Fly to Ely (pronounced EEE-lee) in mid-June to see America’s newest air races, or visit any time to ride the steam train, dig for garnets, and then enjoy your steak behind bars in the jailhouse (yes, they’ll let you out).
Much of Nevada may be desert, but you’ll be surprised how high and mountainous much of it is as well, with long, parallel, north-south mountain ranges separated by long north-south valleys. Although Ely Airport/Yelland Field lies in the Steptoe Valley, it’s still at 6,259 feet elevation. Peaks to the west and east rise to nearly 11,000 and 12,000 feet msl, respectively. For some reason I always feel like the space shuttle coming in to land here: very high, with the long runway in sight from far away, on a very long straight-in. Watch for gliders in summer and beware of large cracks on Taxiway A. Ely Jet Center has a courtesy car but is closed Sundays. If you need the car on a Sunday, call 775-289-8804 to make arrangements. There are no rental cars.
Ely may be new to fans of air racing, but the town has long been a mecca for train buffs. Established in 1905 to support the area's booming copper mining industry, the Nevada Northern Railway is the best-preserved, least altered, and most complete main yard complex remaining from the steam railroad era. It's also been voted "Best Place to Take Kids" for six years in a row by Nevada Magazine readers. A 90-minute narrated train ride will take you along a part of the route that carried 4.5 million passengers between 1905 and 1941. Some of the trains are still pulled by one of the railway’s three original steam locomotives. Check the calendar for special train excursions (see photos and captions for details); reserve all trips ahead.
Spend a real “night at the museum” by sleeping in the yellow Kennecott caboose or the bunkhouse that formerly served as the engineer's living quarters. Just remember railyards come alive early, as crews ready the locomotives. If you signed up for “Be the Engineer,” you better hop to it, because later you’ll be controlling the whistle, throttle, and brakes as you run an original steam locomotive down the mainline! Other unique overnight choices include the historic Hotel Nevada and Gambling Hall and the All Aboard Café and Inn, a comfy bed-and-breakfast with good home-cookin,’ open to the public for breakfast, lunch, and dinner Thursday through Sunday. Then there’s the Jail House Casino and Motel, also home to a taco shop, sports bar, and the Cell Block Steak House, where you’ll dine behind bars.
About 20 miles south of town, Ward Charcoal Ovens State Historic Park protects a half-dozen beautifully preserved, beehive-shaped charcoal ovens that prepared charcoal during the 1870s. Seven miles northwest of Ely is the Garnet Hill rock hounding area, which overlooks the enormous Ruth copper mine. The hill rises to about 7,000 feet elevation, and the four-mile dirt road off Highway 50 is twisty and steep in some parts. About 30 to 40 million years ago, a volcano spewed massive quantities of rhyolite here. The rock cooled to the drab gray you’ll see, but inside are deep red garnets. To get the goods, you’ll need leather gloves, a small hammer, and the true rockhounder’s greatest gift: patience. Don’t quit now—as they say in Ely, you’re on the right track!
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