GOLDFIELD: 15 WAYS THE PAST REMAINS PRESENT
Going to Goldfield is one of those experiences I find myself relating to going to Target. You know how you go in with one thing on your list and end up coming out with $300 worth of merch? In Goldfield, you think, sure, I’ll be here for an hour… maybe check out the original Tiffany lamps in the Historic Courthouse I keep hearing about… or swing by the historic cemetery to muse over some of directness that makes it so great. Next thing you know, you come out two days later with a handful of pen pals, maybe even a directorship to the town’s historical society board, and a newfound respect both for Nevada’s once-largest city and on Nevada ghost towns. Think I’m kidding? When it comes to Goldfield, I couldn’t be more serious. It’s that impactful… almost dreamlike. There is something about Goldfield that gets me caught in the web, every damn time, guys. So if you ever hear someone dismiss Goldfield as “that one weird ghost town where you have to slow to 25 mph between Reno and Vegas,” hit ‘em with one of these 15 reasons to make that 0 mph, throw it in Park, and explore.
I don’t think I’ll ever understand why some people aren’t wowed by history, but that’s another story altogether I guess. The history here is real, with a vastness that blankets the town. BUT, whether you’re a history zealot or not, there are more ways to enjoy a place like Goldfield than tracing your own lineage back to the true melting pot of cultures found in the Historic Cemetery. The place is loaded to the brim with more-than-meets-the-eye finds and devoted locals laser-focused on bringing original town relics back to Goldfield, which have otherwise been sold or picked off by vandals. If you’re looking for those types of mementos, Goldfield’s definitely got ‘em. Cold beer and storytellin’ locals with their cattle dogs? Aplenty. A legendary radio station that you may even score a guest spot on just by walking by the street-side studio? Got it. One of the scariest buildings in America? Check mate. Boxing holy ground? Yeah, buddy. And even some unconventional art galleries that earn their spot on the Free Range Art Highway, to boot. Oh man, a Nevada road trip AND ghost town score—does it get better? Imagine what possibilities lay before you when you give a place the look it’s earned. Read on to get a sense of the goods hiding in plain sight right here in Goldfield. #NVGhostTown
GET A LAY OF THE LAND
The first layer of the onion you’ve gotta peel back is the Goldfield Visitor’s Center. If you’re coming from Reno (or the north), it’s pretty much the first thing you’ll see when you hit “City Limits.” About a decade in the making, the place has just opened its doors; it’s super well done, and will help you gain a better perspective of the Goldfield goods you’re lookin’ for. Plus, volunteers you’ll find behind the counter can probably dispense some Travel Nevada Pro Tips of their very own. Talk to them. They live here and know this place better than I do, even with all these Goldfield-crazed anecdotes. Aside from straight-from-the-horse’s-mouth-style info you’re guaranteed to get your hands on, the Visitor’s Center is chock-full of resources on the community, from Historic Walking Tour maps to info on specific properties (I’m lookin’ at you Goldfield High), a preview of the shopping scene in town, and where you can sign up for historic or paranormal guided tours. Oh, and take the time to peruse the display cases, ‘cause there are some pretty rare finds in there. Like purple-hued whiskey bottles and this pocket-sized assay kit from Goldfield’s glory days that have managed to stay IN Goldfield all these years.
ACT LIKE A LOCAL AND HEAD STRAIGHT FOR THE SANTA FE
What’s better than a good old fashioned fashioned Sagebrush Saloon, you ask? One that was strategically located closest to the gold mines that made this place famous, that’s remained open for business for a continuous 113 years since, that’s what. To me, that kind of longevity catapults any business from pretty cool to seriously impressive. But the Santa Fe raises the bar for one more reason. Have you been wondering why not much remains in a city that was supposedly the largest in the state… with over 20,000 people living here? A whole bunch of end-of-the-world-style natural disasters swept through town, including basically everything but locusts. Mostly everything was totally destroyed, with very few buildings remaining… one survivor is the Santa Fe.
