It’s hard to believe that it was only 4 months ago that we were out enjoying a pre-coronavirus life. It seems like it was 4 years ago. But, on Feb 25, our intrepid travelers were braving the rapids of the Petrohue River in Chile. No need to augment this week’s post with any excess verbiage. We just need to savor every day we have on this crazy planet.
One town that, literally, can’t be missed in southern Nevada is Beatty. US 95 runs right through Beatty, 90 miles north of Las Vegas and 120 miles south of Tonopah. So you can’t miss it. Most folks either drive right through the town of 1,000 or stop for gas on their way north or south but our neverlefthome team is always looking for under-appreciated destinations and just had to investigate further.
Beatty was founded in 1905 and was named after Montillus Murray “Old Man” Beatty, a Civil War veteran and miner who had bought a nearby ranch in 1896. His picture is proudly displayed in the casino of the Stagecoach Hotel, where our investigative team stayed the night. The place even has its own in-house Denny’s, the place to eat in Beatty.
The town’s primary reason for existence was to serve the nearby mining boomtown of Rhyolite and other towns in the Bullfrog district. Freight wagons, pulled by horses or mules, initially hauled stuff through Beatty to the nearest railroad in Las Vegas. But, after 1906, the Las Vegas and Tonopah Railroad began regular service to Beatty and by 1907 there were three railroads servicing the town, which became the railhead for many mines in the area. By 1940, though, all three railroads had shut down and the rail lines abandoned. Beatty even had its own newspaper at one time—the Beatty Bullfrog Miner, which went out of business in 1909.
OK, so much for history.
Jay and Tanya did their research and hit three of the town’s main attractions listed on popular travel websites. First, of course, was the Stagecoach Hotel and Casino. This place seems to be the main hub for both visitors and locals and despite the obvious room vacancies, the slightly-cranky front desk clerk/casino cashier was adamant that she would only be available to check us in after 3pm, NO EXCEPTIONS. Ok, then, fine. We’ll just go over to attraction #2, the Beatty Museum.
But attraction #3, the place most people come to Beatty for is…drum roll, please… EDDIE WORLD! Eddie World, opened in 2001, is also known as the Death Valley Nut and Candy Co. is this odd combination of mega-gas station and candy/Subway/ice cream/jerky store sharing the parking lot with the Stagecoach Hotel/Casino/Denny’s.
Beatty may seem like just another small town in rural Nevada, not worth visiting. But after driving hours through the desert it’s a welcome oasis and an interesting glimpse into the history of the American West.
The last place we were able to visit, prior to the coronavirus shutdown, was the Falkland Islands. While some visitors are interested in touring the battle sites of the tragic 1982 war with Argentina, the dynamic duo opted for wildlife encounters.
The Falkland Islands, a small archipelago in the South Atlantic, is home to 3,468 people, most of whom know each other and whose families have been there since the islands were settled by Scottish and Welsh immigrants in 1764. But the islands are also home to about 500,000 sheep and nearly as many penguins, albatross and geese, most of whom presumably also know each other. Sheep, of course, aren’t all that exotic and, as Jay can attest from his teenage years as an amateur sheep-raiser, not all that interesting. So, our two wildlife wanderers opted for the much more attractive black-browed albatross and Magellanic, rockhopper and king penguins.
On our first day, we beached our Zodiac raft on New Island and waded ashore. New Island, 8 miles long and 820 yards wide, is run by a conservation trust and its only human inhabitants are those who conduct research at a field center and a couple of folks who operate a tiny handcraft gift shop by the shore. The highlight of New Island is the rockhopper penguins and black-browed albatross who make their home along the very windy edge of the island.
Our visit came toward the end of summer and the albatross chicks were shedding their fluff and getting ready to try out their wings. Most of them were still sitting on their nests and waiting for their parents to come back with some food. New Island is very windy and sometimes chicks get blown off their nests. The amazing thing with these birds is that if a chick can’t get back up on its nest, the returning parent will not recognize the chick and it will starve. Even with the chick crying out and sitting right next to the nest, if it’s not actually on the nest, the parent will completely ignore the chick. And, no help from the parent getting the chick back on. Talk about tough love.
Our second day on the Falklands took us to Volunteer Point to check out the King and Magellanic penguins. The 2-1/2 hour ride (each way) in a LandRover with our trusty local driver, Sue, was a trip in itself. Much of the Falklands is roadless and it was a thrilling, if somewhat slow, drive across peat fields, bogs and grassland. Seeing the penguins, though, was definitely worth the trip.
