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Whirlwind RoadTrip

Alien jerky, pioneer graffiti, and a hiking kitty cap an adventurous itinerary.



Having lived in Nevada for more than 17 years, I shamefully admit I’d never made it to the elusive, yet alluring southeastern part of the state. Knowing there are endless, incredible finds in this region, I decided to make it the frontrunner for a killer roadtrip. By flying to Las Vegas from Reno, making my way north to Ely, and then looping back down U.S. Highway 93 to Vegas, I hoped to encounter a few new travel experiences.

Mission accomplished.

I covered eight state parks, one national park, three museums, six lodging options, and two wildlife preserves in seven short days. Whew! It was a whirlwind, but an oh-so savory experience.

Valley Of Fire State ParkStarting out in Vegas, I made the surprisingly short drive up I-15 and into Valley of Fire State Park. All I can say is holy smokes. Brace yourself for a load of stunning, dramatic landscapes and photos. I took about 30 photos before I was even technically inside park boundaries; I just couldn’t control the urge!  Interestingly, Valley of Fire has been the site of a number of movies, including “The Professionals,” “Star Trek Generations,” and “Transformers.” It’s incredible that one place has that ideal state park scenic beauty, and can quickly morph into otherworldly landscapes. It even offers historic niches along the way, such as petroglyphs dating to 1150 A.D. I was on a pretty ambitious schedule, and regrettably only had two hours to spend here, when I should’ve allotted two weeks!

After the Valley of Fire, I was en route to Ely when that extra-special roadtrip delirium settled in after about 100 miles. Lucky for me, ET Fresh Jerky proved to be the trip’s best roadside stop, located right before the turnoff to Hiko. After a roadside billboard offered an opportunity to “drop my toxic waste in the cleanest restrooms in Area 51,” ET Fresh Jerky delivered the extraterrestrial and zany experience this Nevada roadtrip begged for. Feeling kind of punchy after being in the car for several hours, uncanny alien murals provided an awesome photo op. With some fresh air and Hell Hole Hot Jerky in tow, my energy levels were restored and the drive’s final two hours flew by.

The BunkhouseBefore starting the trip, I was looking for imaginative lodging options. While I love a good roadside inn, I was hoping for more of an adventurous overnight stay. I got just what the doctor ordered at The Bunkhouse in Ely, which is part of the Nevada Northern Railway National Historic Landmark. Situated in an—wait for it—operating rail yard, The Bunkhouse was erected in 1906, and originally served as the chief engineer’s quarters. My room was one of three available, and I even got to be roomies with the railway’s train master, who lives in the building. I knew I ‘wasn’t in Kansas anymore’ when he returned for the night, covered in head-to-toe soot! This experience definitely pushed me out of my element a bit, but in an absolutely wonderful way. My room was super comfy, and even had an original early 1900s safe inside it. I couldn’t tell if the train master was kidding when he told me the railway was haunted, but it made for an exciting night, to say the least!

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Pioneer GraffitiAfter the trip’s best out-of-my-element experience, I was off to see some more scenic beauty. Looping back down south, I hit several more state parks and found myself outside Pioche, in Spring Valley and Echo Canyon State Parks. Not knowing these parks were connected by waterways, I made the loop throughout, enjoying the serenity they served. It became obvious why this area was one of the first settled in the region: its abundance of water is unique for what I would believe is an arid climate. Driving between the parks, drinking in the panoramic beauty, the biggest mindblower of the trip revealed itself: 150ish-year-old inscriptions etched on a canyon wall. Realizing they were signatures from stagecoach passengers passing through the area, it all became very humbling. Seeing this pioneer graffiti reminded me of stories I had heard of stagecoachers signing their names with wagon axle grease, but never would I have expected to encounter this historical treasure trove. It made me realize we are all just a tiny sliver in a great big puzzle, and what a serene setting I found myself in to interpret all of this.

Pine Tree Inn and Bakery

Feeling like my chi had been realigned, I made my way to what was the most comfortable accommodations of the trip: The Pine Tree Inn & Bakery in Panaca. Nevada’s second permanent settlement, modern-day Panaca is a tidy, farming community that allowed me to recharge during my two nights here. Life seemed to slow down, and it was awesome. The family-owned B&B definitely oozes the ‘all-in-the-family’ vibe, making you feel like you’re spending the night at your grandmother’s house. They serve a deliciously hearty pancake breakfast, which was perfect, as I had another jam-packed day on the docket!

Kershaw - Ryan State ParkHeading to Kershaw-Ryan State Park, I thought I was in for the usual state park experience. I couldn’t have been more delightfully surprised with what I found: a rainforest-esque setting with a friendly feral cat who apparently works the dayshift at Kershaw-Ryan. Yep, a spunky little run-of-the-mill cat. As if this wasn’t surprising enough, the nameless cat, who I quickly dubbed Kershaw, went on an entire, mile-long hike with me! My time with the charismatic Kershaw Kitty was one of the more unique things I’ve ever encountered; he was so fun and charming, it will be difficult for me to resist adding this awesome state park to future roadtrip itineraries.

Oak Springs Summit TrilobitesRoadtrips can be a scavenger hunt of sorts … trying to find a cool restaurant, or a nightlife hotspot. The hands-down, best scavenger experience of this extravaganza goes to an unsuspecting gem at mile marker 81 on U.S. 93. I’m talking about trilobites, loads of them. On Bureau of Land Management-owned land, there is an absolute mecca of little fossilized bugs, embedded in 500-million-year-old shale. A totally perfect pit stop and good reason to jump out the car for a quirky and not-so-obvious geology lesson! An overwhelming sense of determination took over; I was not leaving there without uncovering a trilobite!

