Thursday, January 1, 2009

My Golden Northern Nevada Trek

At long last, my big piece on Battle Mountain, Nev., (a.k.a. in my Facebook statuses while I traveled there in late November, "bumf%&#") is done and out in Friday's New York Times or found here at this link. I wanted to go to Battle Mountain, 215 miles east of Reno along I-80, because I was tired of writing about places where the economy is horrible. Battle Mountain is booming. Why?

Because of this:

That's an open-pit gold mine. The counties of Elko, Humboldt, Eureka and Lander (where Battle Mountain is) combine to be the fourth-biggest gold-producing region in the world. This pit is the Pipeline Mine owned by Barrick Mining (no relation to Barrick Gaming). Whereas I originally imagined that you see fun little gold nuggets being cracked out of the ground or from walls of tunnels at a gold mine, the fact is that all you really see is dirt. The gold is microscopic until they process it and enough of it gets together to be visible.

I know there are environmental problems with gold mining, but that was not the focus of my piece. My purpose was simply to speak to people in a corner of the world where the national economic misery is actually proving to be a good thing. When the economy is crap, the value of gold as a safe investment tends to rise. It's now at about $870 an ounce, which means the Pipeline Mine, producing 1 million ounces a year, is producing $870 million in gold. And that's just one pit.

To get the material to the processing plants, they have these $3 million trucks that can carry 400 tons, the largest haulers in the world.

They're incredibly large. Here's an illustration. Here's the tire without Steve:

...and here's the tire with Steve.

Try that again. Here it is without Steve:

...and with Steve!

Steve is 6 feet tall. Those tires are at least two Steves in diameter. The truck is at least 4.5 Steves. How many Steves tall is your house?

The Pipeline property is huge and the Barrick operation extensive. They have their own roads, obviously, for all their big trucks. I found these signs funny...

Apparently, the idea behind the half-mile limits is just to startle the drivers into paying attention to the signs. That's what the Barrick spokesman said, anyhow. Seems to me that after a while, they'd get used to it, but that's just me.

The Barrick guy made a big deal about how the reclaim the land and restore it to some sort of natural beauty -- hell, better than its original state -- after the mining is over. I left that out of the story because (a) it's not a story about the environmental impact of mining and (b) it sounded like a lot of happy talk. Still, as we were driving around, we first saw this...

...and got closer so we could take pictures like this...

I can't even remember what sort of creature that was. It wasn't a deer, but I'm stoopit and I can't recall what the Barrick guy said they are.

The town of Battle Mountain was kinda neat if you like that sorta thing. My piece is national-media vindication for the Battle Mountaineers to some extent because the last time they were noticed by the East Coast Media Elite Bastards, it was Washington Post Magazine writer Gene Weingarten with 7,000 words in 2001 about why this was, to his mind, the definitive Armpit of America. It's a funny piece and spawned three Armpit Festivals run by town boosters there (sponsored by Old Spice, natch) but is still a bit of a sore matter for many locals. Several asked if my photog, Brad Horn, and I were out to humiliate them again. I could honestly say that was not my aim.

Here's the postcard image of Battle Mountain, the Owl.

It's a casino, a diner and, oddly, a very aggressive pine nut vendor. There were signs everywhere advertising that you could buy bags of pine nuts for $20. I'm sorry, I forgot to shoot pix of it. Otherwise, Battle Mountain has a Super 8, a McDonald's and not a whole lot else. They're excited, though, as you can read in my piece, about a Family Dollar coming soon. Yay!

However, my photog Brad -- whose day job is with the Nevada Appeal in Carson City and whose site is here -- did a great job with a 12-photo slideshow of Battle Mountain you can find here.

I do have one more photo to share of my own from that trip. I stayed over in Reno on the second night of the trip and flew home the following day, but at Miles' recommendation I got a pretty inexpensive room at the Peppermill on that Sunday night. Check out these digs:

It cost $76 for that night. Look at the mirrors, the lights, the hot tub in the room. So what if the jets didn't work!


Gene said...

Steve: What happened to the stoplight? They used to have one! And a red blinker, out by the ol' bordello. I guess they thought having stoplights seemed like puttin' on airs.

Is Donna's Diner still around? I'm drinking my coffee this morning from my treasured Donna's Diner Mug.

This was a good piece; thanks for the update.

Did you

-- Weingarten

Gene said...

... happen to notice how I cleverly ended the previous post with two extraneous words?

Anonymous said...

And how much did the Peppermill cost above and beyond the $76 room? I can only guess, if you gambled! The Peppermill is not the loosest house in town! Happy New Year!

Anonymous said...

The animals are antelope. I love getting out of Las Vegas and into bumf$%^ Nevada. These places may be small with not much to do, but the people are great.

ShortWoman said...

I liked the stairway the driver needs to get into those freaking huge trucks. Complete with a guardrail around the cabin!