You might think only of Las Vegas or Reno when you think of Nevada. And that’s reasonable, since roughly 84% of Nevada’s 3.1 million residents live in those two areas. But there’s a lot more to the state, in terms of history and character, represented by the roughly 500,000 people that live in the rest of the state. The names of some of Nevada’s towns literally scream out, begging for investigation. Names like Ely, Winnemucca, Elko and Mesquite. How about Stagecoach, Jackpot and Virginia City? It’s enough to make your head swim.
So, when our traveling twosome first came to the Silver State, one of the first hot spots (literally) we visited was the Nevada mining town of Tonopah, located approximately midway between Las Vegas and Reno, at the intersection of Highways 95 and 6.
Tonopah’s main reason for existence was the Silver Top and Mizpah mines, now the Tonopah Historic Mining Park. Prospector, Jim Butler, accidentally discovered gold and silver here in 1900 and Tonopah quickly became a wealthy boom town with over 50,000 people. Once known as the “Queen of the Silver Camps”, Tonopah’s fortunes fell once the mines started to play out in 1906 and the town now has a population of about 2,500. There’s still some mining going on however.
Heroic Miner: Big Bill Murphy
But one of the big highlights for us was staying in the historic Mizpah Hotel. When we booked our room on the 5th floor, the top floor, somehow we neglected to do our research. We didn’t even notice that the hotel’s website proclaims in small print: “Voted the #1 Haunted Hotel in America by USA Today”. How could we have missed that? Built in 1907, the Mizpah was the tallest building in Nevada until 1927 and it’s fortunes have risen and fallen and risen again, just as Tonopah’s has.
The big draw for the hotel, which we had failed to notice, is the ghost of the Lady in Red. The legend is that a young prostitute who worked the hotel, was spotted one evening by a jealous ex-lover as she left the room of another client and was then brutally murdered in the 5th floor hallway outside Room 512. Her ghost apparently continues to haunt the hotel, and especially the hallway just outside the door of our 5th floor room.
Before we had even heard about the lady’s ghost, Tanya swears she heard creaking both inside and outside our room during the night. I told her, “Hey, it’s an old hotel, naturally it creaks.” But the two young women working at the front desk the next morning confirmed that not only the Lady in Red haunts the hotel but the ghosts of several others, including those of a pair of young children who run through the 4th floor halls, laughing. Does this sound like “The Shining”? One of the two hotel clerks told us about her boyfriend who was working on the hotel’s restoration in 2011 who felt one of the hotel’s sprits pushing him down on a hotel bed with cold hands and not allowing him to get up. There’s even a photo album in the hotel lobby with some photos taken by guests, showing shadow images of spirits in their pictures. Now, we’re not necessarily believers in ghosts, but one does wonder.
In any case, staying at the Mizpah was a fun experience. And, Tonopah is worth a visit.
Our traveling pair is originally from Oregon. We are, or were, Oregonians. Folks to the north of us are called Washingtonians, to the south, Californians. So far, this makes sense. Similarly, we have Virginians, South Carolinians, Kentuckians and Mississippians. We even have Delawareans, which frankly seems a bit odd. But then we have states whose residents’ identifiers end with “er”: New Yorkers, Vermonters, Marylanders, Mainers. Those name endings sound very logical. But then, Vermontian and Marylandian don’t sound too bad either. But why aren’t any of these folks from states ending with “n” called “ites”? We have Wisconsinites so why not Oregonites or Washingtonites? After all,we have Michiganites. And then we have New Hampshirites. How about Massachusetts? These folks aren’t called Massachusettsians, Massachusettsites or even Massachusettsers. They’re simply called Bay Staters. That’s neat but how would anyone not familiar with that name ever figure out it refers to people from Massachusetts? By the way, there’s a word for a resident of a particular place. It’s called a demonym. But that’s another story.
And then we come to the place our two Nevadans (or Nevadians) visited this summer, Halifax, Nova Scotia. Residents of this Canadian maritime province are called Nova Scotians, so naturally one would assume people from its capital, Halifax, would be called something like Halifaxians. But no, they are….drum roll please…Haligonians! Huh? The town isn’t called Haligonia. How the heck did this nomenclature develop?
