In 1915 the Tonopah-Belmont Development Co. began developing the property that would become the Belmont Mine. The Belmont Mine was built about seven miles southwest of the town of Hamilton, which was already a ghost town by 1915.
Belmont Mill was set up as a company town, with mostly employees residing in the camp there. Even though a considerable amount of money was put into the Belmont Mine, the mines were mediocre in production, and the camp and mill were abandoned about ten years after opening.
Today, much of the mine still remains. There are multiple structures, including the main mining building. The main building still has quite a bit of the original mining equipment inside, like a large pulley system to extract the ore from the mine. There are a few large bins hanging from pulley cables that served as counterweights to the ore containers.
The Belmont Mine also has a large aerial tramway that would take the ore from the Belmont Mine main building over to the original Belmont millsite. Apparently, the original millsite is further up the canyon from the still intact buildings of Belmont Mine, but none of the original millsite buildings remain.
Other buildings still intact at the millsite include what looks was a mill office, and what was likely a boarding house for employees.
Belmont Mine is such as impressive site because so many of the buildings are still intact, and the mining equipment seems to just be suspended in time. This ghost millsite looked as though a shift ended, and everyone vacated the desert instead of going back to work the next day.
Back in the second half of the 1800’s people were finding silver in all the nooks and crannies of Nevada, which caused mining towns to erupt from the desert landscape. People moved in from all over to stake their claims of the not-quite-gold riches that Nevada had to offer. In 1873 the federal government demonetized silver, creating the gold standard in the United States. After that all of those booming mining towns began to dry up and blow away. And that is how the state of Nevada now has more ghost towns than populated towns.
One of those ghost towns is Hamilton, Nevada. In 1867 silver was discovered on Treasure Hill, which is an area located above what would become the town of Hamilton. Treasure Hill contained a lot of silver and a lot of caves. Treasure Hill became known as Cave City because most miners opted to live in the caves due to the lack of building materials in the area. Once the word got out about the lodes of silver that the cave dwellers were finding, then more people moved into the area and the need for an established town became evident.
The town of Hamilton quickly grew into a desert metropolis. By 1869 the population was over 20,000. Hamilton had banks, schools, a skate rink, dance halls, two newspapers, breweries, an opera house, a soda factory, and many churches to attend to ask for forgiveness for attending any one of the over 100 saloons within the city.
By 1870 the silver mines were picked pretty clean, so some residents relocated to the nearby town of Ely. When the demonetization of silver happened in 1873, the population dwindled to just 4000.
Later in 1873 a shop owner attempted to burn down his own shop to collect insurance money, but the fire took half of the town with it. Population shrunk to a mere 500. 10 years later the remaining residents had to vacate Hamilton as another fire claimed all the wooden buildings that were left.
The Nevada portion of U.S. Route 50 was named the Loneliest Highway in America by America by Life Magazine in 1986. While driving across the bare land of central Nevada we noticed that people must have embraced the name and celebrated by moving away. Ranches do come into view occasionally, but the majority of the population consists of birds, reptiles, and four legged mammals.
On a steep hillside above Austin, Nevada is Stokes Castle. The castle was built in 1897 by Anson Stokes as a summer home for his affluential family. The Austin area was in a mining boom, and Stokes owned several mines in the area. When the construction was finished, his family stayed in the castle for only a month before moving away. Stokes’ adult children did return later for a short time, until they discovered that high desert winters were not all sunshine and cacti. Stokes sold the castle in 1898, but it remained empty.
In 1956 a cousin of Anson Stokes purchased the castle, but never took up residence. Although it is still privately owned, no one has lived there since the Stokes family in 1897.
The castle has three stories, built by locally mined granite that was lifted onto the hillside with a large hand winch, which still stands near the castle.
The first story held the kitchen and dining area, the second and third floors consisted of two bedrooms. Each floor had a fireplace, plate glass view windows, and the upper two stories each had their own balcony. Stokes lavishly decorated the interior of the castle, and the entire building was influenced by Roman Villas in Italy.
Stokes castle is an impressive sight even now. The castle is the first thing you see as you enter Austin from Highway 305. It looms high on the hillside above the town like a medieval beacon leading you to the Vale of Arryn in Westeros.
Camping inside the Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge
Virgin Valley Campground is a free campground in the middle of Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge in northern Nevada. The campground is first come, first-served, and you can stay up to 14 days. There are about a dozen spaces to set up camp in, and most have a picnic table and a fire pit. Pets are welcome, and much to my delight, there is also a Little Free Library on site!
But the real gem here? The geothermal warm springs that have been piped into a pool in the campground. There is also an open bathhouse with hot showers. There are no hookups, but potable water is available.
Virgin Valley is a great base camp for exploring some of the 900 square miles of wildlife habitat inside the Sheldon Wildlife Refuge. The refuge is home to a variety of birds, butterflies, snakes, lizards, rabbits, deer, wild horses, bighorn sheep and more.
Make sure to bring all your supplies with you, because there is not a whole lot of shopping nearby. About 30 miles east of the campground is the small Denio Junction, which has a bar, and a small convenience store/gas pump/bar/motel. Winnemucca is the closest town with grocery stores, and it is about 130 miles away.
We got plenty familiar with the drive to Winnemucca and back, due to a broken motorhome door. Then we bought the wrong shit to fix the door. We had to make the drive three times over three days for various annoying reasons. After all that quality time trying not to get irritated and bite each others’ heads off, we finally managed to get Matilda’s door back in shape.
After all the frickin’ door fun, we wanted to move down the road to find a new view out our newly fixed front door. We were looking for a little more seclusion and decided to try out off-grid camping along the Bog Hot Springs Road, which runs alongside the (aptly named) Bog Hot Springs. You can find Bog Hot Springs Road off of highway 140, about 10 miles west of Denio Junction.
Being under-educated on Hot Spring etiquette, I was only slightly alarmed by the old man baring his wrinkly, pale ass right in front of me. And by “only slightly alarmed,” I mean VERY red-faced. Apparently, clothing is optional. It seems to be a popular theory that soaking in the 111℉ geothermal hot springs while naked is good for your body…and the hot springs. The claim is that soap and detergents in your clothes are bad for the springs and the natural algae that only grow in them. It was a pretty steady flow of people coming and going. Some just stayed for a few hours, and some camped along the hot springs like we were. It did seem that most of the people we came across were polite and friendly…at least I think so. I avoided eye contact and admired the horizon quite often.
While we did not participate in the naked soaking, we did soak; shorts and tank tops are welcome too. The temperatures were in the 90’s during the day, so most soaking was early morning or in the evenings. It was relaxing…and, well…boggy. The floor of the hot springs is super thick, sandy mud that WILL squish between your toes (and probably other things).
When the time came to get back on the road, we headed down the familiar road to Winnemucca to restock Matilda, and wash all the mud from our clothes, dogs, car, motorhome, and selves.
But our drive to Winnemucca was interrupted by a flat tire on our tow car because we are disaster magnets. We managed to get the tire fixed quickly and headed south toward Austin, Nevada and Stokes Castle.