Day 164 – The Loneliest Road in America, Nevada May 10, 2011
I got a slow start to the morning today. The charger on my computer died last night, so I needed to stick around a large city to go in search of another one when the stores opened. In the meantime, I stopped off at Bowers Mansion located at a state park between Reno and Carson City. According to the posted signs, the mansion offers a glimpse into Nevada life in the 1860’s. The mansion, built in 1864 by Comstock millionaires Sandy Bowers and Allison “Eilley” Oram, reflects the rags-to riches-to rags story commonly associated with Nevada’s silver boom.
After emigrating from Scotland and two failed marriages, Eilley opened a boarding house for miners near Virginia City. She later began buying and selling mining claims. As luck would have it, LS “Sandy” Bowers, a miner, held a land claim next to Eilley’s at Little Gold Hills mine. The two met, became business partners, and married. Their mine began producing $18,000 a week in gold and silver which is almost half a million dollars by today’s standards. Eilley became queen of Comstock.
Eager to spend their fortune, they built the mansion. While the mansion was under construction, the couple spent ten months in Europe returning with elegant European furnishings and a baby Margaret Persia. Unfortunately, the mine ran dry in 1867, Sandy died from a miner’s lung disease a year later, and in 1874 Persia suddenly died at the age of 12. Eilley was left with a broken heart, the burden of a mine gone bust, and the task of tending to the mansion.
Faced with significant financial challenges, Eilley opened the mansion as a social attraction and hosted picnics and parties all summer long. After a few years, the mansion was put into foreclosure and Eilley ended up drifting between Virginia City, Reno, and the Bay Area. She died penniless in Oakland in 1903.
Unfortunately, the mansion was being renovated and was closed to tours, but I was lucky to find a nano geocache on a sign nearby, so I have checked Nevada off the list. So after a short walk across the mansion’s front lawn, I found a Radio Shack in Carson City and spent the next hour trying to sort out my charger challenge as well as some problems was having with my 12 volt inverter. I eventually ended up at Best Buy with at least my charger problem solved. I’m not sure about my inverter issue yet. I may have to address that in a few days.
Since I was faced with chores this morning, I also decided to stop at an RV parts store to find at 30 amp converter at the advice of one of my readers. I was fortunate to pick one up for just under $6. Hopefully I ended up with the correct device. Another item I sure I will have the opportunity to test. While I was at the store, I met a couple, Glen and Rosie, who have been fulltime RVer’s for the last eleven years! Their home park is in Nevada and they have just begun a 3 month excursion toward the west coast. I picked up a few tips from the seasoned veterans.
Speaking of people I have met, I guess I failed to mention a few folks I met in Yosemite. I met Nick and Anton coming down from Vernal Fall and I met a couple at Mirror Lake the next day. Uniquely, the four of them were from Tasmania. What a small world! I can’t imagine that Tasmania is that densely populated and then to meet four people from the island in two days in Yosemite was strangely funny to me. Nick and Anton were off to Los Angeles soon and then they were planning to drive to Las Vegas. It would really be crazy if I ran into them there in a few days!
So I finally left Carson City just before lunch and stopped at Virginia City. The town caters to tourism. Petey and I strolled along the streets passed several restored buildings constructed in the 1800’s housing candy stores, sign stores, casinos, restaurants, and museums. Visitors can even watch a Wild West gunfight and pan for gold right on Main Street. One building of interest to me housed the Mark Twain Museum. I had Petey with me, so we didn’t enter, but Mark Twain, my favorite author that I studied in school, started his career as writer on the editorial staff of the Territorial Enterprise in 1862.
Petey and I left the main street to visit a few old buildings on side streets. We dropped by St. Mary’s in the Mountains, the first catholic church in Virginia City. The original church, constructed in 1860, was destroyed by winds the following year. The church was replaced by a new church erected a block away from the current location. The present church was built in 1868, destroyed by the Great Fire of 1875, and rebuilt in 1876.
We continued our stroll to the Mackay Mansion which housed the Gould and Curry Offices as well as provided housing to the mine’s superintendent, one George Hearst. Gould and Curry Mining Company owned 900 feet of the Comstock Lode, and 1860 to 1881 its mine produced $15.6 million. The men sold their interest early on and Hearst left to pursue other mining interests, but Hearst’s fortune began here. Later, Bonanza King John Mackay, the richest man in Comstock ($100,000,000), moved into the superintendent’s quarters when he lost his house in the 1875 fire. Though married, MacKay lived a life of a bachelor as his wife, a very proper lady, didn’t feel her place was in Comstock and thus spent two decades overseas.
After visiting Virginia City, we made a quick stop at Fort Churchill State Historic Park. Fort Churchill is an old adobe army post that was built in 1860. It was abandoned nine years later. I only made it to the entrance of the park where a $7 entry fee was required by self-registration. I only had a $20, so I observed the ruins from a distance before heading to Fernley.
In Fernley, I stopped at the Chamber of Commerce to pick up The Official Survival Guide to The Loneliest Road in America. In 1986, Life magazine dubbed Highway 50, between Fernley and Ely to be the “Loneliest Road in America”. According to the guide, Life said there were no attractions or points of interest along the 287 mile stretch of road and recommended that drivers have “survival skills” to travel the route. Nevadans disagreed as the corridor retraces the route of the Pony Express and Overland Stage Coach trails and passes through well preserved mining towns. Furthermore, recreational opportunities abound near Sand Mountain and in the mountains surrounding Austin. The Highway 50 Survival Challenge dares travelers to cross Nevada’s heartland and stop in the five largest towns to validate the survival guide. I have officially received my first stamp from Fernley. Tomorrow I plan to continue eastward and collect stamps in Fallon, Austin, Eureka, and Ely.
Currently, I have found Desert Rose RV Park that offers electricity, a recreation room, showers, internet, and washers and dryers. The people were SO nice too! I was escorted to my site. My neighbor introduced himself and told me to find him if I needed anything. I am set for the evening…what simple pleasures! ETB