Friday, November 30, 2012

RonnieAdventure #0030 – Winnemucca, Nevada

Did you know that Winnemucca is the only town in Nevada that is named after a Native American, a Paiute Indian named Chief Old Winnemucca? When Winnemucca was a young boy some prospectors saw him walking around one day wearing only one moccasin. In the Paiute dialect, “muc-cha” means moccasin; so the prospectors started calling him “wan-na-muc-cha,” which means “one moccasin” This name, which is part English and part Paiute, pleased Winnemucca, so he adopted it as his new name, being referred to thereafter by his tribe as “Wan-na-muc-cha.”

When Winnemucca became chief of his tribe, he and his daughter, Sarah, traveled across the United States bringing attention to the plight of their people. In their travels, Sarah gave over 300 speeches and met with President Hayes and Secretary of the Interior Carl Schurz. Sarah is also recognized as the first Native American woman to write a book and have it published. A statue of Sarah Winnemucca is housed in the National Statuary Hall Collection in the United States Capitol in Washington, DC. 

Throughout Winnemucca and the Humboldt County area there are a number of RonnieAdaventures! A good place to start is the Winnemucca Visitors Center (located in the Winnemucca Convention Center), where you will find more free information on area adventures than you will have time to accomplish in one trip. Actually, the Convention Center has its own free attractions that should not be missed.

Another interesting fact! Did you know that 37 new mineral were first discovered in Nevada? Or that northern Nevada is a rich source for mineral and rock collectors? To get started as a “rock hound,” the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has set up mineral and rock display cases inside the Convention Center to help identify the many types of minerals and beautiful rocks found in Nevada. The various displays are labeled by mineral type and give the discovery location of each display to help new collectors get started.

Mineral Display Case

The Convention Center also contains the Buckaroo Hall of Fame, which pays tribute to the buckaroos that helped tame Nevada. (In this part of Nevada, Oregon, and Idaho, wranglers are called “buckaroos,” not “cowboys.”) In addition to recognizing individual buckaroos, there are various artifacts, photos, saddles, guns, and other memorabilia on display that give a glimpse into the hard life of a buckaroo.
Buckaroo Museum
Buckaroo Museum

And, not to be missed is William Humphreys’ Big Game Collection. This is a collection of more than 53 mounted big game animals from four different continents.   

William Humphreys' Big Game Collection

Just up the street a few blocks from the Convention Center is the Humboldt Museum, which is filled with historical artifacts and the skeleton of a 15,000 year old mammoth from the Black Rock Desert. There are several old buildings on-site that are in various stages of renovation, including the old St. Mary’s Episcopal Church that was renovated and moved to its present location in the 1970. The old general store is currently under renovation and is not open to the public. Of particular interest is the Clarence H. Stoker collection of old buggies and automobiles, which are displayed along a wall-length mural of Old Bridge Street in downtown Winnemucca as it appeared in 1910. Although not advertised, Winnemucca is also the place where Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid made their last big haul and then headed for Mexico.

St. Mary's Episcopal Church 

General Store
Old Wagons
Wagon Wheel
Interior Exhibits
Horseless Carriages
1903 Oldsmobile
1911 Cycle Car
1911 Brush Runabout
Mammoth Skeleton

Sunday, November 25, 2012

RonnieAdventure #0029 – Thunder Mountain Monument, Pershing County, Nevada

While driving eastward on Interstate 80 toward Winnemucca, at the Imlay exit I saw what looked like a cousin to the Watts Towers. Since I love architectural oddities, it was time for a RonnieAdventure!

The Thunder Mountain Monument was created on five acres of land by Frank Van Zant, also known as Chief Rolling Mountain Thunder. (Frank Van Zant was born in Okmulgee, Oklahoma on November 11, 1921. Although his surname is Dutch, Van Zant always considered himself to be a full-blooded member of the Creek Nation.) Van Zant constructed the Thunder Mountain complex as a monument to the American Indians and a retreat for “pilgrims aspiring to the pure and radiant heart.”

After serving in World War II, Van Zant decided to become a Methodist minister, but dropped out of divinity school after a year and a half to pursue a law enforcement career. After retiring from law enforcement, he remarried for the third time and moved to rural Nevada where he was “reincarnated as Chief Rolling Thunder Mountain.” When asked about the big change in his life, Van Zant reportedly said that he had a dream one night that a great big eagle swooped down from the sky and told him “this is where I should build his nest.”

