Pioche, Nevada


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.

Pioche, Nevada

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, 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.

Note: This trip was first published in 2007.

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