The Nevada desert has a special allure. There is a sense of beauty in land dominated by rocks, cactus and wildlife.
Indeed, the mystique of the land is mystifying especially in the outlying areas far from the glitz and glitter of Las Vegas. On any evening, the desert lends a sense of freedom with a clear view of the stars at night.
No hubbub, no traffic jams and brown stucco houses piled on one another. You can run, you can walk and most of all, you can meditate in a desert paradise.
Tucked away in open land 185 miles north of Las Vegas lies a tiny town called Goldfield, which is midway between Beatty to the south and Tonopah to the north.
More than 100 years ago, Goldfield was a hotbed for mining, the promised land for those willing to bring their picks, shovels and for new adventure and the possibility of a big payday.
The boom year for Goldfield was in 1906 when more than $11 million in gold was mined and the population exploded to 20,000, far more than the current count of about 280.
A cloudburst typical of the summer months brought the town to a standstill while causing about $100,000 in damage more than a century ago. You can still feel the devastation and if you listen closely, you can also hear a voice saying “There’s gold in them thar hills.”
As the story goes, three safes filled with gold were carried away by the flood waters. The gold has yet to found and history buffs are trying to find the cache that was swept away.
The desert offers a level of peace and quiet, and considering there is an untold value still buried near Goldfield, the spot has become a popular gathering area for enthusiasts who leave Las Vegas on a Friday afternoon for a weekend in the promised land.
One of those who heads north on U.S. Highway 95 to search for gold is a former Las Vegas chef who now sells vehicles for Friendly Ford in Las Vegas. He and other friends stop at Las Vegas car dealer Jim Marsh’s historic Santa Fe Saloon in Goldfield.
“We go out there about four times a year,” said Sal Ortiz, 56, who admits that a very quiet area is screaming with history. “Once you get into Goldfield, there is a service road east of the town before you get to a dry wash bed.”
From the Santa Fe, the group heads east toward what is called “The bottom wash.” About ten miles down the wash is where the gold should be waiting all these years later.
Once the group settles down at their new desert camp, it’s time to relax. Sooner or later, conversation turns to the lost gold.
“Who knows what it’d be worth now?” Ortiz wonders. “One safe is said to be six foot by 10 foot wide. It could be worth millions at this point. The safes weigh tons.”
In the meantime, the Bureau of Land Management recently removed restrictions on land in the area opening up even more acreage to explore. And as word spreads about the desert version of Megabucks, the Santa Fe Saloon and other surrounding businesses embraced the gold fever.
“We mark our spots with our GPS’s,” explained Ortiz, a native Las Vegas who graduated from Bonanza High School in 1978, “This is a very serious endeavor and we hunt all over.
“However, the story of the lost safes remains one of the hottest topics for a bunch of old prospectors like us. We’re known as the new old prospectors.”
According to Ortiz, nobody knows for sure about the overall value.
“You’d really have to dig down a long way to find it,” Ortiz said. “It should be down about 40-50 feet.”
And the value?
“Oh, it’s now worth millions,” Ortiz said. “If we ever find it, you can rest assured that we’d never have to work another day.”
Ortiz said he has made friends out in the middle of nowhere.
“They love it out there,” he said. “We have seen people there from Arizona, North Carolina, Utah and as far away as Connecticut. It’s a great experience that generates endless stories.”
Goldfield also survived two fires. The first was March 4, 1905 when a gas lamp exploded. The second fire took place sometime later.
Laurel Arnold is the manager of the saloon, the motel, the public laundry mat and anything else that needs attention. She is a native of northern Idaho.
“I work the bar four days a week, although I’m on call seven days a week, 24 hours a day,” said Arnold, who has lived in Goldfield since 1988. “There are so many awesome stories here.”
Arnold said she has only heard of one missing safe, although the Las Vegas treasure hunters swear there are three. Either way, the history lives on especially at the Santa Fe Saloon.
“In fact, Virgil Earp, the brother of Wyatt Earp, was the deputy sheriff in Goldfield. I love living in a small town. When you walk into the Santa Fe Saloon, you are looking at a mini-museum. The bar will be 111 years old in July.”
One safe or three, it’s a great weekend away from the rigors of the big city, and the stories are never-ending.