A Salty Lake And A Whole Sea Of Ammo – Hawthorne, NV
Having recovered from our escapade down the 375, we decided to head northwest and sample some of Nevada’s other side. The roads heading this way, especially the initial stretch of Hwy 6 are spectacularly isolated. They’re lonely 2-lane highways in excellent condition with less than a handful of cars travelling through each day. These are just the kind of long, desert stretches that I love and somehow, as strange as it seems, I feel totally at peace in these places. As “the beast” motors her way through the eerie landscape my thoughts wonder to the people that settled in these crazy, remote areas so long ago…so hard to understand with the luxury we live in today and yet in other ways so completely understandable. I wonder how I would have survived back then?
As you hit the Western Corridor you join the more traveled Hwy 95 and ride though patches of empty hills interspersed with small dusty towns, each as intriguing as the next. As tempting as it was to stop, our goal that day was an inviting patch of blue that I had spotted up by Hawthorne on our trusty Nevada Benchmark Map. We were headed to Walker Lake for some more boondocking and to explore a town unlike any other I’d ever seen. You see Hawthorne is a town that owes it’s history to ammo. Originally founded in 1880 as a railroad distribution point to support the active mining in the area, it was transformed into a munitions depot in 1928…and since then the town has basically blossomed and ebbed with the activities of war. The first thing you see as you enter from the south is bunkers, hundreds of them…no scratch that thousands of them, stretching line upon line across 147,000 acres (59,000 ha) of desert.
What IS this place???
Then you drive through the teeny downtown passing rows of red, white and blue stores many of which look like they stopped in time around 50 years ago. You see artistic sculptures made out of rockets (wow…unusual), pass road-signs directing vehicles with loaded arms and explosives (hmm….interesting), and read warning signs about unexploded munitions on the south side of the lake (note to self…not a good spot to boondock). Finally you break through to the other side only to be surprised by the massive blue of Walker Lake shimmering gloriously in the shadow of the surrounding mountains. The contrast of what this place is and what the lake is, is just so darn strange!
Goodness, its…well…it’s so PRETTY!
We settled into our boondocking spot and spent the next few days trying to figure all this out. Like most places you to, once you peel back the outer layers you find a whole lotta interesting stuff underneath and Hawthorne is no exception. Beyond the run-down exterior you discover a town of super-friendly folks proud of their heritage. Downtown is centered around the classic El Capitan (where you can also boondock by the way), dominated by the majestic 11,270′ Mount Grant, and hides two small (free) outstanding museums -> The Mineral County Museum and the Hawthorne Ordnance Museum. The former is a fantastic overview of the history of this area and well worth the visit while the latter is unlike any museum I’ve been to (ever). It covers the history of weapons from small arms up to fully-fledged Torpedoes and is simply put, fascinating. If ever a museum matched a place, this would be it and I don’t think you can pass through town without visiting it. I enjoyed both and if I hadn’t discovered these places by accident I would never have known they were there.
Then, there’s the little gem of the golf-course. Out here amongst all these strange bunkers, in the middle of the arid Nevada desert lies a secret which only the bold discover. Walker Lake Golf Course is probably the only golf course (in the world?) where your vehicle will be searched for ammo before entering, but once you do you’ll find a gorgeous course where the greens have been exotically described as “floating in elevated pools at each fairway’s end like green satin pillows on a velvet bed.” It’s tree-lined fairways are beautiful, almost ethereal, entirely empty and cost a pittance to play ($15 for 9 holes during the week). Who would ever have imagined?
We’ve spent several days hanging at our lakeside site and enjoying the exploration of this unusual place, but we’ve once again got the itch to move on. This time I’ve got my eye set on another intriguing piece of blue just north of here. Who knows what we’ll find up there?