Friday, August 8, 2014

Ghost Run: Sleeping with a ghost (A ghost town adventure)

 Ghost Run

Have you ever slept with a ghost?

Recently I had the pleasure of visiting a ghost town that lay baking in the hot sun of the Nevada high desert.  The location is virtually many miles from anywhere else.  The trip was partially to gather subject matter for my Blog.  And also as a recon mission for our Dutch Oven Cooking group.  Then it is noteworthy to mention I just wanted to satisfy my wandering spirit for a few days too.

The outing was a prelude to setting up a point of interest to gather our Dutch Oven Cooking group.  In Dutch Oven Cooking lingo, this is called a DOG (Dutch Oven Gathering).  A weekend of meeting up with good friends to camp, cook, and socialize over a campfire.  The ghost town seemed like a place we could get out and explore, or just sit around and enjoy some conversation.   This place is adjustable to anyone’s interest level.

I am used to kicking around alone and exploring.  It was midweek and I couldn’t find anyone willing or able to go.  I am well equipped for the extreme summer conditions that offer up 100+ degree temps out across the Nevada deserts.  It even crossed my mind to pull my trailer.  It would be nice to have all the creature comforts including a generator and that coveted air conditioner.   But I had conflicting info on where I was headed.  I also didn’t know what kinds of road conditions I would encounter.

I opted to take just the van, no trailer.  The plan was to do one overnighter, and just take things as they came.  I did load up 30 gallons of water into my on board tank.  Threw in the cast iron skillet, Dutch Oven, camp stove, lantern, sleeping bag, and a chuck box of food goodies I keep made up and ready to go.  I also don’t travel around these parts without taking an EZ Up Shade tent.  It is sometimes difficult to find a tree.  Even at 100+ degrees you can tolerate the heat as long as you can get the sun off you.

Then there was a quick stop at the store on the way out of town for eggs, bread, and ice.  That turned out to be a little longer when I realized.   I had left my coffee pot back in my trailer.  It was faster to just buy another coffee pot then to run back home and find the other one.  Now I own 3 camp coffee pots! Did I tell you this has happened before?  LOL!  That’s what garage sales are for!

I started the 185 mile trip by heading north out of Las Vegas on what would eventually become a 2 lane blacktop ribbon across hot desert.  I passed Indian Springs, NV.  This is the location of the Air Force base that test and fly the drone aircraft.  On previous trips I have seen drones flying parallel with the highway.  Or doing touch and goes on the air strip.  A no show this trip, nothing to help pass the time.  It would be many uneventful miles of lonely highway to the next town of Beatty, Nevada.  Nothing to mention out of the ordinary other than it is about 110 miles from Las Vegas.   It was a mandatory fuel stop for me.  With a full tank of gas I headed north out of Beatty.

As the few buildings of Beatty fell behind in the rear view mirror the highway passed a couple run down looking Brothels that still manage to operate within the laws of Nevada.  I suppose there are some stories to be told there…but I will have to leave that to others to tell.  Around the next bend a rundown looking campground advertising “Hot Springs bath house”.  I am not even sure it is still a running business.  Everything looked deserted.   Hot and sun baked in the blazing summer heat.

The famous Area 51 would be just off the highway on my right side most of the trip.  At a crossroads in the middle of nothing several enterprising people were trying to make a go of it.  A big building painted neon green with big letters spelling out “AREA 51 ALIEN CENTER”.  Tucked behind that, a building painted pink, with a giant sign with one bold word “BROTHEL”.  Only in Nevada!   After snapping my Alien sign photo I drove away wondering where they get someone to work in one of these brothels way out in the middle of nowhere?  Aliens?  No….wait for it….Illegal Aliens?  If they had a green card I guess that would make them Legal Aliens?......Your mind starts wondering when you drive in the heat. 

If you want to read something hilarious go to yelp and read the negative comment left by Rick H of Beaverton, OR.  OMG!  It’s so negative and funny it might make more people stop and look because of it.

Back to the boring desert driving highway road trip….with another stretch of nothing.  I did count 17 burros’ along the way, two of which were cute little babies.   I enjoy seeing the distant mountains on either side of me.  Traffic was sparse and it was an easy drive.  

I soon had to make a turn off the main highway.  I immediately came up on a road sign that said “Next gas 58 Miles?  I had come about 70 miles since my last gas up, and had about 7 miles to go.  That meant I would be putting on a total of 154 miles before I could gas up again.  It is crazy but necessary to think this way.  Out here in the vast expanses of desert the last thing you want to do is run out of gas.  I had taken two 5 gallon, Jerry Cans, of extra gas just in case.   So I had an extra 10 gallons along to be safe.

