THE INTERNATIONAL CAR FOREST

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In a town noted for its otherworldness, the International Car Forest of the Last Church stands out in Goldfield. Once the biggest town in Nevada, Goldfield is now a place people pass through, although not too quickly. The local police force is noted for its enthusiasm in enforcing the speed limit.

IMG_7006But on the southern edge of town is a place that’s part art installation, part modern graveyard. The International Car Forest was the work of Chad Sorg and Mark Rippie. Rippie owned the 80 acres of land next to Highway 95 and enlisted Sorg (who fell in love with Goldfield and would move there in 2004) in an ambitious project to set the world record for the most upturned cars in an art work, primarily to beat Carhenge in Alliance, Nebraska. Rippie also owned over 40 cars, trucks and buses. Trust me, this is not particularly unusual in Goldfield.

File0475Work began in 2002 and continued over the next decade, using a back hoe and a lot of hard work to ‘plant’ the vehicles. Some were posed nose into the ground, some balanced on the top of others, some poised over mounds of earth. The idea was that the site would be a blank canvas for artists and would inspire graffiti, rather as the better-known Cadillac Ranch ending up doing.

IMG_6982But, unlike that Texas landmark, the International Car Forest seems, for the most part, to have attracted people with some artistic flair. Most of the cars and buses have been painted with designs rather than having names scrawled badly in spray paint. It’s probably the fact that the International Car Forest is in the middle of nowhere – and once you get to nowhere you have to traverse some pretty potholed roads – that has protected it from becoming a eyesore like Cadillac Ranch.

File0469Unsurprisingly, considering that they were two diametrically opposed personalities, Chad Sorg and Mark Rippie’s partnership did not end well. Sorg is an artist who had a vision for the International Car Forest; Rippie just wanted his name on a Guinness World Record. They fell out irrevocably not long before Rippie went to prison for two years for improperly possessing and attempting to purchase firearms. He had been found not guilty of a 1970 armed robbery in Colorado by reason of insanity, something he neglected to tell a dealer in 2010 when purchasing a gun. In 2013 he was arrested at his home in Goldfield where police found with 15 firearms, including two loaded semi-automatic assault-type rifles with extended 30-round clips and a loaded semi-automatic .40 caliber pistol and over 22,000 rounds of ammunition. The court was told Rippie was well-known to law enforcement and others in the Goldfield and Tonopah areas.

File0459Chad Sorg is still an artist and blogger. He has never been found insane. Mark Rippie is out of jail and living in Goldfield where he describes himself as ‘a fat old man with a shit load of guns and ammos’. And quite a few cars that don’t work…

 

 

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BIG RIG JIG

CANON_Canon PowerShot ELPH 180_1255256-1294138_000Last year I was covering the Las Vegas Bike Fest for my magazine when I decided I needed a break from the bling. It was also that I wanted to find essential supplies (water, cigarettes, chocolate – the basic food groups) at a reasonable price and I had spotted a small convenience store outside the show. The trouble was there was a security guard and a large fence between me and said shop.

Apparently, no-one was being allowed out this way. I suspect this may have something to do with the event organisers not wanting their visitors to know that, this far south on Fremont Street, life gets real pretty quickly. On one side of the fencing, countless shiny big bucks motorcycles; on the other side, people pushing shopping carts – and not doing their weekly grocery run – or just hanging out in an unnerving way. But the guard hadn’t reckoned without a cheeky smile, a British accent and a determination not to give in. He opened the gate for me while pretending he wasn’t doing it and that he hadn’t seen me.

Sign, complete with naked climbing man near the top.

I don’t know what I’d expected from this end of Fremont Street – probably because I hadn’t even considered the question – but it certainly wasn’t Big Rig Jig. I spotted the sign for the defunct Ferguson’s Motel first, mainly because it had a sculpture of a naked man climbing up it and that’s not something you see every day, even in Vegas. Well, there’s another nekkid man on the sign of the Travelers Motel just down the street, so that’s not strictly accurate. Anyway, as I got closer to photograph the sign I was distracted by the sight of two massive entwined trucks in the motel’s courtyard. Doesn’t take much to distract me, and this definitely did the trick.

