The name "Elko" is said to mean "white woman" -- said to be spoken by an Indian chief upon his first glance at the region's first white female settlers. Others believe that the elusive name "Elko" was given by a man who enjoyed putting the letter "O" after certain animal names. Rambunctious? It's in Elko's nature after all. While the origins of Elko's name remain unclear, its growth and history remain absolute. Elko began its life at the east end of the Central Pacific Railroad. Its status as a railroad town sparked its first population in 1868, having served as an important temporary terminus for both the Central Pacific and the first portion of the Transcontinental Railroad between California and Utah. When the railroad crews moved on, Elko remained, surviving as a ranch and outpost before changing status as a mining and supply post. A courthouse was built a year later, and with it, the creation of a massive county with that same, elusive name, Elko, was formed and made the center of attention in 1869. Today, what’s known as Nevada’s own bustling mini-city of near sixteen thousand booms proudly in the "middle of nowhere," or, depending on who you talk to, the "middle of everything." Either could be right.

Elko's legacy began at the east end of the Central Pacific Railroad and its status as a railroad town sparked its first population in 1868. Elko served as an important temporary terminus for both the Central Pacific and the first portion of the Transcontinental Railroad between California and Utah. When the railroad crews moved on, Elko remained, surviving as a ranch and outpost, then as a mining and supply post; the next year, a courthouse was built, and the creation of a massive county with the same, mysterious name-- Elko, was made. Today, the railroad has since moved on from Elko, but for some reason, mining became the city's main trade. Nobody knows how or why mining became the primary economy in Elko, but its residents aren't complaining. The massive Getchell Mine (technically in Eureka County) funds every bit of this old cowboy town; bits of tourism, as well as continuous traffic from the Interstate helps to top off Elko's steady and bustling economy. However, a lingering fear settles over Elko's residents. Many people fear that once "the Mine" is petered out, Elko will soon fall victim to the typical boom and bust cycle of so many other Nevada communities. In a sense, Elko tends to hang by a string on a day to day basis, a string that may or may not prove that the town's heart is greater than gold.

Nevada's own mini city is nestled in a broad valley just a few miles from the massive ramparts of the Ruby Mountains, located 368 miles east of Reno and more than 250 miles west of Salt City, Utah. Truly, Elko enjoys its freedom and spaciousness in the far open expanses of northeastern Nevada. Such should be true, as most of its residents do not care about how far they are from a major city. In fact, Elko relishes its seclusion and seems to get by just fine. Rightfully calling itself "The Heart of Nevada," Elko likes to make its own rules. Today, the railroad has since moved on from Elko, but for some reason, mining became the city's main trade. Nobody knows how or why mining became the primary economy, but there are some likely reasons. Some say that mining pastimes radiate from the hundreds of area mining camps that took up residence in the region’s mountains and canyons throughout the nineteenth century. But, the more probable reason likely originates from the massive Getchell Mine (technically in Eureka County), owned and operated by Newmont Mining Company. At our present time, this mining operation is the single largest gold mining operation in the United States and single-handedly funds most of this old cowboy town. Not only is Getchell responsible for providing new housing, shopping centers, and prominent growth in Elko, but funds Carlin, Wells, Eureka, Battle Mountain, and the entire northeastern region of Nevada. Yep. "Elko-ites" certainly aren't complaining amidst their lovely outback, but deep down, concerns are brewing down under. It is ironic that the same gold fever that has prompted so many boom-to-bust towns throughout our state's history suddenly cuts the deepest here in modern-times. Long-time residents fear that once "the mine" has petered out, the Newmont Mining Company will move on, leaving Elko to fall victim to the same typical boom-and- bust cycle of so many other mining communities. Regardless, Newmont has projected at least another twenty years of production and even so, this mini-city has more to rely on than just a lucky fortunate mine. Just kick up a chair and put an ear to the abrupt independence and proud flavor that rolls off of the tongue of any Elko-ite. Yes. Elko may be hanging by a string, but chances are, Elko will prove that its heart is greater than gold.

"Nevada's Escape -- The Great Down-Under"
Fortunately, Elko County backs itself up on much more than gold. Geographically, Elko County comprises a massive chunk of Nevada that encompasses the entire northeast corner of the state, reigning as the second largest county in size. It's no wonder Elko prides itself on superlatives! Elko is home to at least a dozen mountain ranges, including the Ruby Mountains, the most well-watered range in the entire Great Basin province. Elko County is also the birthplace of the Humboldt River, the longest waterway in Nevada. In addition to the Humboldt, hundreds of streams tumble down Elko's ranges in a county that encompasses thousands of acres of untouched wilderness. Therefore, it may not be a surprise why Elko County is quickly earning the title, "Nevada's Escape," a true paradise for outdoor enthusiasts. Gold, schmold. Elko is much more than a quick buck. Here, it is easy for man to feel like a player in Elko County’s great outdoor arena. People arrive here without limits; some contestants may plan a year in advance just to bag specific game -- a new Nevada state record elk, or the finest trophy fish that Nevada has to offer. The typical Elko tourist may be interested in only a day’s sightseeing adventure, or they may feel the need for something deeper. Perhaps, one might need a prevailing, unrelenting, one-on-one communion with nature? Either way, Elko County welcomes everybody.

