Historic Tonopah, Nevada!

Historic Tonopah, Nevada!

The old historic mining community of Tonopah has been mentioned in several southern Nevada ghost town articles that have been published in this website so far.  Tonopah is a recurring reference point when discussing historic towns in this region, like Beatty, Rhyolite, Gold Point, Goldfield and Virginia City.  Many advances in the lode mining industry that were developed in Tonapah back in the days of the Nevada gold and silver rush eventually influenced policy for this region and the entire state.  The mining town of Tonopah was a place where savvy characters made fortunes overnight and no expense was spared for luxury back in those days and this town still is a great place to experience the legendary wild west at its finest!  

The story of how Jim Butler discovered a rich gold and silver ore strike while chasing down his unruly burro is what legends are made of.  Shortly after the stubborn mule kicked up some gold for this prospector, the Tonopah gold rush began and this mining camp soon became the hub for the central Nevada silver and gold mining industry. It did not take long for all the vices in the world to gain a foothold, because where big money flows, corruption soon follows.  A gambler named George Wingfield amassed sizable earnings while dealing Faro in the Tonopah saloons and he invested his earnings in licensed casino partnership back in 1903.  In short time, his fortune grew to a few million dollars.  Wingfield then invested in a local bank that bought the rights to many mines in the region.  

Within a span of less than a decade, this legendary gambler was worth well over $30 million dollars and the story does not end there.  Wingfield accurately predicted the trend of a declining local mining industry in 1910 and he sold off his mining stakes long before the Tonopah mining industry completely crashed.  Wingfield then parlayed his fortune by investing heavily in real estate and casinos up north in Reno.  This is one of the greatest rags to riches stories of all time, because Wingfield actuyally rose from a one dollar ante saloon gambler to being the richest man in Nevada!

Wingfield and many other investors never lost sight of Tonopah being the halfway point between Las Vegas and Carson City or Reno, even though hard times were coming soon.  All good things come to an end and by 1920 the mining industry was pretty much caput in Tonopah.  The Great Depression sealed the fate of Tonopah by relegating this once famous mining center as being a living ghost town awaiting to be reborn as a tourist destination during the golden age of automobile tourism.

The dust never completely settled in Tonopah, so calling this community a ghost town is not justifiable.  Even though the population declined dramatically, small local mining ventures and the halfway point stopover status kept Tonopah alive.  In recent decades, the solar power industry, nearby military test ranges and the recent popularity of old west tourism have turned Tonopah into a thriving small community. Many old west mining towns in Nevada that have historical significance are now prime tourist destinations and Tonopah is the leader of the pack, solely because of its halfway point location.  Road weary tourists that drive endless miles on US Highway 95 between Reno and Las Vegas sure do appreciate the the old fashioned western hospitality that Tonopah provides!  

There is plenty to see and do while in Tonopah, so it is not realistic to just describe this destination as being just a halfway point stopover in modern times.  Tonopah truly is a destination of its own and it can take a day or two to explore all that historic town has to offer!  

When first arriving in town, the Tonopah Station is a good place to start the old historic mining camp experience!  The Tonopah Station is an old time Nevada casino that is chock full of western memorabilia, mining artifacts and luxurious antiques.  This is a great place to get a taste of old Nevada and learn a little something about the famous local mining industry.  The food in the Stage Stop Restaurant has an old west theme and a bowl of their hearty chili sure does stick to the ribs!

The Central Nevada Museum is located a few blocks north of Tonopah Station.  This museum offers guided tours of old west exhibits and mining industry relics.  A short jaunt north toward the center of town lies another historic mining destination.  The Tonopah Mining Park offers hours of exploration of the golden age of the mining industry.  Guided tours and group outings are offered, but visitors can also wander the grounds on their own.  Just like many old west outdoor museums, there is no admission fee, but donations are appreciated for maintaining operations.  For the price of a few dollars, visitors can take a guided tour and learn quite a bit about what it took to get the silver and gold ore processed, while ensuring that the Tonopah Mining Park will be there for future generations.  

The Clown Motel is another interesting Tonopah destination to check out or in the case of being consumed with overwhelming fear, a good place to check out early!  This definitely is not a good place for folks that suffer from severe coulrophobia, which is the fear of clowns!  To make matters even creepier, the Clown Graveyard is located just behind the Clown Motel and there is also a local graveyard where many miners rest after meeting a tragic end.  As everybody knows, clowns and graveyards add up to just one thing and that is paranormal activity to an extreme! There are many horror filled stories about the Clown Motel experience, so if you are into paranormal tours of the west, the Clown Motel is a must to experience while in Tonopah!  

Along the Tonopah Main Street shopping district is where the world famous Mizpah Hotel can be found.  This historic landmark hotel was built in 1907 and it was named after the local Mizpah Mine.  The famous Tonopah gambler turned millionaire, George Wingfield, financed the original Mizpah Hotel.  The Mizpah is one of the finest examples of luxury hotels from the golden age of the mining industry.  Every item in this hotel has historical significance and the Mizpah is the source of many old west legends.  

There are stories about Wyatt Earp, Jack Dempsey and Howard Hughes being involved with the history of the Mizpah, but at best, these stories are only partially true.  There are also legends about how this hotel is haunted by a ghost called “The Lady In Red” that many guests have seen.  Some of the legends associated with the Mizpah have to be taken with a grain of salt, but without a doubt this hotel definitely is a great place to romance dreams of a golden age gone by.   

All it takes is stepping through the doors of the Mizpah to experience old historic Tonopah in its heyday.  Plush leather chairs, fantastic old west style woodwork and drapes that look like they belong in a mansion were par for the course back in the old days when the gold and silver flowed freely.  Old time slot machines and a saloon long bar greet the patrons and the level of luxurious western style comfort is superb!  

The Mizpah offers some of the best dining in Tonopah too.  I tend to eat simple while on the road and a Western Burger with a beer from the Tonopah Brewery at the Pittman CafĂ© in the Mizpah sure did hit the spot!  For those who dream of dining where the legendary gold and silver tycoons once lived it up, the Jack Dempsey Room is the perfect choice.  The Jack Dempsey Room in the Mizpah offers luxurious old west style fine dining at its best and this place is famous for great western ranch beef steaks.

Traveling on US 95 from Las Vegas to Carson City or Reno is a great way to see the panoramic expanses of the Great Basin Desert.  This long road offers great opportunities to experience one of the most famous halfway point stopovers in the entire west, but there is one thing that should be kept in mind.  Booking accommodations ahead of time is advisable, because even on a weekday, every available room in Tonopah can end up being filled shortly after the sun goes down.     

Tonopah is just as much of a precious gem today as it ever was and many travelers eagerly look forward to returning to this destination time and time again.  For those who want to experience the old Nevada gold and silver rush to its fullest, historic Tonopah is the place to go!    


Author: wildwestdestinations

I worked as a chef in remote resorts and National Parks, which provided the time to explore western travel destinations. I have a BA Degree in Culinary Management with high honors and currently I am working on a Masters Degree in Adult Education. My food and travel blog writing began as a means to generate income during college and now photo journalism has become my lifestyle.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.