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Elko Travel Info
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Elko

Elko's surroundings are some of the most beautiful unspoiled landscapes in America.
The Biggest Little City in the Great Outdoors:
Elko's surroundings are some of the most beautiful unspoiled landscapes in America.


The Nevada
Travel Network
Description and History of
Elko
by David W. Toll
Elko's City

	  Park is an ornament to the vivacious little city.
Elko's City Park is an ornament to the vivacious little city.
From The Complete Nevada Traveler, the Affectionate and Intimately Detailed Guidebook to the Most Interesting State in America. Buy the Book Here







The Star Hotel on Silver Street is one of Elko's famous Basque restaurants
The Star Hotel on Silver Street is one of Elko's famous Basque restaurants
Founded as a railroad-promoted townsite and railhead for the White Pine mines in 1869, Elko has served for generations now as the provincial capital of an enormous cattle ranching empire embracing parts of four states. Sixty years ago Lowell Thomas called Elko "the last real cowtown in the American West," and until about 15 years ago that was still a good thumbnail description. But sophisticated new mining technologies permit the harvesting of microscopic particles of the precious metal from mountains (literally) of rock and dirt hauled 200 tons at a time to the crusher. Half a dozen large mining operations produce millions of ounces of gold a year in the region, and even though mining is now on the wane, their impact has transformed the old cowtown into a prosperous young city.

Capriola's, at the corner of 5th and Commercial maintains the tradition of G.S. Garcia, while the bar at the old Clifton Hotel next door has upgraded from Budweiser to Merlot
Capriola's, at the corner of 5th and Commercial maintains the tradition of G.S. Garcia, while the bar at the old Clifton Hotel next door has upgraded from Budweiser to Merlot
In the decade from 1980, when population stood at about 10,000 people (city-size by Nevada standards) to 1990, the population had almost doubled. In one hectic 12-month period beginning in July, 1986, Elko's population increased by 21 percent. This growth is spread across the city, and across many square miles of countryside to the south where Spring Creek was developed in the 1970s, but it is most evident on Elko's east end. Here a bright, new business district has blossomed at the freeway offramp, anchored by shopping centers and the Red Lion Casino. Now there's another commercial nexus at the other freeway offramp, and the city center, built more than a century and a quarter ago around the railroad switching yard, has undergone a considerable renaissance in recent years.


Yuppie Row.
There was a time when you could get an espresso at one lonesome place in town; now it's everywhere. As if to emphasize Elko's youthful urbanity, there was even a tanning salon on Railroad Street! Well, you can't buy a tan on Railroad Street any more, but you can get a latte at Cowboy Joe's and eat nouvelle cuisine at the Stray Dog Cafe next door on Yuppie Row. But don't worry, the traditional Basque hotels still flourish along the south side of Silver Street (south of the Stockmen's and much wider without the railroad tracks).

The Bil-Toki is a Basque dinner house and bar, The Nevada and The Star cater to a regular lodging clientele, but open their dining rooms to the general public at supper time. They offer hearty food and plenty of it, served family-style. The atmosphere is at once homey and exotic, a pleasantly provocative combination.

The Pioneer Hotel is a 19th century landmark, now refurbished in grand style to house the Western Folklife Center. The Center originated the Cowboy Poetry Gathering and other projects aimed at preserving and celebrating Western American traditions. An exhibition gallery is now open, showing ranch-fashioned items, from leather chaps to meticulously braided horsehair ropes, all so finely made they might be sculpture or jewelry. A gift shop offers wonderful hand-made goods for sale, as well as books and other merchandise.

Elko was born with the railroad in 1869 Elko was born with the railroad in 1869
The Commercial and the Stockmen's are still dominating presences downtown, but one great landmark is gone now: the switching yard that spawned the city in the first place. It hasn't been missed. A few pessimists declared that moving the Western Pacific switching yard three miles east would eliminate the train whistles at all hours of the night and Elko's birth rate would decline (local joke). The community is delighted with the peace and quiet, and you'll appreciate all the free parking.

