A sagebrush shuffle
‘Battle born’ and biker-friendly
“Would you like to see more of Nevada?” As it turns out, those eight little words would launch me on one of the best and most memorable motorcycle tours of my life as I logged a couple of thousand miles over Nevada’s wide open highways and back roads, taking in everything from ghost towns to the infamous neon and glitter-lit gaming gulches
My invitation had come from Bethany Drysdale at the Nevada Commission on Tourism. It turns out that the “Silver State” is more than a little interested in having riders visit. Beyond the bright lights of Vegas, lots of folks have no idea what Nevada has to offer. It turns out that for motorcyclists there is plenty in the way of good roads, spectacular scenery, a taste of history, colorful communities and some very friendly locals who are glad to see you ride into town.
Proof of the “rider friendly” nature here is the pocket-sized “Nevada Rides” booklet that sets out rider routes, complete with map details, in various geographic areas of the state (go to www.travelnevada.com and click “Get a Travel Guide” for a copy). A couple of years ago, Bethany and her folks had facilitated a well-received Thunder Press visit to the north central high-desert region up near Elko. Now it was my turn and I could hardly wait.
After a flurry of e-mails exchanging ideas about my two-wheeled itinerary, it was agreed that I would pop over the Sierra Nevada range from my base in California’s capital city. Because it was late September, I could catch a bit of the Reno Street Vibrations bike rally and then skirt south on Highway 95 down the state’s western edge before cutting east to Mesquite near the Nevada/Utah/ Arizona border. On the return swing, I would immerse myself in Las Vegas Bike Fest. All along the way, Beth would arrange for me to meet with local riders and to explore some of the places off the beaten track. Hey, sign me up. I was more than ready to get my sagebrush on.
Nevada (whose motto is “Battle Born”), has a long history of legitimizing much of what was either frowned upon or downright illegal elsewhere. That included liberal divorce laws back in an era where such marital dissolutions were hard to come by in other states. The same approach was applied to gambling and prostitution (legal only in counties under 400,000 population that choose it). There is no personal income tax or corporate tax in Nevada. And you’ve got to love a place that declares sagebrush the state flower and calls a particularly feisty portion of the population Sagebrush Rebels.
Nevada has two Interstate Highways—I-80 in the north and I-15 in the south—and several federal highways. These include the so-called “Loneliest Road in America,” the east/west US 50 (roughly from Reno to the Nevada/Utah border near the Great Basin National Park), and the sometimes meandering north/south US 95, which links the state’s two largest population areas, Reno and Las Vegas.
Generally, Nevada roads are in good shape and are well maintained. How-ever, weather conditions can radically affect out-of-the-way roads and riders should check local conditions, especially when venturing off the pavement. Triple trailer trucks are legal on Nevada highways. Bikers must wear a helmet and lane splitting is illegal.
No bright lights, no big city
Motorcycle riders headed to Nevada have more options than you can shake a stick at. Firstly, there is the ride-route options laid out in the aforementioned “Nevada Rides” booklet. That gives specific road and highway directions, provides trip mileage figures, and lets bikers in on a few well-kept secrets like the five state parks in Lincoln County about 150 miles northeast of Vegas.
For those who need a major bike event around which to plan a ride, Nevada has plenty to offer. From the Laughlin River Run in April through Las Vegas Bike Fest in late September or early October, Nevada already has half a dozen major bike runs. And as we were to learn on this trip, some smaller runs are ready to break into the big time as well.
But your best bet when touring Nevada on a motorcycle is to improvise. Here’s what we did. To start, we headed over the Sierra Nevada via I-80 to hook up for breakfast with the Thunder Press crew covering Reno’s Street Vibrations. Herein lies a good first lesson when traveling in this region: It can rain, and it did, in buckets (though this was the last bad weather we would see for 10 days). Take the appropriate gear; you’ll be much happier.
Since our first night’s stop was Fallon, Nevada, we put Reno behind us and completed the initial 200-mile stint in plenty of time to check into the very comfortable Holiday Inn Express. After a little bar poker in the nearby casino, we met our host, Bethany, for dinner at the historic Overland Hotel and Saloon.
In truth, an entire article could be devoted to the Overland Hotel. Firstly, it is a historic building (built in 1908) that sits along the old Lincoln High- way, 125 E Center Street, in the historic section of this colorful town (call 775.423.2719). Secondly, the family-style dining has to be experienced to be believed. Trust me, you will not leave hungry. In the very comfortable bar, you can sip Picon Punch, the drink of the Basque gods, and all will be right with the world. Have one too many and you are welcome to stay in the freshly refurbished rooms upstairs.
Fallon is located at the head of Highway 95, upon which we needed to “hump it” some 350 miles south the following morning. A nice stopping point is the old mining town of Tonopah. Both the Tonopah Historic Mining Park and the Central Nevada Museum are worth a visit. Far from any bright city lights and with an elevation of 6,000 feet, Tonopah’s night sky is a Mecca to stargazers.
Our destination this day is farther south in Pahrump (take the Highway 160 turn-off). With a population short of 50,000, Pahrump is nevertheless the 10th largest burg in the state. It lies just west of Las Vegas but on the other side of the Humboldt Toiyabe National Forest that includes the snow-topped, 12,000-foot Mt. Charleston (according to locals home to a population of big horn sheep, Nevada’s state animal). Lots of folks who live in Pahrump work in Vegas. One is Steve Balint, a former president of the local Chamber of Commerce and an avid Harley rider who will be my guide while here.
