Desolation Vacation: Mina, Nevada

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There are few landscapes in the United States lonelier than that of western Nevada. Towns -- remote outposts connected by endless, thin ribbons of highway -- are named for what miners used to pull out of the ground: Coaldale, Silverpeak, Goldfield. But the mining industry in places like Mineral County has largely disappeared, and with it, the towns it gave birth to. Those that aren't ghost towns already cling precariously to life, burned-out and abandoned structures at their margins creeping inexorably toward the center like some scabrous and fatal disease. For many, it's just a matter of time; even those hamlets that still have a few hundred people living in them are sometimes left off of state road maps. For someone who's attracted to desolate places and question marks on big, empty-looking maps -- someone like myself -- this was a part of the country I had to see for myself.

There are many ghost and near-ghost towns in Mineral County -- a county that boasts just 5,071 residents, or about one per square mile. 261 of those people live in Mina, a town named for a railroad executive's daughter 100 years ago, which in Spanish means "ore." The railroad and mining operations are long gone, and from the looks of things, at least half the town sits abandoned. Best known for a 1921 murder scandal that resulted in the world's first execution by lethal gas, today Mina is a perfect example of a desert town on its way out.

Above: inside the first house I saw in Mina. (Yep, that's a tumbleweed.) Below: its charming exterior.

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What's left of a trailer:
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I didn't see a working gas station, and the motel, obviously, is closed.
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There is, however, one restaurant. It's called the Desert Lobster, and it's inside a boat. I have no problem clambering around inside abandoned and possibly unsafe buildings, but I was not man enough to eat at the Desert Lobster.
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A charming little peaked-roofed number on the other side of town.
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Written with a stick in wet cement 65 years ago, just two weeks after the Nazis finally surrendered.
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The quintessential shack.
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Inside, I learned that LaMona loves Tony.
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I also liked this vantage, through the backdoorless back door.
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For the life of me, I couldn't figure out what the few people who still lived in Mina did. How do people live in a town without an economy, 35 miles from the nearest gas station? To make matters even more confusing, I noticed there was an airstrip on the outskirts of town, and while it wasn't bustling, it definitely wasn't abandoned. Why would people need to fly in and out of this place -- and who in this post-apocalyptic town could even afford to? Another mile down the road outside of town, and I had my answer: the Playmate Ranch.

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October 21, 2009 - 10:58am
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