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The Complete Nevada Traveler by David W. Toll
Ely Travel Info
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The Ghost Train of Old Ely
The Ghost Train of Old Ely still glides through the sagebrush, pulled through tunnels and over trestles by chuffing steam locomotives and the occasional diesel engine.

The Nevada
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Description and History of
by David W. Toll
Downtown Ely
Downtown Ely, Nevada.
From The Complete Nevada Traveler, the Affectionate and Intimately Detailed Guidebook to the Most Interesting State in America. Buy the Book Here

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Ely is the great city of eastern Nevada, closer to Salt Lake City than to Reno or Las Vegas. It is located where the southern end of the magnificent Steptoe Valley meets foothills of the Egan Range, at the conjunction of Highways 6, 50 and 93. Ely offers many excellent lodging, dining and recreation options.

Ely's greatest attraction to visitors, apart from comfortable lodgings, good food and magnificent natural surroundings, is the Ghost Train, the restored Nevada Northern Railway that takes passengers from the old depot in East Ely (take 11th Street north from Highway 93 Avenue F Aultman Street) on excursions west to Ruth and northeast to McGill from Memorial Day through Labor Day.
Northern Nevada Railway #40 Depot
Northern Nevada Railway #40 Depot
Built in 1906, the Nevada Northern connected the enormous pit mines at Ruth with the smelter on the old McGill Ranch, and then with the main line at Cobre for an overall run of not quite 150 miles. After considerable repair and restoration, the Nevada Northern began carrying passengers again in 1986.

Railroad buffs now converge on Ely from all over the world. They light up with pleasure as the antique locomotives squeal and hiss up to the passenger depot. They exult at the conductor's "All Aboard!" They thrill at the thought of an Ely-McGill-Cherry Creek excursion train, and they faint away with joy at the prospect of going all the way to Cobre.

No wonder: Magic happens as the antique steamers chuff solemnly away from the station. Wheels clickety-clacking, cars swaying, the world gliding slowly by, kids waving from their bikes, cows looking up in dim curiosity, sky spread big and bright overhead -- it's a unique and delightful experience for its own sake, and even more for being the real thing — this is not a reconstruction or a restoration. Fares hover around $10 for adults, $4 for kids (call 702-289-2085 for details).
Nothern Nevada Railway Ely, Nevada
Nothern Nevada Railway Ely, Nevada
In addition to the scheduled runs, trains can be rented for special excursions, and tours are taken through the enormous shops, offices, depot, engine house and other facilities from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend.

The White Pine Public Museum at 2000 Aultman Street is the showplace for a mineral collection of considerable variety, and for unique items like the home-made cannon which once guarded the Court House in Hamilton. The museum is open seven days during June, July and August, and Monday through Friday the rest of the year. Admission is free.

Ely is relatively young as Nevada cities go, established in the 1870s as a stagecoach station and post office. Only after it was designated the White Pine County seat in 1887 did the population climb to 200. Most of the activity in the region was at the surrounding mining camps of Ward, Cherry Creek, Osceola and Taylor.

After the turn of the century, immense copper deposits near Ely began to attract attention away from the failing gold mines, and by 1906 a boom had developed in copper. The Nevada Northern Railway was completed in the fall of that year to connect the mines with the Southern Pacific Railroad at Cobre. In 1908, when the smelter at McGill went on the line, mineral production leapt from barely more than $2000 the year before to more than $2 million. By 1917 annual production climbed to nearly $26.5 million. The Kennecott Copper Company began acquiring Ely copper mining companies in 1915. By 1958 these acquisitions resulted in control of the region's copper mines and dominated the local economy.