After a little searching, I came across a post from the website, sesquiotica.com that attempts to explain this. In a somewhat tortured description, the facts we know are covered first. Halifax was named after George Montague-Dunk, the second Earl of Halifax. Halifax is a town in west Yorkshire. Ok, fine. One explanation is that the name, Halifax, probably came from the Old English, halig feax or “holy hair”, referring to a legend that the head of John the Baptist is buried there. From this, the Latinized version of the name would be “halig” followed by the common suffix “onian” to indicate where someone is from, hence “Haligonian”. It appears no one is sure if this is a correct explanation but it seems as good as any and the people of Halifax are quite content to continue to be called Haligonians.
We even got a personal tour of one of Halifax’s many historic church cemeteries. One of them, the Old Burying Ground, is home to the remains of Major General Robert Ross. During the War of 1812, he commanded the British force that attacked Washington, DC. His troops succeeded in burning both the US Capitol and the White House.
Ross and his troops then attacked Baltimore and, while riding forward to personally direct his men, three young American soldiers shot him and he died soon after. OK, fine. But how did he end up in a Halifax cemetery?
Well, Ross died as he was being transported back to the British fleet. His body was put aboard the HMS Tonnant, where it was preserved in a barrel of 129 gallons of Jamaican rum. This, of course, gives new meaning to the expression, being completely pickled. Anyway, the Tonnant was ordered to sail to New Orleans for the upcoming battle in January 1815. Apparently, the Tonnant decided to transfer the now well-preserved remains of MG Ross to another British ship, HMS Royal Oak, also on its way to New Orleans. But, first the Royal Oak sailed over to Halifax to give the general a proper send off on British-held soil and he was buried in the old cemetery, seven days days after he had died. We assume his remains were removed from the rum barrel before burial but who knows? Another great story from the land of the Haligonians.
It’s often said that travel broadens one’s view of the world and helps us appreciate and make sense of it. Our recent 25-day trip to Alaska in June certainly did that but in ways that we hadn’t anticipated.
The beauty of Alaska’s wilderness and the resiliency and toughness of its residents are immediately evident. We saw amazing wildlife: humpback whales, sea lions, puffins, bald eagles, deer and a bear or two. We hiked. We kayaked through chunks of floating ice as glaciers calved off in front of us. We observed sea otters grabbing a quick snack and then scurry back up the bank to dine amongst the trees.
We chatted with long-time Alaskans who told us the ways their lives have changed since the demise of logging and the decline in salmon runs. The 13,000 residents of Ketchikan view the over 1 million annual cruise ship visitors to their town with mixed feelings. On one hand, they know their infrastructure faces severe stress from this avalanche of selfie-snapping tourists. On the other hand, economically, it’s just about the only game in town anymore.
Glaciers throughout Alaska, with the exception of possibly two, continue to retreat. Mendenhall Glacier, outside Juneau, has receded nearly two miles from when Jay last visited it in 1973. The effects of global climate change — it was 80 degrees F. on one of the days we visited Ketchikan — seem magnified in this “Last Frontier” of America.
We were fortunate on this trip to have several experts with us. A couple of geologists, a marine biologist, a glaciologist and a wildlife naturalist or two who helped explain what we were seeing and gave us some insight into what the future may bring. Our own observation is that the world is very likely in the process of the sixth great mass extinction. No big news there. Of the five previous extinctions, all but one of them was likely due to rapid climate change. In each of the these extinctions 75% to 96% of all species were lost. Our last mass extinction was with the end of the Cretaceous period, 66 million years ago, where 76% of all species were lost. So, from a very long-term perspective, nothing is really new. With our current climate change accelerating, and with the increased rate of species extinction, it seems a logical conclusion that humans will eventually become extinct as well. And, that’s OK. We’ve had a pretty good run. After all, Homo sapiens have been around for 300,000 years and our ancestors for about 6 million so that’s plenty.
I used to estimate that humans probably had another 500 years to go before they became extinct but since our Alaska trip I’ve moved that timeline up a bit. My current estimate for our species demise is in the range of about 200 years. Now, since our personal extinction will happen sometime within the next 30-35 years, Tanya and I have no way of knowing if my predictions are accurate. What it seems like is that we’re in the sweet spot.
