The old west ghost towns and abandoned mining camps in Nevada certainly are interesting places to visit. The ghost towns offer a glimpse into the past and a lot of old west history can be learned just by experiencing these destinations. Some of the old ghost towns are located along paved roads and they are easy to access. Unfortunately, the majority of the completely abandoned western ghost towns are located in remote areas that can only be accessed by hiking or with a high ground clearance vehicle. Berlin is a good example of a Nevada ghost town that is way out in the middle of nowhere and the long dirt road going there is not always smooth enough for a regular passenger car.
Checking the weather forecast and the dirt road condition before heading way out in the boonies is a good way to prevent headaches later on down the road. Flash floods are always a threat in the Great Basin Desert and flash floods are the main cause of dirt road closures. Driving endless miles only to fall short of the destination because of a dirt road closure is frustrating and doing a little research ahead of time can keep a dud trip from happening.
When driving the long desert dirt roads in Nevada, it pays to know exactly where you are at. Nevada is the land of military bases and one simply does not want to end up driving on a dirt road that runs through an Air Force practice bombing range. Mistakenly driving into a top secret military base property, like Area 51, will cause untold delays in the travel plan too. Being detained for several days is not exactly the way to enjoy a ghost town venture while on vacation, so knowing exactly where you are in remote areas of the desert is essential!
As far as it goes, the Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park is very easy to find and the roads are well marked, although a visitor will definitely be way out in the wide open spaces. The closest town for essentials is Gabbs, but this old mining town does close early. For this reason, be sure to top off the tank before heading into the State Park, just in case no fuel is available till you get back to a major highway.
The Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park access road is located on Nevada State Road 844. The long road that goes into the park from the main highway is paved most of the way, then it turns into a well maintained dirt road for the last few miles. Folks that drive regular passenger cars or RV campers will have no problem negotiating this road as long as it does not rain. There are facilities on site, which are like a sigh of relief after the long drive.
Berlin is a well preserved old abandoned mining community and restoration projects were underway during my visit. This was a fairly new State Park at that time and I am sure that the funding has improved the preservation effort even more since then. The underground mines at Berlin produced a tremendous amount of pure gold bouillon back in the day, so this was a well known place. After the mines played out, members of this remote community moved on and by 1911 Berlin was officially a ghost town.
The old Berlin stamp mill and mercury plate gold ore processing facility are in top condition. Many of the old ghost town buildings are still standing and they are well maintained. A few of the buildings act as little museums that offer a glimpse into the past. Artifacts from the old gold mining days are on display inside. Some are open to the public and some are sealed, but looking at the artifacts through the windows is encouraged. There are also Park Ranger and carpenter crew quarters on site and these residences are old Berlin ghost town buildings too. For this reason, it is best to pick up a site map at the park fee station, so not stumbling into somebody's living room by mistake does not happen!
A little further up the road from Berlin through the mouth of the canyon is where the Union Mining Camp can be found. A few old buildings that were built before 191l still stand, but most are now dilapidated piles of sun faded lumber and rusty couplings. By the look of things, the state restoration project just might bring the old Union Mining Camp back to life.
To be quite honest, the two old west ghost towns are really just the opening act in this State Park. The star of the show definitely is the gigantic Ichthyosaur Fossils on top of the hill. It was these fantastic fossil specimens that made this park world famous. The ancient dinosaur fossils are what most people come here to see and they often are surprised to discover the two ghost towns upon arrival. Just past the Union Mining Camp is a side road that goes uphill to the Ichthyosaur Fossil Exhibit. The big red barn can be seen from just about anywhere in this canyon, so it is easy to find. The barn was built to protect the gigantic Ichthyosaur Fossils from the elements, because the bones were never unearthed, so visitors can see how a dinosaur discovery really looks in its natural state.
Most of Nevada was once a vast ancient ocean. Evidence of sea life can be found all over the Great Basin Desert, even on high mountain tops. A lot of the rock strata that can be seen along fault line upheavals actually is the remnants of old coral reefs and shells that were once sitting under water. Ichthyosaurs were right at home in the ancient seas of Nevada. These huge sea creatures actually were much bigger than a great white shark. Ichthyosaurs were ferocious predators that fed on all sorts of sea creatures. The gigantic Ichthyosaurs were the top of the food chain and they ruled the ancient seas in this region.
Several Ichthyosaur Fossils await to be discovered in the barn on the hill. There also is a full scale depiction of an Ichthyosaur on display. A State Park Ranger accompanies all visitors to the fossil bed and the tour guide provides plenty of interesting information along the way. Access to the Ichthyosaur Fossil exhibit is granted only a few times per day on certain days each week. The guided tour schedule does change with the season, so it is best to check the Nevada State Parks Website to see when the Ichthyosaur exhibit is open, before making the long journey happen.
The Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park is a fee area and the rates can be found at the Nevada State Parks website. The fossil tour schedule is listed there too. This state park is easy to navigate and there is ample room for large RV land yachts to maneuver. Overnight campsites are available and there are restroom facilities on site. When passing through central Nevada, I highly suggest visiting the Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park. This destination is a bit out of the way, but there literally is no place else in this world to experience two gold rush era ghost towns and gigantic Ichthyosaur Fossils all in one day!
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