Pioche & Cathedral Gorge, NV – The Wild West

RV blog post - We had a blast in Pioche, Nevada, the

Silver ore bucket tramway

Silver ore bucket tramway Pioche Nevada Minter's shack Pioche Nevada

Miner's shack

Main Street Pioche Nevada

Looking up Main Street

Opera House at Pioche Nevada

The opera house, restored, and movie theater, waiting

Main Street in Pioche Nevada

Looking up Main Street

Antiques from the mining days Pioche Nevada

Antiques are everywhere

Old western storefront in Pioche Nevada

Lots of whimsy in this town

Main Street in Pioche Nevada Overland Hotel in Pioche Nevada

Overland Hotel

Million Dollar Courthouse in Pioche Nevada

Million Dollar Courthouse

Million Dollar Courhouse and jailhouse in Pioche Nevada

Short walk from the courthouse to

the jailhouse

Million Dollar Courhouse and jailhouse in Pioche Nevada

Front door to the jailhouse

Million Dollar Courhouse and jailhouse in Pioche Nevada

Jail cells

Million Dollar Courhouse library in Pioche Nevada

The court library was used until

1972.  It contains all of Nevada's

law books through that year.

Cathedral Gorge State Park outside Pioche Nevada

Cathedral Gorge

Cathedral Caves in Cathedral Gorge State Park outside Pioche Nevada

Cathedral Caves - very narrow and

chilly inside

Cathedral Caves in Cathedral Gorge State Park outside Pioche Nevada

The sky is way up there

Cathedral Caves in Cathedral Gorge State Park outside Pioche Nevada

View through the top of the caves

Sandstone spires in Cathedral Gorge State Park outside Pioche Nevada

Spires near Cathedral Caves

Sandstone spires in Cathedral Gorge State Park outside Pioche Nevada

This land suggests another world

Cathedral Gorge State Park outside Pioche Nevada

Cathedral Gorge - reminiscent of Utah's red rocks

Cathedral Gorge State Park outside Pioche Nevada

A little bit of desert heaven on earth

Cathedral Gorge State Park outside Pioche Nevada

The park service makes this an

easy hike with handy stairways

Cathedral Gorge State Park outside Pioche Nevada

Not too far to climb out...

Pioche, Nevada

September 11-18, 2008 - We finally pried ourselves away from Parowan and Cedar City, Utah, and

their delightful fall fairs, and made our way over the border into Nevada.  We stopped at the mining

town of Pioche, and liked it so much we stayed for a week.  As we pulled into town, the first thing we

noticed was the unusual tramway that ran from the hills down towards the valley.  We followed the tram

line through this crazy, steep hillside town to its origination point, and a fellow painting a house nearby

told us some of its history.  It had been used for hauling silver ore from the mine to the processing area

until 103 years ago when the mine shut down.

His great-grandfather had been a miner, and

he said that if we wanted to hear more stories

about the town and his ancestors we could

find him every afternoon at the saloon on

Main Street!

The streets of Pioche are a living history.  A

placard describing the brutality of the mining life was hung outside an

original miner's shack, and we cautiously opened the door to find the

interior just as a miner would have left it, complete with table, utensils,

stove, trunk and bed.  Dusty, cramped and shabby, the 9'x9' room was

the real deal.  There are ruins of miner's shacks like this in several places

in town, some still standing and others toppled over by time.

Further up the street we

found the Opera House,

restored, and next to it the

old movie theater, not

restored.  Silver was first

discovered in Pioche in

1864, and the town

peaked in production,

population and reputation

in 1872.  Although $60

million in ore has been

mined over the years,

Pioche has just 700 residents today,

compared to 10,000 when it

boomed in the 1870's.

You can get a good workout just

walking up and down Main Street.

It is very steep and the town sits at

6,000 feet elevation.  Each side of

the street is lined with shops, and later, as I glanced at a photo from the

1950's, it was clear little had changed, except perhaps the names of the

stores.  There is a lot of pride and a bit of whimsy in this town, and the

old ore buckets and mini rail-cars are put to good use all over town as

planters and roof decorations.

We stopped in at the History

Museum where curator Jane

Humphrey told us endless tales.

