Every day I give tours, I say the word Tonopah. The Tonopah and Tidewater Railroad was intended to be the main railroad from Las Vegas to Tonopah Nevada, with spurs going off to most of the mining areas as they were developed. Albert Johnson shipped all the building materials for Scotty’s Castle on the Tonopah and Tidewater Railroad. When the Bonnie Claire spur closed in 1928, Albert bought all the railroad ties to use as firewood. They were untreated, and we have a lack of trees in Death Valley, so it seemed like a good idea at the time. He had over 100,000 railroad ties brought to the Castle and there are still over 33,000 of them stacked in “Tie Canyon” next to the Castle.
Despite talking about Tonopah every day that I work, Tom and I had not yet been to Tonopah. So we decided to take a roadtrip and travel the 90 miles northeast to Tonopah.
Tonopah was a significant mining town and grew up, seemingly overnight, as many mining towns do. Today it is a nice town of 2,800 people with several restaurants, gas stations, and banks. It is also the county seat of Nye County although the largest town in Nye County is Pahrump, 160 miles south. Nye County is the third largest county in the contiguous US and encompasses an area about the size of Connecticut, Rhode Island, and New Jersey combined.
Tonopah started when silver was discovered in the area by Jim Butler in 1900. It was the second largest silver deposit in Nevada – the Comstock being the largest strike. By 1920 the silver mines were mostly closed, but some mining is still done in the area. Tonopah struggled on, helped by its location about halfway between Reno and Las Vegas, making it a convenient stop for travelers.
Tom and I explored the town. We stopped at Whitney’s Bookshelf, a used bookstore in downtown. We spent an hour at the Central Nevada Museum – very similar to a county historical society, but when your county is 1/4 of the size of the state, it can be a large museum! We had lunch at Subway, and then visited the Tonopah Mining Park. This area is 130 acres with four historic mines located in it. You can see the mills that processed the ore, much of the machinery, and the last standing trestle of the Tonopah and Tidewater Railroad. Before we left town we stopped at Scolari’s Grocery and stocked up for a couple of weeks.
We enjoyed our day in Tonopah. I even got to make a couple of phone calls that I don’t have time for on Sundays. It is a nice town trying to stay alive in the middle of the desert.