The Great Basin Desert is the largest desert in the United States and covers roughly 190,000 square miles. It is bordered by the Sierra Nevada Range on the west and the Rocky Mountains on the east, the Columbia Plateau to the north and the Mojave and Sonoran deserts to the south.
In September 2011 I took a trip right through the heart of this vast desert stopping along the way at close to all the abandoned and derelict buildings I could find. Starting on US Highway 6, also known as the Grand Army of the Republic Highway, and driving east, my first stop was just over the Nevada line.
It was a small settlement that consisted of a lodge, casino and gas station. All of these were now closed and slowly falling and fading away. The Boundary Peak Lodge was being hidden by pine trees growing up along the front of the building. Across the street was an abandoned gas station with the pumps long since removed. Three small abandoned homes sit next to the gas station, and next to one of the abandoned homes is a large sign encouraging travelers to continue to Tonopah for sunsets, silver and the midnight starts.
The sign for Tonopah was not enticing enough for me and I continued with only a brief stop in Tonopah for gas. There is not much traffic on US Hwy. 6 and most of it is truck traffic going in both directions across the state. My next turn would take me south on Nevada State Route 375, which sees even fewer cars and trucks. It was a very lonely but enjoyable drive and I recall only seeing two other cars during the hour drive to my next stop at Rachel, Nevada.
Nevada State Route 375 is also known as the Extraterrestrial Highway with its claim to fame being the neighboring Area 51 and all the alleged alien craft sightings and top-secret government projects. Rachel still has a small café, store, and motel but no gas is available for miles. The one gas station that was operating in Rachel, the Alien Cowpoke, still has the pumps on its one island and a good crop of weeds replacing the drive. A small supply of plastic water bottles still sits on the window ledge of the Alien Cowpoke store.
Continuing to US Hwy. 93, and a good three hours later, I arrive at my destination of Pioche, Nevada. Pioche is still a small community that was built around mining. But there are many examples of the past in the way of closed and abandoned buildings. One of the most prominent is the Gem theater. It has long been closed and boarded up and the building has been well battered. This is the kind of theater I remember going to as a kid growing up.
I spent a couple of days in Pioche exploring the many abandoned and derelict places and buildings. I found a very sturdy but shuttered red brick building that had something to do with the Pioche Mines Mill when the mill was operating many years ago that had a commanding view of the valley.
On the back side of Pioche, which once was the community of Caselton, lies the massive Caselton mine complex. Also abandoned long ago one of the main buildings was the victim of a fire that locals say took a long time to put out. The roof is missing from the large metal building and the surrounding area is covered with black soot. Also, at the Caselton mill is a large shop with ore car tracks going right through the center of the building. There is a large saw hanging from the ceiling, probably used to cut mine timbers, and around the shop are large electrical components and motors from a time gone by.
A short drive from Pioche then brings me to the Bristol Silver Mines. This was a large mining community in its day, and it had a separate residential area for the miners and their families, and it also included a small one room schoolhouse.
The only thing left in the school is the teacher’s desk. Water is leaking through the roof and damaging the ceiling tiles. It will not be long until they start to fall. On the chalk board behind the desk are the names of the many travelers and visitors who have been here before me. Some of the dates written on the board go back 29 years when I was there in 2011. There was even one posting by a man who wrote that he went to this school from 1934 to 1940.
It was a great trip.