I got into Austin, Nevada late last Sunday night with only about an hour and a half to spare of my driving hours for the day. It lies at the base of Austin Summit in Pony Canyon in central Nevada, about halfway between Tonopah and Battle Mountain. I drove through the town and took note of the signs of life everywhere: a public park with swimming pool, a couple of roadside motels, and a few businesses. I had the feeling that I was going to be disappointed by Austin but with not much further I could drive anyway, I decided to shut it down for the night in a turn-out just west of town.
I got up at 7 the next morning and turned the truck around to go back through town and see it in daylight. I figured I would drive through to the town's east-side turnout, hang a U-ey and drive back through again to head on for Carson City. The town was a semi-ghost town, with old buildings shuttered and boarded up mingled with roadside trinket shops, saloons, and motels. I might have simply made my U-turn on the other end of town had it not been for the sight of the old church sitting high above the town on the skyline.
I decided this warranted further investigation.
I pulled up to the east-side turn out and parked it. From here I had a nice overall view of the area. Above me to the east was the mountain I had come down last night....
...while below me to the west, Pony Canyon winded down to the valley below with Austin nestled into the hillsides.
I drove back down the hill and parked between the Austin Youth Center with its belfry and spire.....
...and the International Cafe, Bar, and Hotel.
Here, I was roughly in the center of Main Street. A short walk in either direction would let me see virtually the entire town. As I said, Austin is a semi-ghost town. In the late 1800's, it produced over 40 million dollars worth of silver during the rush and had a peak population of 10,000 inhabitants with the requisite stage coach inns, saloons, and pleasure houses. It continued to thrive in a somewhat diminished capacity after the mines dried up in the 1880's since this was a major highway in tis day, serving as both a Pony Express and a Wells Fargo stage coach and telegraph route. With the invention of the motor car, the highway was turned into U.S. 50 at the turn of the century but with the introduction of the interstate highway system in the 50's and 60's, the town all but dried up, turning into a village of less than a thousand people . Evidence of the town's hey days, in various stages were everywhere. The courthouse, built in 1868 still stands and serves as the county seat for Lander County, Nevada.
Across the street sits the old fueling station from the era when U.S. 50 served as a major artery between the west and east.
Beside the fueling station sits an old fraternal lodge and stage coach inn, its bricks white washed with paint..
The plaque afixed to the wall outside the lodge stated that it was chartered in the 1850's, but it was apparent that it had long been used for other purposes. Through the windows were racks of old automobile tires and engine parts, apparently having been converted into storage for the fueling station sometime later in the twentieth century. The wood slat siding of the inn read in faded paint "Stage Coach Inn: Saloon - Rooms - Food". Beside these structures were shops space, currently serving as an antique store, not yet open at this early hour. The afore mentioned church towered above Main Street on the hill behind the shops.
I walked around the corner and onto the side-street of dirt which asceneded into the residential area where the church sat prominently. Old church archtecture can be fascinating when you take the time to appreciate its symbolic aspects. Modern churches are more about aesthetics, acoustics, and floor plans which can pack them into the pews, but old community churches have a lot of things in common architecturely which I think can be largely attributed to the Holy Trinrity (the Father, the Son, and the Holy ghost). A lot of the symmetry involves things in triplicate. This was an impressive building, its front entrance elevated from the road way on a rock pedestal about 15 feet high surrounded by a white picket fence on three sides. Two small windows were set on either side of the front entrance, so that when viewed from the front, the door plus the two windows equals, yep, three.
A great deal of the stained glass remained intact, however, some of the panes were boarded-over with plywood. The steeple was a three-story column of brick, with the arrangment of windows and the front door making a matrix of openings in the column three tall by three wide covering three sides. The column was topped-off with a tin steeple, its white-wash fading, with an iron cross. The panels of the steeple equalled six in all, creating a polygonal spire from which, at least three sides were visible from all angles. The church also faced the west, meaning that its face and steeple was best viewed when facing east, calling to mind the nativity story. There is another advantage to this positioning of churches which we will discuss in a moment. The church itself was covered with a tin roof and had a smaller iron cross attached to the rear of the building. The sides were adorned with three tall windows filled with stained glass.
At the rear was another typical feature of church architecture, the solitary window at the rear of the church. Due to the positiong of the church as mentioned previously, morning light from the eastern horizon can shine down onto the pulpit during the Sunday morning service shrouding the preacher in the warm, natural sunlight. Etched in the glass was a cross. Along with the small cross attached to the rear of the roof and the cross atop the steeple, the crosses equalled three.
