RIO RANCHO, N.M. — You can’t let a little rain deter the plans for a fun vacation, and for me, my recent 2019 epic adventure was highlighted by rain every day of our journey from Albuquerque to Kingman, Ariz.; to Las Vegas and then Reno, Nev.; across US 50, “the loneliest highway in America” to Ely, Nev.; and then south through the Silver State and partway across Utah, with our final stop at gorgeous Zion National Park.
About that rain: We kept seeing video of tornados wreaking havoc on much of the nation, as well as flooding through what seemed the rest of it. Who were we to complain because we had to see some of the sights through windshield wipers?
As much as we have enjoyed our scenic trips through Colorado and Wyoming in recent years, Nevada — still with plenty of snow atop its highest mountains —is another beautiful state to visit. And in no way am I a casino guy, so we didn’t head there to gamble away the mortgage payments for the rest of 2019!
As usual, exploring historic sites was the main focus, but there was time for shopping, two Pacific Coast league baseball games, and even a show (Piff the Magic Dragon) at the Flamingo Hotel on The Strip.
In no particular order, here are my top-10 memories from the 11-day, 2,700-mile jaunt:
• Walking around one of the world’s wonders, Hoover Dam, near Boulder City, Nev., on our way to Sin City.
• Seeing the Ford V-8 Deluxe sedan that Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker were killed in, exactly 85 years to the day after they were slain in Bienville Parish, La. That bullet-riddled car – lawmen estimated about 150 bullets were fired at the couple — is in Whiskey Pete’s Casino in Primm, Nev.
• A 12-minute sit-down with my all-time favorite baseball player. (See that story on page 12.)
• Spending time in the Gold and Silver Pawn Shop, albeit without sightings of Chumlee, Rick Harrison or “Big Hoss” Harrison, where the History Channel’s “Pawn Stars” show is filmed. Like everyone had told me ahead of time, it’s a lot smaller than it looks on TV.
• A train ride on an old steam locomotive to historic Virginia City, Nev. People who know me well know I’ve been a fan of trains since I was 7 or 8 years old. Virginia City still has that old-time feel to it, along with gunfights staged frequently — and it’s in a scenic location, as opposed to Tombstone.
• Seeing the Nevada Railroad Museum in Carson City, chock full of railroad equipment and two locomotives. I also walked around a neighborhood in historic Carson City where a home used in one of the final scenes of “The Shootist” was filmed and another home where Mark Twain lived briefly with his brother.
Short visits in Goldfield, where Joe Gans and “Battling” Nelson staged a memorable 42-round championship fight, drawing more than 8,000 fans, on Sept. 3, 1906; Tonopah, celebrating Jim Butler Days; Austin, where a three-story “castle” of sorts had been built on a mountain overlooking the town; Eureka, where we visited the courthouse; Pioche, a charming old town with the now-dilapidated three-story Mountain View Lodge, where President Herbert Hoover spent a night in 1930; and Caliente, where we saw a 96-year-old Union Pacific mission-style depot and spent a night in a motel that featured a dip in a mineral-springs tub.
• Ely and its historic locomotive shops. We didn’t ride the train but enjoyed a tour through the shops, which contained several century-plus-old locomotives, some still running and others to be rebuilt, and learned (in the museum) the tale of copper in the U.S. Reliance on copper mined in the U.S. dropped after copper from Chile was much cheaper. Later, when the telecommunications industry turned to fiber-optics, U.S. manufacturers needing copper turned to the Soviet Union to get it; there, it was stockpiled as wire, much still cheaper than mining and processing it in the U.S.
• Mountain Meadows Massacre site: You know, I always thought the Mormons were a peaceful lot, until we pulled off to see a historic marker that revealed back in September 1857, 50 to 60 local Mormon militiamen in southern Utah, aided by Paiute allies, massacred about 120 immigrants who were traveling by wagon to California. The horrific crime, which spared only 17 children age 6 and under, occurred in a highland valley called the Mountain Meadows, roughly 35 miles southwest of Cedar City.
The victims, most of them from Arkansas, were on their way to California with dreams of a bright future. For a century and a half, the Mountain Meadows Massacre has shocked and distressed those who have learned of it.
• Zion National Park, and although we vowed to return there and see Utah’s other national parks, our several-hour visit was worth the extra mileage. It’s probably my favorite national park that I’ve visited, although the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone, maybe even Yosemite, aren’t far behind. What a country!
Although plans haven’t been finalized yet for our 2020 adventure, it appears we’re heading further west — to Hawaii. In future years: the Pacific Northwest, and Montana and North Dakota.