We keep reading that humans have about a 10-year window right now to come up with global actions to try to reduce climate change, thus delaying the inevitable. But, how many people really think this is likely? And, how much effect can we really have on global climate patterns? Political and economic self-interest of government leaders will always prevail and it’s hard to see how we have more than five or six generations to go before Homo sapiens are gone. The good news is that the earth will likely survive and regenerate over another several million years. That’s been the pattern and perhaps the next species of intelligent life will do a better job than we have.
As for Jay and Tanya, we’ll just keep trying to stay one step ahead of the tsunami, pursue happiness and try to spread joy to others while we’re here. As in the lyrics of Let the Good Times Roll: “Hey, everybody, let’s have some fun. You only live but once and when you’re dead you’re done.”
Last week Tanya was looking at upcoming events in the area and spotted one that looked like a winner! The Annual Pahrump Valley Vineyards Wine Stomp! “Okay!” Jay blurted, “I’m so there!” We couldn’t imagine how there could possibly be any wine produced in hot, dry Nevada and we had to check it out. So the gruesome twosome hit the road Sunday to the southwest Nevada town of Pahrump, an hour’s drive west of Vegas.
Having just come from living in Europe for the last seven years, we weren’t expecting the same kind of wine experience we had been accustomed to. But we did experience the same sort of socializing and fun that happens anywhere wine is served. Sure, wine is served in plastic cups instead of actual wine glasses and food choices were limited to hot dogs, philly sandwiches and nachos but people seemed to be enjoying themselves. Vendor booths included a psychic reader, which is something we had never seen in Europe. “I see a large bottle of red in your future.” The wine itself wasn’t “grand cru” quality but most of it was drinkable, although a bit overpriced for what it was.
The highlight of course was the grape stomping competition. Teams compete to see how much actual juice they can stomp out of grapes while music blares and the MC and crowd cheer on the stompers and their helpers. Pretty entertaining.
All this grape stomping and cheering was followed by a tour of the Pahrump Valley Winery, a rather sophisticated little operation. From conversations with winery staff, the winery apparently opened in 1990 by a fellow named Jack Sanders. Sanders had high hopes for the operation but soon after his new vines were beginning to produce fruit, a herd of wild horses came thundering down from the nearby Spring Mountain Range and decided they would enjoy the crop. The mustangs destroyed Sanders’ work. He replanted and built a fence around his vineyard but sold the winery in 2002 to the current owners.
Sanders built another winery a few miles away and continues his operation there, the Sanders Family Winery. Our wine-loving duo had to check this place out as well, and the friendly wine-pourer, Julie, made sure we sampled practically all of their offerings.
More conversation with our fellow wine tasters resulted in the recommendation that we drive a little further down the road and visit at least one of the two legal brothels in Pahrump, The Chicken Ranch. We were in town, so why not? Although the signs said “Ladies Welcome” and tours were being offered, we opted out of going inside and only took photos of outside, which actually respectable. For any of our readers who are interested, there are several videos on YouTube that provide a complete tour of the Chicken Ranch and what life is like for the women who work there.
There’s a lot more history to Pahrump, including tales of drugs,murder and buried treasure. But that will have to wait for another post.
Last week, Tanya and Jay, while driving through the Mojave Desert, spotted a road sign announcing the turnoff for the Borax Visitor Center, near lovely Boron, California. “Wow!”, said Jay, “This is terrific! Let’s see what this is all about!”
At the risk of not being boring, how many of you remember the dispensers of Boraxo hand powder in the lavatories in grade school? And does anyone remember Richfield gasoline with Boron, marketed in the 1960s as a cleaner fuel helping unleash your engine’s power? And does anyone remember the longest running radio and television program, “Death Valley Days” (1952-1970) brought to you by 20 Mule Team Borax, and featuring such notable hosts as Dale Robertson, Robert Taylor, and of course, Ronald Reagan (1965-66)? The program also helped launch the careers of actors like Clint Eastwood, Leonard Nimoy and George Takei. Such is Jay’s trivia-filled brain that he remembered a bunch of this, or at least enough to get Tanya to agree to drive down a dusty desert road and visit the home of Borax, located not far from Edwards Air Force Base (remember Chuck Yeagar, the Right Stuff, etc.)?
We were not disappointed. What we found was the Rio Tinto borax mine, a huge open-pit mining operation, employing 800 people, that produces almost 50% of the world’s supply of borates. “Big deal”, you might think. What the heck are borates anyway and why is there this huge open wound in the earth with trucks moving this stuff around?
