Silver ore bucket tramway
Looking up Main Street
The opera house, restored, and movie theater, waiting
Looking up Main Street
Antiques are everywhere
Lots of whimsy in this town
Million Dollar Courthouse
Short walk from the courthouse to
Front door to the jailhouse
The court library was used until
1972. It contains all of Nevada's
law books through that year.
Cathedral Caves - very narrow and
The sky is way up there
View through the top of the caves
Spires near Cathedral Caves
This land suggests another world
Cathedral Gorge - reminiscent of Utah's red rocks
A little bit of desert heaven on earth
The park service makes this an
easy hike with handy stairways
Not too far to climb out...
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
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
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
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
Heading in the opposite
direction on a different day,
we discovered Cathedral
Gorge, a sandstone
With a haunting otherworldliness
reminiscent of the many canyons we
loved in Utah, Cathedral Gorge offers
spires, slotted "caves" and
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
As we clambered
over the smaller
spires and perched
valley, we found
refrain: "What a
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.