Not our hire car

Marigold, Queen of the Desert

Marigold found an old prospector hanging around for a photo, wearing her track suit top too.

Ghost Towns in the desert, weird science and burros

Marigold Says...

 

Arrived in Beatty which is wonderful. There are some  trailer-park-living (not one of the posh ones) people on the way in selling their wares. If you can imagine a car boot when everybody chucks their stuff away at the end, it was worse than that. We had a sort of look around, with me feeling more scared than interested, especially when an old bloke was polishing a bow and arrow. Hung onto G’s belt tightly. 

 

We then went into a rubbish trailer type shop. The man behind the desk was wheezing whilst having a fag, although he was on oxygen. His hillbilly friend with a beard had a badge on saying “if you kiss me I’ll holler”. Anyway, after kissing him…. I don’t think so. 

 

We learnt that the wheezing owner had emphysema, and we were shocked. Really? He gets two oxygen tanks a week, and only uses one, and his girlfriend gets  the other for nothing. He knows the delivery man and gives him stuff. They say romance has died. Oh yes,  she is worse off than him as she also had a gammy leg, and needs a walking frame. Fortunately, she didn’t make an appearance. 

 

He gave us a (free) misshaped ice cream thing, very squashed and half melted. We got a safe distance away and buried it in the junk outside.  Then we met Doug, the maitre de of the hotel. He was  a marvellous meter and greeter. Think he had forgotten his top set of teeth and it was difficult to understand him through the whistling. Later found out he was a veteran who had worked in the coastguard and was going to retire to where there was a veterans association who would look after him and medically he would be better off. They may get him a new set of teeth. He lived in a trailer round the back, so when he moves on he said he will get an apartment. I really liked him and hope he is okay.

 

We got up early the next day to investigate a sculpture  of the last supper on the hillside, all ghostly figures. 

 

Loved it and how clever of the Belgian artists who did it.  Then we went to see the bottle house which had been  there for about 100 years all made out of old bottles. 

 

How clever is that? Told G I could happily live in a bottle  house, and he said on a Friday night that is what you do. How rude. 

 

There are a lot of ruined buildings round about which give you a taste of the Wild West. The town was famous for its brothels which were flourishing till recently. Dirty dogs. I shall ask Doug about it. Mr Oxygen of course knows about brothels. Bet his girlfriend encourages him to go. 

 

We came back and had the most enormous breakfast in the diner. I couldn’t eat all my omelette, so took it away and had it later. Portions are massive here. 

Set off on the road, felt very full and immediately went to sleep. Good job G does all the driving. Over to G now for some facts and figures. Not my department. No, really! 

 

G Says...

 

Beatty is certainly interesting. It was named after Montilius Murray Beatty who built the first stone house here in 1904 and lived in it with his wife, a Paiute Indian, and three children. He became the town’s first Postmaster, his inability to read or write apparently  not being thought much of a handicap in those days. It’s a thriving place now with a few cafes, including a fine 1950s style diner, a few hotels, the inevitable and ubiquitous casino and RV Parks, (several of the latter), the ‘biggest candy store in Nevada’, a very small museum and an assortment  of odd inhabitants, most of whom we came across in our first hour in the town.

 

It’s just outside the Death Valley Park and on a major highway so gets its fair share of visitors. We asked at the museum for directions to a hotel we liked the sound of, but the very pleasant and helpful ladies there had never heard of it, despite being long term residents of Beatty. A bit worrying. We politely admired the rather sad looking wolf and collection of Victorian furniture that most of the museum consists of and went out to look for our hotel. 

 

We found it within two minutes, with its name on a huge billboard. Must be our accents causing problems again.

 

Our room was fine, although notices promised  draconian penalties for smoking or bringing pets into the room: 150 dollars for each crime. After we checked in, we went for a walk around, where we met at least half a dozen ‘eccentrics,’ we returned to our ground floor room and discovered a steaming pile of you know what, right outside the door. A local saw Marigold’s expression and said, ‘that’s a welcome gift from one of the Beatty Burros. Don’t leave your door open or you’ll get a bedside delivery.’ I was more worried a burro wandering into our room could be considered a ‘pet’ and I’d have to pay 150 dollars. 

 

The burros do indeed come into town regularly and we saw several the next morning, just wandering around. We’d seen the ‘warning’ signs with the picture of a donkey or mule at different times yesterday, but now we can see why the signs are necessary. A group of burros walked out, right in front of our car this morning at first light. During the gold rush era of the 1800s a number of pack animals, donkeys or mules, escaped and many more were left behind when the prospectors moved on. 

