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Complete Nevada Traveler

Guide to
Population: 3,700 Elevation: 4,200 feet

Like A hardy lilac persisting through drought and indifference, Hawthorne continues to blossom to the south of Walker Lake. It is a large town with numerous restaurants and motels offering provisions, diversions and accommodations for tourists and travelers.

Hawthorne, Nevada
Calendar of Annual Events

Armed Forces Day775-945-5896

Lizard Races at Walker Lake775-945-LAKE

Labor Day Drag Boat Races775-945-LAKE

Victorian Fair775-945-3671
Walker Lake Fishing Derby775-945-3671

Walker Lake Fishing Derby775-945-5896

Welcome to Hawthorne


Downtown Hawthorne. 800-922-2311.
Come visit the oasis between Reno and Las Vegas. We offer non-stop "Nevada-style" gaming and old-fashioned hospitality. We have comfortable rooms and a heated pool awaiting you. Enjoy boating, fishing, and swimming at nearby Walker Lake, or take in a game at the Walker Lake Golf Course. RV and truck parking available.


1402 5th Street. 775-945-2660.
For quiet and comfort this is Hawthorne's finest! Enjoy our heated pool, our Jacuzzi, our complimentary Continental breakfast. In our clean, modern rooms you'll find cable tv with HBO, a coffee maker and a hair dryer. Non-smoking rooms available, and children under 12 stay free. Restaurant next door. Reservations: 800-528-1234.


North of town on Base headquarters. 775-945-1111.
Bring your clubs to our cool green paradise. Golf here is pure pleasure: nine inviting holes, plus clubhouse, gift/pro shop and bar in a uniquely beautiful historical setting. "Flat and extremely well tended"--Nevada Magazine. We're friendly, inexpensive, uncrowded and unforgettable! Tee times from 7am to 7pm.


12 miles north of Hawthorne on US95. 775-945-LAKE.
Enjoy our Steak and Seafood restaurant with bar and dining room overlooking the sparkling waters of Walker Lake. There's lots to do here: fishing boat and jetski rentals, full moon dinner cruises -- and lizard races in August. We have 12 motel units, 7 cabins, reservations recommended. You'll love our quiet hideaway. Dining 3 - 10 pm.

785 Main Street at E. 775-945-3908.
We are Hawthorne's favorite place to eat, open every day from 6 am-9 pm. Our deluxe all-you-can-eat salad bar is always popular, and everybody loves Maggie's pies. You've tried the rest, now try the best. Free delivery to your motel room, or dine pleasurably on our new patio.

A brief History & Description of
Hawthorne, Nevada


David W. Toll

Like A hardy lilac persisting through drought and indifference, Hawthorne continues to blossom to the south of Walker Lake. It is a large town with numerous restaurants and motels offering provisions, diversions and accommodations for tourists and travelers.

Hawthorne's crown jewel is the El Cap, as the long-established El Capitan is familiarly known, where the chicken-fried steak (the Nevada state bird, according to one of our critics) is a tradition. Joe's Tavern across the street is another major landmark, a classic Nevada saloon, decorated with an eager desire to reveal all. There are rusty implements from mine, farm and kitchen, guns of all shapes and sizes, helmets and other accourements of war--the memorabilia of three generations--including the headlight from one of the narrow-guage locomotives that clattered through town in the early days.

The golf course at the Walker Lake Country Club
is one of Nevada's hidden treasures.

But Hawthorne's most wonderful landmark is rarely seen by visitors. It's a five minute drive out of town to the north, but instead of continuing to Walker Lake--Hawthorne's fourth and grandest wonder, turn west into "the Base." This is what was once the headquarters for the US Navy Ammunition Depot, and is now a minor paradise enjoyed by its residents and by visitors alike. Take ten minute driving tour of this astonishing remnant from another age. Just drive in; if there is a security guard on duty, just say "Golf Course" and you're in.

Your tour ends at the Walker Lake Country Club, where a beautiful 9-hole golf course (open to the public) was the best-kept military secret in America for 50 years. It was built by base employees, four holes at first, and then two at a time until the ninth hole was completed 30 years ago. A visiting golfer wrote in Nevada Magazine:

"A canopy of spring rainclouds was held aloft by rows of towering trees. At their feet spread fairways. The greens were of an exotic weave, floating in elevated pools at each fairway's end like green satin pillows on a velvet bed.

"'Where is everybody?' we asked the manager.

"'I don't know,' he said. 'It's always like this out here.' I thought he was going to add, 'in heaven.'" The club house is a favorite meeting place for local decision-makers.

The Mineral County Museum on the north end of town is an enjoyable collection of local area artifacts and discoveries dating back as far as the Miocene Era fossils from nearby Stewart Valley and as recent as the collection of hand-made knives taken from prisoners at the state prison. Among the mounted butterflies, the buggies and the sun-purpled inkwells is a display case devoted to a collection of brass bells.