Not only was it located on the outskirts of town to cater to prospectors at quittin’ time, but this is the very detail that saved the saloon. It was away from the floods and fires that devastated most of town, and one of the reasons you have the luxury of ordering a Wild Turkey, neat, here today. So go ahead, pick your poison and order up from the “Meanest Bartender in Nevada” (or Laurel, if you don’t want to risk any funny business), pose for a pic in Julia Bulette’s bathtub, or shoot the breeze with locals who, over 100 years later, still remain on their way home from a day on the job. It’s the kind of place that’s cool because it just is, it doesn’t even have to try. Plus, if you can call it a night at a hotel that’s located only 10 feet from the bar itself, that’s another solid win in my book, any day of the dang week.
Travel Nevada PRO TIP: Is the wooden boardwalk thing trippin’ you up? Or maybe you’re searching for more of a specific cocktail or craft beer? The Hoist House is another solid choice, and two seconds down the street. The location—like everywhere you step in town—is historic, but the bar itself is one of Goldfield’s newer establishments. The Hoist House is where you can zero in on some seriously cool neon, croon your fav tune at karaoke night, or even score a purple glass bottle at the shop in the back of the bar.
THE GHOULS OF THE NIGHT
If you’ve been creepin’ our channels, chances are this isn’t the first time you’ve seen this doozy. Tombstones like this one, the type that spell out exactly why entombed occupant bit the dust in the first place, have an undeniable way of enchanting us in the present day because this just isn’t a thing anymore. The days of “Feared by Some, Loathed by Many” epitaphs are gone, too bad for us. At the Goldfield Historic Cemetery, count on crossing paths with victims who died in local mining accidents, a gunshot wound, or even this poor guy, who apparently died from eating library paste. Local historians have tried to track down the real story here (at the request of yours truly,) with some not so glamorous luck. Apparently this guy was simply hungry, found some library paste that tasted sweet, and ate it… likely not knowing it contained an ingredient that would ultimately poison him. It’s hard to imagine anyone going hungry in the height of Goldfield’s glory days, but hey. Maybe the real story is that he died doing what he loved? Annnnnnnyway, this historic and modern day burial ground is totally enough to keep your focus… trust me when I say you won’t really want to hit the road until you read every single headstone to see the cause of death. But, it gets better.
The “Official Ghouls of the Night” were a real thing, and, despite what their name might make you think, they played a pretty dang important role in making Goldfield a less freaky place. Before they figured out that 90 million dollars worth of gold cloaked in sagebrush surrounded town, a modest infrastructure was in the works. By the turn of the century, Goldfield’s modest town center had been built, including, like a regular American West town, its church, businesses, and cemetery. Flash forward to a few years later when they figured out they were about to be rich and the railroad expanded to town, where passengers found themselves disembarking between tombstones. Less than ideal, right? So one night, in 1908, a team of men assembled to exhume and relocate all of the bodies to a new cemetery farther outside of town. And bonus: as you walk through the cemetery, be sure to zero in on names that reveal roots from all over the world—evidence of Goldfield’s endlessly interesting cultural diversity—a reminder of how gold fever attracted fortune seekers from all walks of life, each one hoping to grab onto their slice of the American Dream.
THE CLASS OF ’42
As you make your way through the Goldfield Historic High School, this three story gem (including the basement…that’s also allegedly haunted) is so damn good in so many ways that it’s hard to zero in on the very best part. That is, until you climb up the original, teetering wooden staircase to the second story and out from the cobweb-y shadows it emerges: a doorframe, with the individual, personalized signatures of each member of the Goldfield High class of 1942. Lookin’ like they all aced the same penmanship class, right?
The school is one of the few buildings to have beat some tough odds—first two fires, and then a flood. The buildings you see standing today not only weathered that series of storms, but also time… and a lot of it at that. To me, Goldfield is an onion you’ve gotta take the time to peel back to appreciate… to really see it. But once you do, man does that light bulb go off and all you want to do is spend every weekend waking up in the back of your truck bed, digging through relics, exploring old foundations and hang with the people who are saving what’s left. But the Goldfield Historic High School is its own onion, within the greater Goldfield puzzle. We know that it survived an end of days meteorological conundrum, but also refused to die through decades of abandonment. It was crumbling in such a state that locals were even making bets on which of the four major side walls would collapse first… that is, until a southern Californian rolled into town, realized a portion of OUR American story was about to be lost forever, devoted just about every waking moment—and has for the last 10 years. And its working. As you could’ve guessed, he and other local Goldfield-o-philes have a pretty serious grip on stories stemming from the school, as well as what each space was used for…chemistry lab, classroom, auditorium. In some cases—unlike features that are so clearly spelled out for us to appreciate, like the Class of ‘42’s John Hancocks—you have to work to see the deeper meaning. But just by stepping over that threshold to tour the property, your admission helps move Goldfield’s story forward… whether its funding a path to historic preservation and faithful restoration, or developing a new way—with historic integrity in mind, of course. If you’ve got a pulse, that’s something I know we can alllllll be pumped about, because no matter how you cut it, piecing the story together or helping to build a new one and take part in it yourself is the stuff that matters.
