We left Rachel, the only town on the Extraterrestrial Highway, in the early hours of the morning. Our fuel situation was a little worrying and when we got to the junction of HW6, we had to turn left and head for the nearest town with a gas station, Tonopah.
The low fuel warning light came on with about 2 miles to go, so it was a big relief to finally reach the town. We filled up until the petrol was almost leaking out – we also filled the spare can.
Next we went to look for breakfast. Of course this is Nevada; almost all eateries are also casinos. Casinos tend to have cheap food – helps to draw in people who want to play the slots and grab a quick bite. The place we found was exactly that; a casino. We had a fantastic breakfast – the whole hog (literally, I guess) of bacon, eggs, hash browns, sausages, tomatoes, mushrooms, toast and all the coffee you can drink; cost? $3 each. stuffed to the gills, we decided a walk would be good and went to explore the small town.
The community began about 1900 with the discovery of gold and silver rich ore by prospector Jim Butler when he went looking for a lost burro (donkey) he owned. The burro had wandered off during the night and had sought shelter near a rock outcropping. When Butler discovered the animal the next morning, he picked up a rock to throw at the beast, but instead noticed the rock was unusually heavy. He had stumbled upon the second-richest silver strike in Nevada history. The ore eventually played out, and abandoned mines can be found throughout the area.
In 1903, miners rioted against Chinese workers in Tonopah, which spurred a boycott in China of U.S. goods.
Recently, Tonopah has relied on the nearby Tonopah Test Range as its main source of employment. The military has used the range and surrounding areas as a nuclear test site, a bombing range, and as a base of operations for the development of the F-117 night-hawk.
Tonopah’s current fame may rest on the reference to it in the chorus of the song “Willin'” by Lowell George of Little Feat on the albums Little Feat, Sailin’ Shoes and Waiting for Columbus, but it is also possible that the song is actually referring to Tonopah, Arizona:
And I’ve been from Tucson to Tucumcari, Tehachapi to Tonopah.
I’ve driven every kind of rig that’s ever been made;
driven the backroads so I wouldn’t get weighed.
Back on the bike, we had to retrace our route back about 5 miles to take HW 376 through the Big Smoky Valley which would take us to HW 50.The Big Smoky Valley is a landform of the Tonopah Basin between the Toynbee and Toquima mountain ranges. It is about 100 miles (160 km) in length, and is known by other names (some with different spellings): including Great Smoky Valley and Won-A-No-Nu-Fee Valley.
It was along this road that we took a tumble. We pulled off into a lay-by to take a look at the remains of a silver mine. The gravel was a lot deeper that expected and as I climbed off the bike, the wheels sunk into the soft deep gravel and …..
We knew it was going to be a bit of a struggle to get the fully loaded bike back up and were just contemplating removing all our bags when, deep sigh. an angel in a truck pulled up, removed his muscle-bound torso from his cab – and just hoiked that sucker up 😀
Thankfully there was a nice little trading post in Carver and it had a gas station and DRINKS
This area has lots and lots of old mines – the area was rich in gold, silver and copper as well as minerals.
3 Replies to “Tonopah And The Big Smoky Valley”
Hi, I’m a resident of Round Mountain and a past resident of Tonopah. I just want to tell you I liked you sharing your little road trip. However, I thought you might appreciate knowing one minor detail error…..The picture you have posted of Shoshone Market is actually located in Carvers, not Manhattan. Manhattan is 20-30 miles southeast of Round Mountain.
Enjoyed reading this though.
Many thanks for correcting me. After almost 10,000 miles and a lot of tiredness, it is easy to get facts mixed up. Really appreciate you letting me know 🙂