The three-story monument started as a “bottle house,” similar to one Van Zant had seen near Death Valley during his travels, but he gradually rocked over his one-room trailer until it came to resemble Barney Rubble’s stone-age bungalow. Automobile parts, scrap iron, galvanized pipe, and rebar were all added to the structure as they became available. The entire exterior of the structure is covered with decorative objects that reportedly depict historic massacres or bureaucratic betrayals of the American Indians.  

During the Sixties and Seventies Thunder Mountain became a popular hangout for hippies, artisans, and countercultural individuals that were interested in “living the Indian Way.” During this time period the project was expanded to include other outbuilding, a roundhouse, hostel, work shed, underground hut, guest cabins, and children’s playground. However, in the late 1970s Thunder Mountain fell in to disrepair. The hostel burned down and the underground hut caved in. Van Zant died in 1989 and the remaining structures suffered substantial vandalism until they were fenced and protected by Frank’s son in later years.

Although the buildings are currently closed to the public, the State of Nevada has designated Thunder Mountain to be a Historic Preservation Project Site and may open the structures to the public at some future date.





Friday, November 16, 2012

RonnieAdventure #0028 – Watts Towers and California Sunsets, Los Angeles County, California

I love creative art, so when I learned of the Watts Towers located in the Watts District of Las Angeles; I knew that it was time for a RonnieAdventure!

The Watts Towers are a creation of Sabato Rodia, an Italian immigrant construction worker, and are a good example of non-traditional vernacular architecture combined with American Naïve art. Sabato was a great admirer of Christopher Columbus and he wanted to build a monument in America to honor Columbus, so he labored for a period of 33 years (1921-1954) to build the Watts Towers.

Sabato started his project by locating a triangular shaped lot in Watts. His idea was to build the monument to look like the front half of a sailing vessel with the towers representing the ship’s masts. Since Sabato did not have a lot of capital to invest in the project, he collected any discarded items that he could integrate into his construction project by walking along roads, railroad tracks, and accepting donations of broken items from the neighborhood children.

The towers’ frameworks are combinations of steel pipes and rebar that he bent into the desired shapes by hand, often placing one end of the rebar under a railroad track to increase his leverage. The metal was then fastened together with wire and wrapped with a wire mesh before being covered with cement. Before the cement dried, Sabato embedded all sorts of objects into the wet cement, like broken bottles, sea shells, metal objects and ceramic tiles, and in some places he also used old discarded molds to make surface designs.

Apparently, toward the end of his career Sabato did not get along very well with his neighbors. Rumors circulated that towers were antennae for communicating with enemy forces or aliens, so in 1955 he deeded the property to a neighbor for free and then moved to northern California. He never came back and died a decade later without ever seeing the creation that he had worked so hard on for so many years.

When he left, Sabato had created 17 interconnected structures, two of which reach heights of over 97 feet. The Watts Towers were deeded to the State of California in 1978 and they were designated a National Historic Landmark in 1990. Guided tours of the complex are offered on weekends, or the monument may be viewed from outside of the fence at any time.

As an added bonus, listed below are some California sunset pictures!

Friday, November 9, 2012

RonnieAdventure #0027 – Washoe Valley, Washoe County, Nevada

Fall is a great time to visit Washoe Valley in northern Nevada because the nights are crisp and the days perfect for being outside. And, the fall colors are an added bonus.

As the sun came up, we found ourselves headed for the old Toll Road that leads from the Truckee Meadows to the Virginia Range. This is not a road that you want to attempt in Grandpa’s 2-wheel drive vehicle (or your own) and should not be attempted with any vehicle when the road is wet from rain or snow. There is a reason that one spot is called “Dead Man’s Point,” as it tends to be a long drop to the bottom of the canyon.  

The Toll Road that runs up through the canyon was constructed by Davison Geiger in 1862, so it is often referred to as the Geiger Grade. The road was constructed as a northern route to move precious cargo from Washoe Valley to Virginia City, but the road was also used by stagecoaches to ferry passenger up the grade. Due to the steepness of the grade, and the many hairpin turns in the road, travel up the grade was slow and highwaymen soon found that this was an area for easy pickings; thus, the area toward the top of the grade became known as “Robbers Roost.”

Today, the Toll Road is primarily used by 4-wheel drive vehicles, mountain bikers, and hikers.

 Toll Road

The next stop was Bowers Mansion, located about half way between Reno and Carson City. The mansion was built in 1863 by “Sandy” Bowers and his wife Eilley, who had become millionaires from the Comstock Lode mining boom.  The mansion is a combination of Georgian Revival and Italianate architectural styles and has been used in several movies.

