Weathered remains of yesteryear dot Highway 165 to the old mining town of Nelson. The pavement continues through rugged Eldorado Canyon to a superb overlook above the Colorado River where steamboats used to dock at Nelson’s Landing. This 18-mile highway through history lies just 10 miles south of Railroad Pass on U.S. 93, within minutes of Las Vegas but a world away from urban bustle.
Always scenic, the route promises visitors this spring a bonus of lavish displays of wildflowers that should continue into May. The flower show began at the lowest elevation close to the river in February. The show moves up into the 3,000-foot pass at Nelson in the weeks ahead. Various kinds of cactuses bear blossoms late in the season, including chartreuse flowers on the arms of dense stands of teddy-bear cholla in the canyon.
Just now coming into first bloom, the golden blossoms of brittlebush mass atop handsome, mounding plants with gray-green foliage. Their sheer exuberance commands most of the attention, but passers-by should find a safe place to pull off the pavement for a closer look at many other lovely blossoms. Early bloomers such as purple phacelia, ivory and yellow primroses and a couple of types of golden poppies should continue their show, joined by many others. You’ll never see most of them if you don’t get out of your car, especially the tiniest blossoms called “belly flowers” because you have to get so close to the ground to see them.
Conditions in the Eldorado Mountains this winter dictated a better than average flower show this spring. They received the requisite inch of rain last fall, intermittent water rains, some snow and gentle showers this spring. Harsh, drying winds did not arrive to wither the tender shoots. They now cloak the hills with a soft blanket of greenery which may turn into fields of color.
Visitors should watch for the other desert residents drawn to the cover and food the plants create. Plants produce flowers, pollen, seeds and fruit attractive to birds, insects, rodents and desert tortoises. These in turn attract predators like snakes, coyotes, foxes and various winged hunters. Since rattlesnakes are common in this area, watch where you put your hands and feet and listen for their buzzing or rattling warnings. Keep children close and dogs leashed.
Mid-canyon, a cluster of rustic buildings marks the assembly point for Eldorado Canyon Mine Tours and Colorado River Tours, commercial ventures developed by Tony and Bobbie Werly. They offer canoe and kayak rentals for $25-$30 for unguided tours of the river and guided tours into some of the oldest mines in Nevada. Visit www. eldoradocanyonminetours. com.
In the Savage and Techatticup Mines located just across the highway, the couple used existing shafts and tunnels of the old diggings. They installed lighting, removed obstacles, shored up walls and stabilized tunnel ceilings to create a safe tour. The Werlys provide visitors with glimpses of the past and interesting narrative of historical events.
While waiting for your tour, take a look at the wealth of historical photos, maps, rocks and mineral samples and mining artifacts on display inside the general store and on the grounds. Tours operate daily from 9:15 a.m. to 2:15 p.m., whenever at least four people assemble. Tours last about an hour and involve easy walking on desert paths and inside the tunnels on pathways or boardwalks. Adults pay $12.50. Children aged 12 and under take the tour for $7.50.
Old mines dot the Eldorado Mountains. The Techatticup yielded ore first to Native Americans, then to the Spanish. Around the time of the Civil War, the area boomed. Mine production halted when miners with strong Union and Confederate leanings organized into armed camps. Military intervention returned peace and productivity to Eldorado Canyon when soldiers arrived on steamboats.
Many visitors explore the area on foot or by four-wheel drive vehicles using old mining roads. These roads also provide trails for a new adventure — guided horseback rides. Trail rides starting from a coral just down the road from the tour center cost $69 for short rides to $159 for dinner rides. Call the tour center at 291-0026 for more information or to make reservations for rides or tours.
Margo Bartlett Pesek’s column appears on Sundays.