Well, dear reader, if you remember from your high school chemistry class, boron is the #5 element in the periodic table, just behind hydrogen, helium, lithium and beryllium and just edging out carbon in the #6 position. So, a pretty darn important element. And, as we learned from our tour of the visitor center, borates are used in all sorts of everyday products…Tide, Wisk, Windex, Play-Doh and Miracle-Gro, to name a few, plus hundreds of industrial uses.
The 20 mule teams that were used in the early years of transporting borax out of the now played out Death Valley mine from 1883 to 1889 have been replaced by these monster mining trucks that take the ore down (or up) from the pit to the nearby processing plant. It’s a pretty impressive operation, involving drilling, blasting, and shoveling, all stuff that a lot of guys enjoy, and then hauling the ore out to be crushed, dissolved and further broken down for use. Three million tons of ore come out of this mine every year.
But this fun can’t last forever. The mine will eventually play out by about 2050, so if you happen to be driving through the Mojave some afternoon, stop by before it’s too late.
When Jay was a young man, his idea of how much stuff one should have should be measured by how much you could get into a VW bus. And while he never really met that goal there were times when it was pretty darn close.
Now, as we make our 6th move in 11 years, our material possessions are measured in 216 packages, all fitting into a 20-foot container. Think of it. The product of a lifetime of accumulation of stuff contained in those 216 boxes. Now, one would think that with as many times as we’ve moved we would be accumulating less. And, to a point that’s true. It’s just that as many times as we’ve shed ourselves of worldly goods, they just seem to keep re-generating themselves, like the mythical many-headed Hydra. Not that we’re complaining. It’s what they call a “first-world problem”.
There are so many people around the globe right now who are desperate to get out of wherever they are with simply whatever they can carry with them. That was the case with our grandparents, who left pre-World War I Europe in 1913 to escape from what that disaster would eventually bring. And, our moves have all been by free choice. No one was forcing us out of wherever our home was at the time. There was no fear of being awakened in the night and being loaded onto a train heading east. There were no bombs or chemicals being dropped on us. All our previous neighborhoods were completely intact, not destroyed. So, not only are we incredibly fortunate to be free to move wherever we please, we can take whatever material things we’ve acquired with us.
But the paradox of acquiring stuff is now that, for Jay at least, we’re in the final third of our lives, the final “trimester” so to speak, the stuff becomes less and less important. Sure, we enjoy what we have but if in the coming weeks Container TCLU 765590 falls off the ship into the Atlantic Ocean on its way to the Port of Long Beach it really wouldn’t matter all that much. What’s in that container isn’t nearly as important as what’s in our hearts and heads and as long as we still have those, we’re OK.
Maybe the limit of how much stuff we could get into a VW bus wouldn’t be all that bad after all.
In our April 18th posting, “Thoughts on Travel”, we noted that we had been on the road almost constantly for the last 17 months. We also wrote that we were looking forward to spending the summer in Wiesbaden and looking forward to staying put for awhile. Well, that didn’t work out quite as planned.
After less than two weeks at home, Jay made an unplanned 10-day trip back to the States, then flew back to Wiesbaden. Two weeks later, Tanya joined Jay for a return trip to the US on May 23. After three days, we signed a deal to buy a house in Henderson, Nevada, outside Las Vegas. June was spent exploring Nevada, then back to Wiesbaden to pack up our stuff for the move to Henderson. So much for the relaxing summer staying in one place.
The adventure continues and undoubtedly this travel obsession will not subside. We’ll just be leaving from a different airport. If anything, the need to explore and experience new things, places, tastes and ideas will likely grow.
The recent death of Anthony Bourdain left all of us saddened and confused. But he left some wonderful thoughts that seem particularly appropriate for us:
“If I’m an advocate for anything, it’s to move. As far as you can, as much as you can. Across the ocean, or simply across the river. The extent to which you can walk in someone else’s shoes or at least eat their food, it’s a plus for everybody. Open your mind, get up off the couch. Move.”
“It seems that the more places I see and experience, the bigger I realize the world to be. The more I become aware of, the more I realize how relatively little I know of it, how many places I have still to go, how much more there is to learn. Maybe that’s enlightenment enough – to know that there is no final resting place of the mind, no moment of smug clarity. Perhaps wisdom, at least for me, means realizing how small I am, and unwise, and how far I have yet to go.”
We still have so far to go.