 

They thrived in the desert wilderness and soon there were over 10,000 of them. In By 1950, there were so many herds of wild burros around Beatty and in Death Valley that a program to export burros was begun, and it continues today. Even so, we saw plenty of burros grazing in the desert, paying no attention whatsoever to passing traffic and wandering at will into town. Some of the locals name their favourites, many feed them and this causes rancour when many other locals are fed up of burros ‘crapping on my drive’ as one local said. He was standing outside the drive in question, which was packed with abandoned car parts and what could easily pass for rubbish, but was described as ‘artistic materials.’ We loved the burros and their placid, unhurried nature, wandering around as if out for a stroll with their ‘mates.’ 

 

Just about everybody here seems to make and sell 'jerky.' We tried samples of beef, buffalo, elk and something else, I forget now, but they all tasted the same to me. We suspect they are all made from burros. 

 

We’d looked at Mel’s Diner last night, saw it opened early and decided we’d go and take in some sights before breakfast. At seven in the morning, deserts are chilly places as we climbed, shivering, out of the car, our customary lack of foresight meaning we’d  left anything remotely  warm back in the hotel room. 

 

We were heading for Rhyolite, a former gold mining town that came into being, boomed and thrived and was abandoned within a dozen years. In 1904, gold was found while mining quartz and a town sprung up from nowhere.

 

Rhyolite was an instant success with buildings springing up everywhere. A stock exchange and Board of Trade were formed and the inevitable red light district attracted working girls from far away San Francisco. There were hotels, general stores, a school catering for 250 children, and much more.

 

The mine closed in 1911, the boom faltered and in 1916 Rhyolite was abandoned. Empty shells of the three story bank, the general store, and smaller buildings still remain. 

 

Right next to the ghost town is a remarkable open air free ‘museum,’ a collection of weird and wonderful art exhibits. The collection began in 1984 with the ‘Last Supper,’ white fibreglass figures constructed by the  Belgian artist Albert Szukalski. We marvelled at a tall metal statue of a miner and his penguin. Why a penguin? Why not, I suppose. 

 

There’s a very tall figure of a nude woman, seemingly  made from giant pink and yellow Lego. Another fibreglass figure, the Ghost-Rider, stands alongside a  bicycle as if ready to go for a ride.

 

We loved the surreal and somewhat anarchic collection. Marigold had spotted a sign saying ‘cemetery’ on the way in – very old cemeteries being a weakness of hers – but the sign pointed along a dirt track several miles long so we abandoned that idea and went to look at the best known of three ‘bottle houses.’

 

This was built by a man named Tom Kelly just after Rhyolite came into existence. Wood for building a house was scarce and expensive, so Kelly decided he’d try something different.

 

With over 50 bars on the go, collecting ‘empties’ wasn’t  difficult and Kelly collected 50,000 bottles in less than six months, more than enough to build a three-room house.  

 

As he was almost 80 years old, Kelly never lived in the house, but raffled it off for five dollars a ticket. The raffle was won by a family named  Bennet who lived there until 1914. After Rhyolite went bust, the house lay abandoned for many years. It was later restored by local people and was even lived in once more by Tommy  Thompson and his family, including eight children, who lived there until 1969. It’s presumed the  Thompson children added the miniature houses that remain  scattered across the lawn. As a footnote, the majority of the bottles used to construct the house bear the name Adolphus Busch; nowadays we know the brand by its modern name, Budweiser.

 

We got back to town, after a couple more encounters with burros out for an early morning stroll and the thermometer outside Mel’s Diner now said 82 degrees. A lot less nippy than it had been a couple of hours earlier at first light. 

 

We had a good solid breakfast and were back on the road within the hour, bound for Yosemite. We don’t do direct routes, are easily diverted, and we found much to engage our attention  along the way. 

 

Still in the Beatty environs, we’d chatted yesterday with a man who was dragging around an oxygen cylinder, with tubes connected to both nostrils, which he turned off, regularly, to smoke a cigarette. He told me, even though Marigold was stood right next to me at the time, that I should visit a brothel as ‘Those people in Washington want to take everything a man wants away from him’ and I should go while brothels were still legal in Nevada. 

 

‘Are there many around here.’ Marigold asked. 

 

‘Not as many as there used to be, but enough. There’s not much else to do in Beatty.’

 

He told us about a couple of his favourites, one now closed and the other turned into a B and B and gave us directions.

 

We found Angel’s Ladies right alongside the main road out of town. There’s what used to be a brightly coloured ‘brothel’ sign offering all night truck parking alongside the wreckage of an airplane covered in graffiti. In 1978 the plane crashed during a promotional stunt intended to attract customers.

 

Intending to parachute onto a mattress laid out on the desert floor, not the most well thought out of plans, the plane took off and the pilot, who may have been distracted by the sight of so many near naked young women, crashed the plane right next to the the gates where it remains. No one was hurt and the owners found a wrecked plane made a great advert for their services.