A NOD TO GOLDFIELD’S GLORY DAYS
I get it. I know many travelers get a little wary of would-be stranger-danger, encountering unknown characters they’re afraid to engage with beyond a few words. (Thanks, Hollywood.) But if you’ve had the privilege of venturing deep into rural Nevada, you know that there’s just about no greater thing than ripping through the back with the locals. The people in Goldfield are friendly. Most of the folks in Goldfield are from there, and can trace their ancestry back to their grandmother who worked at the Goldfield Hotel, or father who worked at the Tonopah Air Base. Goldfield’s story runs DEEP, and the people who’ve hung on through it all are here because they’re not only connected to it in a personal way, but trying to protect what’s left of it, and even enhance it.
Here’s where you come in. If someone approaches you, talk to them. Because guess what, they’re going to show you tales, showing you places you’d never think to explore, where you might just learn about something that’s not on the internet…like the Historic Equipment Park. The relics here help tell the story of the Bullfrog-Goldfield Railroad—which formerly connected to another Nevada ghost town great. Original pieces of the railroad can be found here, along with other machinery (and other funny mementos like “One Holer’s”) that played a role in pumping out the millions of dollars in ore that propelled the development of the West.
TUNE IN TO JACKALOPE HOUR, ON 89.1 BABY
If there’s one and only one “when-in-Rome”-style scenario you’ve gotta embrace while in Goldfield, it’s this one: the instant you roll into town (second to hitting up the Visitor’s Center, that is) is get that tuner dialed to Goldfield Radio on 89.1 FM. I mean, honestly, can you think of a better #NVRoadTrip scenario out there, than to tune into a local and deliciously imaginative radio station that enhances the very place you’re exploring? Nah, didn’t think so. Featuring programming like Jackalope Radio, Wandering Minstrels, Calling all Cowboys by Chuck-A-Roo the Buck-A-Roo, and the Desert Rat Show… is there any better soundtrack to your dirt road therapy? Tune in while exploring town, and definitely make sure you’ve got that thing dialed when driving out to the Historic Cemetery, Car Forest, or Florence Mine.
GOLDFIELD SUBURBIA AND THE FLORENCE MINE
The chance to put a little imagination into it? Bingo, that’s the way that I like to experience a place. Because who loves being corralled along a path with 100 other people, being told what to do and when to do it? When you figure out your own way to uncover the magic in a place and come up with your own ideas about it, that’s the good stuff right there. When the dopamine rush of exploring a place satisfyingly kicks in. We know that Goldfield was booming in all the biggest ways… BUT in ways that are hard to really imagine today, because not a lot of it’s left in a tangible sense. If I haven’t tightened the lens enough for you just yet, those still-standing finds are spelled out here, but there are some qualifiers of your attention that aren’t so obvious, too. Like Goldfield suburbia. Uh yeah, this place once had suburbs, and lots of ‘em.
Stand right in the center of town on Crook Avenue. Now look north. You see that big ol’ mountain, that probably has some modern-day digging happening? That is Columbia Mountain… the place where millions of dollars in gold were extracted, making Goldfield one of the most famous towns in the American West. Drive out there; this is where all the former working class folks lived and worked while the boom was, well, booming. Keep your eyes peeled for foundations from several communities that stood out here, like Columbia, DIamondfield, Jumbotown, and Milltown. Best yet, lots of these roads you’re rambling on were where former trackline stood for Goldfield’s FIVE railroads… transporting the gold-laden ore from the mines to the stamp mills, then hauling away for out-of-town profit.
