Twenty-five miles north of Caliente is the former mining town of Pioche (Pee-oach). Once a boom town of over ten thousand people and 72 saloons, it’s now a quiet little village of just over one thousand. The history of Pioche is fascinating; it’s said that 72 people were murdered before the first natural death occurred, and in the years 1870-71, Pioche accounted for 60 percent of all the killings in Nevada. Tombstone was more like Mayberry R.F.D. compared to this place! Our first stop was “Boot Hill” an area next to the current cemetery. Here, grave markers, with a boot on each one, are lined up with a brief explanation of the person’s fate.
Above Boot Hill is an impressive reminder of the mining days, the cables and cars of the aerial tramway that transported the ore from above the town to the mill, across the highway and about one and a half miles away. The tram operated on gravity – the weight of the fully loaded cars going downhill brought the empty cars back up. Looking up above the town, you can still see the tailings from the mines, and with just a short drive, we were at the top next to the tramway loading area. Far in the distance, we could make out the smoke stack of the mill. Although a hundred hears old, the cable, cars, and towers look like they could be put back in service today.
There are a number of original buildings that still stand today; the opera house, the bank now open as a bar, and the Mountain View Hotel, built in 1895. Next to the hotel is the “Million Dollar Courthouse”. In 1871, the county contracted to build the courthouse at a cost of $26,400. In order to raise the needed money, $25,000 worth of bonds were sold at a discounted rate of $20,000. By the time it was completed a year later, costs had escalated to more than $88,000 because of alterations, cost overruns, mismanagement and kickbacks. To finance payment, of the courthouse, the Board of Commissioners issued certificates of indebtedness at a high rate of interest, and by the 1880’s the debt had risen to $181,000. By the end of the century it exceeded more than $670,000. The final payment was made in 1937; four years after the building had been condemned. The total cost of the Lincoln County Courthouse was nearly $1,000,000. An interesting story and an equally interesting town – much more authentic than Tombstone and its Disneyland appearance!
A few miles south of Pioche is Cathedral Gorge State Park, an amazing area of fairyland spires, slot canyons, and hiking trails. Our first stop was the overlook, which gave us a glimpse of the gorge and reminded us of a miniature Bryce Canyon. The formations are the result of soft bentonite clay (like that means anything to us) and easily erodes from wind and rain.
Driving past the visitor center (closed for renovations), we stopped at the self-pay station to pay our $7 fee and continued into the park. The bottom of the gorge is perfectly flat, and the formation walls rise high above:
There are entrances every few yards into the formations. Inside, the walls are almost perfectly vertical and have different surfaces, from smooth to textured. Once inside, the temperature drops significantly . Since the canyons open to the sky, there was enough sun during our visit to navigate our way through the labryrinth. If you enjoy visiting a “corn maze” during the fall, you’ll love this place! But probably not so much if you’re claustrophobic….
This trip taught us once again that some of the most beautiful places are those seldom visited and out of the way. We’re so glad we spent time here, and will mark it as a place to come back to. But leave we must, and so we headed north to Ely to once again try and visit Wheeler Peak and the Great Basin National Park. And for the second time we were shut out by rain, snow, and low ceilings. But the view from Ely’s Main Street was pretty.
We’re at Ellsworth AFB just outside Rapid City visiitng friends, finishing up medical appointments, and enjoying the great shopping and restaurants. The Black Hills are warming up, so we’ll be back with more adventures!