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Thursday, October 17, 2013

Nevada at 149

Nevada Day, the real one, will be on Thursday, October 31, but to have a three day holiday, will be celebrated on Friday, October 25, festivities lasting the entire weekend.  The silver state will be 149-years-old, pretty young when you consider states like Pennsylvania, which came into being following the revolutionary war.  But the old lady has a history that might be considered more than remarkable.  Mines and miners, railroads, periods of bonanza and borrasca, major agricultural interests in what many consider just open desert, one very large dam, that’s a damn dam, as one visitor said one day, don’t forget Bugsy and pals, and the gem of the Sierra Nevada.  There are two national parks, several very high mountain peaks, remains of an ancient, yes, prehistoric lake, and what’s left of one of its inhabitants.

Henry G. Blasdel became governor when Abraham Lincoln signed the statehood bill that created the Silver State, thirty sixth in line, and he served until 1871.  He was a republican and we’ve had democrats in office as well, but one party ruled for several years, the Silver party which later became the Silver-Democrat party.  The first Silver party governor was John E. Jones in 1895 who served just one year, but Silver party and Silver-Democrats served until 1911, Denver S. Dickerson being the last of that party serving from 1907-1911.

Nevada’s Silver State status hasn’t changed much since its first discovery back in 1859.  The first three months of 2013 has converted rock and stone into 1,896,894 ounces of silver at the state’s various mines and mills.  Old Henry T.P. Comstock might even be impressed by that figure.  But, then again, he sold his share of the fabulously rich Comstock Lode for just ten grand.  John Mackay made more than that before breakfast.

Silver created the state but it’s gold that is the big bonanza today.  Nevada is the sixth largest producer of the brilliant metal in the world, the largest producer in North America.  In the first three months of this year, Nevada’s mines produced 39.9 metric tonnes, and believe it or not that is considered a decline from the same period in 2012.  Even old Henry would pick up on that.

It’s because of the tremendous amount of mining activity that took place in just about every imaginable corner of the state that another major industry was started and continues to flourish today; agriculture.  Towns, villages, actual cities sprang up and the population was large by the standards of the mid 1800s in the west.  Somebody had to feed all those hungry men and women. 

Nevada’s topography is actually a boon to agriculture in that most of the internal mountain ranges  run north and south, with rather fertile valleys in between.  The first thing that was learned, put water to that desert floor and you can grow just about anything.  They tell me pineapple doesn’t do that well, but you can bet that corn, beans, squash, melons, and alfalfa does.  It’s the lack of water in many places that make it difficult, the bane of Nevada’s farmers.

Those mountains can get pretty high.  The White Mountains that make up part of the border between Nevada and California has a peak called Boundary Peak, guess where that is, and it tops out at about 13,147 feet, give or take a few.  Driving through Montgomery Pass, that peak stands tall and formal, sheltering a nice little valley on its north side.

What makes Nevada stand our today is the same thing that made it stand out at the time of statehood.  People.  Nevadans are a unique breed brought about through natural selection.  Independent is not a strong enough word.  It’s not recommended to tell a Nevadan he can’t do something because he is sure to prove you wrong.  Towns and camps are built in the strangest places, take for instance, Manhattan, Nevada, sitting in the middle of a narrow canyon.  The heavy monsoon rains of late summer drench the area every year, every year there is major flooding, every year rebuilding projects includes putting the washed out dikes back up.

There’s a reason, believe it or not for the town to be there in the first place, but maybe not still.  The mines were on the sides of the canyon, people walked to work.  Today?  Well, that’s the way we want it.  The hills in Austin are so steep one misstep and you lose 1,000 feet.  The town has to be within walking distance of the mines.  Today?  Well, you know.

There are still vast areas of the state with no public utility service.  No power, no phones, no problem.  Open range is something visitors sometimes learn the hard way.  A six month old steer calf, $0.95 per pound at the auction yard becomes a prize steer worth thousands if you hit it.  Livestock has the right of way.

Watering holes are not always for livestock. Some have large neon signs out front welcoming the tourist and local alike, and after a few years of enjoying this wonderful state one will find himself welcomed by name in some pretty obscure little communities, get your buns out there and enjoy everything that Nevada offers.  It’s been rumored that even a few of those living in the southland are calling themselves Nevadan today.  Welcome to you.  And to those just moving here, there are signs on some vehicles that say, “I don’t care how they do it in California.”

There’s 110,622 square miles waiting for you, and one huge party on October 26 in Nevada’s capital.  See you there.

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