Elko — conflicting (and slightly absurd) stories are offered to explain the name; none is entirely persuasive — prospered rapidly after its founding. By 1870 townsite lot prices had multiplied three and four times, the population had risen to 2,000 or more, and the place had begun to assume its character as the leading settlement of Nevada's great northeastern cattle country.
Horse-drawn wagons hauled freight to the outlying mines from the railhread at Elko
Horse-drawn wagons hauled freight to the outlying mines from the railhread at Elko
By 1873 Elko was in so soaring and optimistic a municipal mood, largely on account of the success of the mining discoveries in the districts to the north and south, that it had bid for and won the State University. The university opened with seven students in 1874, and closed ten years later with 15, to be moved unceremoniously to Reno. As a freighting center, Elko fell into decline after the mining towns it served, and population fell to less than 1,000.


Despite the steady growth and importance of the livestock business in the high desert valleys around Elko, the town's affairs did not brighten considerably until 1907. In that year not only did the Western Pacific Railroad reach Elko, but mining revived as ripples of excitement radiated out from Tonopah and Goldfield. The price of beef went from 31/2 to 8 cents a pound, and wool from 4 to 60 cents. In 1911 Elko's population was nudging 3,000.

Prosperity continued until the devastating one-two of the failure of the Wingfield banking chain and the national depression which followed immediately after. Caught in the machinery activated to sort out the bank failure and bled by the decline in livestock prices, many of the ranches around Elko were foreclosed. In the years after the beef and wool economies fell into chaos, gambling was made legal by the state legislature. Elko, like towns everywhere in Nevada, had a new industry, and unlike most, it had an entrepreneur to make the most of it. Newton Crumley had operated saloons and hotels in Tonopah, Goldfield, and Jarbidge before he settled in Elko in 1925 and bought the Commercial Hotel. He and his son, Newton Jr., operated the hotel with an eye toward the future.

Ted Lewis' appearance at the Commercial Hotel in 1941 began the Headliner tradition in Nevada casinos.
Ted Lewis' appearance at the Commercial Hotel in 1941 began the Headliner tradition in Nevada casinos.
By 1937 they had added a two-hundred-seat cocktail lounge to the Commercial, and in 1941 they hired Ted Lewis, the "High-Hatted Tragedian of Jazz," his orchestra, and his 21-person Rhythm Rhapsody Review for an eight-day engagement. After Lewis came Sophie Tucker, then Skinnay Ennis and his band. For drowsy little Elko, more than 250 miles from the nearest radio station, the situation was stunning. Even more impressive was the effect on traffic along U.S. 40: little of it passed through Elko without a detour into the Commercial.

In 1946 the Crumleys began "remodeling" a ten-foot wide root beer stand into the sixty-eight room Ranch Inn Motel-Casino (at that materials-short time new construction was prohibited but remodeling was permitted). The Crumleys had the largest non-ranching payroll in Elko County after the railroads, and in 1948 they sold an accumulation of ranching properties north of town to Bing Crosby.

With ranching restored to prosperity, with gambling and big-name entertainment adding cosmopolitan touches to the municipal flavor, and with newcoming ranchers like Crosby, Joel McRae, and Jimmy Stewart providing glamor and sophistication, Elko entered a golden age at the end of the 1940s.

The National Basque Festival is held in Elko each year on the weekend closest to the Fourth of July. The National Basque Festival is held in Elko each year on the weekend closest to the Fourth of July.
The Hollywood rancheros have died or sold their Elko spreads now, and the Crumleys are long gone from the scene. The Commercial is being renovated, and the Stockmen's and the Red Lion are flourishing, the latter with gambling flights from small cities around the USA. Elko retains its unique air of awkward splendor with a marvelous diversity of its population: cowboys and Indians, sheepherders, miners and railroad men, gamblers and whores, schoolmarms and ribbon clerks. Oh, and a few tourists.

As the population figures suggest, Elko is a bustling little city, offering a wide variety of services and amenities to visitors. Don't expect to find a room at Basque Festival time or during the Cowboy Poetry Gathering unless you've booked well in advance, but at most other times of the year you'll find motel rooms readily available. Restaurants range from the homespun to the elegant ‹ from The Coffee Mug near the center of the city, say, to Misty's at the Red Lion.

