Ely is the seat of White Pine County, and the gateway to Great Basin National Park. It is a small pleasant city famous for its many marvelous murals and for the Nevada Northern Railway (more romantically "The Ghost Train"), surrounded by vast natural beauty with abundant food and lodging choices.
The whistle from the steam engine echoes across the valley as the white, puffy cloud of steam rises in the early morning chill. Snow covers the ground and the sun is just coming up. The clear, crisp mountain air shimmers, highlighting the frost on the trees. Activity at the depot stirs with passengers hearing the “All Aboard!” shout from the conductor. Bags are grabbed, equipment is put in place, and then the train pulls out of the station.
This first took place over 100 years ago, but it happens again every February with the annual Winter Steam Photo Shoot Spectacular in Ely at the Nevada Northern Railway, held this year on February 10-12 and 17-19, Friday through Sunday.
Each year photographers from all over the world gather in Ely to participate in the great steam railroad photo shoot. Historic steam engines over 100 years old and original passenger cars and other equipment are brought out to form trains that have been running on these tracks over the past century.
These trains were used to haul ore from the copper mine, bring in freight and ship out livestock, keeping this community and its residents both employed and supplied with everything needed to live in this isolated community in the Great Basin of eastern Nevada.
Today, these same trains carry passengers throughout the year on rides through the high mountain desert mining district. Specialty trains include the Wild West train, Geology train, Haunted train and the Polar Express. A full schedule can be found at nnry.com.
The Winter Photo Shoot is a special time for photographers to get shots of trains put together against the backdrop of snow covered hills, with no traffic, crowds or other distractions. Discussions on light settings, angles and other aspects of getting the perfect photo are shared among the participants. Tours through the engine house, access to the entire railway complex, and volunteers in period-appropriate dress add to the experience. The night shoots add yet another dimension to the memorable weekend.
For more information, call 1866-40STEAM (866-407-8362 or 775-289-2085, or nnry.com.
ELY IS THE GREAT CITY of Nevada's far east, closer to Salt Lake City than to Reno or Las Vegas. It is located where the southern end of the magnificent Steptoe Valley meets foothills of the Egan Range, at the conjunction of Highways 6, 50 and 93. Ely offers many excellent lodging, dining and recreation options in marvelous natural surroundings.
Its greatest attraction to visitors is the Ghost Train, the restored Nevada Northern Railway that takes passengers from the old depot in East Ely (take 11th Street north from Highway 93/Avenue F/Aultman Street) on excursions west to Ruth and northeast to McGill from Memorial Day through Labor Day. Additional trains are scheduled during the winter months, the Polar Express has Santa aboard, and the Photo Shoot specials in February attract photographers from around the world.
Railroad buffs now converge on Ely from all over the world. They light up with pleasure as the antique locomotives squeal and hiss up to the passenger depot. They exult at the conductor's "All Aboard!" They thrill at the thought of an Ely-McGill-Cherry Creek excursion train, and they faint away with joy at the prospect of going all the way to Cobre.
No wonder: Magic happens as the antique steamers chuff solemnly away from the station. Wheels clickety-clacking, cars swaying, the world gliding slowly by, kids waving from their bikes, cows looking up in dim curiosity, sky spread big and bright overhead — it's a unique and delightful experience for its own sake, and even more for being the real thing — this is not a reconstruction or a restoration.
The White Pine Public Museum at 2000 Aultman Street is the showplace for a mineral collection of considerable variety, and for unique items like the home-made cannon which once guarded the Court House in Hamilton. The museum is open seven days during June, July and August, and Monday through Friday the rest of the year. Admission is free.
Ely was established in the 1870s as a stagecoach station and post office. Only after it was designated the White Pine County seat in 1887 with the collapse of Hamilton did the population climb to 200. After the turn of the century, immense copper deposits near Ely began to attract attention away from the failing gold mines, and by 1906 a boom had developed. The Nevada Northern Railway was completed in the fall of that year and in 1908, when the smelter at McGill went on the line, mineral production leapt from barely more than $2000 the year before to more than $2 million. The Kennecott Copper Company began acquiring Ely copper mining companies in 1915 and by 1958, swhen it suspended operations, these acquisitions resulted in control of the region's copper mines and dominated the local economy. A Polish company is mining the copper here now.
The departure of Kennecott was a watershed event in White Pine County history, and for nearly 20 years nothing quite took up the economic slack. The economic downturn precluded widespread renovation, and the early 20th century small-town architecture that dominates its center give Ely a familiar look. Norman Rockwell would have liked it, and you will like it too.
Many of Ely's downtown buildings are distinguished by murals, most of them sponsored by the Ely Renaissance Society, a group formed after the closure of the big copper mine eliminated more than 400 local jobs. The murals were intended to help spruce up the 11-block central core of the city, and to create a new attraction that would help bring visitors. Depicting a variety of local subjects in a variety of styles, the murals and other outside art provide a pleasant and interesting stroll.
Another great attraction is the magnificent surroundings. Great Basin National Park provides an obvious and rewarding destination, but there is no limit to the outdoor recreation here. Hunting, fishing, camping, hiking, exploring, cross-country skiing and anything else you enjoy doing outdoors is available in the countryside around Ely Chamber of Commerce information is available on Aultman Street.