There is a lot of Nevada history that Las Vegas students read about in their text books… amidst the setting of a classroom. The time of pioneers, miners, and those who lived off this land are often very difficult for students to envision through everyday instructional materials. A common family outing can make the pages of a textbook turn into a hands-on experience that will last a lifetime…such as camping in Central Nevada.
Along the way and throughout the trip, we encountered things unexplainable in a classroom. Our route took us up the eastern side of the state on U.S. Highway 93. The road skirts the edge of the Upper and Lower Pahranagat National Wildlife Refuge. The Upper held plenty of water for ducks, hawks, and one golden eagle that soared over the road in front of us.
Many students who have never seen an eagle, or may have only seen one perched in a confined zoo cage would have been awed to see that spectacle. It soared in open flight with wings cupping the air currents as its golden head spied ahead, zoning in on the destination or prey. As it went over us, its wing tips spanned to show the light colored inner wing and black tipped feathers. No internet imagery, zoo caged specimen, or textbook photo would suffice.
As the highway took to the east, we passed through Caliente. It was a town almost suspended in time. Oaks covered in the yellowing leaves of fall, lined the main thoroughfare, and small front-porched, tiny-fenced, unique homes were set near the road like residents themselves that had been born and raised there. Though the historic, 1923 train depot may not be a hot spot of activity today, it is a quaint icon nestled among the high cliffs that surround the town. There may not be a shelf full of novels set in Caliente, Nevada; but, seeing a long time resident just setting foot down his front porch in the foggy morning with a hot cup of coffee sure shows “home town” in more than words.
Just after we finished our conversation marveling at the coziness of Caliente, Cathedral Gorge State Park caught our attention. This gorge is the result of a lake drying up and slowly exposing the sediment layers. Walking through the canyons leaves the visitor feeling like he or she has visited either a miniature Grand Canyon or a fantastic land where tiny mythological beings dwell in the cliff alcoves. Here, we observed the visible lines where water rested and wind wore away sediment. We felt the crumbled sand in our hands, listened to the air passing through the canyon, and heard our voices echo like we never could in a school foyer.
Excitement grew high as we neared our destination. When reaching Pioche, we stopped at the first official looking building to inquire about fishing licenses – the Lincoln County Court House. It was a small, two-story, thick white structure. Inside I was met by a wooden sign on a stand, not a bailiff or security guard, indicating to be quiet as court was in session. Immediately to my left, I found the one stop counter for the Department of Motor Vehicles, County Clerk, and Assessor; “Tilly’s, on up the main drag,” I was told.
Downtown Pioche had a thin, two lane road that wandered through as a main street. The stores that lined it were of the old fashioned sort with large paned windows and an alcove for the front doors which were protected with their original double screen doors.
We put the fishing licenses on hold and headed straight for the sign reading “Lincoln County Museum.” The screen door whined, and the brass door handle opened into an aged, deep set and high ceiling, retail space.
We roamed the shelves containing a century of Lincoln county history. I pointed out the “tangible” card catalog, how its card system worked, and noted the very typewriters nearby that had inked each card. The curator commented later that it was the same card catalog that was in her school library as a child. A small printing press loomed over us in sad retirement. On the back wall we learned about the twenty plus types and names of wire ranch fencing. A two person buggy that used to be pulled by a single horse set full length. Instead of only reading about a stagecoach driver character, we were able to see, outside of the book, how a person traveled so differently than in a car. The hand brake, seat, and traces for the horse all lay as they were described in a novel but real and alive there in the museum.
Everywhere we turned, more items popped up from literature we had read and class topics they had studied. Though they had been studying minerals for two weeks out of a textbook. The Lincoln County Museum made real nearly every mineral that ends with the suffix “ite.” Behind glass, lining the wall, floor to ceiling, were hundreds of labeled mineral samples. All collections were from across the county, donated. The children spent fifteen minutes mesmerized by the fluorescent minerals lit by black light in a special booth.
Around the corner we saw the operator’s telephone switchboard. We discussed the meaning of the phrase “drop me a line.” A functioning rotary phone sat nearby, and the curator remarked that visitors often thought that was an artifact too!
Soon, with fishing documentation in hand, we reached our destination; Horsethief Gulch Campground. We spent two days further educating ourselves outside of a textbook, novel, and even the museum. The children collected and felt the furry ends of cattails, explored a creek, watched mule dear stare at them from just twelve feet away, saw baby ducks learning to fly, Canadian geese, beetles, made houses from twigs, smelled fresh rain, watched fog lift, saw fish swim beneath the water, pondered upon abandoned Old West buildings, and spent good ole fashioned time with family.
Not once did any say they were bored, wish for electronic toys, or even mention that one of our travel days was Halloween. In fact, they longed to live in these simple conditions permanently. Often families think of how wonderful it would be to take their family to see our country’s greats; Yellowstone, Gettysburg, Boston Harbor, and all places of historical events. Truly, they would be fantastic. In the meantime, Nevada can also provide meaningful history and experiences. Get out of town sometime, take U.S. Highway 93 north. Study our state’s history in the outdoor classroom. (October 2008)
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