Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Ghost towns and desert leviathans

On the road quickly again, with eager help from Sean once he realized that quick departure meant earlier biscuits and gravy at a small local restaurant in Austin, Nevada -- a town that flourished in the days of the region's big silver mines. Good food.

Last sightseeing stop, the Berlin-Icthyosaur State Park. More miles of desert highway ending in another crawl up marginally maintained dirt roads clinging to the sides of steep hills -- were we the only visitors to the fossil exhibit today? No traffic on the dirt road but a State Park truck that came barrelling down the one-lane road from the exhibit, so I pulled over to let it pass.and then continued up.

The ranger truck turned around, followed us up the hill, and pulled up right behind us. "Your timing is perfect!" he announced cheerfully, "I just locked up!" At 10:30? He reopened to let Tess and Sean tour the icthyosaur fossil mound containing 25 icthyosaur skeletons.  Although one would think that the icthyosaurs were related to the dinosaurs, they were actually descended from land - based reptiles. Aggressive looking creatures, giant tarpons with toothy jaws instead of a long spike.

The current guess on the cause of the mass die off here is a toxic algae bloom that prey mollusks concentrated and passed on to the icthyosaurs. Sounds like an aquatic version of "Seymour" to me!

Down the road to the mining town and plant that hit peak production and quickly folded in the early 20th century. Nevada tourism promoters are trying to build interest in the region's history by restoring what's left of these monuments to thensure days when riches came out of the ground. In the absence of design plans, restorers have been depending on the memories of former workers still living in the area,

One interesting historical note there relates to the arrival of the horseless carriage. Two of the three drivers who brought passengers to Berlin were early adopters of the Ford Model T,  but the third hung on to horse drawn carriages until 1915. Naturally, the car broke down on his first attempt,  and he had to be rescued by the other drivers. (There were no details about how he was rescued, but it was likely a team of plow horses that pulled the auto back.) There is another auto that must have failed on the mountain and is still waiting for repairs.

Tess drove us away from the ghost town and down US 50, "the loneliest road in the USA" to Fallon,  NV, our last stop before Hayward. We are showering and avoiding the casino co-located with the motel (or vice versa); laundry is around the corner (past another casino), and the hotel Wi Fi would not let us connect until I had a friendly insider conversation with their IT staffer. Unlike Angel Lake and Kingston Canyon, we cannot recommend Fallon for return -- but it will do well enough for tonight.

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