Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Second honeymoon, Day 3

Don and I enjoyed our stay in Austin. Before we left, he had an interesting conversation with a young woman who worked at the local gas station/food mart, which was right next to the Pony Canyon Motel.

She told Don that Austin has a school, K-12 (there are two high schoolers) and what really hit the town hard was COVID, since so much of the town's income is based on tourism. At the time she was working two jobs: the gas station, and a restaurant. The restaurant went out of business during COVID. They were talking about reopening the restaurant, but the building is so old, they'll probably have to knock it down.

Any services in town are a challenge. The gas station is, literally, the only "grocery store" in town, and of course it's limited to snacks rather than actual groceries. Don asked her where she goes for real groceries, and she said she goes to Fallon, about 90 miles away. (She has two refrigerators and a chest freezer.)

Don asked her, "Do you see any bright spots?" and she had an amazing answer. She said, "There's a geothermal plant that's opening up, so we may see more people moving in for that."

Geothermal plant! We hope, for the sake of the dying town, it actually happens.

Before leaving Austin, Don and I drove around the steep back streets.

Remnants of the town's mining past were everywhere.

A beautiful Catholic church dominated the skyline.

It was built in 1866 and is now on the National Register of Historic Places.

Peering in the window, it's obvious services haven't been held for a long time.

Everywhere we went, we saw otherwise charming homes decaying and abandoned.

This motel on the main street was blockaded off.

Interestingly, while putting together this blog post, Don and I got on Zillow and looked for properties in Austin. Surely in a town of 75 but with unused homes in abundance, there would be ones for sale? But no, there were – literally – no homes available. The only properties for sale were in Kingston, about 16 miles down the road. We found that strange to the point of odd.

Why did Austin capture our interest to such an extent? It's hard to say. But we enjoyed our stay there, and sincerely hope Austin gets its geothermal plant. I'd hate to see the whole town abandoned.

We followed "the loneliest road in America" (Hwy. 50) up a mountain out of town, and stopped at a vista point to see the view. From this distance, Austin looked snug and prosperous.

The weather had also cleared, and we were promised sunny skies for the day.

A short distance up the highway beyond the vista point, we came across a sad memorial.

It was equipped with a seat for contemplation and solar lights focused on the cross. The sign indicated it was in memory of Cole Nicholas Thayer. I later looked him up and learned he was just 22 years old. According to this news article, "The driver of a Freightliner tractor-trailer was traveling at high rates of speed before crossing the double yellow line and colliding head-on with [Thayer's] Ford pickup-truck." The accident happened in August of 2022.

Rest in peace, Mr. Thayer.

We climbed over the Toyabe Range and started seeing scrubby pines mixed in with the sagebrush.

The view from the summit, as always, was splendid, especially under clear skies.

Yesterday's weather had left the higher peaks snow-capped.

From the top of the range, we were able to see the road we were heading for: Hwy. 376 south toward Tonopah.

It was a long stretch of highway through the Big Smokey Valley, where we had one stop we planned to make. Meanwhile, look at this view. This is why it's so magical driving through Nevada this time of year.

We were driving through the desert, minding our own business...

...when something nicked the corner of my eye. Pronghorn!

Don was driving when I spotted these fascinating animals, and he good-naturedly turned the vehicle around and retraced our path until we spotted them again. I'd never seen pronghorn in real life before, and was so excited to see them in the wild.

Often incorrectly referred to as "antelope," pronghorn are in a classification of their own. They're incredibly fast runners – upwards of 55 to 60 mph, easily the fastest animals in North America – but oddly, they're not active jumpers (like deer). To get around fences, they often drop and roll under, even at high speeds.

I crept across the highway, though I know they were aware of my presence. But I got photos!

A few were lying down, doubtless chewing their cud, until I disturbed them.

After a few moments, the herd started running away, though clearly not in much alarm, since they only ran a short distance.

After a couple hundred yards, everyone stopped to watch me.

Not wanting to disturb them further, I left them alone after that. But I was thrilled to see these beautiful animals in the flesh, and grinned like an idiot for hours afterward.

We continued down the highway...

...until our first stop of the day came into view: Round Mountain.

See the ziggurat-like steps? Yeah, that's it.

Round Mountain is a gold-mining location that started around 1906 or so. Essentially the mountain itself is gone, relocated dump-truck load by dump-truck load to form a new ziggurat-like mountain devoid of any of the precious ore.

In fact, the mountain has, you might say, gone into reverse, since it's now an open-pit mine.

But it wasn't the mine itself that interested us as much as the town that had grown up a few miles away, Hadley. The original town of Round Mountain was being crowded out by the mining operations, so in the 1980s, all housing was relocated to a new "company town" – Hadley. Hadley was what we wanted to see. There aren't many company towns left.

The location had spectacular views.

(And the occasional tumbleweed.)

