One day, as I was looking at videos of seldom traveled roads in Nevada, I came across the town of Silver Peak. One traveler mentioned it as a way to cut off time from the famed Highway 95, though I use the word “famed” loosely and specifically in reference to a CD given to me by someone at gas station entitled “Come Alive on 95.” Another intrepid YouTube commenter noted that the road to Silver Peak made Highway 50 look like California’s Route 1.
I had never heard of Silver Peak, but I was living a few hours from it and also from the town of Tonopah which I had always thought might be a cool place to
get knifed visit. On a side note, the “pah” in any town with a “pah” in it means “water” even though it kind of seems like “pah” towns are often preposterously dry. Silver Peak sits at 4,321 feet in the Clayton Valley near a 375 foot extinct volcano and some caldera or something. It’s in Esmeralda County which might sound familiar to you if you really, really like The Killers or if you really, really like the second least populated county in the country. It’s surrounded by miles of treacherous dirt roads which I do not recommend attempting in a Toyota Corolla like I did. The actual road to Silver Peak is dirt but 2WD, though you will probably have to go through Goldfield and Beatty which present their own hazards in a more classic wild burro and jaded ex-Area 51 employees sense.
Silver Peak is one of the oldest mining towns in America. Sure, that doesn’t mean much to you in a conversation about Nevada, which, let’s be honest, is really just a whole bunch of mining towns all claiming to be the wildest town that ever existed about a hundred years ago. What if I told you that Silver Peak is also the only lithium plant in America? Interested now? No? Well the jerks at Enron certainly were in 1999 when they rerouted 2,900 megawatts of electricity to the tiny town in order to gain 7 million in revenue. Recently, it was also the site of a very strange murder.
Besides being home to the Chemetall Foote Lithium Operation, Silver Peak is also home to just over 100 people. It’s an old-school company town in the classic sense and that’s (probably) where the town’s one business, a bar called Old School, gets its name.
I drove there by way of Beatty, Goldfield and the little known Alkali Hot Springs which required some actual construction in order to ensure a good naked soak. Because it was January when I visited (and some real high desert country) I was lucky enough to experience a tiny bit of snowfall.
Silver Peak itself sits in a deep, dusty valley surrounded by the kind of foreboding mountains that look like they could take your life if you felt so inclined to give them a chance. The town is made up of dirt roads, trailers, closed down businesses and remarkably, a post office. Silver Peak is unincorporated but it has its own zip code. Also, on an unrelated note, it really wouldn’t kill you to write a love letter to a lonely miner just once in your life.
I took a brief tour of the town via foot and then settled into a chair at the Old School which is the heart and soul of the town and has a pretty legit beer selection and all the microwavable pizzas your drunken heart could ever desire. The bar’s Facebook page is home to photos of raucous pool tournaments and the kind of rambling inside jokes and name dropping that only make sense in a truly small town. I don’t know about you, but when I imagine a bar in a small mining community, I always picture myself as the strange newcomer who everyone stares at as I enter. Maybe I was off my game on the cold winter afternoon of my visit, but not a single soul in Silver Peak turned away from their aggressive drinking/mining to ogle me the entire time I was there. Maybe they’re used to being gawked at. Maybe they’re just really chill. Maybe I’m not as hot as I think I am. It’s probably not the latter.
Silver Peak is definitely worth a visit if you want to see a strange, pretty town with an affinity for drinking beer and doing whatever it is one does with lithium. And the Old School is just the right bar for completely forgetting that there’s a world outside of the jagged mountains surrounding the Clayton Valley. It’s kind of creepy and it’s kind of therapeutic.
And hey, if all else fails, you can always apply for a job.