Travel Nevada PRO TIP: Before you loop back for town, definitely zero in on a tour at the Florence Mine. This claim was a handful Goldfield’s most famous mines because it was the most valuable, and, as if it’s not impressive enough that the thing still stands, the Florence Mine has just opened up for public tours after decades of private ownership. Pretty boss, right? The Florence Mine has the only remaining hoist house in the entire Goldfield Historic Mining District, which just so happens to be one of the best preserved in the entire dang state. Tours are available by appointment only, so definitely call ahead of time to lock in a $10 tour at (702) 622-1344.
THE STRONGEST BURRO GAME IN THE STATE
It’s no secret that my most ultimate fav animal out there is the burro, guys. Those faces! How could you not love ‘em. Not to mention a slew of their other admirable qualities, like their ability to suss out a situation, their devotion to camaraderie and protecting other animals, and their overall hardiness… they’re just the best. Plus the reason they were here in the first place: to be used for mining, IN GOLDFIELD. Honestly, can you think of an animal more worthy of a Nevada mascot? I’ve already gone wayyy off on a serious tangent on these lovies before, so before we set sail in those waters again, let’s just start and end with the fact that the burro bands are rolling DEEP in Goldfield.
Keep your eyes peeled for their very distinctive ears on the horizon as you are on the outskirts of town, they’ll be there. Burros are such a fixture in the Goldfield experience that it was more common to see a kid riding to school on his pet burro than riding around on a bike, no joke. They were, and still are very much a part of Goldfield… don’t forget to keep those lookin’ balls peeled for burro-themed everything here, too. And hey, remember how I said these people are my people now? Two words: pet burros. If you’re lucky and hit Goldfield during an event-related streak, chances are they’ll be available for a good solid muzzle scratch and maybe even a carrot or two.
GOLDFIELD’ HISTORIC FIRE STATION AND THE IRONY WITHIN
The million-dollar question on everyone’s mind? Just where in fiery hell was this fine establishment during Goldfield’s infamous dual disasters? Right where it’s always been, in the heart of downtown Goldfield, and one of the very few buildings that somehow survived the town’s fiery fate. But hey, if it survived these kinds of infernos annnnd lasted over 100 years, doesn’t it make it all the more worthy of a gander? Although it’s easy to assume its central location would make for prime puttin’-out-fire proximity, the town’s growth actually swelled so far beyond what they were envisioning that it ended up gridlocking the firemen’s access to all outlying parts of town. If a blaze erupted on the outskirts (say, from an illegal bootlegging operation gone awry…), they had many a tough time getting there before things went from bad to worse. Some of the most well-preserved Goldfield goodies can be found at the Fire Station… like a 1907 Seagraves Ladder Trailer, a 1917 American LaFrance Tractor, and one of the nicest historic ambulances I’ve ever crossed paths with. Visiting the Fire Station is a way to connect with Goldfield’s past, but if you want to zero in on the group of badasses who manned the department, beeline it across Crook Street to the Courthouse.
A MOVIE MAGIC TIME CAPSULE
Just try and head straight for the second floor to check out that fire department I’m talking about without getting distracted. At first glance from the passenger seat, you might think there’s not much to Goldfield, but one foot in the door at the Esmeralda County Courthouse and you can stick that notion where the sun don’t shine. You’ll be wondering how this beaut escaped your laser focus all this time. The crazy part is, unlike many Nevada courthouses that were built and later abandoned with mining boom-and-bust cycles, this one has hung tough—and in service. It was, and still IS the operating county courthouse, one hundred plus years later. That means it’s chock-full of truly amazing finds, like handwritten marriage records dating back to the 1900s, but also serves as the modern-day Justice of the Peace, and an operating DMV office that feels so out of place with its original Tiffany and Co. light fixtures—and hey, you may even see a real-life inmate doing time out back. And then there’s the second floor courtroom—immaculately preserved, in all it’s 1907 glory… plus its nice new microphones. Pretty cool, right?
