Tour Around Nevada: Tonopah
May – June 2015
Central Nevada town proves it’s more than just a stop along the way.
BY MEGG MUELLER
The draw of Tonopah has fluctuated over the years. As home to the second largest silver deposit in Nevada history, its importance as a mining town is undeniable. As the almost-exact halfway point between two of Nevada’s largest cities (Las Vegas and Reno, naturally), it is a welcome overnight destination for road-weary travelers. More recently, Tonopah became known as the home of the world’s most advanced solar thermal energy storage plant, Crescent Dunes.
So which is it? Like most juicy puzzles, the answer isn’t simple; it’s all those reasons, and so many more. Tonopah received the most votes in round three of our 2015 Tour Around Nevada, and let’s just say the vote was a runaway, just like Jim Butler’s burro.
Legend has it the silver in Tonopah was discovered by a runaway burro, or more accurately, a rock. Nevada prospector Jim Butler is said to have been about to send a rock in the direction of his errant burro, when he realized what he held in his hand was no ordinary stone, but silver. Whichever legend you ascribe to, Butler’s burro likely plays a part in the 1900 ore discovery, but it’s certain that Jim Butler is the one who put Tonopah on the map. In fact, each Memorial Day weekend, the town celebrates its history during Jim Butler Days and the Nevada State Mining Championships, held the same weekend at the Tonopah Historic Mining Park. Tonopah’s peak mining years lasted until 1921, but it wasn’t until the late 1940s that mining—as a major operation—came to an end. It was time for Tonopah to reinvent itself.
Construction began on the Tonopah Army Air Field in 1940, and beginning in 1942, the base would become one of the largest military operations in Nevada during World War II as a training base for B-24 and Bell P-39 Airacobras. The end of the war in 1945 spelled the end of the base, however, and once again, it was time for a new focus.
USING ALL YOUR ASSETS
Where geology played a role in Tonopah’s beginnings, geography would step in and help secure its future. The drive between Reno and Las Vegas is almost 450 miles, and those are often long, desolate miles. In the middle, however, is the oasis of Tonopah. Rife with amazing accommodations, delicious dining, marvelous museums, outrageous outdoor adventures, and stellar stargazing, Tonopah is so much more than just a required rest stop.
Jim Marsh’s first foray into Tonopah came about 20 years ago, when he became the gaming operator for the Mizpah Hotel. Jim’s love of rural Nevada spurred his interests in the town; he’s now the owner of the Tonopah Station Hotel, Casino, Restaurant, and RV Park, the iconic Bug Bar—“the bar on the brink”— and the Banc Club.
“The Bug Bar is kind of my crown jewel in Tonopah,” he says.
Named after the Humbug Mine, Marsh notes the bar sits on the tailings of the Jim Butler mine.
The Mizpah Hotel and the Tonopah Brewing Co.—owned by Fred and Nancy Cline—are two other mainstay properties. Nancy’s family was some of the earliest residents of the town, and when she learned this, she was drawn to the Mizpah. Originally opened in 1907, the Clines purchased the hotel and refurbished it to reflect its luxurious past.
A draw in its own right, the Tonopah Historic Mining Park is set on 100 acres that include some of the original mine sites from Butler’s claims. Visitors can enjoy underground tours, mineral displays, a self-guided walking tour of restored buildings and equipment, and more.
Set high in the San Antonio Mountains, Tonopah’s location affords it some of the darkest nighttime skies in the country, and it was voted the “No. 1 stargazing destination in the America” by USA Today. Those hills also offer spectacular hiking, wildlife watching, mountain biking, and plenty of off-roading adventures. RVers can find plenty of parking in town, including three trailer/RV parks, the Best Western Hi-Desert Inn, and the iconic Clown Motel.
Whatever you’re looking for in a getaway, you’ll find it in this historic town. The Tonopah Station Casino sums up Tonopah best with its slogan: “We’re big enough to offer real excitement, and small enough to be friendly about it.”
Tonopah Town Office
102 Burro Ave.
Tonopah, NV 89049
WORTH A CLICK
Nevada Magazine will visit one Nevada community per issue and present the town with a Tour Around Nevada plaque and commemorative cover. The towns covered are determined by reader vote! Send your vote to firstname.lastname@example.org with the town and “Tour Around NV” in the subject line. Ely, Las Vegas, Reno, Tonopah, and Virginia City are excluded. Voting for the July/August 2015 issue closes Friday, May 15.