place we have stayed on our trip. I recommend it highly.
Tomorrow, we have our sights set on Utah’s National Parks, although I have no idea yet what order we will tackle them.