Gateway to Great Basin National Park, Ely is
a mining town that is a rarity: it still has a working
mine, the huge open copper pit just west of town. The
"glory hole" is so big that in its expansion, it consumed
the old townsite of Ruth. An overview offers a good look
at the largest open pit in the western U.S.
Ely (pronounced Eee-Lee) is the seat of White Pine
County, a desert and mountain region near the eastern
boundary of the state. To the south and also to the
north, there are state parks, wildlife preserves, and
recreation sites operated by the Bureau of Land
Management and the Forest Service. These include the
Ruby Marshes (north) and Cave Lake State
Park (south). Ely offers what many railroad buffs
think are three (not one, but three) of the finest
short-line scenic railway experiences in the country.
The Nevada Northern Railway, inaugurated in
1906, was a necessity for copper mining around Ely. It
connected the mines with the Southern Pacific Railroad
line, 130 miles to the north. It provided passenger
service until 1920 and provided local service until 1983,
when the line was donated to a non-profit foundation.
What to See &
The Nevada Northern Railway Museum is the old
Ely Station. It's a museum and a station -- where you
catch the short-line passenger rides into the
"The most nostalgic ride is the 'Ghost Train of Old
Ely.' One of two classic Baldwin or Alco Steamers
pulls coach cars from the 1800's and an open observation
car past Ely's downtown and through Robison Canyon and
through one of the few curved railroad tunnels in the
world, past ghost towns to the Keystone mining district.
The Hiline route takes you above Ely onto the
mountain benches toward McGill to view stunning sunsets
via a 1951 Alco electric-diesel. Each route is
approximately 14 miles round trip and takes 2 hours."
Rates range from $12 to $16 for adults, and seniors and
juniors are discounted. Their excursion season lasts from
mid-May to late September.
"Special dinner trains, 'Ely After Dark' trains, and a
'Fourth of July Fireworks/BBQ' train is available along
with engine rentals for the would-be engineer (beginning
at $200 for in-yard diesel rental to $550 for mainline
steam instruction for two hours). For those who wanted to
be railroad engineers in their youth, this is the
ultimate indulgence and a service provided by only a few
railroads in the country! For more information and
reservations, call 775/289-2085 or e-mail:
The White Pine Chamber of Commerce, the visitor
center, is in an office on the main street (Hwy. 50). The
BLM office, with plenty of good information on
recreation sites and backroads, is just north of town on
Day Trips from Ely
Great Basin National Park is just an hour's drive
southeast of Ely via Highway 6/50. The park's
scenic drive will take you from desert flatland up
the slopes of Mount Wheeler, to a campground and a trail
that leads to the peak. Also accessed by a trail is an
ancient bristlecone pine forest with some of the oldest
living things on Earth.
Cave Lake State Park is located south of Ely on
Success Summit Road. Past the park, the road is unpaved
and suitable only for 4WD and high-clearance vehicles.
This is a fascinating 32-mile loop route with deer and
elk to be seen (evenings are best) and several primitive
camping areas along Success Creek. The dirt road ends in
Duck Creek Basin (Forest Service campgrounds),
with the end at Highway 93, near McGill.
Ely has a selection of motels -- some attached to
casinos -- an RV park, and a fine bed and breakfast
place, the Steptoe Valley Inn.
KOA of Ely is almost 3 miles south of town on
U.S. 50/93. With 110 sites, the operation has
pull-through spaces, hookups, dump station, laundry,
store and propane. There is also a recreation room, horse
boarding, and playground.
Cave Lake State Recreation Area is south of
town via the same route and then east on State Route 486
(Success Summit Rd.). There are no showers here, but the
park covers 1,240 acres, with swimming, boat ramp, and
fishing and ski trails during the colder months (a good
part of the year in this high altitude).