You'll never look at an old church the same way again, will you?
The neighborhood was quiet, filled with old houses along the dirt road.
Some of the houses were deserted....
...while other had been lovingly restored providing a glimpse of Austin's former glory.
From here, I could look down over mainstreet at the tops and backs of the buildings I had been admiring from the front just moments before. I could look out over the top of the antique store and see the side of the old stage coach inn and the rear of the lodge.
From here I could also look down on the remains of foundations and walls from Austin's old town.
I walked back down to Main Street. At street level, those same foundations and walls were barricaded from entry by large wooden fences to keep trespassers out.
I wandered around for a while snapping pictures of just abut the entire length of Main Street, There are way too many to put here (I took over a hundred pictures in Austin that morning!) but I will have them ALL online sometime over the weeked for anyone to rummage through if they're interested. Here, thouigh, are a few more shots from Main Street before I move on to the mining area.
Having exhausted the sites on Main Street I got back in the truck and headed out of town. As I wound out of the canyon to the valley below, something on the side of the road caught my eye. I found a wide spot on the side of the ride and pulled into it. I grabbed the camera and walked back up the road about 300 hundred feet and took the following picture.
How cool is that? Right on the side of the road was an old storage bunker for gun powder from the old mining days. The heavy steel door was sealed shut denying me access, but it was certainly a neat site none the less. Excited all over again, I just knew I had to explore this part of the canyon. I was just outside the city limits now. On the north side of the road were forested hills heading up into the mountain and on the south side of the road was a steep hill leading down to the river flowing out of the canyon. I walked across the road and looked over the edge of the embankment. Below were the remains of some old buildings...
and an amazing site: the old silver mine!
It was a massive building, long and high with a huge, sloping tin roof. The foundation of the building was on the canyon floor and the building sloped upward along the embankment and then eventually into the the side of the hill, presumably into the mines.
I shimmied down the embankment, not to be thwarted by some silly little "No Trepassing" sign.
I climbed into the old building to look around. From the back where I wasn entering, I was maybe three stories high, with only some old cross beams to walk across. Below me I could see some old machinery long abandoned and fallen timber and pieces of tin lie everywhere. Any glass that may hae once resided in the windows had long been broken out, allowing the early morning breeze to flow through the structure.
I climbed back out and surveyed the section of building that went back into the hill a little more closely.
There was an opening to my left so I crawled through the hole in the wall into the shaft-like part of the building. There were an old set of wooden stairs leading to doorway which led back outside, Other than that, there wasn't much else to see, if there had been an entrance to the mine here, it had been filled in years ago.
I clambered back up the hill and emptied my shoes of all the gravel and dust that had slipped down in them scooting down that embankment. I decided to explore the hills on the other side of the road, behind and above the "Powder" door. What I discovered was old mining roads, still visible in the landscape curving and forking all through the forest.
Some of them were probably still used for ATV/motorbike recreation as they still looked like rather fresh dirt roads.
Strewn throughout the landscape was evidence of the old minig days. Bits of quartz and sandstone that had been ground up into little chunks lay in piles and pieces of old rusted metal machinery parts were scattered throughout the hills. The really interesting thing was, you couldn't look anywhere on the ground without seeing some old nails. This picture turned out kind of blurry, but you get the gist of it.
I followed some of the roads through the forest to see if they would lead me to some old mines. Most of them just joined up with other roads that kept leading further and further back into the hills. As I had already blown over an hour so far this morning walking around Austin and the silver mine, I didn't feel I really had the time to go hiking way up onto the mountain. But I lucked out and found this nearby:
A road made a dead end into this dperession, which appears to be a mine entrance. The opening in the ground had been filled in with tons of those quartz and sandstone chunks. When you walked up close to it, there was a very obvious "hole" of this material in contrast to the dirt encircling it on all sides and over it.
The view was pretty amazing from up there, too. I had a nice view of the valley I was getting ready to drive through in a few minutes.
Maybe someday I'll get to come back to Austin and explore those hills in a little more detail, or, just maybe, walk up into the mountains on the other side of the road where a mysterious, three-story, castle-like structure loomed on the horizon.
I think Austin, Nevada has a lot more secrets and stories to reveal, if and when I find the time.