Founded in 1864, Nye County is the largest county by area in Nevada, the third largest in the U.S. and larger than the four smallest states. Only 7% of this vast area is privately owned, but the sights from north to south range from long stretches such as the Big Smokey Valley, with its hot springs and snowy mountaintops, to the dry Amargosa Valley as a true desert. Some stretches of Nye land are comparable to the notoriously dry Death Valley, which borders in California, but often in Nye, range land makes its appearance among the sand and rock. Between the open spaces of land along the roads and highways, each town in Nye County is an historical oasis. Hadley rests at the base of Mahogany Mountain and under cloudy skies, Manhattan sits higher in elevation and has deeper roots of geology and vegetation, and 15 more towns with their own stories are plotted across the county.
Nye is unique in Nevada because of the way the county is split into a north and a south. Nye’s two main towns are Tonopah in the north and Pahrump in the south. The former is the county seat, and the latter has the highest population in the county, at more than 36,000 people. Up north, Tonopah averages a very warm 92 F in the summer, with highs in the hundreds, and a chilly 10 F to 15 F lows in the winter months. Located here are several tourist destinations, including the Tonopah Historic Mining Park with its drops, views and mineshafts, and the famously haunted Mizpah Hotel. At the center of town, Tonopah’s Historic Downtown is a great place to take a stroll and take in the small-town nightlife, or to stop to grab a bite to eat. Tonopah was also rated among the top stargazing destinations in the U.S. by USA Today, since its distance from any nearby town prevents light from fogging the night sky. In Tonopah, as in much of the open Nye County, one can take in the sight of the night’s thousands and thousands of bright stars and the Milky Way.
At Nye County’s southern tip lies Pahrump. Here, the winters are a little warmer but still chilly, with an average high of 26 F in December, with lows just below zero. The summers on the other hand are very hot, averaging 102 F in July, and reaching as high as 117 F at points. Located an hour away from Las Vegas, Pahrump is home to exciting daily adventures such as Balloons Over Pahrump, Motorsports, Lake Spring Mountain, Wineries and Coffee, Adventure Tours, and fireworks, retailers and shows. Like Tonopah, Pahrump is more than a tourist town. Online and in-person, the town of Pahrump is involved with community and communication. Veterans Services, local Health and Human Services, and an engaged part of the Nye County School District show that the town of Pahrump takes pride in providing access to all of its citizens and visitors.
As part of the Nye County Town History Project, historian Robert D. McCracken has written a dozen books on Nye’s landscape, history and culture. He covers Amargosa Valley, Beatty, Pahrump, Manse Ranch, Smoky Valley, Tonopah and Manhattan in separate, well-researched volumes that are all available free online. Along with more than 1,000 photos of historical Nye, these online histories and compendiums show the county’s relationship with mining, general business and economy, government and health care. Beatty, for example, is described from its earliest inhabitants 11,000 years ago. The history continues up into settlement and exploration, followed by the mining boom, and then it branches out into several stories throughout the twentieth century, which summarize how major early families played key roles in forming the beginning of the county. Each town has its own story. Beatty, bright and sunny, with its long history of mining, is also home to tourism as the gateway to Death Valley. Manhattan, known for its special vegetation and shrub growth, also has a history of geology, and now gold is being mined on a small scale. Hadley too has a history of mining and outdoor recreation. Nye County’s larger cities remain as hubs that support the more spread-out communities. Yet all of them remain connected to the state as a whole through an online presence. Meanwhile, The Nye County History Project has done a marvelous job at tracking stories through interviews, observations, photographs, books and journals, all available online. A look at the county through data can only strengthen the region’s existing community efforts.