They were discovered between Luning and Hawthorne only a few years ago, by a plinker shooting at cans. When one of his shots made an odd sound, he investigated and found one of these small bells poking up out of the grit. He dug around and eventually uncovered 18 groups of them -- weighing about 200 pounds -- as if they had been buried or otherwise left behind by a traveler along an ancient "Spanish Trail" there. It is obvious from their design that the bells had a common origin, and some of them carry the inscription "Mejico" and dates ranging from 1810 to 1818, but who might have left them, and why and when, is an utter mystery.

A lesser mystery is also on display: a blue military uniform dating to the 19th century with unique brass buttons that seem to depict the State or Territorial seal. Tthe museum staff would be grateful if you can identify the unit of the soldier who wore it.

Hawthorne's many lunch and dinner choices range from down home at Maggie's Family Restaurant & Steak House to the exotic (Thai and Chinese food at The Happy Buddha next door to the El Cap) to the ubiquitous (the new McDonald's on the north side of town) and they are all on the highway route through town except La Fuente del Pueblo on E Street. There is a Safeway supermarket on the north end of town.

Walker Lake provides great fishing
and is home to flocks of pelicans.

For the most part Hawthorne's quiet streets are better suited to freckle-faced kids on bikes than to fun-hungry visitors. Hawthorne's tourists are mostly the outdoorsmen who camp, hike, hunt and rockhound in the nearby mountains and fish for bass and cutthroat trout in Walker Lake. The lake is down now, another victim of the drought, but it is still an impressive body of water in this dry desert setting at the foot of mighty Mt. Grant. The Cliff House provides a grace note of elegance in this unique setting, with food, drink and lodging overlooking the west side of the lake a few minutes' drive from town.

Hawthorne, on the main Las Vegas-Reno highway, also serves as Nevada's gateway to Yosemite and the eastern Sierra via the Pole Line Road, Nevada 359, which connects with US 395 and the Tioga Pass.

Founded in 1881 as a division point on the Carson & Colorado Railroad, Hawthorne's site was selected by the mules used by the work crews to grade the right-of-way. Turned loose to forage for themselves in the winter, they found the most sheltered spot on the valley to protect themselves from the freezing wind. The humans had the wisdom to accept their critters' advice, and Hawthorne was established in the most favored location in the valley.

Hawthorne became the Esmeralda County seat in 1883, replacing Aurora where the mines were in deep decline. Hawthorne's growth was hardly meteoric; the 1890 census taker counted 337 residents in town. By 1900, when the Southern Pacific acquired the C & C, there were only 99 more. In 1905 the SP changed over to standard gauge and bypassed Hawthorne completely by going around the east side of Walker Lake. The railroad built a new terminal at Mina and in 1907 the booming mining city of Goldfield took the Esmeralda County seat away. But mining discoveries in the vicinity helped maintain Hawthorne's prosperity through the hard times, and by 1910 the population had actually increased by 35 people.

In 1911, state senator Fred Balzar of Hawthorne was able to persuade his fellow legislators that Esmeralda County was too large. Mineral County was created from its northern part with Hawthorne as its seat, and the old Court House was put back into service. But mining fell off again after World War I, and in 1920 only 226 residents were hanging on. Mina, meanwhile, with its mining and busy railroad, had grown to 680.

In 1926 half of Hawthorne's business district burned down, but even this was not enough to kill the tough little town.

And finally Hawthorne had some luck. Lake Denmark, New Jersey, was blown off the face of the earth by a huge explosion at the naval ammunition depot there, and Congress wanted to find some less valuable real estate for the new one. After a nationwide search, Hawthorne was the choice, the Yucca Mountain of its time. The following progression illustrates the result through World War II:

1930 pop.:680
1940 pop.: 1,009
1944 pop.:13,000
1950 pop.:1,861

This USS Nevada sails the sagebrush sea
at the gate to the ammunition depot.

With more than 7,000 armed forces and civilian workers at the arsenal during the war, Hawthorne was the busiest Nevada boomtown in a generation. By 1950 nearly 2,500 people still lived in government housing at nearby Babbitt, but even as the Korean War broke out, the boom was over. Growth since has been slow, and today the ammunition depot plays a diminishing role in Hawthorne's economy, although its bunkers still pimple the desert as they have for more than 60 years. The Gulf War brought more good times to Hawthorne, and the base--now under civilian management--is bulging more than ever with munitions.

After nearly 50 years without a major mishap, one of the storage bunkers exploded in 1984. The blast was contained by the design of the bunker, blowing up instead of out, and the deeply feared chain-reaction causing immense damage and loss of life did not occur.

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David W. Toll

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