Pioche & Caliente, Nevada - US 93
Jump to: Pioche, NV -
Cathedral Gorge - Caliente,
Day 8's mission was simple: end up in Las Vegas for a mid-afternoon flight home. I was starting my day in St. George, Utah, which is a mere 2-hour drive on I-15 from sin city. I could have just slept late and made the simple trip back, but that didn't seem very exciting. So, I pulled out the map and started considering my options.
When you're in the desert, there aren't many alternate routes. Usually, the main road is the only road around for miles. Such was the case between St. George and Las Vegas. I-15 was almost the only option.
As I studied the map, I noticed two towns, northwest of St. George, in Nevada. If I took some backroads to Pioche and Caliente, I could then take US 93 to my final destination. I had a plan, and just enough time to make it a success.
From St. George, take Bluff Street (Utah Rte. 18 -- Exit 6 off Interstate 15) north. You'll pass Snow Canyon State Park (another worthwhile attraction which I have not yet visited) and a couple of suburbs, wind through some mountains, then hit flat farmland. At Beryl Junction (which really is nothing more than a junction) turn left on Utah Rte. 56, which will turn into Nevada Rte. 319. At Panaca, the road dead-ends at US 93. Cathedral Gorge is 1 mile north of town, Pioche is 11 miles north, Caliente is 14 miles south.
The drive out of St. George is scenic and easy. You will pass over a couple of hills, but mostly the road is flat...
... with a few mountains visible in the distance.
Once you turn onto Rte. 56, this turns into your basic desert drive. There's not a lot along the road to hold your attention, which can either be boring or relaxing, depending on what kind of drive you enjoy.
If you've read some of my other trips, you probably know that I enjoy old mining towns. Places like Butte, Montana and Wallace, Idaho seem to have a lot of character--probably because of the boom-and-bust cycle that these kinds of towns experience. As I rolled into Pioche, Nevada, I knew instantly that I could add it to my list.
If you're approaching Pioche from the south, take the exit for Business 93. This road takes you into Pioche's business district via the hill at the south end of town. The first thing you see is the remains of the old Pioche Aerial Tramway, slowly weathering at the side of the road, overlooking the rest of the town.
The Pioche Aerial Tramway operated during the 1920's and 1930's, using overhead cables to carry buckets filled with ore to the Godbe Mill, on the other side of town. The tramway was capable of carrying ore at a cost of just 6¢ per ton. For the most part, the tramway was powered by gravity, although a 5 horsepower motor helped. Although it has been at least 70 years since the tramway has been used, the cables and some buckets still hang overhead, and cross US 93 near the mill.
A short distance downhill from the tram is downtown Pioche. This place has the feel of a ghost town in the making. While some of the buildings are boarded up, there are still a few places open. It was still somewhat early on Saturday morning when I visited, so maybe that's one reason why there wasn't much happening.
Pioche has its own hospital, or at least, had its own hospital.
The Overland Hotel & Saloon is still open for business, with about a dozen rooms upstairs.
Rooms at the Overland Hotel start at around $50 a night. You can check out the hotel's website here.
Just down the street, the Gem Theater is patiently awaiting someone with a vision to restore and re-open it.
According to a posting thread on Cinematreasures.org, the Gem has been closed since 2002, after damage done by a windstorm. The website has several links to pictures of the Gem, including this one, from back in 1989 when the theater was still open.
You'd better hope you don't have a toothache during your visit. According to the sign, Cliford Paige's Dentist office has been closed for 50 years.
You just don't find broken-down horse-drawn carriages by the side of the road in many other towns.
Pioche's "Million Dollar Courthouse"
The old Lincoln County courthouse is likely Pioche's most famous, or infamous, landmark. The old 2-story brick building is known as the "Million Dollar Courthouse" because, thanks to corrupt politicians, that's how much it eventually cost the taxpayers of Lincoln County.
The courthouse was supposed to cost only $16,000 when it was built in 1871. But the costs spiraled out of control, then for decades, the town put off payment, allowing the interest to rack up. By the time it was completely paid off in 1936, the total price was more than a million.