Big Rig Jig was originally constructed in 2007 for the Burning Man festival by Brooklyn-based artist Mike Ross. It was finished in time but not without running over budget. It’s made of two discarded tanker trucks, seemingly dancing, and rises over forty feet in the air. (Apparently there’s a viewing platform at the top.) After Burning Man, it was put into storage in California and then resurrected for street artist Banksy Dismaland exhibition-cum-Dystopian theme park in the UK in 2015. Now it appears to have found a permanent home in Fremont Street (it had only just been erected when I stumbled across it), part of entrepreneur Tony Hseih’s ongoing project to revitalise Fremont Street.

Another naked climbing man.

According to the now offline website for the sculpture, Big Rig Jig used the old trucks in ‘referencing a global oil industry at the nexus of our world’s political, social and environmental systems. By repurposing these symbolically rich objects, the artist conveys his admiration for and anxiety over humanity’s power.”

Ross himself says; “It’s just cool to see trucks in the air.” I prefer that explanation myself.

 

 

 

Big Rig Jig in the courtyard of the Fergusons Motel which is currently scheduled for redevelopment into apartments.

THE TOWN WHERE DINOSAURS LIVED

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Ran when parked.

Dinosaurs and a ghost town in one place? Does it get any better? Welcome to the Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park in the middle of Nevada.

Interior of Berlin’s 1898 30 stamp mill

Like most ghost towns in the west, Berlin owed its life to mining. The first recorded mining activity in the area was in 1863 when a small group of prospectors discovered silver in Union Canyon. A small camp called Union was established, followed by Ione, Grantsville and, in 1897, Berlin. Berlin soon had a population of around 300 people, including the miners, woodcutters and charcoal makers needed to mine the ore and process it in the huge 30 stamp mill, a doctor, a nurse and one prostitute. Yes, one, apparently. That’s what you call a monopoly on the market.

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The interior of one of the surviving cabins.

But, like so many similar places, that heyday was short-lived. However, in the case of Berlin, its decline wasn’t caused by the depletion of ore, but by the workforce itself. In 1907, miners struck for higher wages. The Austin-Nevada Consolidated Mining Company refused to pay and the mine closed in 1909. With no work, people moved away; despite two short-lived resurgences, by 1914, Berlin was a virtual ghost town. You know a town is all over when even the resident lady of the night has moved on.

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Former workshop

The abandoned town might well have disappeared back into the ground had it not been for the discovery of dinosaur bones in the 1920s, or to be precise, the remains of the Ichthyosaur, an ancient marine reptile that swam in a warm ocean that covered central Nevada 225 million years ago. The find was considered of such importance that the University of California spent much of the 1950s conducting archaeological digs in the area which, in 1957, was declared a state park by the state of Nevada. Twenty years later, the reptile would become Nevada’s state fossil too. Some 40 fossilised Ichthyosaurs were found, and you can see several complete, unexcavated fossils in a cliff face around two miles from Berlin. The find was close to Union which, due to time, weather and vandals, no longer exists.

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Home on the range.

Today there are around 13 buildings left in Berlin, maintained in a state of arrested decay by the park rangers, as well as some awesome views over what was once a vast sea.

 

 

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Looking out over the sea.

A LITTLE PLACE IN THE DESERT

Collapsing mine processing building.

A ghost town in Nye County, Bonnie Claire is now little more than haphazard timbers clinging together in the semblance of buildings and old mine workings.

It didn’t seem wiser to get any closer to what seemed like quite a deep shaft.

North of what is now Nevada State Route 267, Bonnie Claire began in 1906 as a tiny settlement, originally to service nearby mines (although there had been a camp, Thorp or Thorp’s Wells, out here since the 1880s) with mills owned by the Bonnie Clare Bullfrog Mining Company. In September of that year, the Bullfrog-Goldfield Railroad was extended and the new station was named the Montana Station. However, when the townsite was established, it was known as Bonnie Claire. The Tonopah and Tidewater Railroad soon also laid lines to the new town.

