Unlike Shakespeare's, Much ado about nothing, Lincoln County should coin the phrase, "Much Ado about Everything. State parks and historical markers to ET's and UFO's, more than meets the eye in this very unassuming and forgotten piece of Nevada.
Once apart of New Mexico territory, Lincoln County was established in 1866 after Nevada shifted its state line eastward. A few years later, Nevada's line shifted southward at the expense of the Utah and Arizona territories; the county was named in honor of the sixteenth president, Abraham Lincoln, the very same man responsible for admitting Nevada into the Union. (Although a large number of Nevadans believe we should've become part of the Confederacy.) "Stewart County", named after Nevada Senator William Stewart, but the state found it unfitting after Douglas County in western Nevada had been created. Lincoln's seats were unsettled for a good number of years; eventually, Crystal Springs was awarded the county's first seat in 1866, followed by Hiko seven years later. Finally in 1871, Pioche (pronounced Pie-Oash) was proclaimed the dominant power. Nobody seems to complain, because Pioche has been the seat ever since. An interesting side note: Pioche is the second oldest county seat in Nevada. (Only Virginia City in Storey County is older, having never moved its seat since the county's founding.)
Don't forget a scenic trip down Rainbow Canyon!
Rough and ready to grow (and die?)
Pioche, named in honor of San Francisco banker/mine promoter, F. L. A. Pioche, was first settled in 1864 with the opening of a silver mine. In 1868, Pioche was reorganized and by the mid 1870's, the town had grown into a full-fledged city of six thousand residents. Pioche soon earned the reputation as one of the roughest towns in the West. Pioche rivaled camps in Arizona, Colorado and Wyoming as being the 'roughest and toughest' but no better example of a typical Hollywood-played, 'rough and town' town succeeds Pioche; local lore claims that seventy five men were killed by a lead slug before the first natural death occurred. Pioche's legend is immortalized by the creation of Boot Hill, now a proud landmark in town that catalogs the town's rough-and-rowdy past. Perhaps more famous than Pioche's violence, is the "Million Dollar Courthouse," built in 1871. The estimated cost of building the courthouse was originally $88,000, but building the structure was postponed a number of times due to financial issues. Eventually after a few years, total costs far exceeded the builders' initial estimates because of interest. A few years later, financers reinstated bonds, totalling nearly $1 million. This was possibly the final blow to Pioche's pocketbook. Eventually, people moved on, leaving Pioche and its buildings to wither away. Like many of Nevada's old mining camps, Pioche is a mere shadow of what it was. Pioche currently contains the county administrative offices, along with one of the oldest grade schools in the state. The town's well-developed downtown area beckons anybody for a stroll down memory lane.
The Landscape and the People
Lincoln County's unique variety provides an interesting insight to this forgotten corner of Nevada. US 93 is the county's backbone and final lifeline to the rest of the Silver State; the highway is designated as a "Scenic Route" for much its length through Lincoln, traversing three unique desert landscapes. A drive down US 93 begins in the north, among the cold, sage-choked desert of the Great Basin; the highway curves its way through picturesque Southwest 'red' desert near Caliente, desert characteristic of Utah and northern Arizona, before finally filling its trip with Mojave Desert in the south. However the cluster of five state parks is what puts Lincoln County on the map. All within a forty mile distance, five of Nevada's most beautiful state parks are the highlight of any Lincoln County venture; a trip to Kershaw-Ryan or Beaver Dam, complete with their massive ramparts, are resembling of Zion or Capitol Reef National Parks in Utah; Cathedral Gorge perplexes its visitors with its sculpted sandstone spires and slot canyons. Echo Canyon and Spring Valley State Parks are nice samplings of cold water recreation in the Great Basin.
However, landscapes aside, it's Lincoln's lifestyle that is hard to determine. Nevada's typical style gaming is close to non-existent in Lincoln County; visitors to Lincoln won't find any free drinks or bawdy neon lights; the 'bar & tavern' scene is far and few between, let alone a one-armed bandit or a marquee with scrolling progressives. Lincoln's atmosphere is more reflective of Utah, largely because of close proximity to St. George and the Beehive State, especially in the southern half of the county. After all, the largest structure in Panaca and Caliente is the LDS (Latter Day Saints) Church. Most of Lincoln's residents are quiet people, closed-off and protective of their land. Only Pioche and the county's northern (Great Basin) half, seems to keep the West alive and well. In other words, prepare to be the only one on the road on a Sunday Morning!
Visitors leave their mark on the ET Highway. Is the truth REALLY out there?
Despite the social differences, Lincoln's markers are a blast to conquer; The scenery alone makes the trip worth it! Lincoln's markers concentrate on two things: the typical mining lore of old Nevada towns and the county's strong Mormon past. For example, Panaca has three markers that make reference to Mormon belief; the rest of Lincoln's markers sit widely scattered across the county. Lincoln County has four towns of major importance, but its hard to say which community has enough services to warrant as a marker base. Since the county is largely Mormon influenced, motels AND eateries are hard to find; most do not cater well to travelers (Let's not forget that US 93 is the only major artery in Eastern Nevada!) In my conquering of Lincoln, I found two motels in Caliente, another located in Alamo, two B&B's in Pioche and no lodging at all in Panaca. Most of these motels open only temporarily, usually by request or reservation. Except for the grocery store in Alamo, the mercantile in Panaca, and the "Little A'Le Inn" in Rachel, services are hard to find in Lincoln. For this reason, many people believe Lincoln is Nevada's only county un- interested in the tourist rush -- and it tends to look that way. Most locals know to make a weekly drive to St. George or Cedar City for groceries; visitors on the other hand, have no clue. In other words: You are on your own. My advice would be stock up on everything in Ely before heading into Lincoln County; in terms of lodging, camping is the best and most reliable way to go. Camp in one of the nearby state parks. Cathedral Gorge is a great camp, located only a few miles outside of both Panaca and Pioche! Kershaw-Ryan usually has limited camping, but it's located only a mile from Caliente. These two parks should be good bases for conquering most of Lincoln's markers. Whatever the choice, the scenery is hard to beat! Now, if you want demographics, Caliente is Lincoln's largest town, but is very limited in terms of services. Caliente has little more than a gas station, an auto repair garage and a few local eateries (without posted hours). You don't need me to tell you that sound advice again. Regardless, Lincoln's markers can be conquered in a day, but trust me folks, it is tiresome. I would advise at least two days and even more if you plan to visit some of the state parks. Two days may also give you a little time to adjust to the local customs. Either way, great driving and great times await you in Lincoln County. Just don't forget about the rest of us in Northern Nevada!