National Geographic : 1946 Jan
Nevada, Desert Treasure House "We had perhaps 150 miles of tunnels within its three-quarter-mile-wide and three mile-long workings," a Tonopah mine mana ger told me. "Ore often moved downhill to the mill at the rate of 2,000 tons a day. "An interesting note on the mill is that, when the sludge piles widened on the plain, the cyanide water seeped back into the mine wells. Faucets became silver-plated. When the mill was torn down, the water pipes were scaled and yielded $23,000 in silver!" Since 1930 the mines have operated on a limited scale by lease, each individual miner getting a small plot along the vein. Some dig gings are very lucrative. Not long ago one leaser sent out three carloads of ore in one month. It was $300-a-ton mineral and brought the tidy total of $45,000. Just before the war Tonopah's population had fallen to about 1,560 persons. Homes could be had for a pittance. But when the Army established an airbase near by; hun dreds of families flocked in and filled up all available space. Some even fitted up sagging shacks and large garages for occupation. Tonopah seemed almost a boom town again. Ghostly Goldfield Repopulated Even ghostly Goldfield, 25 miles to the south, brushed cobwebs and dust from some of its remaining houses for soldier families with cars. Nothing short of a new bonanza, however, could arouse this once-lusty offspring of Tonopah to the glory it knew when its treasure ore brought in as much as $11,000,000 in a single year, 1910. Fifty-two blocks of its buildings burned down in 1923; others have since been demol ished or boarded up. But a few persons still have faith that more gold is here and are try ing to locate it. Rhyolite and adjacent Bullfrog (named for the greenish-colored ore), outside the little town of Beatty, never ascended the heights of Goldfield, but they have fallen even farther. Gold ore deposits that gave early rich prom ise soon were worked out. Vaults of two banks now gape wide; stores are only piles of rubble; the schoolhouse was a skeleton long before the bond issue for its building was paid. Only buildings intact are a "museum" house made from beer bottles and the railway station, which has been converted into a night club for visitors from Death Valley. The population is three persons! Southeastward toward Las Vegas the desert seems more lonely. The Amargosa River, which rises in springs and spongy green pas ture above Beatty, becomes a dusty gully. Joshua trees that stud the landscape near Goldfield vanish; sagebrush gives way to creo sote bush. But flanking blue mountains assume rare beauty. About an hour's ride from Las Vegas you skirt the base of lofty Charleston Peak. Its slopes and high pine-studded canyons form a delightful resort from summer heat and a snow playground in winter. Varied Annals of Las Vegas Las Vegas is one of the oldest, and yet one of the youngest, settlements in Nevada. Suc cessively, it has been a way stop for water, a stockaded Mormon outpost, a fort, ranch, rail way division point, and now the second largest city in the State (page 38). The present town dates only from 1905 when the railway, completing the link with Salt Lake City, sold lots, provided streets and water, and assured incoming settlers employ ment in railway workshops. The construction of Boulder Dam a few years ago gave added stimulus to the growing town, as have thousands of visitors who have since come to see that engineering marvel. Alert, progressive Las Vegas has found that it has numerous vacation attractions; so it has been building bigger air-conditioned resort hotels, more auto courts, and pleasant homes. A few miles southeast from Las Vegas is war-born Henderson, where a gigantic mag nesium plant grew to utilize Boulder's electri cal power for manufacturing strategic metal from Nevada's deposits. Part of the plant that makes chlorine is still operating. Much has been said about spotless Boul der City, built by Uncle Sam as construction and administrative headquarters for Boulder Dam. More words have been used in attempts to describe the colossal 726-foot-high block of concrete that engineers poured into the awe some canyon to dam the mad, mud-laden waters of the Colorado (page 23). Boulder Dam is shared by both Nevada and Arizona, but its whirring electrical generators and water control mean power, light, and new irrigation projects to the whole Southwest. "Has the water in the lake risen since you put in the dam?" an overawed visitor once asked a guide. "What lake?" he must have been tempted to reply, for 115-mile-long Lake Mead was only a river canyon and dry valley lands before the erection of the dam. One home owner at now-submerged St. Thomas, nearly 40 miles up one arm of the lake from the dam, refused to move because he felt certain the water would never reach that far. But when waves began lapping at his door, he quickly evacuated!