Travels in the American Southwest

Smoky Valley and Hot Springs

Up early this Labor Day and rather than rushing, I enjoyed a leisurely breakfast watching the wildlife come alive. Saw a couple of lizards sluggishly sunning themselves under the eye of a Nevada Bluejay who would look at the lizards, my breakfast, the lizards...I ate quickly. Toured Hickison State Park, home to a number of petroglyphs. A brochure and interpretive trail provides detail needed to see some of the faint 'glyphs. These 'glyphs are markedly different from those seen at Valley of Fire. While V of F has pictures scratched into the stone, many of these 'glyphs are holes pecked into the rock. Perhaps it was a numbering system, but it formed no decernable design so we'll never know.

Loaded the van and headed back to Austin. Gassed up (at $2/gal) and toured the town of 400 residents, a fraction of the heyday population. Many buildings remain including three large churches, the Masons/Oddfellow's Lodge, old court house and Gridley's Store. (My web site will go into much greater detail about Austin, including the Sazerac Liar's Club and how a shop-keeper parlayed a lost bet into $275,000 for charity.) Austin is a lucky community in that it's history was chronicled by the Reese Reveille, columns which were printed in a book and therefore spared the fate which befell most members of the Fourth Estate.

Headed east from Austin back to SR376. A mile south of the intersection is a well graded gravel road. Spencer's Hot Springs was down this road according to a local I'd met the previous evening at Hickison. Sure enough, six miles down on the left, surrounded by green astroturf to keep mud from being tracked into the tub. The tub was one of those eight foot diameter water holders usually used by cattle. This one had a plastic pipe resting on the tub's rim, dribbling 192 degree water half into - half out of the tub. A couple of campers were parked about a quarter mile away so out of deference, I donned my swim suit, grabbed the soap and lathered up, taking care to rinse all the soap off using a plastic container left for that purpose before entering the water. I felt the water wear away aches I hadn't realized I'd had. My fingers wrinkled. Who cares? It felt great. Finally hopped out, shaved and felt cleaner than I had since beginning my travels.

Wanted to see Toquima Cave, a site of pictographs which are painted on to rock as opposed to petroglyphs which are pecked or scratched into the rock surface. Had I continued south on the gravel road for another ten miles, would have come to the cave but after two flats, I didn't want to tempt fate by being too far away from a paved road! Returned to SR361 heading south through the Smoky Valley. Naturally occurring hydrocarbons released into the air give the valley a haze, quite similar to the Smokey Mountains in the Appalachian range in the east.

NOTE: THE FOLLOWING LOCATION HAS RECEIVED THE FIRST AND ONLY CMDRMARK "AVOID AT ALL COSTS" DESIGNATION EVER GIVEN. I wanted to try to find Darrough's Hot Springs, an establishment mentioned in the "1930's WPA Guide to Nevada". Well after traveling down a rutted path, I found it. A house which was sand-blasted by decades of desert wind. Cardboard replaced glass in many of the windows and cornerstone read 1863. I followed the path around the house and there it was. A small bath house beside a geyser spewing boiling hot water three feet high. An attendant came over to the car. I smiled and with a hello explained that I'd been following an old book to find the springs and was pleased to see they were still around. The man asked where I was from and on hearing the answer said, "Lots of socialists there". (Was that dueling banjos I heard in the background?) I asked if I might take a couple of pictures of the springs and concrete pool. "They gonna be in a book?" he asked. "We've had trouble with people writing books. They all tell lies about us." I assured him that the pictures would never appear in a book. "We run a nice place here. If three girls and three guys wanted to use the spring (at $1/hr!), we wouldn't let'm in." He then launched on a tirade covering illegal immigrants ("55,000 in Las Vegas since January"), Blacks ("They're always voting democratic"), Clinton ("Fifteen years ago Nevada was 85% federal land. now thanks to the Antiquities Act of 1906 and that draft-dodger it's 91%"), gypsies ("They steal babies you know..."), Jews ("They own all the media, you know"). I felt like Alice after falling through the Looking Glass! "All the founding father's were freemasons", fingers drumming on his massive Masonic belt buckle. If I got the secret sign, I was unable (and unwilling) to return it. After asking who I was going to vote for (I stifled the urge to blurt PAT BUCHANAN instead replying that both had problems. He gave me a look and told me to park the car, take pictures only of the spring, no pictures of the house, don't go into the backyard, don't take pictures of the backyard (you get the idea!). He went into the house and I started snapping away. Springs and pool only! An old crone emerged from the house, makeup caked to her wizened face. "You done yet?" "Yes ma'am. Are you a descendant of the Darrough's?" "What do you want to know for? We don't tell people our business around here! People tell lies about us." I was looking for her broom as I edged towards the van. If I'm ever back on SR376, I'll sure be giving the place and its occupants a wide berth. (Cue Flashbacks of movie "Deliverance"!) Again, DARROUGH'S HOT SPRINGS HAS RECEIVED THE FIRST AND ONLY CMDRMARK "AVOID AT ALL COSTS" DESIGNATION EVER GIVEN.

A few miles further south is Round Mountain, an active goldmine. Tailings and debris line the east side of the highway for miles. It can't be missed.

A bit further south is SR377 providing access to Manhattan. Stopped and took photos of buildings long abandoned. This town is still inhabited and I stopped by the Miner's Saloon. As I walked through the door, the half dozen locals at the bar fell silent. "You must be lost and looking for directions," drawled the bartender. "Nope, this is Manhattan, Nevada. Known for its silver and one of the many double boom and bust towns in the late 1880's and again in the early 1900's. I'm looking for a cold beer." The conversation resumed as Jim the bartender asked me how I knew about Manhattan. I explained about my WPA book which he took great interest in. "Do you have it with you?" "No, but I have some photocopied pages if you want to get a flavor for it." I replied. He was fascinated and asked if I'd send my copy out so they could photocopy the parts he needed. "I give you my word that I'll return it." "That's good enough for me," I replied, shaking on the deal. (I sent Jim a new copy of the book asking him to donate it to the Manhattan library when he and his friends were done with it. I'm sure the local library could use all the books they could get.)

Headed east on a well graded dirt road, up and over mountain passes on my way to Belmont. This town is only open on weekends and features Dick's Saloon and Bed and Breakfast. I was really wishing they'd be open for Labor Day but no such luck. Lots of old abandoned buildings in Belmont as well as a few residents. The Belmont Courthouse, another former county seat for Nye County, built with local brick and white stone is now on the National Historic Register's list. It is sealed to prevent vandalism. Leaving Belmont behind me, I headed south eventually rejoining SR376 a few miles north of US6. Was going to spend the night at a camping site known as Saulsbury Wash but upon arriving discovered that it was a rest area, not really suitable for spending the night. I saw a large cottonwood tree a mile or so off the road. Figuring that such a spot would make a dandy camp, I slowly weaved my way down. I came around the corner to be greeted by three large dogs chained to the tree, bowls of water and dog houses within their leash range. "Hmmm, maybe I'll just back out of here and hightail it to the RV camp in Tonopah." Forty minutes later, I pulled into the camp knowing that this would be my last night on the road. Poked around Tonopah, had dinner, lost some money at the VP machines then called it a night.

Tomorrow will include a couple final ghosttowns, ET Highway, the supersecret Area-51 and finally Las Vegas (with of course other stops along the way!).

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