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.
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