While the term "company town" sounds grim (reminiscent of the cruel situations many coal miners found themselves in, essentially "owing their soul to the company store"), Hadley is anything but. According to Wikipedia, "Hadley has an elementary school, a high school, a football field, a library, an indoor swimming pool, a golf course, three baseball fields, a fitness trail around the gym and baseball fields, a post office, a grocery store, two gym facilities (one with a weight room, treadmill room, and two racquetball courts), a recreational park, a gas station/laundromat, a bed & breakfast, a few churches, a fishing pond, two tennis courts, a community center, a fire department, an E.M.S, a RV park, storage units, a nail salon, horse corrals, a restaurant/bar, and many children's playgrounds."

In short, it appears Round Mountain is doing everything possible to retain its employees by providing attractive family-friendly amenities.

We drove around Hadley, not knowing what to expect. Would it be dismal? Shining? Hostile? Friendly?

In fact, it was a very nice-looking planned community. Most of the homes were double-wide manufactured homes, but they were well-maintained and clearly personalized by the residents. Tellingly, we saw late-model pickup trucks in nearly every single driveway. These vehicles are not cheap. Round Mountain appeared to pay its employees very well.

Here's a Google Earth bird's eye view:

We stopped at the general store and bought a couple snacks (a small bag of pistachios for Don, and a candy bar for me; this becomes important later). The reason to stop at the general store was not because we wanted snacks, but because we wanted to ask a couple questions. The friendly check-out lady confirmed Hadley was a very nice place to live, and that the mine did, indeed, pay exceptionally well and had great benefits.

We came away from Hadley very pleased.

Our next stop down the highway was the town of Tonopah, population about 1500.

As with most Nevada towns, Tonopah was originally a boom town centered around mining. And, as with most Nevada towns, its heyday is long past. However it was thriving far more than poor little Austin, with many stores and restaurants appearing to do well.

Our first stop was the A-Bar-L Western Store. One of our few planned purchases on this trip was a straw cowboy hat for Don (his old one is battered and bent), and the A-Bar-L Western Store fit this plan nicely.

I did notice a number of taxidermied animal heads on the wall, including a pronghorn. Gotta confess, I prefer to see them in the wild.

Hat in place, we visited two remnants of Tonopah's former glory, its two incredible hotels.

The first we stepped into was the Mizpah, "the no. 1 haunted hotel in America." Yes, really.

The interior had been recently renovated and was beyond stunning.

We wandered around, noting some of the amazing details.

On the second floor, we passed an open doorway into one of the hotel offices where several employees were working. We stopped and asked about the haunted factor in the hotel. "It's very haunted, yes" one woman said matter-of-factly, and referred us to another woman who was apparently the expert on the matter.

"Mostly in the basement," she told us, "and upstairs on the fifth floor and on the third floor."

"What happened?" I asked.

"Well, so in the basement we have minors," she told us. "The kids play down there. Third floor is where the kids play most of the time, and on the fifth floor is the Lady in Red. She was murdered right outside room 502."

"You say 'kids play'?" I asked.

"So, there was another prostitute who worked here who locked her kids in the old refrigerator downstairs. The ice box. They died." [Insert exclamations of horror from Don and I.] "So yeah ... they like to take things. They're the most tricky."

A little stunned by this history, we thanked the personnel profusely and made our way back downstairs.

Our next brief stop was in Tonopah's other luxury hotel, the Belvada.

It, too, has stunning interiors.

It almost made us wish we had an excuse to stay in one or the other of these establishments! But alas, 10 am was not the time to select a place for the night. In fact, we already had plans for our destination.

The one thing we did NOT see in Tonopah (due to road construction we didn't feel like navigating) was the Clown Motel (dubbed "America's Scariest Motel") due no doubt to the fear so many people have of clowns.

We headed out of town east on Hwy. 6, passing these sadly abandoned buildings.

More distant vistas, but Don was tickled to be moving toward our next destination for the night.

Ladies and gentlemen, I present you with ... the Extraterrestrial Highway.

This is Hwy. 375 which starts at Warm Springs. The name derives, of course, from its proximity to the Nevada Test and Training Range, including the infamous Area 51 where, supposedly, UFO sightings have occurred and the remains of a crashed "alien spacecraft" from Roswell, New Mexico are stored and examined.

While we're inclined to take these theories with a huge grain of salt, Don wanted to stay at the alien-themed Little A'Le'Inn Motel, the only place on this trip we booked in advance. What the heck, it sounded like fun!

Visitors had plastered the highway signpost with stickers of various sorts.

Don posed under the sign in his new straw cowboy hat.

This junction at Warm Springs once had its own bar and cafe, long since closed.

It also had, as the name implies, a warm spring which fed a swimming pool, also closed.

I also photographed this bird on a wire above me. Flycatcher? Kingbird? Anyone know?

The Warm Springs junction also had the stony remains of some buildings and a corral, possibly for sheep.

We saw what may have been wild horses (the National Wildhorse Management Area is nearby). However I'm not sure about this. I've seen wild mustangs, and they're usually smaller and browner.

We followed the Extraterrestrial Highway southeast for at least 60 miles (there is hardly any journey in Nevada that isn't epic in scale)....

