Monday, September 1, 2014

A Virtual Paradise

Introducing Heroes, Heroines & History
CFHS blog's new name...September 8th

Silver Peak, NV and Tonopah, NV signs
 "As soon as a peep of light shined, I climbed on my horse and led the burros to the trail that veered up the mountain past some old buildings and a stone oven and prospectors who weren't the friendly sort. All day I watched for signs. A shaggy head shaped boulder. Stubby pines like a miniature forest. The ground turning red. A triple crown from the Silver Peak mountain range. I knew I was close.”
(quote by Seth Stroud, an excerpt from Wind in the Wires, Book 1, A Trails of Reba Cahill Novel, by Janet Chester Bly)

The very first novel research trip I took alone was to the remote, high desert location of Silver Peak, one of the oldest mining communities in Nevada. Several of the characters in the novel I'm working on, Wind in the Wires, take a fateful journey there. A climax of discovery in the story happens in that area.

Cinder Cone at Mt. Lassen, California
Cinder Cone
From Tonopah, I saw a panorama of multiple layered mountain ranges like washboard. Clouds of dust could be seen thirty miles away. Black cows roamed around small, scruffy sage.

Out of Goldfield off Highway 95 on Road 265, I traveled on a road across marsh flats. The route littered with miles of bottles, whole and broken, and beer cans. And water mirages. And open range cattle. I spotted a small herd of camels next to burros. Tiny sage grew barely high enough for a desert rat.

Just outside of town, Alcatraz Island, a marshy area with huge tailings mounded against the base of the mountains. A city sign announced, "Welcome to Silver Peak...A Virtual Paradise.” At least one resident had a sense of humor in the population of 107.

Another on the road warned, “Caution: Minimum Maintenance Only.” Very few side roads exist because a) terrain too rough, and b) no place to go.

A man on a horse with bedroll in back, tarp in front, entered the village ahead of me. Out in the dirt, young men raced pickups like hot rods. Wild horses roam all over. Hearing tales of a "Wild Horse Johnson” in the 1940s and 50s gave me an idea for a character.

From a hill north of town I could see all of the town and the marshy surroundings.

Silver Peak, Nevada
Silver Peak, Nevada
Like most modern mining camps, trailers and single-wide mobile homes in varying degrees of quality and repair replace tents. Residents can still pick up and leave in a hurry. Also, small adobe shacks with sheet metal patched roofs. The desert harshness draws them, them repels them, and sometimes destroys them.
A local told me, “When this place was humming the whole mountain range vibrated.”
Silver Peak has been a mining town off and on since 1863. Remains of at least five mills still are visible among the more recent structures. Olympic Games organizer Avery Brundage once operated one of the mills.

road to Silver Peak, Nevada
The town boasts an elementary school - Grades K-8 - and several children's parks and play areas. There’s an Esmeralda County school bus. A power company substation. A fire department and phone booths. A saloon is a former schoolhouse. There’s also a church.

Silver Peak has a resident deputy and volunteer EMTs. The nearest hospital is in Bishop, California, more than a hundred miles away.

The oldest structure was a store and stage stop in 1864. The original one-room post office still stands next to a modern replacement, a single-wide mobile home. When I was there, I saw four mules lounged in front, tied, tethered, and loaded with bundles. When I first visited in 1991, the postmaster had served since 1939. A wealth of local history.

Out on the marsh they mine for lithium, a soft silver white metal, by extracting it from the brine evaporating in
Lithium operation
the pond system. This is the only lithium recovery process of this type in the U.S. Lime deposits nearby found in 1868. At first, processing difficulties discouraged major silver mining, but high grade horn silver was discovered in 1908. The last silver mine closed down about 1992.
There used to be mineral hot springs and bathtub sized ponds. Springs even ran into houses. But drilling dried it all up. Wood litter at old houses exposes former wooden tubs.

A dark brown-black cinder cone grows sagebrush along the sides. It looks like a huge decaying beast and
Lithium sample
Lithium sample
could be mistaken for a gorilla's head. A memorable climb to the top with quite impressive view. I almost got stuck in the sinking cinders.

Ten miles south a large sand dune area visible. Can hike over it but driving on the soft blow sand not advised. I declined the hike after the cinder cone adventure.

Flash floods can be an extreme problem for the alkali ground. Water stands even a week after rain, leaving a sticky, slimy gumbo. So, of course, a flash flood occurs in Wind in the Wires.

Janet Chester Bly
Janet Chester Bly is the widow of award-winning western author Stephen Bly. Together they published and co-wrote over 120 fiction and nonfiction books. Wind in the Wires will be her first solo adult fiction. For news of its soon release, sign up for the Bly Books Almost Monthly Newsletter:
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  1. Silver Peak sounds like an interesting place to visit, but not a town I'd care to live in. Reading this made me realize how much I take for granted living in a large city. We have five large hospitals within a twenty minute drive. I'm curious to know how many children attend school there if the town only boasts 107 residents.

  2. Vickie: I don't know about the number of children in the school. Probably draws from families who live in outlying areas too, like most small towns. Even so, a small school, to be sure.

    1. There are no "outlying" areas. When we moved there we had 3boys. When the youngest graduated 8th. grade he was the only one.

  3. Thanks for taking us along, virtually speaking, on your research trip. I'm sure you were wise to decline the soft blow sand adventure. I enjoyed the wonderful excerpt from Wind in the Wires.