Elko is still "town" for the buckaroos — the locally preferred term for cowboys — who work the cattle ranches out beyond the horizons, and the stores that cater to them are major attractions. In 1896 G.S. Garcia arrived in Elko to establish his celebrated saddle shop on Railroad Street. Garcia became one of the foremost western saddle makers of his time, and his famous American Eagle saddle, elaborately carved and decorated with patriotic motifs, worked in silver and gold, won gold medals at both the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair and the 1905 Lewis & Clark Exposition at Portland, Oregon. Will Rogers and Teddy Roosevelt rode on Garcia saddles, as did dozens of other western celebrities of the first three decades of the century, hundreds of international customers from Argentina, Australia, Mexico and France, and thousands of stockmen and buckaroos from around the west.

You can watch as custom saddles are made upstairs at Capriola's
You can watch as custom saddles are made upstairs at Capriola's
The J.M. Capriola Co. is the successor to G.S. Garcia, and maintains the tradition. As a visiting journalist wrote in admiration in the New York Times some years ago, Capriola's "sells everything for the cowboy and his horse, from a box of horseshoe nails to a $3,500 saddle." A hand-made saddle crafted to a classic design might cost a little more nowadays, but they are still made right upstairs, along with the other leather goods and the tack that account for three-fourths of Capriola's world-wide business. President Reagan straddled a Capriola saddle at his California ranch, and Hollywood celebrities like Sylvester Stallone and Harrison Ford do the same today.

People from four states shop Anacabe's for outdoor wear
People from four states shop Anacabe's for outdoor wear
Anacabe's equally venerable and welcoming Elko General Merchandise Store is on Idaho Street. If you live within 150 miles of Elko working outdoors, you probably shop here already. Western and steel-toed boots, blue jeans, hats, cold-weather gear: everything for the well turned out miner, buckaroo, construction worker, outdoorsman. Here you can outfit yourself for a day's ride or a winter in a line shack, or just stop in to soak up the atmosphere.

Downtown Elko
Downtown Elko
Idaho Street was once U.S. 40 and it's still Elko's main commercial thoroughfare. It's a solid stream of traffic from the city center to the east side, a bright stripe of restaurants, motels and other visitor services.

More than 50 years ago, at what used to be the eastern edge of town before the age of asphalt and electricity, the city of Elko bought the China Ranch and created a magnificent City Park with broad lawns, towering shade trees and wide-ranging recreational facilities. It would be an ornament to cities many times Elko's size.

The Northeast Nevada Museum</b> is an irresistable attraction for visitors. The Northeast Nevada Museum is an irresistable attraction for visitors.
The Northeastern Nevada Museum is located on the south side of the City Park. Expanded now to several times its former size, the museum is a professionally managed and maintained archive and exhibiting regional history. Most of the items displayed were donated to the museum by local residents. One exception is the old saloon bar from Halleck. For this beloved relic the museum is required to pay rent in the form of one bottle of Beefeater's Gin per year, served over the bar. Rent day began as a private ceremony, but has developed into an annual invitation-only affair of considerable eclat in the local community. The museum is also noted for the variety and quality of its art exhibits, including its annual traveling show of Nevada photography which is easily the most-visited art exhibit in the state. One recent addition is the installation of the Spring Creek Mastodon exhibit. These two million year old bones, about forty percent of the animal, were unearthed in 1994. The Wanamaker Wildlife Wing is strong medicine, a kind of Holocaust Museum for mammals. Admission to the museum is $5, $3 for seniors and students, $1 for children 3-12, free for tykes 3 and under.

These sturdy structures once stood in Ruby Valley, now they house the Elko Chamber of Commerce. These sturdy structures once stood in Ruby Valley, now they house the Elko Chamber of Commerce.
The Elko Chamber of Commerce is a near neighbor, in the historic Sherman Station building, an amazing log structure brought from the Ruby Valley. There's an information desk and a gift shop with Elko items.

You can get current visitor information at Elko's Convention Center, also located at the park complex. The facility hosts meetings, conventions and performances.

You can take Nevada Route 225 north to Wild Horse Reservoir, Mountain City, and Owyhee. Nevada Route 227 leads southwest to Spring Creek, South Fork State Park, Lamoille, and the magnificent Ruby Mountains.


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