Travel Nevada PRO TIP: For an interesting then-and-now perspective, cruise north and check out the Belmont Courthouse, which is just now being preserved after decades of abandonment. With their nearly identical floor plans, Goldfield’s courthouse is a window into what Belmont’s would’ve looked like, had it remained in operation… or perhaps it’s also the other way around…
BRINGING HOME THE BACON
Boxing holy ground, that’s what this right here is. Picture this. It’s 1906, the height of Goldfield’s biggest, most booming years. It’s also a big-deal time for boxing in American history… a sport that was still illegal in many parts of the country, and notorious where it was legal. Rumors were sweeping the nation that two young lightweight boxers were publically, and not-so-publically challenging each other. Oscar “Battling” Nelson, who’d been snatching lightweight titles left and right, was going after Joe Gans, an African American underdog, exploiting plenty of disadvantages that came with being black in this era. For a while, organizers let buzz build up about a fight to be held somewhere in the American West, although Nevada—which had legalized boxing just a decade before—was a shoe-in. Since Goldfield was the then-richest and largest town in Nevada, it was a natural fit to host such a sensational match.
Amateur promoters, like Tex Rickard, began promoting what would become the “Fight of the Century”, which was an easy sell to those back east, enchanted with the desert mystique of western mining camp towns. Goldfield had already outgrown its britches before it really even boomed, and a town maxed to capacity somehow hosted an additional 15,000 people and national media. How, we’ll never know… but it’s safe to say that the place was packed. Before the fight, Joe Gans’ mother wished him good luck with some encouraging words: “The eyes of the world are upon you, you bring back the bacon.” Well, 42 brutal rounds later—still the longest boxing match in modern history—Joe Gans followed through on his mother’s advice, and became the Lightweight Champion, as well as the very first American-born, black sports champion. Booyah. Naturally, after the Gans won, he had made all kinds of American history, as all eyes of national media was upon him. Once they caught wind of his mother’s advice, well, it’s safe to say it caught on, and is still part of our everyday jargon when it comes to closing deals. To this day, Joe Gans is still considered to be the greatest lightweight boxer who ever lived… and still apparently still bringing home that bacon, albeit posthumously.
THE TEX RICKARD HOUSE
You know that boxing promoter I was talking about? The real rookie promoter behind the Gans v. Nelson fight? Well, turns out, he cut his teeth in Goldfield when it came to learning to promote. Like our friend Joe Gans, Tex came out of Goldfield with a whole heap of success, too. He originally rolled into Goldfield with quite an affinity for boozing and gambling, and fittingly, ended up owning the Northern Saloon. There were tons of other bars in town—TONS—but the Northern drew the most dramatic crowds, with help from the 14 tables, 24 dealers and 12 bartenders per shift. Naturally, Tex built his home not far from the bar—a moderately-sized but pretty posh brick house, outfitted with leaded windows and some seriously fancy furniture. He kept doing the bar thing for a while, but as Goldfield grew, the hoity-toity businessman who invested in the place wanted to attract more national attention. As we know, ol’ Tex learned the ropes of promoting when he was hired to promote the Fight of the Century, but here’s where it goes from good to great. He went on to promote Jack Dempsey and other famous American boxers, founded the New York Rangers hockey team, and was even the brains behind Madison Square Garden. The cherry on top? Although he left Goldfield when everyone else did, his home still stands in the center of town in all its era specific glory, and a stop on Goldfield’s Historic Walking Tour.
THE CAR FOREST
To be honest, this pit stop is probably the most popular one in town. Aren’t’cha happy you know all the other good stuff to dig into? To be honest, I was just as shocked myself, once. All this time, I had been going to what I thought was the main event—the International Car Forest of the Last Church—not knowing all the gems that were right under my dang nose. At the same time, there’s no discounting this #WeirdNevada locale either… it’s just so good. At the Car Forest, this mini-canyon is damn near hidden from the road. As you’re entering Goldfield on the south side, be sure to keep your eyes peeled… but once you know where it is you’ll be wondering how you missed it.
Here you’ll find junk cars, busses, and trucks forcefully anchored into the ground, or perfectly balanced with boulders. They look unsafe to approach or enter to a newb, but trust me, get all up in that Insta FOMO; these things aren’t going anywhere. Best yet, if you happen to be a repeat offender, it never feels the same ol’ same ol’. Artists from all over come here to make their mark all the time, which makes your visit all the more worthwhile. It’s ever-changing, baby.
