Most of us don't imagine snow in the desert, but that's what we experienced traveling from Southern California to Caliente, Nevada. Caliente is roughly 150 miles northeast of Las Vegas on Highway 93 and is home to 1200 people. At approximately 4000 feet above sea level, it gets cold and has strong winds. During the summer, it can be warm, but that's not why it's named Caliente (Spanish for "hot" or "very warm"). It's named for the hot springs running under the town, something that made it a popular place for miners in the early days. Excursions to this old Nevada town are educational, fun, and sometimes cold; be prepared for inclement weather. We recommend you visit in a vehicle with high ground clearance. Our two-wheel-drive Cadillac SRX was fine, as the agenda didn't feature any extreme trailblazing.
Caliente, like many mining towns in the state, was settled in the mid-1800s. While most of those towns were founded on silver, Caliente was based on the railroad. Today, the Union Pacific station still stands prominently in the center of the town, which now houses the town hall and a library. The historic station was built in the early 1920s, replacing a large building that burned to the ground several years earlier.
Further north on 93 sits the town of Pioche. Like Caliente, Pioche gives a glimpse into life of the cowboys and miners and the lawmen who kept the peace. Many of the original buildings still stand on opposite sides of Main Street, and high overhead, hanging by cables, drift the buckets used by miners to haul silver and ore out of the mountainside. The paths the cables took into the sides of the hills are still visible.
The streets of Pioche zig-zag above each other, climbing their way up the hill. The old courthouse is now a museum complete with an original jail cell carved into the mountain rock behind the building.
Following one of the dirt trails in our SRX, we saw a few air vents protruding through the ground, indicating a mineshaft below. Yellow signs warn of the dangers of entering mines--an adventure really not worth the risk. The old wooden buildings still stand as they did a hundred years ago, frozen in time as a result of company bankruptcy, lack of silver finds, and dwindling interest in the business of mining.
Back on 93, we briefly stopped at Cathedral Gorge State Park. Similar to a miniature Grand Canyon, Cathedral Gorge is worth exploring, if you have the time. With the mysteries of the Gorge behind us, we continued south, jutting west on 375. We arrived in Rachel, a small town with a few mobile homes and a famous restaurant/bar/motel known as Little A'Le'Inn. Named for its proximity to the famed Area 51 test site, the Little A'Le'Inn is a great spot for a rest, food, and a trip into Weirdsville. Mysterious images of flying saucers and experimental military planes and tons of souvenirs litter its walls and shelves.
Care should be taken traveling the 375 as it's open-range territory--the cows are free to wander onto the highway.
A trip through Lincoln County, Nevada, proves that the ghosts of the Old West are still alive and kicking.
From Las Vegas: Take Interstate 15 north to Highway 93. Exit Spring Street.
The information presented in this column is, to the best of our knowledge, correct and accurate at the time of publication. However, because of our lengthy lead time, we recommend you call the proper authorities or local experts for confirmation before visiting.
Mud or snow on your windshield give you chills? Four-wheeling your weekends away? Got a good story to tell about it? Send us all the gear-popping, seatbelt-tightening, dust-kicking details in 500 words or less, along with your best photos (color slides, preferably), and we'll pay $300. Send to Truck Trend, c/o "On the Road," 6420 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90048. We'll publish your adventures.