After Sandy died, Eilley fell on hard times and she lost the home to foreclosure in 1876. (Some things never change!) The mansion was abandoned and then in 1946 it was opened as a resort until the Washoe County Parks Department acquired the property for its many recreational activities. The Mansion is not currently open to the public, but the Parks Department hopes to have the building open for tours in 2013 or 2014.

Bowers Mansion

Located about a mile south of Bowers Mansion is the location of Franktown, one of the earliest settled places in Western Utah. Franktown was established in 1855 by Orson Hyde, a probate judge for the Utah Territory. The town’s major employer was a sawmill operation that supplied lumber to the mines in Virginia City. However, when the railroad was completed from Carson City to Virginia City in 1869, Franktown lost its importance and the once prosperous town soon faded into obscurity. Today, the only thing that remains at Franktown is a roadside marker and a chimney, which is located on private land.

Franktown Site

Located about one mile north of Bowers Mansion is the Ophir town site, which was established in 1861. Ophir was also started as a sawmill location because the other four-five sawmills in the area could not supply the increasing demand for lumber. The town site around the mill grew quickly to support the millwrights, carpenters, masons, machinists, and laborers.

There were no water and power resources available in Virginia City in 1861, so Ophir became the first large-scale milling operation in the area. A steam-powered 72-stamp mill was constructed on the west shore of Washoe Lake and the town soon had over 1200 residents. Unfortunately, as with most western boom towns, conditions changed quickly in 1870 when the Virginia and Truckee (VT) Railroad was completed and ore could be shipped more economically to the Carson River where there was a better water source. Today, all that remains of Ophir are some walls, foundations, and traces of the VT Railroad.

Remains of Assessor's Office at Ophir Town Site

The winter of 1982-1983 was exceptionally wet around Ophir, which promoted infiltration of water into the soil subsurface. The increased moisture content in the soils increased pressures on the southeast face of the mountain to the west of Ophir and then, about noon on May 30, 1983, a large part of the mountain overlooking Ophir broke loose and slid into Upper Price Lake, a reservoir at the base of the mountain. The water level rose quickly and breached the dam, sending an avalanche of mud and rock toward Ophir that was reported to be about 100 feet deep in the canyon. As the torrential flow of materials exited the canyon, it spread out and parts of the flow crossed the town site of Ophir and continued on until it crossed US Highway 395 (about four miles from the mountain). A number of homes were damaged and cars swept away, but amazingly, only one person was killed. Today, the missing section of “Slide Mountain” is still visible.    

 Slide Mountain in Background

Saturday, November 3, 2012

RonnieAdventure #0026 – Lovelock, Nevada

Most people only think of Lovelock as the county seat for Pershing County, Nevada, and the location of one of the most unique courthouse in the United States; however, Lovelock is also for lovers!

The Pershing County Courthouse was constructed as a monumental building to outdo anything that rival Humboldt County had, or could construct. The circular designed courthouse is said to have taken its architectural style from the Thomas Jefferson library at the University of Virginia.

The courthouse is a Beaux-Arts classical designed building that has six ionic columns that support a pediment style portico at the front entrance. The inside of the circular building has a round courtroom in the center of the structure, surrounded by offices around the perimeter. A shallow dome covers the courtroom and there is various artwork on the inside of the courtroom walls depicting early periods in American history. The building’s basement has a similar design, but not as elaborate.
Pershing County Courthouse
Circular Courtroom
Interior Art Work

By now you are probably wondering how a unique courthouse has anything to do with lovers – well, it doesn’t! However, in 2005 there was an employee at the Nevada tourism department from China and when she saw the name “Lovelock,” she told of an ancient Chinese custom of forever “locking” one’s love on a never-ending chain and then throwing away the key. The tourism department liked the idea and on Valentine’s Day, 2006, Lovelock became the official “love-locking” destination in the United States. It is said that as long as your lock remains secured on the chain, love will endure. Now you know where to take your spouse on your next vacation! (P.S. If you forget your lock, the local merchants will be more than happy to sell you a new one.)

Never-Ending Chain of Locks
As a follow-up to RonnieAdventure #24 (Silver State Classic Challenge), Nik and a co-worker were in Ely and photographed some of the cars that participated in the race. You can see their pictures at
The fall colors in Northern Nevada are really great this time of year!
 Northern Nevada Fall Colors