Steve met me the next morning at the Pahrump Nugget where I was staying. He headed us northeast a few miles out of town to Miss Kathy’s Short Branch Saloon. Miss Kathy has been here for a long while and she clearly loves bikers and biker events. Serving up “meatloaf 101 ways” is her specialty and many a biker run and event ends here for a huge party. There is of course bar poker, lots of cold beer and an unbeatable biker-friendly atmosphere. (To see what the meatloaf of the day is, call 775.372.1717).
Prostitution is legal here in Nye County (as opposed to Las Vegas in the adjoining Clark County) so our next stop is the swankest bordello I have ever seen. The sprawling Sheri’s Ranch is open 24/7 and they are not shy about proclaiming, “Our Business Is Your Pleasure.” Once inside, we are treated to a “cook’s tour” of the bubble bath room, the dungeon with shackles mounted to the wall (“We have lots of bachelor parties here,” our leggy hostess tells us in a giggly voice) and are generally given a glimpse of how the other half swings (toll free, call 866.820.9100 to see if the Safari Room and “Bubbles” are available).
But lest one thinks Pahrump is all meatloaf and making out, Steve comes by later that evening to take us—we have been joined by Margaret Ann Schneiwes from the Nevada Tourism Bureau—to the Pahrump Valley Winery. Did I mention that Pahrump is in the Mojave Desert? It is. Nevertheless, the food and the locally produced wine there were unbelievable. Who knew?
The Virgin diaries
Our next day is an easy 150-mile jaunt to the relaxed border resort town of Mesquite. But first I must swing south from Pahrump on Highway 160. Then it is east on through Red Rock Canyon. It would be hard to imagine a more spectacular natural wonderland any closer to a major metropolitan area. On the weekends, just follow the packs of bikes headed for the Mountain Springs Saloon where there is live music and plenty of biker-friendly action. But it is a short trip. First, one is motoring through breathtaking red rock formations and suddenly the suburban portion of Vegas is right there.
From here it was a quick connection to I-15 and a meeting with Larry Hughes at the exit for Las Vegas Speedway. Here was a kindred soul. Larry lives to ride Harleys. And he lives to promote great rides, including the Virgin Thunder Run to be held May 16–18.
This particular day, Larry takes me up to Mesquite to meet Darrell Edwards and other great folks at the Oasis and its sister hotel/resort, the Casablanca.
The next morning we went back down I-15 to Las Vegas and several days of Bike Fest. Along the way, there was time for a jaunt through the Valley of Fire, another geographical wonder of the region. Once in Vegas our host hotel was the beautiful Golden Nugget, down in the Fremont Street section of town. Among the Golden Nugget’s features is the all-new pool and Shark Bar area (call 702.385.7111). Over at the Cashman Center we visit with Nevada Tourism folks, which includes a contingent from up north promoting the Elko Motorcycle Jamboree held each June.
After waaay too much Vegas-style fun, it was time to head some 300 miles north back up Highway 95 and a stop at the Best Inn and Suites (775.945.2660). But along the way there was time for a stop in another old Nevada mining town. Goldfield, a few miles south of Tonopah, is one of the mining towns my father and grandparents lived in during the Great Depression of the 1930s. These days, the old Goldfield schoolhouse, like many of the other buildings in town, stands ready for restoration. But a quick beer in the local tavern where the conversation is mostly about the football game on television demonstrates that Goldfield is far from giving up the ghost.
The military has a strong presence in Nevada, including the ammunition facility in Hawthorne. I took a tour of the local military museum the next morning. I meet with Betty Eas-ley, who taught school here for many, many years. She and her husband also toured the area extensively on a motorcycle and she is ready to show me some local sites. She leads me to the hauntingly beautiful Walker Lake, to which thousands flock every year for a variety of water-related sports.
The 125-mile penultimate leg of this sagebrush shuffle had us veering west on Alt. Highway 95 a few miles north of Walker Lake. At the very small farming town of Yerington, the road bends north before intersecting good old Highway 50 at Silver Springs. Headed west on 50, we couldn’t resist a short side trip up to Virginia City, a frequent destination for lots of local bikers during clear weather (by “lots” we mean many thousands during Street Vibrations, so get here early). Despite its touristy atmosphere, Virginia City is still a fun spot to stop for an hour or two.
Further down Highway 50 I checked into the Gold Dust Inn in Carson City. The next morning, beginning the final 150-mile lap, I head south on Highway 395 before cutting west on 206 to Genoa, Nevada. This is Nevada’s oldest town and is more than worth a trip on its own. Not to be missed is a stop at the Genoa Bar, the oldest watering hole in the Silver State. More than one luminary has bent an elbow here, including Mark Twain, Teddy Roosevelt, and John Wayne.
A short hop south and we catch Highway 207 up the wonderfully twisty Kingsbury Grade before dropping down to Lake Tahoe, heading due west on Highway 50 for home. The truth is no one Nevada motorcycle ride—even one that covers this many days, miles, and different kinds of terrain—can do the Silver State justice. I can say this: Some destinations merely tolerate bikers, and others can be said to be biker-friendly, but the state of Nevada is downright rider-enthusiastic. If you are traveling on two motorized wheels, Nevadans want you here. As refreshing as that attitude is, things are made even better by the fact that Nevada roads are great, and the scenery diverse and very often as breathtaking as anywhere I’ve ever ridden. What’s holding you up?w