If you’re traveling through the vast, boring — I mean unspoiled — desert of Nevada and you need somewhere to stop, Tonopah is an oasis amongst tumbleweeds. Actually it’s not, it’s a slightly larger spec of a town between the last spec of a town and the next spec of a town on a very long, boring road, but it does have a little historic silver mine complete with a pigeon infested chasm and also a clown motel. That’s right I said “Clown. Motel.”
You don’t have to actually stay at the Clown Motel because there is a perfectly good Best Western right down the street, but you kind of do have to at least stop by and check out the lobby because you’re in Tonopah so why the hell wouldn’t you.
The guy manning the lobby at the Clown Motel told us that the place is so scary, people often pack up and leave in the middle of the night. He also said that the men usually blame the early departure on their wives, which my 15-year-old thought was especially funny. Anyway, I took this picture and texted it to my teenage son, who got mad at me for making him drop his phone.
Tonopah is mostly famous for the big silver mine that was active there from 1900 to 1948. Who am I kidding, Tonopah isn’t really famous for anything, but the silver mine is still there and so is the old cemetery where most of the miners ended up. The cemetery is actually pretty historically interesting and worth a visit by itself — it has lots of odd headstones, many made from wood. On some of them, the names and dates were stamped by hand onto metal plates.
A lot of the people buried in the old cemetery were miners who died in a disastrous 1911 mine fire; others died from the “Tonopah plague,” a mysterious disease that began with chest pain and ended with death, usually within a few hours. Even today, no one is really sure what caused the disease but autopsies supposedly revealed that the victims had hard, black livers, so whatever it was it was probably a pretty good reason to not live in Tonopah anymore.
The cemetery is right next door to the Clown Motel, so as a bonus you can say you were there to visit the cemetery and the Clown Motel was just like a thing you thought you’d do afterward, you know, to kill time.
The nearby Tonopah Historic Mining Park is worth the couple of bucks they charge to let you wander around the grounds. A metal walkway takes you over the 500 foot deep crack in the ground that was once an active silver mine, which is a pretty cool experience. They don’t warn you about the pigeons, though, so when one surprises you by flying right into your face be prepared to see your life flash in front of your eyes.
If you want to hear pigeons being creepy in a 500-foot chasm, here you go:
Anyway, two out of my three readers followed me because I promised to talk about California, so next week we’re back in the golden state. Well, we might go to Virginia City once or twice, but the long road trip is over.