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Lonely Nevada Ride, Day Two

Ely to Elko to Eureka | Miles Ridden: 322.4


I'm up early this morning. I think it's the elevation – Ely is at 6,437 feet above sea level, higher than Denver, Colorado. The air is thinner, and it can definitely have an effect on you. It does on me, anyway.

I have a great chat with Larry and Brenda, the Best Western Park Vue Motel's managers, while I eat breakfast in the lobby. Larry is a real character. He wouldn't be out of place in any Old West scenario you could imagine. He's a wiry guy with long grey hair and a quick wit, and Brenda, his wife of 27 years, is his laconic foil. They tell me all about Ely, and what a great place it is to live. Larry came to town to work on the construction of the nearby prison – his specialty was as a carpenter, hanging doors. The town has gone through a number of booms and busts, with the mining of minerals and precious metals from the rich earth in the area. When a mine hits big, the town flourishes; when the vein is depleted, the town sinks back into its doldrums. From the look of things, Ely is in a bit of a slump right now, with a lot of businesses and properties sporting "For Sale" signs. Larry is positive that things are about to turn around again, as a local mine is on the verge of a hot streak.

The Best Western Park Vue Motel seems immune to the slump. According to Larry, it's a popular home base for hunters, and their rooms are fully occupied during hunting season every year. The motel also serves as a stopover for a regular crowd of snowbirds, a familiar home away from home on the way from Canada to Arizona. "We're halfway between nowhere," Larry tells me.

It's time to saddle up and move along. I bid goodbye to Larry and Brenda, pack up the Electra Glide and hit the road.

Today is Veteran's Day, so many of Ely's attractions are closed for the holiday. Still, I'm able to explore the Ely Art Trail, a series of 27 murals and works of public art that decorate and enliven downtown, while telling some of the history of the area. The White Pine Public Museum and the Nevada Northern Railway Museum both look great from the outside, but I have to ride right by. Ely is within shouting distance of several huge parks, Cave Lake State Park and Great Basin National Park. Each is a haven for outdoorsmen, with excellent camping, hunting and even OHV opportunities.

My favorite outdoor activity is, you guessed it, motorcycle riding, and that's what I'm going to do today. I pick up US-93 North out of town. My destination today is Eureka, which is about 80 miles west of Ely on US-50. But I'm not riding directly there. I'm going to take a bigger circuit, passing through Wells and Elko in the north before riding back down into Eureka. I want to see some of those long empty roads that I've read about but never ridden.

Take a look at a map of Nevada. Go ahead, I'll wait. There's not a whole lot to see on a road map of eastern Nevada. Not a lot of towns, not a lot of routes. This is desolate, high desert country. The road seems to go on forever on the flat valley floors between craggy mountain ranges. I pass signs that announce elevations of 3,500 feet to 6,600 feet, but it feels like I'm riding a flat trajectory all along. The scenery is magnificent, with snow-capped mountains in the near distance and scrub and brush in the foreground. Every once in a while, signs of human habitation, as I pass small ranches with modest herds of range cattle and a few horses. I filled up the Electra Glide before I left Ely, but I check my gauge carefully when I see a sign that says "Next Gas 124 Miles." It hardly seems possible, but it's true.

The weather has been cooperating wonderfully on this trip so far. I do hit a few cold patches when I pass through higher elevations, but I make a great discovery – the Electra Glide has heated hand grips! I twist the dial on the end of the left grip, and my hands are soon warm and toasty. Warm hands make a big difference in comfort on a chilly ride.

I reach Wells, and a gas station, with about 50 miles of range left in reserve. No problem.

I make a short blast west on I-80, exiting the Interstate in Elko 40 miles later for a lunch break. I'm seduced by a local chain called "Wingers" that specializes in chicken wings. I'm nothing if not classy. Still, unlimited wings for $9.99 with a salad and soda, not a bad deal for lunch. "Unlimited" turns out to be about 15 wings today – not even close to my record. I still have riding left to do today. Before leaving Elko, I ride past the Best Western Elko Inn to take a look. It was on my itinerary the last time I rode in Nevada, but I never made it there due to cold weather. It's a really nice property with a natural rock waterfall in front. They're in the process of upgrading the hotel's entryway, too. I'll have to come back for a stay next time I'm in the area.

Back on the bike, I pick up NV-278, a two-lane road that takes me all the way to Eureka. It's a great road, weaving in and around low hills and blasting through flat valley floors. I'm definitely adding altitude now, but the bike doesn't even seem to notice. Electronic fuel injection is amazing, compensating for altitude and atmospheric pressure in a way that used to confound conventional carburetors. Power is down a little – there's less oxygen available to fuel combustion – but not enough to make a big difference in performance. There's no hiccoughing, no stumbling – just smooth power delivery.

I make the final climb into Eureka. It's a town of about 600 – but still the biggest town in Eureka County, and the county seat. The Best Western PLUS Eureka Inn is right on the main street, where virtually all of the town's businesses are clustered. The town is really a mining camp, and touts itself as "one of the best preserved mining camps in the West." Many of the buildings on the street were built in the late 19th century, when Eureka was a boomtown with over 9,000 residents. Eureka was a stop on the Pony Express, and several historical societies have sprung up to try and preserve the heritage.

The two gems of Eureka's architectural heritage are the Eureka Opera House and the Eureka County Courthouse, both built in 1880. The Opera House was restored in the 1990s, and today serves as a performance venue and cultural center. The Courthouse is still in use as a municipal building, and they stand across from each other on Main Street to give a glimpse of the town's heyday.

When I check in at the Best Western PLUS Eureka Inn, I'm very happy with the welcome I receive from Becky at the front desk. Like nearly everyone I've talked with on this trip, she's a character you'll only find in an Old Western town. In our brief conversation, I discover that she's a grandmother, an avid photographer, and that she has a daughter-in-law who is a Captain in the US Army, serving in Afghanistan right now, and that her daughter-in-law loves Oreo Cookies and popcorn, so Becky has sent over a case of each. Becky is a prize.

The only restaurant open in town this evening is the Owl Club Bar and Steak House, which is fortunate, because all I want is steak. Why is it that after seeing cattle in the fields during the day, I want to eat them that evening? I love animals – but cows are delicious.

I'm back in my room now, thinking about the ride ahead. Tomorrow, I confront "The Loneliest Road in America." I can hardly wait.

NEXT: Day Three: Eureka to Topaz Lake

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Best Western Hotels Along the Way:

Best Western Elko Inn

1930 Idaho Street, Elko NV 89801-2629
Phone: (775) 738-8787  |  Fax: (775) 753-7910  |  Hotel Details & Reservations »

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