 

A bit further down the road we found Shady Lady Ranch, once a notable brothel but now a B and B. No vacancies though.

 

After The Shady Lady there’s not a lot to see for quite a while. I set the cruise control to 70 mph and drove the arrow straight road for the next half hour without having to turn the wheel and in that half hour we saw just two other cars.

 

We detoured to see what remains of the historic town of Goldfield. From 1903 to 1910, Goldfield was the largest city in Nevada and from 1903 to 1940, Goldfield's mines produced gold worth more than 86 million dollars. Serious fires broke out in 1905 and again in 1906 destroying several businesses in the town and other areas  were  destroyed in l913 by a flash flood, and yet another fire in 1923  caused massive damage. Not a lucky town at all. 

 

The Goldfield Historical Society is very active in seeking to preserve what remains of the buildings from the towns heyday. Not sure how authentic the Dinky Diner is, but it was certainly busy. Goldfield is an oddity with many old and decrepit buildings sitting alongside those seeking to entice passing tourists. We learnt much about the town’s past, but it would appear to face an uncertain future unless they can decide whether to focus on the past or move into the present. 

 

Some of the more famous visitors and residents of Goldfield in days gone by included Virgil and Wyatt Earp, George Wingfield, Death Valley Scotty, world heavyweight boxer Jack Dempsy, and Governor and former U.S. Senator Tasker Oddie. Not sure where Marigold and I fit into that list of notable visitors.

 

We drove through Tonopah, 6,600 feet above sea level – I notice this sort of thing since visiting  Death Valley - a pretty big place but as I said to Marigold, ‘nothing to see here.’

 

A couple of miles later I had a very different opinion. We were stopped by the side of the road waiting for a convoy leader car to lead us through road works and got our first view of a snow capped mountain range in the distance. A man got out of the car in front and said, ‘we’ll be here a while. The road’s up for the next ten miles or so. Could be a half hour, maybe more. It was half an hour yesterday. If you’re not in a hurry, go and check that out.’ He pointed over to the right where we’d noted what looked like a very bright floodlight tower surrounding a lake. 

‘Science, man,’ the man said, mysteriously. 

 

We drove towards what turned out to be a solar energy plant, but on a vast scale. Crescent Dunes is basically a receiver unit on a 640 feet high tower which receives solar power from ten thousand billboard sized heliostats, reflective mirrors, that surround it and concentrates this heat onto huge tanks containing salt.

 

The system circulates the salt from a cold tank, through the solar tower, where it’s heated from 550F to 1,050F, and then to a hot tank. Molten salt from the hot tank is then sent through a Nooter/Eriksen steam turbine generator and produce electricity. (Yes, I looked this up, but that doesn’t  mean I understand it). 

The really clever science comes with the ability to store electricity and send it off to the Nevada Energy company to power homes throughout the state. Crescent Dunes is able to to deliver power on demand like a coal, natural gas or nuclear plant, but with zero emissions, little water usage and no hazardous waste. Clever, eh?

 

Close up, although obviously there’s no way we’re able to get really close, it’s hugely impressive. The light at the top of the tower, far too bright to look at directly, can be seen for over fifty miles. 

 

 We thought we’d seen our share of technology for the day, but another half hour or so brought us close to the Tonopah Test Range, not that this was intentional. This is a high security place, ringed by fences and patrolled by the military. It was set up in 1957, basically to test weapons, but the first generation Stealth Fighters were developed here and the base is now used for Top Secret military projects involving the US Air Force. It’s a ‘I’d tell you more, but then I’d have to kill you’ scenario. 

 

We drove off, smartly. 

 

We were about to re- enter California, the boundary marked by the impressive Boundary Peak at 13,140 feet. As we dropped down to the valley floor we were obliged to stop by the California Department of Agriculture at a road block. A smartly uniformed woman came over and said, ‘where are you folks coming from today?’ I looked at Marigold, she looked at me, but neither of us could remember the name ‘Beatty.’ Surprisingly, we were not arrested. 

 

We filled up with ‘gas’ at Benton Station. Marigold went inside to check out the diner and was back very soon. 

 

‘Horrible place, horrible people,’ she said. Must have been a grim place as Marigold sees good in just about everybody. 

 

Next up is Yosemite and its untamed wilderness. We can’t wait. 

 

 

Everything here is for sale. Tempting, isn't it?

Warmed up a bit since dawn. Just after 8.30 now

Gold miner and penguin. Penguin?

Bottle house at first light

Ooh, look, a cemetery

This is where the arrow pointed. Didn't bother going.

Ray's Diner in Beatty

Car boot cast offs

We didn't manage to find 'Nevada's Meanest Bartender.'

A remodelled area of Goldfield

This is a bank

Awaiting gentrification

Missile testing site