Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Ghost Town Of Warm Springs, Nevada

Warm Springs is really in the middle of nowhere. It's located on Nevada highway 6 about 40 miles east of Tonopah, NV, at the intersection of Highway 6 and State Route 375 (the so-called "Extraterrestrial Highway" that leads to Area 51). The isolation here is about as complete as it gets. You are over 20 miles from the nearest gas station, there is no cell phone service available (or at least there wasn't when I last visited in 2002), and you can get just a couple of weak radio stations on the AM and FM bands. When I drove the 40 miles from Tonopah on a weekday afternoon, I didn't see another car the entire way to Warm Springs. In other words, this is the wrong place to have a flat tire or mechanical breakdown!

Warm Springs was first settled around 1866 as a stopover for stagecoaches traveling from Utah to central California. There are some natural hot springs which, when cooled, provided drinking water for horses and travellers and also allowed growing of some modest forage for animals. By the 1890s, railroads had replaced horses and stagecoaches for travel on the route and the original settlement was abandoned. Below are photos of the surviving ruins from that era. As you can see, many of the structures, as well as the horse corrals, were made from stone because of the shortage of wood in the high desert:

In the early 1900s, bathing in natural hot springs became a popular health fad and Warm Springs experienced a little revival. A swimming pool was built along with bathhouses, a small cafe, and a couple of homes for the workers. As I understand things, Warm Springs was never a "destination resort" but instead catered to travelers on Highway 6 who wanted to relax for a couple of hours in the warm waters before continuing on to Tonopah, Carson City, or the Sierra Nevadas in California. The surviving two buildings at Warm Springs seem to be of fairly recent vintage-----say from the late 1950s or early 1960s----and appear to have been abandoned perhaps in the 1990s or so. The cafe is boarded up and sealed, while the house has been stripped of all fixtures, including electrical wiring and plumbing fixtures. I suppose both are now the property of Nye County because of unpaid taxes:

The swimming pool at Warm Springs is behind a locked fence, although it would be a simple matter to cut the padlock and enter; I wouldn't be surprised if that's not a regular event way out here. Because the water flows into the pool from a hot spring and then flows out through a drain, the water seems fresh and has no signs of algae or other contaminants. One can bathe in the warm water without breaking into the pool by using the water flowing out of the pool drain.

Warm Springs is near two sites that are also worth visiting while you're in the area. Ten miles further east on Highway 6 is the so-called "Base Camp Airfield," an emergency landing site for test flights out of Area 51 to the southwest. This is a 7300 foot runway with several trailers behind a fence with several "No Trespassing: U.S. Government Property" signs. While the facility looks deserted, it is staffed and security guards appear out of nowhere if you stop along the fence line. It is my understanding that Highway 6 may be closed during flight tests at Area 51 if an emergency landing might be necessary. Another 15 miles further east on Highway 6 (or 25 miles east of Warm Springs) is the turnoff for the Project Faultless test site. A dirt road at that point leads about 14 miles to the site of a one megaton underground hydrogen bomb test conducted on January 19, 1968. The area was supposed to be a replacement for the Nevada Test Site, but the underground geology was all wrong for nuclear testing; the Project Faultless explosion caused about 4000 square feet of land to sink a little over ten feet, producing an obvious depression which is still visible. Anyone can visit this site and see the concrete "caps" on the blast tunnels and numerous metal ground markers with cryptic lettering. I wrote about both of these sites in my book Top Secret Tourism.

Of course, you can always head south on state route 375 from Warm Springs and pay a visit to Area 51. I previously wrote about visiting Area 51 here.