I made my final turn and started up a long slow grade.   The road started a slow climb up the mountains I could see to the west of me.  I was not too far from the Nevada-California state lines at this point.  About 6 miles up this grade I finally crested onto a high desert plateau at about an elevation of 5000 feet.  Before me were numerous run down and falling down wooden structures, Mining equipment, old rusting vehicles, and old metal and iron objects strewn for several miles in all directions.   The blacktop abruptly ended in a drop off to gravel just before an old weathered building with a sign indicating it had once been the post office.  I had arrived at Gold Point, Nevada.

My story really begins with meeting one of the town’s flesh and blood residents, Herb Robbins.  Aka the Sheriff, Fire Chief, Bartender, Building fixer-upper, Reservation taker, and who knows what else.   The only people I talked to were Herb and Sandy.  They were such nice down to earth people willing to take time out for you.  Willing to share some of the town's history, tell you some of the stories, and make you feel welcome.  Herb ended up giving me a personal tour.  Herb walked around with me to unlock some of the old restored buildings.  Allowing me to look around and snap off some photos.  It was mental overload seeing all the old stuff tacked to the exterior walls, the interior walls, stacked in corners, and hanging from old weathered beams, or hanging from a rusty old nail.

Chapter 2

I first spoke to Herb on the telephone August of 2014.  This was after submitting an email through his website while trying to arrange camping during what would be my first visit to Gold Point.  I was up early and packing gear to take off that morning.  I was concerned about calling at the early hour thinking it might be too early.  Not concerned about whether or not I had reservations.   After all it was the middle of the summer…and the heat of summer.  I couldn’t imagine having a fight on my hands competing with other campers.  I was surprised my phone rang shortly after sending the email. Herb was calling me.

I had been doing research on the internet trying to find a place within reasonable driving distance from Las Vegas, Nevada to go explore.  Somehow I randomly stumbled into the website for Gold Point.   I started reading Herb’s story.  He paints a picture of early life as a teenager exploring old mining areas.  Herb indicated he read what he could, to find the next place to search for treasure.  He spent his off time panning for gold at old mining operations, and old diggings, scattered around the area east of Sacramento, California.  Places like Colfax and Grass Valley.  All locations made famous by the Gold Rush era.

His passion, some might refer to it as “Gold Fever”, had set him on a course that would eventually blossom into and even larger passion.  He visited many places year after year and found it heartbreaking to see the elements and the thoughtless of fellowman destroying the sites.  The history lost.  His travels years later lead him to the old town of Gold Point, Nevada. 

Herb’s visit eventually leads to buying a piece of the town.  He and a friend purchased 3 lots.  Herb bought 2 of the 3 lots that were for sale at $500 each.  After 12 years of kicking around old mining sites, swirling gravel in a gold pan looking for “color”, to shoveling larger quantities into sluice boxes, then graduating to a power dredger…Herb finally owned part of history.  With title in hand he was determined to restore and protect the heritage that belongs with this location.

I read Herb’s story and instantly formed a connection.  I too had lived in the area of Gold Country, the Grass Valley area of California.  My time in the area was during my early 20’s. (early 1970’s)  My passion slightly less than Herb’s, but I have to admit I spent many off hours kicking around streams, mining areas, and digging sites.  “Gold Fever” is in my veins too.   I could really relate.

My favorite area of that California location was off Highway 20, north out of Nevada City, California.  Across the South Yuba River via an old bridge at Purdon Crossing to eventually end up at Malakoff Diggings.  Complete with its own historic ghost town and cemetery behind one of the buildings.  This was the site of massive amounts of earth being eroded from hillsides using the tremendous power of water called hydraulic mining.   Whole mountains of gravel were washed into huge sluices to separate out the gold.

I spent many hours swishing gravel and sand around a gold pan.  The water swirling in the pan would mesmerize you watching the water wash away the lighter material, to reveal small pieces of the heavier gold.   

That California area was beautiful.  The Yuba River at this point, with pristine waters, and the picturesque old bridge, were stunning.  I am guessing Herb’s travels crossed my path at some point.  Maybe our crossings were not at the same point in time, but perhaps upon the same footsteps somewhere along a path or stream bed?

Life, family, and job would transport me to the Midwest part of the USA for the next 20 years.  While the Midwest might still retain some ghost towns, the subject to me seemed to be lost with the change in location.   I was busy building a house, raising kids, and working long hour weeks.  I still camped and explored, but subjects other than ghost towns, and gold panning, became my focus.

