There ought to be a law requiring all Las Vegans to take at least one road trip into the Nevada outback. It is a way to brush up against the solitude that is the soul of our great state.
My first encounter with the vast expanse of Nevada came in 1978. As a twenty-something reporter at the state's largest newspaper, it fell to me to relieve the editor at our sister newspaper, the Ely Daily Times.
I'd like to tell you that the assignment came to me because of my readily apparent and shining talent as a journalist. Truth be told: No one else wanted the chore and I was the greenest reporter in the newsroom. In some executive office somewhere in the R-J, I am positive a conversation something like this took place:
"#$@%&, I can't believe we have to send a reporter to Ely again. Who we got?"
"What about that new kid? He might do it."
"You mean Frederick? He looks like a 12-year-old. Can he even drive?"
"He's got a license and he can borrow a car good enough to get there."
"OK, #$@%&. Send him."
But a funny thing happened to me on my way to perform this chore -- I found the geography stunning and the people of rural Nevada utterly charming.
And that is my simple point this morning. If you're looking for an escape from the strain of big-city life, may I recommend the following very affordable rural Nevada road trip:
Take Interstate 15 north toward Salt Lake City. About 10 miles outside town, exit north onto U.S. Highway 93. In about 45 minutes, you'll see the new town of Coyote Springs taking shape off to the right. In about an hour you will find yourself in the Pahranagat Valley and the town of Alamo. Not too far up the road is the tiny rest spot of Ash Springs. It's a good place to get gasoline and stretch your legs.
From Ash Springs, continue north for a few miles. Here, as Yogi Berra says, you will find a fork in the road -- take it.
Either direction gets you to Ely. If you bear right you will be on the "old" road to Ely. That will take you through the town of Caliente, past the Pioche turnoff. It's a fine route worth taking.
But I usually take the shorter route. So bear to the left and, in about a mile, take a right on state Route 318. This is the "new" road to Ely. You will pass through an excellent piece of Nevada over the next 100 miles, so pay attention. Hiko is on the right. Then the road winds through the White River Narrows, a picturesque canyon area. Then, once past the Narrows, it's nothing but you and the spectacular solitude of rural Nevada. Enjoy it. This is Nevada at her best.
Eventually, you will come to the pastoral town of Lund. The oldest schoolhouse in Nevada is in Lund, a predominantly Mormon agriculture-based community. Once through Lund, you will come to U.S. Highway 6. Bear right. You'll arrive in Ely shortly.
There are many good places to stay in Ely. A clean room can usually be had for $50 to $75 per night.
I prefer the Hotel Nevada. It's a historic building, which is always a plus, and it has a 24-hour coffee shop. The casino is filled with stuffed wild animals and every sort of Old West kitsch. Some of the rooms are named after celebrities. (I recommend the John Schneider room for fans of "The Dukes of Hazzard" television show or anyone in search of a one-of-a-kind story to tell.)
White Pine County, with the Steptoe Valley and Great Basin National Park, makes a stunning backdrop. But it is the town of Ely that leaves a mark. It has a way of slowing you down and making things simple.
The Frederick family has returned to Ely many times over the past 30 years. But it was about 15 years ago on just such a getaway when the merits of Ely were crystallized for me.
While Christina slept in with our three girls, I took the two boys on an early Sunday morning walk. As we meandered (as only boys can meander) down to the park along the main drag, the town's church bells began to ring.
"Hear that, boys?" I asked. "Sounds good doesn't it?"
"Yes, dad," my youngest said. "But where's the ice cream truck?"
I knew then and there that this Las Vegas family needed to get to Ely just a bit more often.
Sherman Frederick is publisher of the Las Vegas Review-Journal and president of Stephens Media. Readers may write him at firstname.lastname@example.org.