TWO WORDS: ROCKET BOB
If that didn’t give you enough of a Burning Man charge, we can turn up the heat, no prob. Two words, baby: Rocket Bob. Creator of the original art car park. Regular attendees of this legendary Nevada jaunt already have the lowdown on their souped-up version of psychedelic art cars… or rather, “mutant vehicles.” Tons of hours of engineering and design goes into these things, transforming these flame throwing, neon-ified creations, living up to their very name in every sense of the word. But Rocket Bob’s style of “art cars,” despite weathering some brutal high desert elements for yearrrrrrrs, are hidden right here in plain sight right in the the heart of the “World’s Greatest Gold Camp.” Rocket Bob’s cars seem to have more detail and overall who-thinks-of-this-stuff qualities than just about all of ’em cruising around the Playa today. The detail guys, the detail. By the sounds of it, Rocket Bob has been a long time burner, and part of some other storied secret societies who share the same founders. The imagination, and blurred lines of what’s real and imaginary are alive and well in Goldfield, guys. Whoda guessed you could grab onto a piece of Black Rock City in little ol’ Goldfield.
SEEING THE HISTORIC GOLDFIELD HOTEL, WHILE YOU CAN STILL SEE THE HISTORY
The more time you spend in Goldfield, the more you’ll start to realize the line between real and imaginary is a fine one. Between the shell of once-grand institutions like Goldfield High, to impeccably preserved beauts like the Courthouse, it all kind of starts to blur… are you seeing something real, something that’s lasted more than 100 years, or is this all just one big ghostly mirage? The Goldfield Hotel is one of those that falls smack-dab in the middle of the two, but is nonetheless real, with some of the most legendary history oozing out of every tile in the grand lobby to boot. It seems like just about every town in Nevada has that one building that swoops up every iota of your attention like it’s nothing. But then, somehow, out of all of those incredible individual finds, there are some heavyweights. And that club, my friends, is exactly where the fabled Goldfield Hotel belongs.
Maybe it’s because the place has been boarded up, off limits to anyone interested for decades, or the fact that some of the state’s most glamorous history went down under this roof. Either way, people have been freaking out, trying to get into the Goldfield Hotel with no luck (myself included!). But good news: it’s a whole new game out there, and you can now get your hands on a historic tour, or even a good old fashioned ghost hunt, if that’s what blows your dress up. After all, the Goldfield Hotel is rumored to be one of the most haunted places in America… some experts even say that it’s a portal to the underworld. But if you go, go soon, and go for this one specific reason: the history. ‘Cause it aint gonna be around much longer.
The Goldfield Hotel was the fanciest, most prominent building in Goldfield in the height of success, guys. It opened in 1908, right behind The Mizpah, and operated through the 1940s. Since then, it’s sat here, waiting for someone to swoop in and save it. In its full glory, it had allll the bells and whistles designed to satisfy the upper crust. The Goldfield Hotel was fireproof, ran on a steam-powered heating system generated by an on-site power plant, housed the fastest elevator west of the Mississippi, and had some serious style. The U-shaped floor plan afforded a window view for every overnight guest, and was chock full of the bougiest features, like crystal electric lights, leather buttoned furniture, elaborate tile flooring, gold leaf ceilings, and mahogany-panelled everything.
The craziest part is, even though it’s sat abandoned since the 1940s, right across the street, at places like the Goldfield High School, you’ve got a handful of guys who have devoted their lives to bringing other buildings back to the historic state the Goldfield Hotel is currently in. The Goldfield Hotel was built to last, and HAS lasted all these years, but the current owner is excited to re-open the property, so excited (and in a hurry) that original features, ones which have lasted all this time (like the original tile flooring), are now on the demo / reno chopping block. The relics are getting torn out or paneled over pretty quickly in all the most painful ways, even for those who aren’t an antiquarian. Don’t get me wrong, it’s amazing to get through the front door now, but to see it restored—faithfully—would make a visit that much more spectacular, or even the very reason to go to Goldfield in the first place. In some places, you have to imagine how it all was back in the day. But the Goldfield Hotel is a place where no imagination is required, where the past and the present are one. At least for now, anyway. #NVGhostTown