In 1995 I would relocate to Nevada and found my interest in exploring old mining locations revived.  I still use a gold pan occasionally and invested in a high tech, high grade metal detector.  But as with many prospectors, I have never hit enough pay dirt to recoup the cost of equipment.  As life passes, my interests have morphed into taking photos and discovering what history remains of some of these old sites.  There is an attraction I feel.  The “Gold” now is in the “Old Iron” and mining machinery that sits and rusts silently with time.

I imagine Herb hit this point in life 30 years ago.  His passion runs deep and he decided it would become his focus.  The old Post Office was purchased by Herb, his friend Chuck, and Chuck’s brother Walt.  They also bought the General Store and Senator Harry Wiley’s old home.  They came with all the antiques and furnishings.  Walt would go on to be partners with Herb.  Chuck wanted to remain more on the sidelines.

Herb and Walt were determined to prevent the buildings from disappearing as Herb had seen happen so many times at other sites.  The overall big picture of their plan was to save as many old buildings, cabins, and outhouses as possible.  Over the next 10 years they purchased any and all buildings that were available, no matter what their condition.

Now thirty 30 years later, thousands of dollars of their own money, and Herb in his sixties, he intends to live out his life in one of the houses he owns.  But he hasn't stopped yet.  As we walked around the town we poked our heads in several buildings he was working on restoring.  The building re-construction showing various stages of resurrection.   Ghosts returning to the living.

The area was first settled by ranchers and a few miners in the 1880’s.  A mining camp  was revived in 1902, and was first called Hornsilver.  In 1905 the Great Western Mine Co started operations and discovered a rich silver vein.   Miners stampeded to the area and erected their tent camps.  By 1908 the tent homes turned to more permanent wooden buildings and the tent camp became a town.  The population peaked at about 1,000 with over 225 wooden buildings.

Production waned and many businesses closed.  Many people moved on.  Hornsilver again saw a glimmer of hope in 1927 when gold was discovered.  In a few years more gold was being mined than silver.  The towns name was changed to Gold Point.   Gold Point survived well through the depression to mostly shut down during World War II due to a government mandate.

Production resumed after the war and continued at a lesser degree until most everything shut down in the 1960’s.

Herb enters the picture in Gold Point in 1978.   Caretaker, Building fixer-upper, Sheriff, Fire Chief, Bartender, and who knows what else? 

Chapter 3 (Final Chapter)

I don’t know about all you that may read this, but anyone that pours their heart, soul, and money into a personal passion may never become rich in a monetary sense.  They may, but I don’t believe that is ever the driving force, nor the carrot at the end of the stick.

I started a business a few years ago, pouring everything I had into it.  All my time went into this start-up, my bank account, and all my energy.  It was a project of passion.  Something I always had in the back of my head.  With an early retirement in the cards, I had the incentive to take that step off the cliff.

Unfortunately I wasn’t able to spend more time with Herb to pick his brain on what his trigger was?   Also what keeps this passion alive within him?  He has been at this for 30 years.  This is no simple task he has taken on.  So daunting in fact I believe many would have given up and walked away long ago.  Like many former residents that simply abandoned their homes, town, and friends they must have certainly socialized with?

I am reading between the lines of info he puts out on his website.  I add to that the personal impression I have from the brief glimpse of his character I picked up on.   He strikes me as someone that might take the shirt off his back to help someone else, even though that was his only shirt. 

One morning we met up.  My camera slung over my shoulder.  His ring of keys, to unlock buildings, was dangling in his hand.  We were off to check out some of the buildings he was restoring, as well as look in on some of the ones completed.

This is one of the Rustic Cabins for Rent.  Complete with a Ghost car!  Engines must be an add on option?
Herb spoke of massive sections of buildings he was determined to save.  I asked how some of it was done.  In my thinking structures must be taken down piece by piece to be rebuilt at another site.  That might be the case of some buildings that might have fallen down.  One large structure was handled another way.  It was put on large timber skids.  Then it was dragged over the rocky terrain with tractors.  Weathered wood, out of kilter walls, old rusty corrugated metal is all placed to purposely look old.
The saloon at the corner of Gold Street and 2nd started as such.  The main front section of the saloon was dragged, and moved to its current resting place.  Over time 2 other sections were added inline, additions off the rear.  Today the saloon is one long narrow building.  I was impressed there was no differentiating wood color or texture in the exterior siding.  It is impossible to tell this building is not all originally built at the same time.

The Saloon
I could go on and on about the saloon.  Its exterior is weathered board-and-batten sided, with a protective iron sheathing…..what is that you say??!!!   This structure is plastered with old iron objects of the early 1900’s era.  There is a collection of items, from frying pans to car parts, mining equipment to household items.  It is out of control.  I am thinking the building could withstand a considerable strafing attack with this iron plating!

