There are many ghost towns in Nevada that were once thriving communities back in the days of the old wild west. Many of these small communities are mistakenly labeled as ghost towns, even though there is a sizable population and a few businesses are still open. “Living Ghost Town” might be a more accurate description, but the residents may take offense to being referred to as living ghosts.
On the other hand, a small town that is categorized as an old west ghost town will certainly capture the attention of tourists. This is especially true if the ghost town had a dangerously wild reputation back in the old days. Many people are interested in reliving the tales of the old west by visiting the old ghost towns that were once famous for lawlessness and deadly gunfights. The more corrupt and dangerous a town once was, the more captivated that the tourists seem to be. Historic destinations like Tombstone, Deadwood, Virginia City and Dodge City always seem to be at the top of the list when the unruly old west destinations are mentioned, but these famous places actually pale in comparison to a relatively unknown little ghost town in Nevada called Pioche. By all accounts, Pioche actually once was the most dangerous town in the entire west!
The town of Pioche started as a silver mining camp back in the mid 1860s. At that time, Nevada was not exactly settled and this remote silver camp was abandoned because of continual raids by local tribes. A few years later, the abandoned boom town was bought by a man named Pioche. Soon the little boom town was revived and the silver mining operations went full tilt.
Because of a combination of promises of untold riches from mining and the remote location, the little town of Pioche attracted many unsavory characters from all over the west. In fact, 50% of the population of Pioche was once described as being composed of dangerous hardened criminals, so just going outside to see what the weather had to bring was risky business back in the early days. According to encyclopedic resources, over 70 people were killed in gunfights before the very first natural death occurred in the little town of Pioche. These facts and figures make the legendary town of Tombstone look like a Sunday School by comparison. Pioche was indeed the most dangerous outlaw town in the entire west!
By the late 1800s, some of the dust from the lawless days in Pioche had settled and because of the railroad going nearby, this region of Nevada was no longer a remote place. The lawlessness in Pioche was toned down a few notches, but this was all done in the name of organized crime. Pioche had by this time turned into a heathen boom town full of saloons and brothels. A couple of hotels and a very expensive courthouse were also built. Then Pioche eventually became the county seat, which secured the local mob influence for quite a spell.
Eventually the fortune gained from mining played out and most of the population moved on to new boomtowns elsewhere in the west. Pioche was abandoned once again, yet enough people chose to remain to ensure that this little town would never completely become dust in the wind. Local businesses catered to ranchers and travelers on Highway 93 during the golden age of the automobile touring and things have not changed much since then. Pioche has been a living ghost town for several decades and many of the old original buildings from the lawless old west still remain intact.
Present day Pioche is as close to being an authentic old wild west town as it gets! This historic town was never purchased and turned into a hokey glamorized wild west tourist attraction, like so many others. The old Overland Hotel is still there, the million dollar courthouse still stands tall and even the original ore buckets dangle from cables that are strung through the tramline that runs over the top of a steep hill. The old jailhouse stands and the original gravestones can be seen in the Pioche Boot Hill Cemetery. The famous murderer’s row section of Boot Hill was never defaced or destroyed, so visitors can see the names of every cutthroat killer that was brought to justice in Pioche way back when.
There is plenty of real old west history to experience in Pioche and this is the main attraction of this unique Nevada living ghost town. Pioche offers modern accommodations with old west hospitality, which is difficult to find in modern times. There are saloons, art shops, antique shops and places to get a good bite to eat along the main street area. The old Overland Hotel is still in business and this is a popular destination for motorcycle rallies and car clubs that go for a long scenic drive on U.S. Highway 93.
Other attractions near Pioche include the historic town of Caliente and the picturesque Cathedral Gorge State Park. The Basin & Range National Monument and the Great Basin National Park are only a little further down the road. The Mount Wilson National Back Country Byway starts nearby on Highway 93 and this long dirt road goes to a mountain ranch lodge where visitors can go on gold prospecting adventures, which can be quite rewarding!
Pioche is located in a picturesque Great Basin Desert mountain range setting. The Great Basin Desert is full of life in this region during the late spring rainy season, when the desert floor is lush and green. With the lush green growth comes plenty of food for jackrabbits, so this part of the Great Basin Desert near Pioche does present some good wildlife viewing opportunities.
After coasting into a picnic rest area on Highway 93 to take a little break near Pioche, I heard some rustling in the nearby sagebrush. After going to investigate, a big jackrabbit bolted for cover nearby, so I grabbed the camera with the hopes of getting a good photo. I chased that jackrabbit from bush to bush, but it never ended up in a spot where I could get a clear photo opportunity. I just scratched my head in dismay and gave up the chase, while thinking that this must have been the only jackrabbit in the area, because no more noise was coming from the bushes.
As I turned to walk back to the car, I glanced at the intersection of the ranch road across the highway. My jaw practically dropped in awe, because there must have been at least 50 Black Tail Jackrabbits all bouncing around and playing on the ranch road near the highway! A lot of little baby jackrabbits were in the mix too, which was a cute sight to see. A little chuckle was within order because I captured an image of few young jackrabbits rubbing noses with each other, which is the same thing as jackrabbits kissing. This part of the Great Basin Desert is full of those long eared critters and they sure are entertaining to see when passing through!
From being the baddest meanest town in the old wild west to being a place to watch cute little baby jackrabbits rub noses, the town of Pioche certainly demonstrates a wide range of extremes. Those who choose to be in a hurry and take the Highway 93 Pioche Bypass will probably never even know that this little historic old west town is even there. By taking the Highway 93 Business Route through downtown Pioche, the experience will create memories that last a lifetime. Pioche is old wild west history at its best and this little ghost town is very much alive in this modern age!
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