Friday, October 17, 2014

Las Vegas Day Trips – Eldorado Canyon and Nelson, Nevada

Eldorado Canyon, about an hour’s drive outside Las Vegas, is a rugged desert canyon bursting with history and a wildly picturesque ghost town/museum.

If you’re a photographer, be prepared to almost faint when you see the restored ghost town of Nelson in Eldorado Canyon. It’s a popular backdrop for photogs in the know, so much so that a Google search results in several pages of wedding and portrait photography websites before you get to any actual history about the place.

Eldorado Canyon’s heyday was in the mid-1800s, when the canyon held many mines, most notably the Techatticup Mine (no longer producing gold, but now open for tours).

At the mouth of the canyon, Nelson’s Landing was once a port for steamships that traveled up and down the navigable portions of the Colorado River to the Gulf of California, then onward to the Pacific.

Many years after the miners and steamboats were gone, Nelson’s Landing was the site of one of Nevada’s worst disasters. In 1974 a massive flash flood destroyed a settlement at the mouth of the canyon. A 40-foot wall of water obliterated everything in its path, killing at least nine people and washing away trailers, cars, a restaurant, boats, and part of a dock.

Today, the wash bears no evidence of its former life. It looks as wild as it can be, except for the prevalence of trash and broken glass. It’s a popular place for jumping off cliffs and launching kayak tours upriver toward Hoover Dam.

We did not jump off any cliffs or do any kayaking, although we got a flat tire (quickly fixed by David, my hubby) and I took a lot of pictures. Actually, more than a lot… way, way more than a lot.

I briefly thought I was going to have to jump in the murky, weedy, nasty-looking water at the Lake Mojave shoreline when Gigi was apparently struck with the thought that it might be a good idea to jump in the water. 

She loves to play in shallow water, and when she saw the lake, she ran to its edge. Then she stopped her dainty splashing, gazed out at the lake and wiggled in her middle as though she planned on leaping in. “Don’t you even think about it,” I told her (with my “I mean business” voice), and she dutifully came back.

In Nelson, I took over a hundred pictures, while Gigi dragged David into shaded areas. I read later that Nelson has a terrible rattlesnake problem, which explained the pictures of the huge (dead) rattlesnakes I saw in the museum.

I was just glad I didn’t disturb any living ones while I was in a kind of photographic delirium, what with the old cars and the teddy bear cactus and the scattered, eclectic collection of old tools and memorabilia.

At the end of our wonderful day, we walked up to our car just in time to catch the first of the professional photo shoot crews arriving. Their model, who was dressed in an orange and yellow snakeskin body suit and stripper heels, was checking her make-up in the reflection of my Jeep’s back windows.

It was the perfect ending to the day.

Nelson makes a perfect Sunday outing. Be sure to gas up and bring food; there’s no restaurant or store. (And make sure you have a spare.)

Other great ghost towns not far from Las Vegas include Grafton, Utah, outside of Zion & Rhyolite, outside of Death Valley.

Do you have a favorite ghost town?
All pictures by me,Terrisa Meeks. You can see more pictures of my day in Nelson at flickr.

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