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Stokes Castle
his should've been written two years ago.

In September of 2004, a lot of neat things happened. Unfortunately, one really bad thing happened as well. The PC I carried around with me on the truck back then decided to die on me. I often refer to this as The Great Soopageek Blackout; I only wrote one LiveJournal entry between 8/31 and 10/21 of that year. (Interestingly enough, on the date of my old wedding anniversary, but I make no mention of it). I had only been back on the road for a couple of months, after being laid-up for 11 weeks with a broken leg. While laying around, I began a correspondence with (and had a bit of a crush on)a young lady from San Diego as a result of my Beastie Boys lyrics site. We colluded to attend a Beastie Boys concert together in San Diego later in September, and so began a month long excursion to and from the west coast soon after returning to work, that ultimately ended with me becoming a trainer in October.

On the return trip from San Deigo, I had an opportunity to do something that I consider to be The Coolest Thing I've Ever Done. I never wrote about it though, in fact, I've maybe told only 3-4 people about it. It was partially due to the lack of computer resources at the time, but the main reason I didn't write about it was because of the photographs. This was a couple of months before I bought the type of camera I have now. Back then, I had this really cheap, disgusting digital camera. If you followed the "young lady" link above, you know exactly what I mean. I took pictures of The Coolest Thing I've Ever Done and they were all blurry and awful. In frustration and anger, I deleted them. I vowed that, given the opportunity, I would one day re-live the The Coolest Thing I've Ever Done and properly capture it with photos. In retrospect, it was this very event that made me realize that I needed to invest in a much better camera for documenting my experiences on the road.

But this story goes back even further, to February 2004, several months before I broke my leg. It was my first trip across U.S. 50 through central Nevada. It's a 400+ mile stretch of two-lane highway that has become my favorite drive in the country. The western half of that drive in particular captures my imagination for many reasons, and after last week, I made a decision to purposefully take several weekends off there over the next year for further exploration. It's the location of the Nevada Shoe Tree, for one, which I've been known to blather-on about endlessly. But the whole thing which started my fascination with the area was on that first trip, when I decided to visit the semi-ghost town of Austin. I'm not going to regurgitate that experience here now, you can go and read the original entry if you like, but I would like to draw attention to something at the end of that entry which is where this one begins.

While standing beside my truck, parked in a pull-off on the edge of Highway 50, I took a final photograph, before leaving Austin, of a lone structure sitting on a hill. The silhouette of that building intrigued me, and is what would draw me back to Austin seven months later on my way back from San Diego.

I remember it was still very hot in the Nevada desert that September. Just an hour or so before arriving in Austin, I had stopped at Sand Mountain and very foolishly had decided to take off my shoes and walk a considerable distance across its scorching sands. A combination of the heat and friction had exfoliated the bottoms of my feet, and they were smooth and sore. There's a decrepit cemetery which sits on both sides of the highway on the west end of town, just before it twists up and into Pony Canyon toward the Austin Summit. There's a large dirt pull-out here, where I decided to drop the trailer and discern a way up to the stark building on the hill above. I had a pretty good idea, though.

I drove the tractor into town, the mysterious building disappearing from sight on my right as it became obscured by the forested walls of mountain pass. Just before the quaint, main street of town began, there was a small dirt road winding up into the hills. I geared-down and flipped the switch to engage the inter-axle differential on the truck, essentially giving me 8-wheel drive as I began the dusty ascent. The road traversed the edge of the hill, overlooking a ravine and the main highway below. The road turned sharply to the left and continued ascending, reaching a wide plateau overlooking the valley, with only the object of my search sitting at the edge of it.

It's a three story tower known as Stokes Castle. A Nevada State historical marker sits just inside the fence with the following notes:

Stokes Castle

Started in the fall of 1896 and completed in June, 1897, by Anson Phelps Stokes, mine developer, railroad magnate and member of a prominent eastern family, as a summer home for his sons, principally J.G. Phelps. After the castle (or the tower, as the Stokes family always referred to it) was completed, it was used by the family for one brief period in June and July, 1897. Since then, with one possible exception, the structure has remained unoccupied.

Stokes Castle is made of native granite, hewn and put in place by the ancestors of people still living in Austin. The huge stones were raised with a hand winch and held in position by rock wedging and clay mortar. The architectural model for the castle was a medieval tower Anson Stokes had seen and admired on an Italian campagna, near Rome. It originally had three floors, each with a fireplace, plate glass view windows, balconies on the second and third floors, and a battlemented terrace on the roof. It had plumbing very adequate for the times and was sumptuously furnished.

The structure stands as an abiding monument to the local men who built it and to those who helped develop the mines of Austin.

