My niece, Christina was invited to give a presentation at a medical conference in Las Vegas in November. My sister Gail shot me a quick email: "Hey, want to do a meet up in Las Vegas next week?" Our goal: see the offbeat sites and not spend a dime on gambling. Could we do it? You bet!
Looked at the weather forecast, jumped in the car, headed to town and bought new snow tires. Their flight from Philly would take a few hours and get them in Las Vegas at 9 a.m. I left my west slope Sierra home the day before so I could have a leisurely 600 mile drive. I chose my route for scenery, knowing I might hit snow, hence the new tires.
An early Monday morning departure from my rural Volcano, CA home saw me up and over snowy Carson Pass on Scenic Highway 88, and in Minden on Hwy 395 for gas and coffee by 9 a.m. Highway 395 winds its way up-and-down and in-and-out of California and Nevada, hugging close to the east slope of the Sierra. By late morning, I turned off 395 just south of Mono Lake with its mysterious tufa towers and east onto Highway 120. This is high desert country -- high in both elevation and latitude -- so you will see no cactus here, but plenty of sage brush, pinyon and Jeffrey pine. And wild horses -- did I mention wild horses?!
Just past Mono Lake, I began to encounter snow again on the road. Not too much, but enough to tell me the plow had been through hours earlier. Conditions were a bit slick, but not as troublesome as the facts that (1) no one else was on the road, and (2) I had to pee and no rest stop, no large boulder, or even a pullout to be seen. Just a herd of wild horses in the distance, snow and sage brush.
Hwy 120 winds its way east to US 6, then up and over Montgomery Pass between Mustang Mountain (elevation 9869') and Boundary Peak (elevation 13,143'), the highest point in Nevada.
Scattered here and there were abandoned mining sites and tiny ghost towns that beckon a return visit. I finally popped out onto I-95, the Veterans Memorial Highway, at Tonopah and headed south through the cold Great Basin desert. Passed by Nellis AFB and saw a couple weird-looking drone things flying next to the highway. No one else seemed to think much of the sight, so I figured I'll just mosey on by.
My destination for the evening was the Desert Valley Inn & RV Park in Beatty, Nevada. Clean, reasonable, and easy to find. http://www.beattynevada.org/ . I was treated to a colorful desert sunset, only equaled by the colorful history of the area. Now primarily serving tourists and interstate truckers, Beatty sits at the crossroads of I-95 and SR 374 and is a waypoint for folks Las Vegas-bound as well as the gateway to Death Valley National Park.
The Western Shoshone called the region home for centuries and then in the late 1800s non-indigenous people arrived, settling on ranches and mining claims. When the Las Vegas & Tonopah Railroad came in 1905, the mining boom in Beatty and nearby Rhyolite really took off. The Air Force came in the 1940s and the economy got a boost.
While Beatty managed to hang on, Rhyolite has become a ghost town. Rhyolite's population peaked at about 5000 in 1908 and had plummeted to zero by 1920. Today Rhyolite is a picturesque destination or stop off on your way to Las Vegas or further into Death Valley.