...until we fetched up to Rachel, home of the (world famous?) Little A'Le'Inn, our home for the night.

Oh, this was a fun place! I always like it when people capitalize in such a good-humored way on a local landmark.

Inside, the bar and restaurant were packed. We didn't expect to see quite so many people out in the literal middle of nowhere. Even more interesting, I don't think I've ever heard such a diverse mix of accents and languages in so small a space and in so short a time. We took a seat the bar and listened to German, Ukrainian, Spanish, and at least two or three other languages. We heard accents from England, Scotland, and Australia. And, from later discussions with the owners and the bartender, this was absolutely nothing unusual.

Everything – but everything – in the bar and restaurant were space-themed, with a cheerful mix of E.T., Star Trek, Men in Black, various alien-themed movies, and many other references.

People had written various spacey messages on dollar bills, which were then pinned to the ceiling.

Accommodations were modest. All "motel rooms" were bedrooms in 1970s singlewide trailers, with shared bathrooms.

But the room was squeaky-clean and very comfortable. And, since not many people were actually staying at the motel (most were passing through, many on their way to the "back gate" of Area 51), we could keep the outside door wide open and let the fresh air pass through.

After we checked in, Don and I returned to the restaurant and had a very good lunch while we observed and listened to the chattering clientele. Gradually the crowd thinned out as they made their way to see various points of interest concerning Area 51.

Then we were informed the bar and restaurant was closing at 3:30 (on Mondays and Tuesday, and it was Monday), so if we wanted anything before then, we'd better order it now. Don and I got a beer/glass of wine (our first adult beverage so far on this trip) and retired outside under the shade of some trees to chat with the off-duty bartender as well as some other customers who were staying.

We spent a lot of time talking with the off-duty bartender outside under the trees, as well as a young couple on their honeymoon (she was from Ukraine, he was from Spain).

It wasn't until we returned to our room that we realized ... no dinner. The restaurant was closed. However there was a gas station a quarter-mile away. We could at least get snacks there, right? We got in the car, dashed down there, and found the woman closing up shop (since it was, literally, three minutes after five o'clock).

Make a note, if we're going to be traveling in remote areas, we need to have food on hand. We had an ice chest, after all, but only had drinks in it. We retired to our room and had our "dinner"  – Don's little bag of pistatio nuts and my little candy bar we'd bought earlier in Hadley.

Later we went for a late-evening walk. Distantly, we saw some lights. These, it turns out, were the lights at the "back gate" for Area 51. All the time we were in the restaurant, we heard people asking directions for this location, so evidently that's where most people ended up.

Here's the signage for Little A'Le'Inn, lit up at dusk. (That's a flying saucer dangling from the end of the tow truck.)

Back in the motel room, we ignored how hungry we were and instead celebrated our alien-themed location by watching "Galaxy Quest" on my computer. ("Galaxy Quest" remains, in our opinion, one of the greatest movie plots ever conceived.)

In the morning (having slept very well), I woke up and was startled to see Don had a bloody wound on his forehead. What on earth happened?

As it turns out, he got up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom. It was pitch dark. He went through the connecting door to the area with the shared bathroom, turned and walked into what he thought was the bathroom door. It turned out to be a kitchen cabinet, which had been screwed shut. The screw stuck out a bit and he collided with it with his forehead. Ouch!

We took a few more photos of the flying saucer before we left.

(Ironically, I've been to Mystery Spot – depicted on the yellow bumper stick below – when I was about 8 years old in 1970.)

Satisfied with our stay at the Little A'Le'Inn, we set off across the desert for another day of adventure.


  1. I am finding myself looking forward to each day's adventure! Your pictures and daily happenings are great! Can't wait for tomorrow....

  2. Wild horses can be any color and size. In the Saylor Creek area in southern Idaho you can see all colors. Quite a few grays, blacks, browns and mixes. Many people also dump their pet horses on the range too when they get too expensive to feed and they join up with the herds. You can't give away horses here, nobody wants the expense to feed them overwinter.

  3. We made the same trip seems like. We stayed at the Clown Motel. It was a nice place to stay. Next door was a cemetery that was filled with graves from a mining accident. Most of the graves were young men.

  4. Pronghorns can and will jump. I've seen it several times. Do an internet search on pronghorn jumping fences pics. They prefer to crawl under the fence instead of jumping but that is choice, not inability to jump.

  5. I was in Round Mountain Tonopah, and other nearby places last week, going through Austin as I've done several times before.
    There are a few other company towns around, but Hadley is the biggest I know of.

    Yes, Round Mountain and the other large gold mines pay VERY well. They also do 7 on/ 7 off shifts with company bunk houses for some workers; on their 7 off many miners fly or drive home. The other mines further north in Nevada bus their workers from (relatively) nearby towns but Round Mountain is too remote for that.
    Gold mines and their contractors are the reason that North East Nevada has the highest average salaries in the state - Elko and Lander counties in particular have average incomes around $100k. If you're willing to move for a well paying job, it's worth looking there.