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Ely offers cool respite from scorching heat

Sick of the scorching Southern Nevada summer? Ely is a wonderful escape destination this time of year to enjoy outdoor activities and visit historic sites at pleasant temperatures.

Late August and early September offer ideal weather in the White Pine County town, about a five-hour drive from Boulder City. Daily highs in September are typically in the mid-70s, with nighttime lows dipping into the 30s.

Historic highlights such as the Ward Charcoal Ovens, Northern Nevada Railway and Ely’s Renaissance Village, along with the Hotel Nevada, all can be visited in just a couple of days.

Ward Charcoal Ovens State Historical Park, about 18 miles south of town, is well worth a visit. These well-preserved kilns were used in the late 1800s, reducing wood to charcoal, which in turn fueled smelters to process silver ore. Italian masons constructed the ovens from locally quarried rock, each in a parabolic shape about 30 feet tall and 27 feet in diameter. Packed with 35 cords of wood, each oven would take about 10 days to produce about 1,750 bushels of charcoal.

The Nevada Northern Railway is a well-preserved short line that opened in 1906 primarily to serve copper mining; nowadays it’s all about train excursions for visitors. Plan on about a 1½-hour train ride, but reserve some time to explore the 56-acre grounds and buildings.

I recommend the route to the Ruth Mining District, which travels through two tunnels and picturesque Robinson Canyon. Check out nnry.com for the calendar of train departure times and types of excursions available. Safety guidelines are in place with a reduction in passenger capacity and face coverings required on coaches and in buildings.

Located in the heart of Ely is the historic Hotel Nevada. The six-story building, built in 1929, was once the tallest in the state. It has a small lobby and casino filled with a quirky mix of antiques and oddities. The hotel opened during Prohibition, but it is said that even during this time whiskey flowed freely and gambling was prevalent. Once these activities were again legal, bar business, slot machines and gaming tables came into the open. Nowadays, people still enjoy having a drink at the bar and trying their luck on the slots.

Many famous folks have stayed in the hotel, including writer Stephen King and actors Mickey Rooney and Jimmy Stewart. I’ve stayed here a handful of times and each time found it quite enjoyable. It’s sort of like taking a journey back in time. No frills, just simple rooms with baths — small but very clean, and everything worked. There are 64 rooms and suites, and they now have a Stay Safe policy in place to meet the challenges of running a hotel during the pandemic. Details are available at hotelnevada.com.

Ely’s cultural diversity is honored in its Renaissance Village, where small houses from the early 20th century have been made into miniature museums outfitted as workers of different ethnicities might have furnished them. At 400 Ely St., the village is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays through the third week of September.

Take the town’s Art Walk and see dozens of murals and sculptures that depict historic events and people. Most of the artwork is located along the main drag, Aultman Street (U.S. Highway 50). An Art Walk map is available at elynvarts.com.

The White Pine Public Museum offers exhibits on early inhabitants of the Great Basin such as the Shoshone Indians as well as settlers, herders and prospectors. Visit wpmuseum.org for more information.

Another good destination, especially if you have kids along, is the 1,280-acre Garnet Hill Recreation Area, which is designated by the Bureau of Land Management for the enjoyment of rock hounds. All ages might get a kick out of searching for garnets, ruby-red semiprecious gems that can be found in the volcanic rock. It’s about a 15-minute drive to the parking area from town. For more information, go to blm.gov/visit/garnet-hill.

Great Basin National Park is only about an hour southeast, and even if you don’t have time to hike the trails, the steep 12-mile scenic drive is an awe-inspiring wonder. The views to the east are spectacular and the overlooks are all worth a stop. The road travels from about 4,000 to 10,000 feet. However, you might want to save the park for another time, because one of its highlights, Lehman Caves, is temporarily closed.

If staying in a motel or hotel these days has you concerned, there are lots of camping opportunities in the area. Be aware, though, fire restrictions may be in effect during your visit. These often prohibit campfires or even charcoal barbecues, so be sure to contact the campground or the BLM for up-to-date restrictions before setting out.

There is much more to see in this region. To learn about other outdoor activities, lodging, camping, restaurants and more, contact the White Pine County Tourism and Recreation Board at 800-496-9350 or visit elynevada.net.

Many of Deborah Wall’s columns have been compiled into books about hiking in the Southwest. She is also the author of “Great Hikes, a Cerca Country Guide” and a co-author of the book “Access For All, Seeing the Southwest With Limited Mobility.” Wall can be reached at Deborabus@aol.com.

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