Large ore hauler, mining outside Ely Nevada
Large ore hauler, mining outside Ely Nevada
The mines are at Ruth, six miles west via US 50. Originally underground mines, they came to be worked from the surface: five great open pits in a line measuring six miles east and west. Each working day about 80,000 tons of waste dirt and 22,000 tons of copper ore were hauled up out of the immense holes. The waste was dumped on the hillside terraces, and the ore went by train past the depot and shops in East Ely to the smelter at McGill, where it was processed into "blister copper." This was poured in 60-lb. cakes and hauled north to the main line of the S.P. When the cars returned, they brought coal to fire the enormous power generation plant. All that is in the past tense, however. In 1978 the copper mines closed, the smelter closed, the railroad closed, and most of Kennecott's 1500 local employees were laid off.

Liberty pit, mining outside Ely Nevada
Liberty pit, mining outside Ely Nevada
The departure of Kennecott was a watershed event in White Pine County history, and for nearly 20 years nothing quite took up the economic slack. The economic downturn precluded widespread renovation, and the early 20th century small-town architecture that dominates its center give Ely a familiar look. Norman Rockwell would have liked it, and you will like it too.

For a while in the early 1990s it seemed the tide had turned when the old Kennecott property at Ruth was acquired by Magma Copper Co. in 1991. At the time, Magma's president predicted "this could be the last big copper project in this country."

The company spent $314 million to establish a state of the art mill capable of processing 46,000 tons of ore per day. Mineable reserves of 252 million tons were blocked out, and in January 1995 enormous electric shovels ($6 million each) began scooping 40 tons at a bite from the old Liberty Pit. A fleet of 240-ton haul trucks ($1.6 million each) hauled overburden and stockpiled ore for processing. Original estimates called for mining through 2010, and in 1996 425 employees produced 146,000 pounds of copper, 366,000 ounces of silver and 16,000 ounces of gold, prompting talk of expanding the operation. In 1997 it closed down.

Ely, Steptoe Valley Inn
Ely, Steptoe Valley Inn
Photo by Max Winthrop
Excellent lodgings are plentiful in Ely. The jewelbox Steptoe Valley Inn B&B is a block from the railroad station. The Copper Queen Ramada Inn is a block south on US 93 — its rooms open directly into a great central room containing the casino, bar and swimming pool. The Prospector welcomes guests on US 93 at the north edge of town, and more motels line Aultman Street. Downtown the modern new Jailhouse Casino and Motel is a phenomenon in its own right, occupying the site of the original city jail and offering the unusual opportunity of cellblock dining without being arrested, charged or convicted.
Hotel Nevada in Ely Nevada
Hotel Nevada in Ely Nevada
Across the street the historic 6-story Hotel Nevada & Gambling Hall presides over downtown as it has done since 1928. For three generations it has been the city's principal hostelry, and for 20 years — until 1948 — it was Nevada's tallest building. Along with much of the downtown, it had become shabby, but new owners have restored it far beyond its original eminence. Deluxe rooms are named for the celebrities who have stayed there over the years — Hoot Gibson, Ingrid Bergman and Tennessee Ernie Ford among them — and the 6th floor suite, once reserved for visiting Kennecott executives, has been made lavish and luxurious (Did Elvis sleep in that bed?).
Wheeler Peak in the Great Basin National Park above Ely Nevada
Wheeler Peak, Great Basin National Park
Ely's greatest attraction for visitors may not be in town at all, but in the magnificent surroundings. The new Great Basin National Park provides an obvious and rewarding destination to visitors, but there is no limit to the outdoor recreation here. Hunting, fishing, camping, hiking, exploring, cross-country skiing and anything else you enjoy doing outdoors is available in the countryside around Ely. Chamber of Commerce information is available on — where else? — Aultman Street.
Success Summit above Ely Nevada
Success Summit
You can make a quick (perhaps two hours if you can do it without stopping along the way, or bring your fishing gear and take all day) tour of the high country by taking the Success Summit Loop Road through the Schell Creek Range to the east. Access is via U.S. 6/50/93 east out of town. The road winds north past several campgrounds in the forested heights and takes 33 beautiful miles to find its way back to US 93 north of McGill.

If you enjoy the great outdoors, Ely and its neighbors along US 93 may become your favorite Nevada destinations.

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