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Elko: The Unexpected in Small Town Nevada

After rolling along through miles and miles of scrub, dust, and howling winds, we rambled into Elko. Its motto is “The Best Small Town in America.” We’ve visited many rural communities that have made such a claim. Usually that translates into Little League, farming, and an ambitious number of churches. However, with its ties to Bing Crosby and Hunter S. Thompson and Cornish pasties, Elko caught us off guard.

Cornish pasties are thick, doughy turnovers, filled with ground meat and diced vegetables like onion and potato. They are the national dish of Cornwall, where the miners found them to be the perfect lunch. Pasties are folded over and sealed with a thick dough rim. The miners, with their soot-covered hands, held onto the rim and ate the rest of the meal, thereby avoiding food seasoned with coal.

Elko, Cornish Pasty
Where there are pasties there must be miners. In fact, mining makes up the bulk of Elko’s industry. The town is considered the capital of Nevada’s goldbelt. Miners, and hungry travelers can find pasties at the BJ Bull Bakery (208 Idaho St). $3.75 for a warmed one. Their most popular offering is the beef and cabbage. Stuffed with moist, juicy beef, it also has a cracked black pepper crust.

Elko’s other unexpected connection is with Hunter S. Thompson, who once visited and wrote of the town.

“The federal government owns 90% of this land, and most of it is useless for anything except weapons testing and poison-gas experiments.”

For his full rant about the town, its people and the harsh landscape, check out his article “Fear and Loathing in Elko.”

Thompson’s bitter attitude towards little old Elko is surprising since the town still has LEGAL prostitutes and active brothels. The state of Nevada allows for prostitution – if your town has fewer than 400,000 people (which excludes only Vegas). This great law website explains Nevada’s laws and comes with ladies of questionable reputation across the header.

For a more friendly opinion of the town, head over to Sherman Station (700 Moren Way). Today, it contains the visitor’s center but, in 1903, it was a homestead on Sherman Creek (sixty miles to the south). The complex has multiple historic buildings relocated from around the state.

Sherman Station, Elko
Elko, Log Cabin
Other historical remnants are scattered throughout the town, like this early locomotive.

Elko, Locomotive
These touches acknowledge the impact that the railroad industry had on Elko. In 1868, the Central Pacific Railroad actually created the town. By the 1870s, Elko was a rail hub, and the area’s main livestock market.

Elko, Stagecoach

Before the trains


I can see for miles and miles…

The grasslands surrounding Elko held thousands of ranches, including seven owned by Bing Crosby. It seems that the crooner famous for “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas” wanted to keep his sons from Hollywood’s temptations, so they spent their summers in small town Nevada during the 1940s-1950s.

Bing singing “Swinging on a Star” in “Going My Way”:

Another fascinating piece of history is the Ruby Valley Pony Express Station (1515 Idaho St). Originally built in 1860, it served as the Ruby Valley station and was one of many stops for the riders on their journey between St. Joseph, Missouri and Sacramento, in 1860. This 11×18′ log house with stone fireplace was only used for eighteen months. It is one of only two surviving Pony Express stations in Nevada. In 1960, the building was moved to Elko.

Pony Express Station, Elko

Interior of the station… Cozy, wasn’t it?

Elko, Pony Express Station
The Pony Express was one of the earliest mail delivery systems, predating the telegraph. Riders were paid $100 – $125 per month, with roughly 80 riders and 400 support staff. The riders traveled 75-100 miles, while horses were changed every 10-15 miles. Stations broke up the journey every 10-20 miles, and there were 150 (or so) stations along the route. The ride from Missouri to Sacramento took 10 days. The most well-known riders were Calamity Jane and Buffalo Bill.

P.S. If you want to complain about today’s mail prices, in 1861 it cost $5 for a 1/2 ounce letter!

Lane & Juliet

The writing and photography team behind Southwest Compass, the travel blog for the American Southwest.



Mmmm. Pasties. Must be my coal-mining heritage coming through.
Juliann recently posted..Dr. Seuss TreesMy Profile

The Duo

They were very hearty, and amazingly good. :)

The Guy

I’ve seen a few places in the US claiming to be “The best small town” etc and it does tend to lead to a negative reaction once you discover the place. It is a good talking point though.

With regard to Cornish pasties, the term is now legally protected and can ONLY be used for pasties produced out of Cornwall in England. Cornwall is definitely not a “nation” although many of the locals would like it to be.
The Guy recently posted..Etramping Meet Up: Big Night In ChinaMy Profile

The Duo

Interesting. It sounds like Champagne and France. :)

The Duo

You just never know what you’ll find in small towns. :)

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