Certainly though, the highlight of this region are the Ruby Mountains, a wall of snow-laden peaks situated right at Elko’s backdoor. Stretching for more than 60 miles from length to length, the Rubies are the lushest and wettest alpine tundra in the Great Basin. This jagged spine of granite and glaciers is unlike many mountain islands in Nevada, home to more than thirty glacial lakes and close to sixty flowing streams all tucked into many of the range's folds and ridges. The Rubies are named after the nearby Ruby Valley by a group of emigrants who allegedly found garnets in the late 1840's or 1850's. While the existence of garnets has never been documented, maybe those men just needed an excuse to title a mountain range so worthy of such a jewel-like name. To define the Rubies, one requires superlatives, a range so elaborately created to feel less like a desert range and more like a true mountain Shangri-La. Truly, life has found its own sacred haven here. Today, ninety thousand acres of the range has been designated a federal Wilderness Area, a land mass that stretches for roughly fifty miles south of Elko. Like old friends joined at the heart, it is no wonder why many backpackers return to the Rubies every year. Among any canyon, along any stream, or atop any divide, the Rubies are undoubtedly and uniquely breathtaking. For those not so willing to set camp in a range that has been compared to the Sierra Nevada, visitors can drive the Lamoille Canyon Road, one of the state’s most scenic drives. Interpretive signs outline the canyon's unmistakable hanging valleys and U-shaped glacial carving, as well as the range’s human history. Year-round water courses and tiny glacial bowls offer fine sport for any avid fly fisher. Perhaps even the Rubies have surpassed superlatives after all.

Even in all their luxuriance, the Rubies are not Elko County's only mountain islands. Elko's visitors continually find themselves delighted with the county's other wild playgrounds. The East Humboldt Range is a near-exact glaciated twin of the Ruby Mountains with close to twenty glacial lakes and a myriad of perennial streams just south of Wells. The remote Jarbidge Mountains near the Idaho border sports the 113,327 acre Jarbidge Wilderness, Nevada's first federally designated Wilderness Area. Nature has carved this range perfectly suited for the horse and back packer with terrain comparable to the wildflower-laden mountains of Montana. The Independence Mountains, about forty miles to the west near Tuscarora, the Bull Run Mountains near Owyhee, the pristine drainage of the Bruneau River, and the wild and scenic Owyhee River to the Idaho border, all sit on superlative status, delightful bits of nature's work mostly unexplored and likely unspoiled for many years to come.

Markers of Elko County (19)


View Elko County Historical Markers in a larger map

Much like its scenery, road time in Elko County is also worthy of superlative status. No doubt, marker hunters should expect more than their fair share of time behind the wheel. In fact, allow me to go down fighting and say this is the best county for conquering and one of the most difficult to tackle effectively! Elko's markers are widely distributed and visitors should not expect to conquer them in one day. I recommend spending an entire week to effectively capture these markers ...

I recall my week-long conquering only too well in the fall of 2008. We packed our bags and headed east nearing the end of September. The crowds had dissipated and the cooler temperatures prompted the turning of Elko’s ranges into corridors of gold and bronze. A few days had passed before the week flew by without us realizing it. Elko's markers had us under their spell. In that week, we found ourselves doubling back only once the entire trip. To whittle this story short, we planned the week carefully, yet carefree by using a basic itinerary; we allowed plenty of time for both marker hunting and plenty of "fly time" - a nice field test of our new hiking boots, a couple new fly rods, and an indescribable one-on-one communion with the county’s wild lands. We began the week by tackling [151] Duck Valley Indian Reservation in Owyhee, a pesky marker located 91 miles from Elko (a long day’s trip from any direction!) Immediately next, we made the slow jaunt up to Jarbidge to capture quite possibly the most difficult markers to obtain in Nevada, [69] and [153]. After spending two lovely days in Jarbidge, we tackled the two markers along US 93, [251] and [260] located in Jackpot and 70 miles from the tiny mountain burg. After meeting back up with Interstate 80, [46] Pilot Peak came next on the way to Wendover, before we made the 23-mile detour to [73] Unknown Soldiers in Montello. In all, we had covered the eastern portion of the county in three and a half days, including the trip to Jarbidge. We had ambled westward back to Elko, tackling [47] Fort Halleck along the way and spent a full day working the markers in and around the city. Finally, we cruised through the western portion of the county, tackling Tuscarora (48), and outward toward Carlin (112) and Palisade. For those of you who wonder about such things, in five days we racked up a total of $125 in gas at Elko's average price of $3.89/gallon (September 2008)! How's that for thinking ahead?

So, what does all this mean, my friends? Conquering Elko's markers will require a bit of strategic planning if you wish to maximize your gas mileage, and to minimize a gruesome amount of back tracking. In terms of services, there should be little to worry about. Any Nevadan will describe Elko as its own animal -- an isolated nucleus of miners, ranchers, sportsmen, truckers, buckaroos and saddle makers. Elko comes complete with everything a visitor could possibly need. Find high dollar to hole-in-the-wall casinos, or relish in fine dining to a Big Mac with fries. Decency to delinquency, this is no-holds-barred. Saddle up cowpokes ... Elko County awaits!