I love finding hidden gems off the beaten path. Leaving Arizona heading north into Nevada, I met a gentleman by the name of Al. I had stopped to grab some fuel and snacks at one of the numerous truck stops throughout the southwest. Al was trucking his way across the US via Route 66 hauling a load of timber from Wisconsin to Salt Lake City. Doing a quick mental mapping in my head, I wondered what steered him so far south from what would most definitely be a northerly route across the states. Al was heading for Arizona to visit his daughter. She was graduating from high school and he didn’t want to miss the chance to spend time with her during spring break.
As we continued chatting over a pair of Subway sandwiches, Al proceeded to share a few of his trucking stories. He shared two very interesting bits of his life with me, one that would lead me into Nelson, Nevada. The other left me very nervous of my company. I will get to that later. Sometime in 2010 (Al didn’t seem to recall the date and smelled a little too much of beer for my liking) he told me about a ghost town just outside Searchlight, Nevada. The only thing I knew about Searchlight was that it’s a well known speed trap for travelers heading to Laughlin. I know this because I have also been stopped outside the town heading for the river.
He couldn’t remember the name but after a quick Yelp search, I came across Nelson Ghost Town. “That’s it! Yeah, Nelson my boy, head there ya can’t go wrong no sir ree bob”, Al exclaimed with joy in his voice. Unfortunately, Al wasn’t too hip on me grabbing his portrait so I’ll do my best to describe him. I would place Al in his late 50’s, 6 feet tall, 285 or so pounds, chest length grey beard, wearing a sweat infused straw cowboy hat and a jeans jacket covered in patches that said, EAT MORE P##SY, 1800.EATSHIT, Hashtag My Butthole and so on. You get the picture. Despite his appearance, he seemed like a nice enough guy to strike up a conversation and I’m happy I did. Aside from that other thing I haven’t mentioned yet.
Leaving Phoenix, I headed north on the 93 through Wickenburg, west on the 40 (Route 66) into Kingman, continuing west on the 68 to Laughlin, and finally north on the 95 through Searchlight into Nelson. From Orange County the drive will take you roughly 5 hours, the same from Phoenix, and if you are in Vegas and want to escape the strip for some adventure, it’s a short 40 minute drive south. Map Link.
The History of Nelson
To locals, you just call it Nelson, not Nelson Ghost Town. Of course, there are only a few locals so I wouldn’t worry about your verbiage. Nelson was originally called Eldorado in 1775, named by the Spaniards who discovered the first gold in the area that is now El Dorado Canyon. Over a hundred years later, prospectors and miners took over the town and the nearby Techatticup Mine. The mine has a bit of negative history due to ownership disputes as the gold ore kept pouring out. This resulted in numerous killings so frequent it became routine. The mine would continue to produce millions of dollars in gold, silver, copper and lead from 1858 until it was closed off in 1945 (or there abouts).
Today, while visiting Nelson, you can tour the mine. I’m a huge fan of Yelp, so I suggest you click here and bookmark the mine tour Yelp page. You’ll also have a map to help you get there.
One of the first things I noticed that made Nelson standout from other Ghost Towns I have visited is the number of vehicles. You can typically find a handful of pre-1950 vehicles littered around towns like this throughout the desert, but not nearly what Nelson holds. I must have counted over 30 cars and 6 buses. Not to mention a couple of VW beetles and a crashed airplane. Nelson was used in the filming of 3000 Miles to Graceland so some of this may look familiar.
Towns like this make me wonder, will our kids kids visit future old towns and find Honda Civics, Accords, Outbacks, F-150’s and so on rusted out gaining patina? Makes me want to install a Flux Capacitor in my Subaru, hit 88 MPH and find out.
Upon entering the town, you need to check in at the main building. You don’t really “have to”, but they encourage it. The nice people that run the mine tour like to know who is wandering about their town and it is a business after all. It’s worth a stop in before you walk around. Plenty to see inside, meet some nice people and learn about how Nelson came to be. This is also where you sign up for the mine tour.
The main building is a great escape from the heat (AC) and the only place you can grab a drink for miles. Take note.
The inside is just as filled with history as the outside. A wealth of trinkets, pictures, animals, license plates, mining gear, and plenty of stuff to purchase to remember your trip. Something that struck me by surprise was a sign that said, “Private Residence. Someone Lives Here.” There are in fact bedrooms in the back. I will assume the proprietors don’t live there full-time. Keep this in mind when poking around, this is also someones home.
Car nuts really need to make a stop in Nelson if ever in the area. This Cadillac was a true hidden gem in great shape considering where it spends its life.
This is also a great stop for signage. One of these days when I build my garage shop, it will be covered in old tin garage shop signs. I wonder if the nice people of Nelson would let a few go?
Moving to the other side of the street, I found more “Private Residence” signs. It really made me wonder how many of these old buildings are simply owned by locals that live elsewhere or actually lived in.
Nelson really is a hidden historical gem in the desert. I couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful day. Only 40 minutes from Vegas, it’s easy enough to visit and get back to town for a fancy dinner and drinks if you choose. I highly recommend you pack a cooler and visit during the cooler months. If you have time, take the mine tour. I didn’t so let me know how it goes!
The Other Thing
So, as we were sitting there eating our food, out of the blue, Al tells me, “You know, I killed a man once. Tried to rob me in Georgia when I was on the road at gunpoint.” After hearing that my face must have turned red as sweat poured down. Al chuckled a little and continued his story. “He pulled me out of the truck and wanted my load. I didn’t think his gun was loaded so I wrestled him to the ground and choked him out. I never saw him move so I assumed he was dead. Not really sure though, hope not but who knows really, yah know?” After he finished and I quickly consumed half my sandwich in two bites, I thanked Al for his time and made way to my car. The story could have been nonsense, or his way of saying “Don’t mess with me!”. Regardless, when a stranger tells you something that like it’s time to exit.
Maybe this is why he didn’t want his picture taken?
All of these photos were taken with my Fuji X-T1 camera and the new Fuji 16-55mm f/2.8 lens. This was my first chance to really break in the new glass. With the crop factor of the body, 16-55 turns into 24-80 basically. When I was still using Canon gear, my 5D2 + 24-70 combo was my bread and butter. The lens hardly left the camera. It is my perfect focal length for walking around events and travel. Look for my full lens review soon but as you can see the colors, sharpness and clarity from the 16-55 is superb. Although this lens is more DSLR sized, it’s still a much smaller combo, easier to carry around, light and still produces top image quality. It seems I really am turning into an X-Shooter.
All photos by www.jordanmay.com