The Bonnie Claire Mine, now private property and fenced off.

Within eight years, mining was virtually played out in the area and Bonnie Claire might have disappeared at that point, But, when Albert Mussey decided to build a holiday home in Death Valley, Bonnie Claire had a brief resurgence. For three years from 1925 to 1928, all the construction materials for Scotty’s Castle were delivered to Bonnie Claire station. However, when that project ground to a halt in 1928, the railroad closed, the tracks removed in 1931, the post office closed, and Bonnie Claire’s fate was sealed. There was a small flurry of activity during the 1940s and early ’50s, but since then the town has gradually fallen apart.

 

 

 

The Huson House, with an extension in the form of a vintage trailer.

One of the last official residents of Bonnie Claire was A Victor Huson, a local miner, who lived here in the 1950s with his wife, Mellie. Vic Huson died in 1961 and is buried in nearby Beatty. In complete contrast to Bonnie Claire, Mellie saw her years out in Las Vegas, living to the age of 92.

 

 

Rapidly deteriorating mine building; six years ago this still had the roof framework.

That speaker probably doesn’t date back to the 1940s…

Interior of one of the mine buildings.

The Huson House.

 

THE GOLDEN DAYS OF THE TECHATTICUP MINE

All aboard for the Techatticup mine!

Long before neon lit up the sky of Las Vegas, people came to Nevada to seek their fortune. And, in the south of the state, many believed they would find that elusive goal in Eldorado Canyon.

The Spaniards first struck lucky in this area, 25 miles from modern Las Vegas, in 1775. But, despite naming it Eldorado, they found only silver on the banks of the Colorado and quickly decided that it wasn’t productive enough. It would be three-quarters of a century before they were proved wrong when Eldorado Canyon saw one of the first major gold strikes in Nevada. In fact, not only among the first but the most lucrative – over the next 87 years the canyon would reveal millions of dollars worth of gold, thanks to the Techatticup, Wall Street and Queen City mines which, in 1872 alone, produced $25.2 million of gold and silver. Montana, another gold boom state, in contrast produced a mere $4.4 million in the same year.

One of the original mine buildings.

The Techatticup was based on the Salvage Vein, a rich vein of gold which ran along one side of the canyon. It was only wealth for a few – the very name of the mine is derived from the Paiute Indian words for ‘hungry’ and ‘bread’. For the first few years, the original miners managed to keep the strike a secret but a gold rush started in 1861, leading not only to the establishment of mining camps but also a reputation for Eldorado Canyon that surpassed the likes of Tombstone in Wild West lawlessness. As well as miners, the region attracted Civil War deserters who believed – rightly, in the main – that the military authorities wouldn’t look for them in such an isolated spot. Although it was served by the Colorado River, Eldorado Canyon was a long way from anywhere. In its early years, the nearest sheriff was 200 miles away and that led to a community rife with crime and murder. Frequently, those involved did literally get away with murder. The Techatticup Mine itself was often a violent workplace, riven with disputes over claims, ownership and labour disputes. Law enforcement refused to even enter the area, and finally, as steamboat traffic increased on the river, a military post was founded in Eldorado Canyon in 1867. In the 1880s, more people lived and worked in Eldorado Canyon than in the entire Las Vegas valley.

Nelson’s Landing in 1950.

Eldorado itself was eventually replaced by Nelson, a tiny community which still exists as a few houses, and which was named for Charles Nelson. He himself met a gruesome end, killed in 1897 by the renegade Indian, Avote, although Avote’s death toll was far surpassed by another Indian, Queho who we’ll come to in a future post. Five miles east of Nelson, Nelson’s Landing was established on the river, and became one of the business ports on the river during the 1920s. It was washed away in a flash flood in 1974 which swept down the canyon, taking with it nine lives as well as the wharf and buildings.

Nelson’s Landing, the devastation after the 1974 flood.

