ELY - A resident of Elko can hop in their car and in under three hours climb out in the most remote city in the lower 48, located on the Loneliest Road in America.
When the aspen leaves flutter to the earth and the air turns brisk, head south for a change of scenery to Ely, the "City of Murals." Whether seeking a low-key retreat with a significant other, or activities sure to please the entire family, in Ely one can find an abundance of options to entertain.
Ely has a rich history beginning with its earliest inhabitants, the Shoshone Indians. Prospectors followed the Pony Express and Overland Stage into the county in 1860, and with their discovery of the area's rich ore deposits, small towns began springing up all around. White Pine County was officially formed in 1869 with a population of 30,000, but by 1875 mining activities had decreased dramatically.
Ely (named for Smith Ely, president of Selby Copper Mining and Smelting Co.), a sleepy western town with little more than a post office, was declared the county seat in 1887, and the population began to increase as local businesses sprang up.
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No matter what the weekend itinerary, a must-see is the Nevada Northern Railway. Designated a National Historic Landmark in 2006, a hundred years after its inception, it boasts a historical operating railroad museum, as well as the opportunity to take a ride on trains pulled by steam locomotives with the oldest car built in 1872. The museum, which includes 70 buildings and structures, steam, diesel, and electric locomotives with freight cars, is located on 56 acres and encompasses 30 miles of railroad track; most of these were built between 1906 and 1917.
The Nevada Northern Railway Company extended tracks through Ely in 1906 to take advantage of the extensive copper deposits discovered there in 1902.
After decades of ore trains running year-round, day-and-night, the last freight train to carry copper out of Ely ran in 1983; that same year, the White Pine Historical Railroad Foundation was founded to preserve the railroad as a museum. Three years later a steam engine began carrying passengers along the recently deserted rail line and to this day is referred to as the "Ghost Train of Old Ely."
Take a ride back in time on steam- or diesel-powered trains and tour the museum at the end of your journey. If you take the Keystone Excursion, you will pass Keystone Gulch, a re-creation of a small western ghost town, complete with a grave yard boasting clever epitaphs, a hangman's galley, a saloon and horse corral.
The Ghost Riders, a group of approximately 10 locals, use Keystone Gulch for staging old western scenes, which they use to promote tourism in White Pine County. They also perform mock train robberies from time-to-time, so be on the lookout. The NNRY runs year-round, and anyone who brings one non-perishable food item this weekend rides free.
Beginning weekends Nov. 19-Dec. 27, take a magical ride to the North Pole on the Polar Express train, complete with hot chocolate, cookies, a visit from Santa, and a silver bell for all passengers. See the NNRY's website: http://
railway.net for a complete schedule and rates.
The train passes the Renaissance Village, but as it only provides a fleeting glimpse, one might want to return for a more in-depth experience. The White Pine News reported in 1907 six dwellings being erected for the purpose of housing "railroad men." Originally located at Eighth Street and Avenue B, Bill Geraghty purchased and relocated five remaining houses to their present location in the early 1920s.
The buildings, now numbering 12, were purchased by the Ely Renaissance Society in 2005. The historic railroad cottages have been transformed into museums portraying typical Ely residents of various cultures in the early 1900s. The Society hosts living history re-enactments at the Renaissance Village (www.elyrenaissance.com/The_Geraghty_Property.html). The Renaissance Society is also responsible for commissioning the murals found around town depicting the broad array of lifestyles from historic and modern times, including but not limited to murals of the Pony Express, Shoshone Indians and Basque sheepherders.
Next, head over to the White Pine Public Museum (www.wpmuseum.org) to learn about the history of White Pine County. Built in 1959, it houses records pertaining to the area, an extensive mineral collection, and the first of Ely's many murals. Stand face-to-face with a giant short-faced bear, uncovered in a cave in White Pine County.
Ponder what life in the Great Basin Desert must have been like for the Shoshone while you gaze at baskets woven by the Indians. These are just a few of the treasures on display at the museum, a tribute to the diverse cultural and historical background of eastern Nevada.
For the outdoor enthusiast, a couple of state parks are looming just outside the city limits. Fifteen miles southeast of Ely is Cave Lake State Park. Named for its 32-acre reservoir, the fun doesn't stop when the lake freezes over.
Ice fishing, ice skating, sledding and snowshoeing are popular within the park, and two maintained hiking trails provide spectacular views of the lake and beautiful scenery.
In mid-January the park hosts the increasingly popular White Pine Fire and Ice Show, where artists enter their ice sculptures for a chance to win a monetary prize.
Nearby Ward Charcoal Ovens State Historic Park is 18 miles south of Ely. Known for the six charcoal ovens, it also provides photo-worthy views of Wheeler Peak, the second highest mountain in Nevada at just over 13,000 feet. The park also claims to have "some of the starriest skies in the West."
Whether an experienced or first-time rock hound, the possibility of finding a garnet at Garnet Hill Recreation Area is sure to provide a thrill. Only four miles northwest of Ely, garnets can be found by simply scouring the surface for nearly black-colored rocks nestled into the lighter surrounding substrate, or by working up a sweat with a hammer and chisel.
No visit to Ely is complete without a peek inside the Bristlecone Convention Center to see the world's oldest living organism. After much debate and controversy, the decision was made to cut down the oldest known living Bristlecone Pine tree for the purpose of aging it. An impressive slab of the tree's trunk resides in a glass case inside the center, and is worth a look.
While lodging and dining options aren't few in Ely, those looking for a unique lodging experience have two choices. The NNRY offers the option of spending the night in a caboose, which is sure to be a once in a lifetime experience.
For those who enjoy camping, you may consider staying in a Yurt, a "Mongolian style round tent with a wood lattice frame and plywood floor," in Cave Lake State Park. It books up quickly, however, so make your reservations in advance.
If you aren't yet convinced to pack your bags and head to Ely for a few days, consider going Dec. 2-4 to take advantage of numerous holiday activities. Not only could you enjoy the Festival of Trees, tree auction (including live entertainment) and Christmas Crafter's Fair - all held at the Bristlecone Convention Center - you could take the Polar Express train, amble through the Christkindlesmarkt, take in the Christmas Parade downtown, and top it all off with a fireworks show.
Ely is a small town with a lot to offer year-round, but with the added holiday festivities, this season is a good time to visit our neighbors down south.