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Nevada’s Hot Creek Range brings travelers back to a simpler, yet rougher, time.
Photo: Don Southwick (all)
A few hours drive east of Tonopah off U.S. Highway 6, the eastern slope of the Hot Creek Range is a testament to rural Western culture. Tucked into canyons and near scarce water sources are crumbling monuments to mid-19th- and early 20th-century miners and ranchers. The Shoshone Indians left evidence of their existence and carved their stories into the rock. A trip to the area transports visitors to a time when life was hard and self-reliance was the order of the day.
The range is accessible north of Warm Springs, which marks the junction with State Route 375. The dots on this part of the Nevada map are chock-full of history, geography, and wildlife. The sky appears endless, and ribbons of roadbed snake into infinity. The mountains change color as the sun rises and falls. You may meet a herd of wild mustangs, a rising flock of antelope, a stand of Bighorn sheep, or a soaring golden eagle. Place names trigger the imagination—Rawhide, Amethyst, Empire, Keystone, Old Dominion, Tybo, and Hot Creek.
Sonia Barndt DeHart (1906-2003) was raised in the area. In her oral history document, DeHart remembers that the land was “…just lying out there. It didn’t belong to anyone. …People made their own boundaries. …It was a gun-fighting thing.” By the 1870s there were several thousand people there, mostly men. Fortunes were made and lost in these mining towns, and numerous lost treasure stories are still being told. Stage coaches regularly operated between Eureka, Belmont, Morey, Hot Creek, and Tybo.
Ten miles north of Warm Springs, Hot Creek Road leads to Tybo. Mining began at Tybo in the 1870s and continued sporadically into the 1930s. DeHart’s son, Gil Cochran, from Reno and Upper Hot Creek Ranch, says Tybo was a “thriving mining town with stores, bars, stables, and a newspaper, the Tybo Sun.” At its largest, he estimates its population was about 3,000. Today, there is a collection of original buildings, a few residents, and two old charcoal kilns beyond the town site. Charcoal kilns, large brick beehive-shaped structures used to make charcoal for smelters at the mines, are scattered throughout the area. From Tybo, if you continue north past Keystone, where a few old stone buildings remain, you reach Hot Creek Ranch at the mouth of Hot Creek Canyon.
Today, Hot Creek Ranch is a privately owned cattle ranch with an 1890s stone house and a long history. This was Cochran’s great-grandparents’—J.T. and Sophie Williams—home and hotel. The Williamses built the structure in the 1870s to accommodate the many teams, stagecoach drivers, passengers, and horses that passed through. DeHart recalls, “Grandmother said some evenings they had 300 horses…put up in the meadows to rest from the stagecoaches.” The home-hotel was destroyed in an 1882 fire and rebuilt. DeHart describes her grandfather’s home as “a big stone hotel where they [threw parties]” with a racetrack for horses. The former town of Hot Creek, the center of the mining district, was nearby.
Continuing north, you skirt along the northeastern slope of the Hot Creek Range, passing a string of canyons. Dry camping is permitted in the side canyons off the main road, but four-wheel drive vehicles are recommended as these roads are not maintained and road conditions quickly change. Between Hobble and Morey Canyons is Morey Peak—a commanding presence at 10,246 feet.
The once-bustling mining town of Morey has ruins of stone cabins. DeHart recalls a group of Shoshone known as the “Morey Indians,” who told “the white people about the ore,” and groups of Shoshone from Morey, Tybo, and Twin Springs gathering at Hot Creek “for big fandangos” in which they would sing and gamble. In the 1870s, Moores Station was a stagecoach stop on the Belmont-Tybo-Eureka line. Today, the stone house has been restored and is a private residence.
When you drive through this land, imagine scraping together a living as a hunter-gatherer Shoshone or a miner adjusting to a harsh, dry, unforgiving land. This is a place of great beauty and extremes; treat it kindly.
Rural Travel Tips
• Carry a detailed atlas when traveling the Nevada outback.
• Auto safety: Start with a full gas tank. Check your tires (have a spare, a jack, and know how to use it), oil, water, and the general condition of your car.
• Tell someone where you are going and when you expect to return.
• Carry a flashlight, sleeping bags or blankets, a day’s supply of food, and plenty of water. Outside of Tonopah there are no stores or places to eat.
• Respect private property: Leave all gates as you find them, and do not disturb livestock.
• Do not expect any cell phone service.