This week, Road Trips with Tom heads back west to the old mining camp of Goldfield, Nevada. We’re headed to the desert again, where the earth is buck-naked, the air is as dry as burnt toast, and you can see for miles.
People like me who love the desert think it’s beautiful. Those who don’t think those of us who do are crazy.
You’ll find Goldfield on US 95 about 170 miles north of Las Vegas. That’s pretty much in the middle of nowhere, in a state that’s a whole lot of nowhere. Heading north, Tonopah is 26 miles. Beatty is 67 miles south. As in Tonopah, US 95 is the town’s main drag, meaning you’ll do at least do a low-velocity drive-by of the historic district whether you want to or not.
I find Goldfield fascinating. Like its neighbor, Tonopah, it’s so homely that it’s charming. There’s no pretense to it. If you’d like to pass an hour over a cold beverage with a local miner, you can do it here. There are no crowds, either. So should you like to wander among remnants of Goldfield’s history, you won’t have to pay to park.
Staying overnight could present a problem, though, because Goldfield’s tourism infrastructure is minimal. I’ll provide details farther down your screen.
Boom and bust
“World’s Greatest Gold Camp!” That’s what Goldfield claimed to be during the first decade of the 20th century.
And it was.
From 1906 to 1910, Goldfield was Nevada’s largest city, with a population of over 20,000. It quickly developed all the standard equipment for a boomtown that big – banks, railroads, schools, churches, theaters, a newspaper, “hurdy-gurdy” houses and saloons.
Like Nevada’s other big mining camps, Goldfield went through the familiar cycle of discovery, notoriety, boom, and decline. What visitors see today in these towns depends on the speed of the decline and the existence of sustainability factors. For example, Tonopah and Virginia City, like Goldfield, still function as county seats, and some mining is still going on.
All these old camps are commonly called “ghost towns,” which isn’t entirely accurate. They’re ghosts of what they once were, but what’s left of them is functioning actively in the present day. Only Virginia City uses its past to fuel its modern economy, thanks to easy access and an infrastructure ideal for tourism.
Two factors distinguish Goldfield from the others. First, of course, is in its name. Tonopah and Virginia City were all about silver . . . and the reason Nevada is known as The Silver State. Goldfield was about gold.
3-day road trip
Another difference is the geography. There are hills and low mountains nearby, and Goldfield sits on gently rolling desert terrain at an elevation of 5,600 feet. The streets were laid out in a grid pattern. That’s in contrast to Tonopah, which is at the bottom of a gulch and on the adjacent slopes, and Virginia City, which perches on a mountainside. As a result, what Goldfield was and what it is are joined at the hip.
A great three-day road trip out of Las Vegas or Los Angeles would be a loop connecting Death Valley National Park, Goldfield, Tonopah and Bishop/the Eastern Sierra. Add another day, and it can be done from Phoenix, San Diego or the San Francisco Bay Area. Flying in? The nearest commercial airport is Las Vegas.
Eight motel rooms
Here are some Goldfield resources you can check out before leaving home. First, go to www.goldfieldnevada.org. Click on “Explore Goldfield.” There, you’ll find a link to a YouTube video showing a drive-through on US 95. On the left side of the same page is a link to the Goldfield Historical Society site, where you can download the walking tour booklet and map. (They aren’t very good, but this is a very small town with limited resources.)
Goldfield’s population is somewhere around 200, give or take. It’s the Esmeralda County seat, with its own sheriff department and jail. The Santa Fe Saloon on 5th St. a few blocks north of US 95 has eight simple motel units. I’ve heard they’re clean, but I’ll drive the 26 miles to Tonopah and stay at the Best Western. You can get a decent breakfast or lunch at the Dinky Diner, but not dinner.
There’s a small market on US 95 that was up for sale when I passed by in March. Oh, and gas: There’s no gasoline available in Esmeralda County! Stop in Beatty if you’re northbound or Tonopah if you’re southbound.
Additional photos are below.
Thanks for spending some time here at Road Trips with Tom. Next week Sunday, June 18, please stop by again as we return to the East Coast and visit the Strawbery Banke outdoor living history museum in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.