Mining ceased at the Techatticup in 1945, making it not only one of the most profitable but the longest-lived mines in Nevada. (There is indeed still gold in them thar hills, but it would now cost more than it’s worth to extract it.) The mining camp stood empty for almost half a century until it was bought by the Werly family in 1994. Since then, Tony and Bobbie Werly, with the help of their sons and family, have been resurrecting the camp, restoring to their original places a number of buildings, including some from the Wall Street Mine, and giving tours of parts of the mine. Now many visitors who head off of US-95 are armed not with pickaxes but cameras, as the Techatticup has become a popular destination not only for tourists, but for commercial photographers and filmmakers (across from the main building which houses an eclectic collection of historical, well, stuff, is a fake crashed plane from the Kevin Costner film, 3000 Miles To Graceland.)

A film prop left over from 3000 Miles From Graceland, starring Kurt Russell and Kevin Costner.

Over the years, the Werlys have added not just buildings and artefacts, but a collection of old vehicles, from an old Model T water truck to RVs and even a caravan. In the buildings is a treasure trove of signs and items but if you’re wondering why the likes of American Pickers haven’t been here, it’s because they asked and the Werlys said no. This is, they say, history, not Disneyland. The Techatticup Mine is in safe hands.

One of the mine buildings full of stuff. This will be the outboard motor section.

An original mine tank, saved by the Werly family.

No fancy food options, soda and chips are about all that’s available here.

They like trucks at the Techatticup Mine. Good, I like trucks, too.

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THE FACTORY THAT NEVER WAS

 

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Just south of Beatty,  Nevada, is the Elizalde Cement Factory which was built by the Carrara Portland Cement Company at the beginning of the 1940s.

11337060_885679411499894_6439798320751203696_oAt the time, it was supposed to be one of the most advanced plants of its kind in the USA with houses for the workers. It would produce commercial grey cement and also a fancy high quality cement made from the crushed marble and clay from the nearby Carrara quarry.

However, the factory never went into operation. The popular notion is that it provided to be too costly and logistically difficult to move the cement. 11289489_885679418166560_1426846276698904044_o

Whether that’s true or not, just a month before production was due to start in July 1941, a fire completely destroyed the machine shop, storehouse, blacksmith shop and an office. A few weeks later, the Carrara Portland Cement Company at Carrara closed down, apparently unable to find parts to replace those lost in the fire. 10988513_885679408166561_8010437174527010206_oThe company, however, announced its intention to continue, and then Pearl Harbor happened. Fuel rationing the following spring made it impossible for the company to transport its goods, even if it had been able to get the plant back up and running. It was abandoned, although some of the machine11139355_885679398166562_463181637644374783_nry remained for several years.

SOUTH OF DEVILS GATE

Silver City, Nevada, was established in 1850 and had an exciting first few years. In the Paiute War of May 1860, the townspeople constructed a wooden cannon for protection, while one of the first stamp mills in Nevada was built later that year. No, before you ask, I have no clue how a wooden cannon is constructed but I suspect that, for the good of not only the Paiute but the folks operating it, it was never used.

By 1861, it had a population of around 1200, with accompanying saloons, hotels and boarding houses, as well as stabling for those travelling between the Comstock Lode mines of Virginia City and processing mills. Devils Gate, however, was a frequent haunt of highwaymen. Devils Gate, to the north of Silver City, was a toll road (now the US-342) which shortened the journey to Gold Hill and Virginia City and cut out the winding Occidental Grade of what is now US-341. Unfortunately, the 342 was closed for roadwork while I was there, meaning I had to take the long twisty route to Gold Hill. Twice, actually, because I got lost. It’s not the sort of road you really want to do twice if you don’t have to…

Silver City managed to thrive until the completion of the Virginia & Truckee Railroad in 1869 after which the population quickly moved away. Now about 100 or so people live there, most of whom probably knew I was there. It is a little bit The Hills Have Eyes. Apparently, the cemetery is worth a visit, but it appeared to be on the other side of the road closure.