Now just imagine you're Tony and Bobbie Werly, in 1995 purchasing a 51 acre parcel of land roughly 45 miles southeast of the center of the Las Vegas Valley, expecting their investment to possibly open as an RV park. That all drastically changed when they uncovered an 80 year old entrance to what had been the oldest and richest mine in Southern Nevada. The Techatticup Mine In Nelson, NV in the Eldorado Canyon. This mine began in 1861 and operated until abandoned during WWII. During it's years of operation it produced millions in Gold, plus Silver, Zinc, and Lead.
Now the mine itself wasn't a surprise, as the Eldorado Valley was home to several of them. Tony was also familiar with the area and this site as he drove past the Techatticup Mill for years. For decades he operated canoe and wave runner trips on the Colorado River from Boulder City below Hoover Dam. What had once been Nelson's Landing, a steamship port and town, then later as a marina and campsite, was a takeout point for those tours.
Rich in Gold and Precious Metals
After the mine began it's operations in 1861, there was a report that the ore was as rich as the Comstock Lode's ore. In these early years, that ore had to be hauled in wagons down to Nelson's Landing, and the 5.5 mile wagon trip would have been be rough, with no roads as we know them today. From there the ore was loaded onto steamboats, for a long trip to Los Angeles, then on to San Francisco to be processed. As years went by the stamp mill and cyanide tanks were added to process on site.
When purchasing the property, the only open mine shaft was 100' up the mountain, so mine tours weren't in the plans. Everything changed when a powder tunnel, buried under 80 years of dirt and debris, was uncovered near ground level. Once inside there were all sorts of artifacts, tools, ore carts and more, apparently just dropped when the miners abandoned the mine, when word reached them that WWII had begun. This discovery is when all the research began, looking deeper into the history of the mine and the canyon.
This gold strike was in a very desolate area, and these new residents were tough and lawless with many said to be deserters of the raging Civil War. Fights, theft, and claim jumping were common. With the closest Sheriff 200 miles away in Pioche, NV., disputes were often settled by who was left standing after the last trace of smoke oozed from a gun barrel.
Life was difficult to say the least. Water had to be brought up from the Colorado. No power, so whether working in the mine or at night in the shacks or cabins, only the dim glow of a candle or a lantern would etch a small hole in the inky blackness. Even the burros lowered into the mine to pull ore carts were said to go blind from the darkness in 6 months. The mining all done by hand with hand drills and sledge hammers, picks and shovels, and performed with the looming dangers of dynamite and cave-ins. The only relief of working in this maze of black is that the tunnels with their steady cool 70 degree temperatures were an escape from summer heat. Maps from the early 1900's showed 3 miles of tunnels, all dug, blasted, and moved with this back breaking labor.
Tony and Bobbie wanted to capture the true era of the mine, not create a Disneyland style simulation. Yes, electric lanterns now light the mine for visitor safety, but you'll experience the pitch black when they briefly turn them off, or show what it was like to work with just a candle. The buildings outside include some originals, plus those jacked up and moved from the Wall Street Mine. Other were rebuilt with original timbers once used for parts of the mill. The ghost town feel is generated from the machinery, vehicles, and so much more found all over the property. That is complimented with so many antiques, including period product signage and household items that would be a field day for History Channel's American Pickers or American Restoration. It's an area you can explore for hours, and even when retracing your steps, you can discover something you missed.
The mine and the Eldorado Valley has become a one of a kind canvas and you may have already seen a glimpse of it without even knowing. It captures the past through it's Ghost Town, the rugged beauty of the mountains, the unique rock colors and eroded shapes, and the serene Colorado Rover as it snakes through the wilderness. They have had countless model, magazine, and other photo shoots, including album shots for Journey and the men from Thunder From Down Under calendar, just to name a few. TV shows and commercials, even the video game Battlefield 3, have used this area for a backdrop, most recently for BMW. Movies have been shot here, including 2 Kurt Russell Films, 'Breakdown' with Kathleen Quinlan and '3000 Miles to Graceland" with Kevin Costner, Courtney Cox, David Arquette, and Christian Slater. You'll see some of the props from the movies that were left behind, like the plane blown up at the Lucky Strike gas station in '3000 Miles to Graceland'. Even with all this in the canyon, there could be more in it's future with the new Nevada Movie Tax Credits beginning this year, passed with the help of a Vegas local and Oscar winning actor.
He may be known for 'Leaving Las Vegas', but Nicolas Cage has now left his mark on the city by relocating his family and becoming a part of our community. My better half, who has became known in Las Vegas as 'Sparky', worked with his staff to produce a video for a local charity event. Nicolas did this from a movie set, when he was unfortunately unable to attend due to his shooting schedule. It was the effort he made and time taken from his movie to film and produce a quality clip for this charity, that caused us to recognized his compassion. We also had the opportunity to take a private tour of the art of the Foundation Room at Mandalay Bay with Nic and his lovely and charming wife, Alice. It was during this tour that he shared his amazing knowledge of art, and his pure passion of his own art form. In conversation with our guide, Foundation Room Director Steve Hart, Nicolas mentioned some movie projects he would love to make. You could just feel his emotion from his words, and no wonder his later address to the Nevada Legislature would convince them to adopt these movie incentives for Nevada. Who knows, maybe Nicolas Cage will bring the next movie shoot to the Techatticup Mine and the Eldorado Valley. After all, it's also a fairly quick commute from home and an interesting place for his son to explore.
While there's so much more to this special location, I'll pause for you to enjoy this slide show tour. You'll see this time capsule of the wild west, just a short drive from the glamour and lights of Las Vegas.
It's unclear if he committed them all or was simply a scapegoat. The story has it that he was a 'half breed' and not accepted by any tribe. He also had a club foot and a rough demeanor that made him an outcast even at the mines. Several posses were formed and growing rewards offered, but Queho eluded capture for about 30 years, only to have his mummified remains discovered in a cave above a wash north of Nelson's Landing and south of Willow Beach. Besides the somewhat bizarre ending and display of his remains, there was another report during his years on the run.
Shopkeepers said that he paid for supplies with gold nuggets, thought to be from another strike he discovered during his years on the run. His 'lost mine' hidden somewhere in the mountainous terrain and it's location taken with him to the grave. A TV show from 1958 followed his trail to see if they could uncover his 'Treasure'. It includes scenes from Las Vegas 1958, the Vegas Strip, Downtown and the Fabulous Flamingo Casino, and the show itself reflects the early age of TV, and how much both have evolved over the years. You might find it a bit humorous to see the drama, acting, and flubs of TV in it's infancy, while telling this fairly recent tale of the wild west.