Main Streets 2016: Nevada
Elko was on the California Trail, a main route of west-bound pioneers, but people didn’t stop to make a community here until the railroad came to town. In 1868, crews here built the easternmost tracks of the Central Pacific Railroad, which that year joined with other lines to open the First Transcontinental Railroad. People stayed to build a town, a center for rail freight plus mining and ranching — and the tracks still run past downtown Elko today.
Idaho Street is Elko’s central avenue, and it has the wide-open feel of the Old West. The view opens to an expansive vista of the rugged Ruby Mountains that rise nearby. Idaho Street has modern chain hotels, but also old-time local motels with bright neon signs. It is also home to gambling and entertainment establishments including the Gold Country Inn & Casino and the Red Lion Hotel & Casino.
Gold is a big part of Elko’s past along with its present. The city is the center of gold mining in Nevada, which produces more gold than all but four countries around the world, and most of it comes from the Elko area. A tour of the nearby Carlin Trend Mine, given by the Newmont Mining Corporation, leaves Elko every second Thursday from April through October.
There’s more than gaming and gold in Elko, though — there’s history, whose oldest relics may date back two million years. The Northeastern Nevada Museum on Idaho Street features a display of rare mastodon fossils found in Spring Creek, along with exhibits on Native American and Old West history. The Western Folklife Center is in Elko, and each January, it hosts the five-day National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, with music, verse and stories that celebrate life on the ranch and in the rural West.
The California Trail Interpretive Center illustrates the struggles and stories of the quarter million pioneers who found their way west along the 2,000-mile trail. The center is eight miles west of Elko on the trail itself. Visitors to town often head out to explore the Ruby Mountains, the Ruby Lake National Wildlife Refuge and Wildhorse State Recreation Area, or to go rock hunting in Elko’s environs.
Whether inside Elko or out on the range, folks still come here seeking that elusive strike of gold.
Photo courtesy of Elko Daily Free Press