During the wild 1870's, when everyone was staking

claims, many claims overlapped due to poor

surveys and minimal legal authority.  Often, strikes

were claimed by running to the courthouse faster

than the next guy.  The town was reputed to be the

wildest of all wild west towns.  75 men died from

gunshot wounds before the first resident died of

natural causes, and most of those men are buried

in Boot Hill Cemetery, so named because they

were buried with their boots on.

As long as you killed in self-defense, it wasn't

murder, and you weren't charged.  One man was

shot after slapping another man on the face, and

one was shot following a dispute over a dog.

Neither killer was charged with murder.  The long

arm of the law couldn't reach Pioche; it was too

remote.

Profits and greed were the motivator of the day.

Only when a 4-year-old was killed by stray gunfire in 1873, an event that followed on the

heels of a scathing New York Times article describing Pioche's wild side in 1872, did the

town begin to check its lawless ways.

We ran into Jane again at the

Million Dollar Courthouse and

heard more wonderful stories

about the town.  Construction of

the courthouse in 1872 cost just

$26,400, but corrupt government

officials pocketed much of the

first round of bond money and

allowed construction to run more

than three times over budget.

By 1937 when all the compounded interest and principal of the

subsequent bonds were finally paid off (an act that involved two counties

and a major settlement with the bondholders), the building had cost just

under a million dollars.  Unfortunately, by that time the building had been

condemned for four years!

Jane's personal tales were equally fascinating.  One neighbor of hers was excavating her backyard to build an addition and found

not just ancient tunnels connecting to other buildings but many bottles of opium lining those tunnels as well.  Another friend did

some extensive plumbing repairs to her house and found 19 coffee cans stuffed with silver and gold coins.  Jane routinely sends

her grandkids out into the hills to "find stuff," and most recently they returned with an exquisite silver ladle.  Many of these items are

on display in the History museum.

Pioche is an absolute gem of a town, but it is still far from the long arm of

modern civilization.  In 1994 Pioche tried to get PBS to bring Antiques

Road Show to town, but was turned down because it is too remote.

However, the illusionist Chris Angel did come to town with a full entourage

of TV people.  After studying the historic jail for 5 days, he was locked

behind the two-foot thick walls.  As the cameras rolled, he pulled off his

escape.

The jail was conveniently located next to the courtroom, and in its day only

3 men escaped.  After 9 days of intense rain, these men were able to dig

along the foundation from the inside, using picks they had fashioned from

eating utensils.  Upon emerging in the courtyard next to the jail, their

commotion raised the suspicions of the sheriff, who was doing his

personal business in the outhouse just steps away.  He burst open the

door and arrested them on the spot -- with his pants around his knees.

The jail once housed 66 people -- for one night in the 1970's when a huge

New Year's Eve party got out of control.  The jail was the only place that

could house all the rabble rousers!

A lifelong town resident told Jane his father had used

the jail once as well -- to discipline his own son.  This

man, now 89, vividly remembered disobeying his father

and avoiding his chores when he was 9, and

consequently being locked in the jail for one night (as

his father and the sheriff cooperated to teach him a

lesson).  The boy started crawling through the rafters in

the dark and came across a human skull.  He leapt to

the floor in terror and sat bolt upright in the wooden

chair til morning.  Needless to say, he never disobeyed

his father again.

Our heads spinning with these tales,

we sought a change of pace, and

ventured out of town on our bikes a

few afternoons to visit the beautiful

state parks nearby.  After a 10 mile

spin through open desert brush one

day, we came to Echo Canyon, a cool

reservoir oasis with steep, echoing

canyon walls

Heading in the opposite

direction on a different day,

we discovered Cathedral

Gorge, a sandstone

treasure.

With a haunting otherworldliness

reminiscent of the many canyons we

loved in Utah, Cathedral Gorge offers

spires, slotted "caves" and

breathtaking moonscapes.

The day was hot, and the unrelenting sandstone and

desert vistas left us parched.  But as we stepped into

the slots that enter the Cathedral Caves, we found the

air crisp and refreshing and the stone cool to the touch.

Shimmying between the slots we

looked up to catch brief peeks at the sky

high overhead.

As we clambered

over the smaller

spires and perched

on outcroppings

overlooking the

valley, we found

ourselves uttering

that now-so-familiar

refrain:  "What a

cool area!"

We had an appointment ahead of us, however:  Interbike, the annual bicycle

industry trade show in Las Vegas.  So our days in Pioche drew to a close and

we made our way first to Vegas and then on to San Diego for some fun in the

surf and sun.