Walking inside the saloon your eyes and mind at first adjust to the dim light and the large array of items everywhere you look.  After a few seconds you start narrowing your vision.  Your attention is drawn from one item to the next.  Something hanging off the wall from a rusty nail, swinging from a wire attached to the ceiling.  Signs, jugs, even a dusty kayak hanging from the rafters. 

An old large wooden bar stretches from the entrance door nearly the first third of the building.  Numerous bottles of red eye displayed behind the bar, though I can’t find sarsaparilla!  The bottles stand in rows, reflecting their rear labels in the mirror on the wall behind them.  A picture of “The Duke” (John Wayne) hangs next to the mirror.  You can close your eyes and hear the fight breaking out.  The bottles all getting shot up.  The mirror being cracked, and sent crashing to the floor with the pieces of broken bottles.

Player Piano in the Saloon
As the skirmish moves down the end of the bar toward the back of the saloon a few chairs get smashed over someone’s shoulders.  Tables tipped over.  Cards and dice flying through the air to scatter across the wood planked floor.  The player piano against the wall cranks out some crazy melody that adds even more chaos to the scene.  Somehow the glass panels of the piano surviving flying debris.   The two saloon hall girls sitting in the corners are trying to not get caught up in the fracas.  They certainly don’t want to mess up their hair or damage their expensive stockings! 

Sheriff Stone (aka Herb) blasts away with his six-shooter to break it up….I must have taken one of those swings to the jaw because now I am looking up at the ceiling.  I can’t believe my hero the “Duke” might have cold-cocked me?..... the commotion has subsided.  Wow Herb…what was that drink you gave me?  Come to think about it I don’t even remember having a drink!  That red eye can sneak up on a person I suppose?

Hanging from the ceiling is another vast assortment of vintage items.  Old coke signs, brown jugs, tools, pots, pans, a wooden thing with a green alien face watching me….green Alien face!!  What???  I did pass by the secret AREA 51 location on the highway leading to this ghost town.  That green guy must have escaped and followed me?  They are always watching!

I had asked if there was a cemetery in the town.  Herb told me there was none ever found.  Nor were there ever any churches built.  He led me to a wall with a couple memorial boxes and engraved plaques.  Seems a couple souls requested to remain behind in the town.  One of the dogs resides on the wall too.  Herb tells me he also has another toward the back.  That memorial box, is of a local area Brothel Madame that made the request. 

Inside the Post Office - Gold Point Nevada

Along with these stories the tale of the Post Office being haunted comes out too.  It seems annually a Paranormal Investigation group comes to town, sets up all their high tech equipment, and stays the night.  Herb says “they are friendly”…. “the ghosts”, he clarifies!


I had my camp set up a short distance away from this area.  Maybe that coyote I heard howling in the moonlight after dark, wasn’t a coyote at all?  After all, there was the weirdest mist that came into my camp after dark.  It even showed up using my camera.

Later in the night I enjoyed the heavens.  With no light pollution from any neighboring towns, this area gets real dark.  The black sky was filled with stars. 

Herb also owns the Post Office/General Store as well as the house next door to it.  The house next door was the house of Harry Wiley (Nevada State Senate) and his wife, Ora Mae.   Ora Mae served as the postmistress from 1942 until 1967.  The Post Office closed down in 1968.

It is amazing another Nevada State Senate person, Harry DeVotie also hails from this small Nevada town.  From a town that is now nearly all forgotten with only about 26 currently living residents.

There is ample evidence of what once was.  There are many pieces of mining equipment and tall Headframe structures visible in all directions.  The Headframes are the ghosts that stand silhouetted in a morning sunrise.  Standing guard over the mine shafts below.  The large one at the south end of town, just across 2nd street from the saloon, has a shaft that plummets 1000ft down.   It is hard to imagine the amount of shafts and tunnels that must exist in the hillsides nearby.

I asked where does your water come from?  I am thinking wells?  Herb points in the direction of yet another old mining town (Lida) 11 miles across a dry valley to the mountain beyond.   Herb states: “We have an 11 mile pipe that brings us our water”.  That just shows you what is takes to exist in this harsh desert terrain.

Reluctantly I knew I had to start breaking camp to head for home.  I had been up before sunrise to get in some photography.  I had put on a batch of cinnamon rolls.  These were baking in a Dutch Oven over some hot charcoal.  Coffee is good but even better with a freshly baked cinnamon roll.  I selected one, and wrapped the remainder in foil.  I wandered over to Herbs place to drop the warm rolls off for Herb and Sandy.  I was so appreciative of the time they had both spent telling me the stories of their town. 

This was one of my better trips.  An amazing amount of history is in this area.  I am looking forward to a return trip in the cooler fall months.  I hope to explore more of the surrounding area and update this story of a true Ghost town.

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