Monday, June 27, 2011

Delta, UT to Ely, NV on US Route 6

Delta, UT to Ely, NV
155 miles

Woke up early to get on the road when it was still cool out; 7am. I didn’t want to get stuck in the desert with the 110 degree sun beaming down on my little car.

I’d imagined this drive to be sandy desert, some rocks, bleached animal skulls by the road – you know – the big bad Southwestern Desert.  But this wonderfully diverse portion of Route 6 surprised me.  First of all, there was lots of green.

Of course, the green was mostly sagebrush, but some of it was farmland (mostly in Nevada) – another surprise.  A couple of miles west of Delta, a jackrabbit crossed my path.  I took that as a good sign.  The road for awhile was mostly flat.  I saw the sign for the “U-Dig Fossils, 20 miles” cut-off and realized I had too much to see in Ely to spend the morning hunting for trilobites.  But last night, I met a family of 5 (three young girls and their parents) who came to Delta from Denver specifically to rock and fossil hunt.  This area of the country is rich in fossils – they’re just lying all over the place if you know where to look.  They had planned to go to U-Dig today, and I hope they were successful.

US Route 6/50 Between Delta, UT and Ely, NV
In contrast to my flat, relentless desert drive fears, Route 6 from Delta to Ely, NV runs through a succession of valleys and mountains (basins and ranges).  For over an hour, I had the road pretty much to myself and felt like the last person on earth.  For over 80 miles, there were no mining operations, no farmsteads, just utility poles, an occasional orange trash can and the road – the only imprints of man.

Border Inn
Border of Utah and Nevada
on US Route 6
Up, around and down through the mountains – it’s a beautiful drive. Route 6 snakes around boulders, through road cuts; there are excellent spurts of fun driving.  As soon as I crested the first hill, I saw snowcapped mountains ahead.  Down in the Valley, over 80 miles from Delta, I pulled in to the Border Inn, where you don’t have to wait a split second to start playing the slots.  There are motel rooms, pool tables, a restaurant, a gift shop – and gas.  I’m sure the place is quite the relief to those who thought they’d fallen off the edge of the world.

It is the border, and of course – right on Route 6/50 there’s a big Welcome to Nevada Sign.  There’s also a nice big green Army of the Republic Highway (another name for Route 6) sign.  Yay!  This is a designated “Scenic Byway”, and I could see why.  Basin. Range. Basin Range.  I’d drive on flatland for awhile, then rise up into a mountain range, snake around and through rock faces for awhile, descend into flatland again. Repeat.  It was lots of fun.  The Baker Archeological Site is off of here, as is the entrance to the Great Basin National Park (12 miles off 6).  As the morning progressed I started to see a lot more traffic; campers, RV’s motorcycles, SUV’s.  I had so much fun driving, I’d forgotten how nervous I’d been.  Soon, I began to see homes, and 5 acre lots for sale, but no sign of any town.  On the flat portions of the road, I was going 70 and it felt as if I were standing still. 

Major’s Place shows up on my map as a little dot – a nothing town.  But it’s not even a town.  It’s one PLACE.  A roadside café kind of place.  I was just about to drive past it when something told me to go inside.  I’m so glad I did – because now I can tell all of you to do the same.  It’s a pub so quirky, you’ll just have to see it.  Built of logs, over-decorated with antlers and animal heads (at least one with a cigarette in its mouth), and walls and ceiling covered with over 1,000 dollar bills from patrons who come from all over the world, Major’s Place is too cool to miss.  Ely is only 28 miles away, and many people make the drive to eat and drink here.  It was too early in the morning for a beer, otherwise, I would have stayed.

Ward Charcoal Ovens
Ely, NV
About 18 miles east of Ely, I turned left to see the Ward Charcoal Ovens.  It’s definitely worth kicking up 7 miles of dust on a dirt and gravel road to see these out-of-place structures.  Like giant bee hives, the six 30 feet high ovens were built by Italian masons in the mid-1870’s.  They were used to make charcoal to fuel the once-nearby silver ore processing furnaces.  A plaque states, “These are a unique and silent reminder of Nevada’s Mining Industry.”

Mural in Ely, NY
Ely is an interesting mix of characteristics.  A community of 4,000, it's got the casino's, legalized prostitution, but Ely also has an "Art Trail" - a couple of dozen excellent murals and sculptures scattered on buildings around town.  Most of the gamblers could give a hoot about the art, and I suppose many who come for the terrific Steam Engine train ride and Art Trail give the casinos a wide berth.  

