Historic Caliente, Nevada!
The town of Caliente is located about 150 miles north of Las Vegas on US Highway 93. Highway 93 is also known as The Great Basin Highway. The Great Basin Highway has very little traffic and it runs through some of prettiest open country in the Great Basin Desert region of Nevada. Plenty of wild west history can be experienced when touring this long highway and Caliente is a great place to start!
Highway 93 is not the only main road through Caliente. There is an alternate scenic routes to Caliente, but like many of the old travel routes in the west, the other road is not paved. Kane Springs Road is a very long gravel road that runs from just south of the Pahranagat Wildlife Preserve up through Rainbow Canyon to Kershaw Ryan State Park next to Caliente. A high ground clearance vehicle is best for the Kane Springs Road trip and this long dirt road is perfect for those who wish to arrive in classic 4×4 style! Since the long dirt roads are many folks get around in these parts, it goes without saying that Caliente is a haven foe ATV adventurists. There are National Forest and BLM dirt roads all over the local mountains, so getting off the pavement is a pastime in this town.
What is now the community of Caliente was originally settled by two escaped slaves from Arkansas in the 1860s. After this area showed the first signs of being settled, cattle ranchers soon established their business in this region. A little bit later in history this open range ranching region was named Culverwell. Shortly after the ranchers named the region, a major dispute between a shady senator’s railroad company and the Union Pacific Railroad took place in this area. The dispute was over the rights to a canyon railway pass that was only wide enough for one set of tracks. Government representatives did not always rate too high in popularity polls back in the old west, because of the underhanded dealings that they took part in.
The narrow canyon pass railway line land rights dispute was finally settled by a shotgun that was held by a rancher named W. Culverwell. Culverwell owned the ranch that the narrow canyon railroad line ran through. By the means of the shotgun wielding popular consensus, the crooked senator’s railroad company got the short end of the stick and the Union Pacific Railroad was awarded the railroad pass deal.
Soon the Culverwell Ranch Area became a major stop for the Union Pacific Railroad. Because two famous hot springs were discovered at a cave in the area, the settlement was named Calientes. Later the plural spelling was dropped in favor of the singular context. Caliente has been the name of this railroad town ever since.
The Union Pacific Railroad built a huge train depot at Caliente in 1923. This depot building has a classic Spanish mission architectural design. The depot was large enough for government offices and a full hotel. Soon Caliente became a major railroad stop for travelers on the way to Las Vegas from Utah. Caliente also became a major railway tourist destination, because of the local hot springs.
After the days of railroad travel were replaced by the horseless carriage, the Caliente Union Pacific Railroad Depot was no longer a prime destination. Fortunately, the Caliente Railroad Depot was eventually preserved as a historic site. The Caliente Depot now houses offices, the public library and there is a museum park on site. The grand old historic Caliente Depot building is a must to experience when sightseeing in this end of the Great Basin Desert!
The main street that runs by the depot is also the historic Caliente business district. Many of the buildings on this street are remnants of the old west. There are several nice shops, saloons, gambling halls and restaurants in this small downtown area that are worth checking out. Picking for collectibles and old west antiques is what most visitors do downtown.
The first time I visited Caliente a couple years ago, I decided to have dinner in the Knotty Pine Casino. The casino restaurant was an old fashioned classic western style diner. The menu featured easy to recognize plain and simple comfort food, which is the standard in old west towns. The outdoor temperature at Caliente was cold that day in early spring because of the high elevation. Snow was still clinging to the mountains from the last storm. When the weather gets icy cold in the mountains, a hearty rich thick soup really hits the spot. The Bacon Potato Soup at the Knotty Pine Casino certainly was thick and hearty enough to stick to the ribs! The pork chop dinner special also was pretty good at the Knotty Pine Casino. The pork chops were presented simple with a heaping helping of mashed potatoes and gravy. Plain old simple hearty American style comfort food is the best choice when traveling on a icy cold day!
While at the Knotty Pine Casino Restaurant, I noticed a Christmas Gingerbread House display that was made by young school children in the local Caliente community. The Christmas goodies that the kids made looked really neat! It was refreshing to see the old American tradition of celebrating the work of local school kids in public places for all to see was still alive in the small towns of the west.
A few months after the first Caliente visit, I did a trip on Highway 93 up to Ely, Nevada and the Great Basin National Park. Other than in the old west towns of Pioche and Caliente, there are practically no other dining options on this long stretch of Highway 93. I started to feel hunger setting in after photographing the Cathedral Gorge State Park just south of Pioche. By the time I got to Caliente, my stomach was growling loud enough to be heard 10 feet away!
Stopping to get a bite to eat in Caliente seemed like a good idea that afternoon after being on the road all day. The Brandin’ Iron Restaurant was recommended by a a local resident when I was in town once before, so I decided to take the cue. The Brandin’ Iron is an old fashioned western restaurant that serves up good old fashioned food.
Many items on the Brandin’ Iron menu have an old west theme. I sat there at the table and my tummy was growling so loud that the waitress obviously heard the sound. The first thing she said was something about if I was hungry, then I should try the the Annie Oakley Sandwich dinner special on the board. She started to describe the Annie Oakley Sandwich in detail and I just politely cut in and said bring it on! The Annie Oakley Sandwich is a Chargrilled Chicken Breast Sandwich with Jack Cheese, BBQ Sauce, Onion Rings and Bacon. This traditional western menu item sure can satisfy a big appetite!
After dining at the Brandin’ Iron, I was revived enough to drive the rest of the way back to Las Vegas with ease. On the way out the door, I bought a slice of peach pie to-go and got a little canvas bag full of locally grown pecans to snack on later on down the road.
Stopping at small towns, like Caliente, does break up the monotony of driving long distances in the Great Basin Desert. There are always historic places to experience and the hearty food at the local restaurants is well worth the dollar spent. The old historic Caliente Railroad Depot is still the marquis of this old west town and this architectural masterpiece is quite a sight to see!