I was actually brave enough to clamber the fence two years ago and take some photos inside. This day I wasn't feeling as adventurous and there were other people around. The inside wasn't very impressive anyway, as the floors had long ago been gutted, making it hollow on the inside. The only thing which was mildly interesting about the interior were the three fireplaces stacked along the backwall, one for each level for when there had been floors. As I recall, the outline of where the staircase had been was still visible on the western wall.

In all, I was pleased with my little journey up there to finally see the building up-close. The view from up there is breathtaking, too. The distance across the valley to the mountains in the distance is a good 40-50 miles. I can only imagine what it must've been like to live in such a magical looking building with such a great view. I imagine waking up in the crisp desert mornings and stepping out onto the balcony to stretch and breathe the fresh air.

Nearby, at the edge of the plateau, is another interesting structure; a remnant of Nevada's mining history alluded to in the historical marker.

But more interesting than that, and what would lead me on a 4 hour journey into The Coolest Thing I've Ever Done, was this: the road didn't stop here. It continued into the foothills of the mountain.

(to be continued)

x-posted to abandonedplaces and rural_ruin

to be continued???? What the fug is that???


With the lengthy introduction I felt this was getting too long as it was, and I have a LOT of photos coming of The Coolest Thing I've Ever Done. Plus there was the practical issue of not having the time to write/link it all in one sitting last night.

Besides, aren't cliff-hangers fun?

That is an odd building! Not very big really, but three stories tall. Not exactly typical. It's a shame no one ever really used it.

Thanks for sharing- must have been neat to be able to go back and find things nearly the same as the last time.

find things nearly the same as the last time

Unfortunately, as will be shown in the sequel to this entry, that is not entirely true in this case, which saddened me, but I still had a good time and will make for an interesting LiveJourney.

Looking forward to more...

That stretch of 50 is one of the sights I encourage all visitors- whether foreign or not- to USistan to drive.

It is an awesome drive. I had an LJ friend moving from Kansas to Oregon and he was planning on driving it and it recommend it to him. It's my favorite drive in the country, and I've driven just about all there is to see. I'm hoping sometime this spring to take a mini-vacation in the area and explore it further withou the burden of having to owrry about getting back on the road.

This is fantastic, I really like the way you've built up the narrative here. Trouble is I'm now absolutely itching to see what happens next!

Keep it up, this is one of the best posts I've seen yet in this community.

Good! That was my intent. It definitely gets better... and way cooler. Unfortunately, it would've made for an unwieldy entry in terms of length, not to mention, I just kinda ran out of time to finish the writing all in one sitting. The natural break between The Castle which brought me up here and what follows next made a good place for stopping, and for building suspense :).

Aw, I was just getting into it! Continue soon!

Ahh that's really cool.

Well then obviously, the Tatham Springs Hotel isn't The Coolest Thing You've Ever Done.....I just can't imagine what is!!!!!

...hurry up!!!

Awww, you really are a doll... a doll for remembering me and the Hotel, especially considering how infrequently I interact with rural_ruin.

Ever since September 2004, this experience has been the single event by which I measure everything else. Nothing has topped it yet.

I just discovered I'm going to have a few hours today with nothing else better to do, so I plan to start working on the sequel. :)

wow, I've definately been to that tower before. As soon as i saw that first picture of it, I got this creapy de-ja-vu feeling....probably saw it on the adventures i went on with my parents when I was about 10-13 years old. wierd.

dats wicked pissa!! :D

I had no idea granite was in texas..I thought it all came from new england. can't get away from the cursed rock!

we gotta get you on some of the passes in CO..there's whole mining towns, smelters, all kinds of stuff up at 11-14k :D

Austin, Nevada.

I've seen lots of mining remnants just from the interstate in Colorao. I'm sure getting out in a car or truck and roaming the back-roads of Colorado would yield LOTS of interesting sites.

It's nice to see someone has an appreciation for the desert splendor that is my homestate.

The best time to travel through it is late fall, early winter. It's not hot and you have many more opportunities to spot wildlife as everyone is foraging for food in preparation for the coming winter.

Also, I think I found yet another place to "christen" with Pineapple. Hee!

I am totally in love with that area of Nevada between Fallon and Austin. There's just so much to do and see.

In the spring, I'm toying with the idea of taking a weekend off in the area and flying Welf out to Reno to meet me. If you get itchy for a road trip, maybe y'all oughta drive up and meet us when it goes down. :)

sumptuously furnished?

Sounds like you wrote it.

Nah, couldn't be me. I'd never use the word sumptuous unless describing you, love.

that wasnt in a movie was it? it looks really familiar

Not to my knowledge. I haven't encountered anything in my amateur research about Austin about any major feature films having been shot there. But who knows?

Great pictures, can't wait to see more!

This comment made me giggle. :)