Pahranagat National WIldlife RefugePahranagat National Wildlife Refuge exuded such a zen-like experience; I swear, they need to hold yoga classes here. Something about this oasis settled my trilobite-induced delirium. To my complete surprise, yet again, the amount of water and wildlife in this region totally blew me away. Something even more remarkable: the delightful May afternoon I visited proved to be optimal wildflower season; the prickly pear cactus above proves that. Although it had been a wild and crazy trek, Pahranagat knocked some sense back into me, and I was ready to take on Vegas for one last night.

Triple George GrillAfter a completely satisfying warpath of a trip, I was back in Vegas for the night and on the prowl for a savory, sit-down dinner with a cool vibe. Ask and you shall receive! Some friends I made at the Mob Museum tipped me off about the Triple George Grill, a few blocks north of the Fremont Street Experience. Not sure what I was really looking for, I was presented with a totally scrumptious feast; Spicy Shrimp & Scallop Linguine, complimented with a hefty helping of sourdough bread.

After seeing just a little bit of everything, the only Nevada staple I seemed to be missing was a solid neon fix. The legendary Atomic Liquors was within walking distance, and after checking this place out, the walk was merited. Proudly representing themselves as Las Vegas’ oldest bar, Atomic Liquors had an atomic bomb viewing area on their on their roof at one time, and currently has an exposed time capsule embedded in the floor!  With an impressive dive-bar vibe—sans the questionable nature of a true dive bar—and creatively concocted cocktails like the F-Bomb and Hunter S. Smash, Atomic Liquors was the perfect way to wrap up a crazy awesome trip!


Read about other stops on Sydney’s adventure at

Southeastern Nevada State Parks Tour: Itinerary

Day 1 – Arrive Las Vegas
Downtown Container Park
Stay at The D at Fremont Street
Day 2
Valley of Fire State Park
ET Jerky
Ely-Ride Nevada Northern Railway
Overnight at Bunkhouse, Ely
Day 3
Rural Roundup Conference, Ely
Prospector Hotel
Day 4
Cave Lake State Park
Great Basin National Park – Lehman Caves
Overnight at Pine Tree Inn & Bakery, Panaca
Day 5
Spring Valley State Park-Fishing Derby
Echo Canyon State Park
Pioneer Graffiti
Pine Tree Inn & Bakery
Day 6
Kershaw-Ryan State Park
Trilobite exploration, BLM territory
Windmill Ridge Cabins, Alamo
Day 7
Pahranagat National Wildlife Refuge
Triple George Grill
Atomic Liquors
Downtown Grand Las Vegas
Day 8
Old Las Vegas Mormon Fort
Springs Preserve



Valley of Fire State Park
29450 Valley of Fire Highway, Overton
ET Fresh Jerky
12600 South U.S. Highway 93, Hiko
The Bunkhouse
Nevada Northern Railway Museum
1100 Avenue A, Ely
Pioneer graffiti
Spring Valley State Park
20 miles east of Pioche
via State Route 322
Echo Canyon State Park
12 miles east of Pioche
via State Routes 322 and 323
The Pine Tree Inn & Bakery
320 N 3rd St, Panaca
Kershaw-Ryan State Park
Two miles south of Caliente
via U.S. Highway 93
and State Route 317
Oak Springs Summit Area
12 miles west of Caliente on
U.S. Highway 93
Pahranagat National Wildlife Refuge
U.S. Highway 93, Alamo
Triple George Grill
201 N 3rd St #120, Las Vegas
Atomic Liquors
917 Fremont Street, Las Vegas

7 comments to “Whirlwind RoadTrip”

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  1. George Polkowski says: -#1

    Oh, I forgot the Ward Charcoal Ovens State Park SE of Ely is well worth the fairly long trip over good dirt/gravel roads. You can enter by one road and exit by another to keep from backtracking.

  2. George Polkowski says: -#1

    You missed a highlight for this part of the country, actually a highlight anywhere, Cathedral Gorge State Park. The narrow slot canyons in the clay deposits are fantastic and fun. The two times I’ve been there in the Summer, we’ve been the only visitors! On Sundays you can have a free tour of the Pioche Opera House and the free museum there is also open. The restaurant in town is interesting as the owners purchase items that they then store in the restaurant for resale. On our two recent visits it was edged weapons and dolls, what a combination!

    The next time we head up that way from Las Vegas I ‘ll try to find the trilobite beds. After seeing the upper campgrounds at Great Basin N.P., I want to return to camp there at 10,000 feet in the summer. with the turkeys and deer. On the fourth of July weekend it was full, but later in August there were just a few campers there. But perhaps the afternoon thunderstorms might make it not that attractive.

  3. Ron Ambrose says: -#1

    Great gotta love rural Nevada!

  4. Thanks Dany! M. Romer: We did hit Cathedral Gorge State Park on day 5, what a magnificent place! There were so many Lincoln County gems, it was truly amazing. After such a whirlwind of a trip, it was extremely difficult for me to narrow down highlights…we hit so many places! I updated the listing for Cathedral Gorge State Park, and if you’d like to highlight the Miner’s museum in Pioche and Cathedral Gorge, please submit an ‘adventure’ of your own on! Thank you both for your comments 🙂

  5. Lived in Lincoln County for 20 years. You missed a great Miner’s museum in Pioche and Cathedral Gorge State park between Pioche and Panaca.

  6. Fabulous, beautifully-written article, Sydney! Great job! I’m going to check out some of the places you’ve recommended that I still haven’t seen. Looking forward to seeing you on your next trip to Ely and the Nevada Northern Railway. Next time you might want to spend a night in the Caboose! 🙂 – Dany

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