The old building now serves as a museum. The front door was open, so I wandered inside. No one else was there, so I took my time exploring.
There are several rooms on the first and second floor, that are open to wandering visitors, including a post office...
... and an old courtroom, complete with some disturbingly un-lifelike dummies on trial.
I suppose this is the typewriter room, featuring about a dozen old typewriters and a few adding machines and other office equipment, all beautifully displayed on cinder blocks.
The Million Dollar Courthouse was quite a treat, especially considering that the town simply leaves the front door open, for anyone to walk in, unsupervised. I can't imagine that arrangement working very well in any other place in the country.
Before leaving town, I tried to track down the other end of the Pioche Aerial Tramway. After the frozen-in-time cables and buckets cross over US 93, it appears they end their journey here, at the old Godbe Mill.
I don't think the fastest gas in the west is pumping gas anymore.
The last thing you might expect to find out in this monotonous desert landscape is a beautifully carved gorge, but Cathedral Gorge State Park does indeed exist.
Since I was on a tight schedule, I didn't want to devote the time necessary to drive into the park. The good news was, I didn't have to.
The main entrance to Cathedral Gorge State Park is just north of the junction of highway 319 (the road from Utah). I didn't go there. Instead, I turned into the overlook/rest area at Miller Point, a few miles north of the main entrance, and discovered I could still get a good look at the gorge from there. And thanks to that metal staircase...
...I didn't have to be content with viewing the gorge from the overlook. One staircase, then another, quickly dropped me down into the miniature canyon.
The eroded walls are beautiful and unique. I didn't have to explore far to find some interesting formations.
The only problem was, I did have a lot of steps to climb, on my way out.
There's a $4 entrance fee, if you enter Cathedral Gorge State Park through the main entrance. However, I did not see any entry fee requirements at the Miller Point viewpoint.
Cathedral Gorge has a 4-mile loop trail that takes you through the heart of the gorge. A 1-mile side trail connects the loop trail to Miller Point. You can find more park information here.
Caliente may be only 25 miles from Pioche, but these two towns are worlds apart. While Pioche grew thanks to the mines, Caliente built up around the railroad. The result is two towns that look and feel completely different.
For starters, Caliente has a row of downtown businesses that looks more like a strip mall than a downtown. All the businesses face the railroad tracks.
US 93 curves here, then runs parallel with the railroad tracks.
The second-most interesting building in town is Carl's Burgers. But it looks like Carl hasn't been making sandwiches in a very long time.
Down the railroad tracks from "downtown"...
... you find Caliente's beautiful old railroad station. I looked in some windows, and it now appears that the building is used for government offices.
And that was it for Caliente. My visit lasted just a few minutes.
US 93 is a very, very long road. After you leave Caliente, there's virtually no sign of life until you hit Interstate 15, just a half-hour north of Las Vegas. I only stopped once, for a look at a small forest of Joshua trees.
After traveling west for a while, the road turns south, and for at least 50 miles, you travel in a nearly straight line, with arid, post-apocalyptic looking mountains in the distance on both sides of the road, and absolutely no way to tell that you're actually going anywhere. Finally, the road curves, and US 93 passes between some hills, finally revealing the presence of Interstate 15.
I had timed my day perfectly. I arrived back in Las Vegas with just enough spare time to enjoy my traditional end-of-vacation bowl of chile verde at Garduño's at the Palms, then head to the airport for the flight home.
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Don Radzak wrote:
"Hi, I worked in the Pioche mines during
WWII. Released from the service. It was quite an adventure.
Tried to contact old friends but no luck. Had a chance to
buy a Colt 6 shooter then for 45bucks,any chance of getting
your hands on one? Don Tel.763-315-5401"
Vona Adams-Lawrence wrote:
I was born in Caliente in 1949 and
lived for 3 years with my parents in Pioche before moving to
Tempiute then on to Oregon. My Father was a millwright for
the mines and Mom was a school teacher. Great memories and
many visits back home. Thanks for the tour.
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