Mining for tourists in Tonopah.

Caliente, NV

Caliente, NV

A billboard in Tonopah, Nevada said “McDonald’s just ahead in Hawthorne.” It says more about Tonopah than it does about the restaurant — “just ahead” Hawthorne is 104 miles away.

We were in Tonopah because  Alie wanted to drive up through the center of Nevada.  Tonopah had one asset that made it our destination for the day.  Our GPS (sat-nav to our U.K. friends) said Tonopah had a motel.  When a fast food restaurant 104 miles away is considered “just ahead,”  it is important to know there is a place to rest your head.

Road to Tonopah

Road to Tonopah

On our way to Tonopah, we passed through Caliente, once a railroad center whose lovely station is now used for city offices.  I was intrigued by a sign saying there had been a dispute between Harriman and Clark, two land owners, over which would get the railroad right-of-way.  The sign said Harriman put a single grade through his pastures “with the aid of a double-barreled shotgun.”

Settling into our motel in Tonopah, we noticed a large sign on the hill behind us: “Tonopah Mining Park.”  Of course, we had to go see what it was all about.



There was a gold strike south of present day Tonopah around 1900, and Belle sent her rancher husband Jim Butler down to see what he could find.  Legend has it that on his way, Jim camped out for the night and his burro wandered off.  Finding the beast, he picked up a rock to throw at it, but the rock was unusually heavy.  Jim had stumbled upon a gold and silver vein that became the richest silver strike in Nevada second only to the Comstock Lode.

Jim and Belle set up the Mizpah mine and staked 8 claims to other areas as well.  Unable to mine it all themselves, they leased their claims by the square yard to others for a twenty-five percent share.  They  agreed to every lease just on the basis of a hand-shake.  In the following year, lessees took out four million dollars worth of ore.

Belle Butler's Mizpah Mine and Hoist House

Belle Butler’s Mizpah Mine and Hoist House

Big money, however, was needed to properly exploit the find.  The Butlers sold out to a Philadelphia-based investor effective January 1, 1902 for $336,000.  But to be fair, they told the lessees they could have all they could bring out the day before the new owners took over.  Rifle shots were fired at midnight December 31.  The appreciative lessees threw the Butlers a farewell party the next night and gave Belle a diamond brooch.

In today’s dollars, about 1.2 billion in silver was removed from the mines.  As with many such ventures, however, the mines quickly played out, and the population dropped in half by 1920.  Today, the nearby Tonopah Test Range, a restricted military test site which includes famous/infamous Area 51, is the main source of employment.  But Tonopah is about half way between Las Vegas and Reno.  It is also on the route for many retired “snowbirds” driving between Oregon and Washington and Arizona.  As a result, locals are working to pick up some tourist income as well as to preserve history.

The Tonopah Mining Park sits on over one hundred acres, portions of the original four mining properties.  There is a visitors center with a nice little museum and film about the history of the area.  One can walk down a mine tunnel which intersects with one of the original tunnels and look down a 500 foot-deep shaft.  Some original buildings have been restored, and one can take a self-guided tour.  A huge “glory hole” was formed in 1922 when several stopes collapsed.  The mine was still in operation, but it was night, and fortunately no one was hurt.

Give yourself time to wander.  We were only a few miles from Zion and Bryce National Parks when we set out in the opposite direction for Tonopah.  Certainly you should visit those magnificent national treasures, and you should probably do it first.  But it is so much fun to find a Tonopah Mining Park!

Click on photos to enlarge.

Visit for hours and fees.


About ralietravels

Ray and Alie (Ralie) are a retired couple who love to travel. Even during our working years, we squeezed a trip in whenever we could, often when we had to stretch the budget to do so. We have been fortunate to vacation in all 50 states, all the provinces of Canada and one territory and a little more than 50 countries. We like to drive, but we particularly love to travel back roads to find unusual sights, people, and experiences.
This entry was posted in Travel Logs and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Mining for tourists in Tonopah.

  1. Jane Randlett says:

    I love reading your travel adventures. You make it so clear that I feel like I’m there too. Stay well. Travel through Lynchburg again sometime. Would love to see you.


  2. Tonopah is one of my regular stops when wandering between Reno and Las Vegas. Did you roll the dice for your room and say hi to the large bear? Or did you stay elsewhere? –Curt

    Liked by 1 person

I am interested in your thoughts.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.