Broken and Beautiful: Abandoned Desert Homestead

Abandoned Desert Homestead

During our recent trip to the Nevada Desert, my husband and I explored an abandoned homestead at the suggestion of an acquaintance who sets out each morning in search of gold and instead discovers some of the most beautiful places in the high desert.  We have followed a few of his recommendations for sightseeing and never been disappointed.  This homestead was no exception.  Its nestled canyon setting with rapturous views exudes the kind of beauty that stills the breath and slows the heart.

I love the desert in summer when seamless hours of sunlight weave around my shoulders a cloak of heat that draws from my bones the lingering ache of winter.  Had we visited the homestead in summer, I would have dallied in a fantasy about living there, even as I was cognizant that romanticizing the desert is a folly which can be fatal.  But in the dead of winter, with the freeze numbing my fingertips as I nipped at my shutter button, I was forced to confront the hardships that had been visited upon those who vacated this place.

Nevada Desert Homestead

My husband and I pieced together bits of the homesteaders’ story.  Scattered mines in the area appeared to have been dug by man, not machine, and inside the house were remnants of a family: magazines, a backpack and some toys.

Outside, adjoining the house, a corral was suggestive of chickens and goats.  Near that some posts resembled headstones but had probably supported an outbuilding since removed.

Walking around the homestead grounds it was easy to focus on views of Rye Patch Reservoir, Antelope Plains, and the Humboldt Range.  But sights like these could distract from the facts of desert life which, in waking hours, consist of working to survive.  In the high desert, winter cold is extreme and fuel for fire scarce.  Gathering enough wood for the winter would take weeks and perhaps the homesteaders never really found enough and the cold, mechanical in its indifference yet predatory in its ways, exacted the fortitude of a family or the life of a sick child.

We saw no evidence of a well–perhaps we missed it–but water, if transported from the Humboldt River or a local spring, would also be a constant need and require a great effort.

Food is abundant for competent hunters–antelope and white-tailed deer–and furs would help to fend the cold.

But I wondered what price the family had paid for this dream.  Nothing they left behind indicated they were so well off that money didn’t matter.  Did they depart as broken as their home?

And where were they now, this family?  Dreaming of the desert as I often do?

Or reflecting that they came searching for gold and left having discovered one of the most beautiful places in the high desert?

61 thoughts on “Broken and Beautiful: Abandoned Desert Homestead

  1. The family in the above mentioned photos left the homestead in 1974. It was a working mine, with two homes, the original home and a newer one that was sitting on those pilars or cynder bricks in the front. The fenced yard held the garden, chickens and a pony. There used to be a outhouse at the back of the main house. The water came from a natural spring with runnoff from the snows, clear and cold!
    Two little girls lived there with their parents and a sweet old grandfather type friend, at the “Wenta” mine and homestead.
    They all did leave saddened and down hearted after a terrible shootout October 1,1973, where Mr Wenta was killed and the Daddy was shot. The children are now in their late 40’s, and I , as one of those girls, will forever be gratefull for your adventures and the wonderful pictures you have shared with me, and yes, I do always dream of returning someday as an adult to relive my happiest childhood. ( Maybe meet you there sometime)
    Thank you for the memories!
    Michele

    • Michele,

      I was incredulous when I read your message. I never dreamed when I wrote this piece that my questions would be answered.

      Were you born here? Did you go to school in the area?

      Was it silver that was mined?

      Thank you so much for writing me. It would be wonderful to meet there one day.

      • I only lived there for maybe 3 yrs, we went to school in Imlay, a two room school house for all the locals.haha
        Mill City was a truckstop and tavern, Thacker Ranch was the home of the Thacker family, our dear friends. The mine was owned by the old prospecter, and daddy was his buddy, so we built a house and adopted him. They mined gold, we were even taught how to pan which is fun for a child to find flake. That concrete square pool of sorts was for that, it had a trestle, and we got to swim in it during the summer.
        Firewood was plenty due to the railroad. We had a huge stack of railroad ties for burning, deer meat was also plenty. It was a very happy childhood, like no one could probably imagine.

      • It’s easy to imagine your wonderful childhood now that I know you had plenty of firewood:)

        Again, thank you so much for writing and providing these details!

  2. I am struck by how time is different there. The sun rises, it crosses the sky, sets and it is dark. Then in a few hours a blue light washes over the place we stand, the moon rises, and like it’s brother son, advances across the sky.

    I sell my time while in the city. In the desert I do not, and the luxury of it is unspeakable.

  3. Thank you, you made my day! Some of the photos look like paintings. I was feeling the lonely desperation of the place of the place then saw the comments by Michele Graves! Amazing she saw your post and filled us in on the details of life at this place! Nice work!

    • I’m so glad you enjoyed it…thought you might, given your proclivity for abandoned buildings.

      Michele’s response really broadened and enhanced our experience of this captivating homestead. Thank you for sharing in it.

    • Thank you Kimberly. I love this particular homestead very much, in part because of the story. The woman who grew up here contacted me via the comment section to say that she had finally found her beloved childhood home. This is one of my favorite posts so I have chosen it for my home page during my hiatus from blogging.

      If you grew up in Wyoming, you do know how peaceful it is. I am preparing for departure for the desert this afternoon. My warmest regards to you. I look forward to being in touch next year. Vivian

    • Thank you so much for visiting and leaving me a note. I very much apologize for the delay in responding but I have just returned from the Nevada desert and I hope to head back out again soon. Yes, I love this story and particularly the comment by Michele. It adds such a rich bit of history.

      It appears that you have an interesting lifestyle. Are you living full time like that? Warm regards and thank you again for the note, Vivian

      • We live about half-time this way currently. As with you, there’s many people and places to see that are not far away. Thanks for your stories and pictures … they’re always a lift!

  4. What so wonderful journey of you with well prepared poetic story you are telling. I am surprised by Michele unexpected comments making your story of the visit sounds endless. Thank you for visiting my blog. I will follow you as well.

    • Thank you! It is so nice to hear from you! I, too, was amazed when Michelle wrote to say that through these photos she was reunited with her beloved childhood home. Her comments, along with the extraordinary beauty of this homestead, made this one of my favorite blogging experiences. I’m delighted that you enjoyed it! I am certain that those places in the Andes to which you are referring are equally beautiful in their way!

      • yes, the stark beauty of a barren landscape affects me on a primal inward level. we’re aware of our how insignificant we really are on this vast planet in this vast universe.
        i am sure that hearing from michelle gave you immense joy, to be a linke in a tiny chain of life that runs between all of us.

    • It certainly has been one of the highlights of my blogging experience; I could not have been more delighted to hear from Michele about her childhood at this Nevada desert homestead. Thank you for visiting and for leaving me such a nice note. Vivian

  5. What a poignant image and your writing really brings the building and the land to life quite vividly-and I do not believe in coincidences-reading the response from the woman who grew up there only adds to the writing and the image-

    • Thank you kindly for your visit. Perhaps because there is such a profound sense of isolation surrounding this homestead, I was incredulous that such a connection as meeting Michele emerged from this piece. Hearing of her personal experiences and the history of the homestead was one of the highlights of my blogging life. Neither do I believe in coincidences.

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