Nevada Northern Railway National Historic Landmark
Ely, NV

Lennox Purinton and Grandpa Don Purinton
Nevada Northern Railway "Keystone" Excursion
Ely, NV
The Steam Train excursion at the  Nevada Northern Railway National Historic Landmark is a major draw for Ely.  I took a 1 ½ hour ride to Keystone pulled by an 1908 Engine 93, “built for power, not for speed.” It was once used to haul ore to the smelter, retired in 1950, and now the old guy hauls tourists.  On board, I befriended a loquacious 8-year-old named Lennox Purinton, dressed as a Breakman, who knew everything about trains. (pic soon, I hope).  His grandpa, Don, was the volunteer conductor, so no surprise. “Grandpa started me when I was two with Thomas,” Lennox told me.  “In a month, I knew the names of all the trains.”  It was nice to have someone else drive me for a change – and as I watched the scenery go by, I saw a few cars by the side of the road – people stopping to take pictures of Ole Engine 93.  The excursion stopped, then returned from the huge mountains of dirt that are the tailings from the very productive operating Copper Mine, now owned by Quadra FNX. The new mining company brought hundreds of jobs back to Ely, so things are turning around here.

Don and Susan Bowers
Ely, NV
Afterwards, I met the man who had narrated the trip, Don Bowers, along with his very nice wife, Susan, at the Silver State Diner – which serves great French fries and good basic food.  Don let me know that if you are a train fanatic with an extra $700, you can actually run a steam or diesel train yourself for a couple of hours. You have to read some material, pass a written test, and run the engine with an engineer present.  Apparently, this is a very popular offering, and a way for the city to keep this attraction going.  Don and Susan also said that the October “Ghost Train” and November-December “Polar Express” are incredibly popular, often selling out well in advance. 

Ely Renaissance Village
Ely, NV
I also visited Ely Renaissance Village – and, along with the railroad and charcoal ovens, this is another worthwhile Ely attraction.  Because of ranching and mining, Ely has always been an ethnically diverse city.  Renaissance Village celebrates this diversity by showcasing five authentic Rail Kit Homes, and two shot-gun style houses, as if each was owned by a family of a different nationality.  These homes are kept circa 1915, and feature original linoleum floors, wood stoves and indoor plumbing including flush toilets – rare for the day.  Each home features a sign that says “Welcome to Our Home” in the owner’s national language; English, French, Asian, Slovic, Italian, Spanish and Greek.  Décor was painstakingly researched – down to the color of the walls – and so well done that when travelers from those countries come here, they enthuse, “this looks just like my grandparent’s house!” Such a unique way to honor people from around the world who made their home in Ely.
"Lilly" the Cave Bear
White Pine Public Museum
Ely, NV

If you have a few extra minutes and its open, stop into the White Pine Public Museum – a Grandma’s attic if there ever was one, but with a few interesting gems – like a Wells Fargo Stagecoach Lockbox, the model of Lilly – a 12,000 year old Cave Bear, a xylophone found in an abandoned mine, and the requisite cabins and one-room schoolhouses outside.

Cell Block Steakhouse in the Jailhouse Casino
Ely, NV
Eat: I had a good meal at the only "fine dining" establishment in Ely - the Cell Block Steakhouse at the Jailhouse Casino.  Each table is set within its own cell, which is both intimate and isolating (though perfect for romantic couples).  My lamb chops were very good.  From all accounts, this is the best restaurant around.

Mickey Rooney Suite at
Hotel Nevada,
Ely, NV
Stay:  Hotel Nevada.  Steeped in history, this six floor hotel and casino was the tallest building in Nevada when it was built in 1929.  It was also half way from Hollywood to the glam Sun Valley Ski Resort, so celebrities of the day would stop here overnight.  That history is marked both inside and outside the hotel (the sidewalk outside features names of stars, and many guestrooms are named for the notable who chose them).  I stayed in the light and airy “Mickey Rooney” suite, done in Irish green, and filled with pictures and posters of the baby-faced actor.  It’s not posh by modern standards (the small sink sits in the bedroom itself), and the hot-cold-at-random shower shows its age, but it’s clean and fun (though I’m not sure what a pink plush bear on my bed has to do with Rooney), and I utterly enjoyed it. Each Suite comes with a complementary beer across the street and a complementary margharita at the bar downstairs.  Had I not been so wiped out, I would have sipped on a drink and sunk my coins into the slot machines on the first two floors where the bells and lights and beeps and bleeps went on all through the night (though my room was very quiet).


  1. 25 yr Vegas resident goin to Ely for the first time and was lookin for things to do, stumbled on your post. Enjoyed it, and is helpful. Thank you for taking the time to share this.

  2. Thanks for your little travelogue; I wondered what those stones domes were for! Nevada has many other interesting towns, scattered at great distances. Nevada's mountains are of great interest to me, especially the Ruby Mts. in the northeast corner of the state. There's a scenic highway along them for 80-plus miles.


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