jimmyutah.com

...I live to get radical...

Dispatches from a dusty desert outpost called Utah.

Metropolis, Nevada

Last weekend the wife, kiddo, and I hauled our dogs out to the East Humboldt Range near Wells, Nevada. Much like their next door neighbor, the Rubies, the East Humboldt are stupidly beautiful mountains that belie the myth that Nevada is a dusty desert hellhole. This trip was ill-fated from the start, however, as hazy skies, scorching temps (even at 8,500 feet, wtf!?), and our rude dogs (who have zero campsite chill) all combined to drive us home a day earlier than planned. On our way out, Sarah suggested that we make the brief 12 mile drive out of Wells and visit the nearby ghost town of Metropolis, Nevada. 

The bleak aerial view of Metropolis from Google Earth.

I am a big fan of ghost towns and make it a point to explore them whenever an opportunity presents itself. Utah and Nevada are littered with them. The vast majority are eerie reminders of the brief mining booms that bombarded the western U.S. in the 19th and 20th centuries. Metropolis doesn't fit this pattern, however, and is all the more interesting for it.

All that remains of the Metropolis Hotel. It burned down...

The two interpretive markers at the former townsite allude to Metropolis' bizzaro history, but it took some digging (see what I did there!?) after we got home to unearth the full story. First off, Metropolis had a fairly recent founding with the first residents putting down roots in dusty soil in 1910. They came as part of a planned agriculture community settlement under the direction of the Pacific Reclamation Company of New York. "Pac Rec" established a field office in Salt Lake, so Metropolis had a strong Mormon contingent from its beginning.

Pretty sure that this monument is the highest thing in the basin until you hit those distant mountains.

By all accounts the early, heady days of Metropolis were pretty exciting. The Southern Pacific Railroad built a railroad spur from Wells and the town folk took bricks from the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and built a 100 foot dam  at nearby Bishop Creek (a tributary of the Humboldt River) to satisfy all of their thirsty needs. They apparently also failed to look into western water law, and were quickly sued by downstream residents of Lovelock who claimed that the denizens of Metropolis' were hoarding an unfair and illegal share of Nevada's scant water supply. In the end a court settlement significantly cut Metropolis' water allocation, reducing the number of planned acres for irrigated agriculture down from 40,000 to 4,000. Oops!

Sorry, kiddo, school's out forever.

Because the townsite was apparently cursed the residents who decided to stick it out after Watergate (sorry, not sorry) were subsequently visited by some brutal years of hardscrabble living that included a scourge of crop devouring jackrabbits, a scourge of crop (and house!?) devouring Mormon crickets, the death of the Pacific Reclamation Company, and an abandonment of the railroad spur by the Southern Pacific Railroad. The Metropolis Hotel burned down in 1936, the post office terminated service in 1942, and the town school shut its doors in 1947. Presumably anyone left had the good sense to get out after that (or eventually became the bad guys in the Hills Have Eyes).

I will refrain making a ham-fisted argument about how the history of Metropolis must be heeded, less we be doomed to repeat it (though recent news suggests that human beings are really bad at things like history, evidence, and basic logic). Instead, I'll end by endorsing a visit to the nearest ghost town the next time you happen to be near one. Better yet, do it with a four year old in tow! You can have a blast explaining that ghost towns aren't really full of ghosts...unless they're bad and make the ghosts come out and haunt them! As my daughter said more than once during our visit..."SPOOKY!!!"

SOURCES

McFarlane. 2014. The Metropolis That Wasn't. http://nevadamagazine.com/home/inside-the-magazine/history/the-metropolis-that-wasnt/. March/April 2014.

Moreno. 2018. The Rise and Fall of Metropolis, Nevada. https://www.nevadaappeal.com/news/lahontan-valley/the-rise-and-fall-of-metropolis-nevada/. May 24, 2018.

Travel Nevada. Metropolis Ghost Town. https://travelnevada.com/discover/30469/metropolis-ghost-town. Undated.