Sunrise at Walker Lake

Sunrise from our site at Walker Lake

Having recovered from our escapade down the 375, we decided to head northwest and sample some of Nevada’s other side. The roads heading this way, especially the initial stretch of Hwy 6 are spectacularly isolated. They’re lonely 2-lane highways in excellent condition with less than a handful of cars travelling through each day. These are just the kind of long, desert stretches that I love and somehow, as strange as it seems, I feel totally at peace in these places.  As “the beast” motors her way through the eerie landscape my thoughts wonder to the people that settled in these crazy, remote areas so long ago…so hard to understand with the luxury we live in today and yet in other ways so completely understandable. I wonder how I would have survived back then?

Bunkers upon bunkers out to the horizon...

Bunkers upon bunkers out to the horizon…Welcome to Hawthorne, NV!

As you hit the Western Corridor you join the more traveled Hwy 95 and ride though patches of empty hills interspersed with small dusty towns, each as intriguing as the next. As tempting as it was to stop, our goal that day was an inviting patch of blue that I had spotted up by Hawthorne on our trusty Nevada Benchmark Map. We were headed to Walker Lake for some more boondocking and to explore a town unlike any other I’d ever seen. You see Hawthorne is a town that owes it’s history to ammo. Originally founded in 1880 as a railroad distribution point to support the active mining in the area, it was transformed into a munitions depot in 1928…and since then the town has basically blossomed and ebbed with the activities of war. The first thing you see as you enter from the south is bunkers, hundreds of them…no scratch that thousands of them, stretching line upon line across 147,000 acres (59,000 ha) of desert.

What IS this place???

Our new boondocking spot

Our new boondocking spot

Then you drive through the teeny downtown passing rows of red, white and blue stores many of which look like they stopped in time around 50 years ago. You see artistic sculptures made out of rockets (wow…unusual), pass road-signs directing vehicles with loaded arms and explosives (hmm….interesting), and read warning signs about unexploded munitions on the south side of the lake (note to self…not a good spot to boondock). Finally you break through to the other side only to be surprised by the massive blue of Walker Lake shimmering gloriously in the shadow of the surrounding mountains. The contrast of what this place is and what the lake is, is just so darn strange!

Goodness, its…well…it’s so PRETTY!

The Ordinance Museum, unlike any other I've seen

The Ordnance Museum, unlike any other I’ve seen

We settled into our boondocking spot and spent the next few days trying to figure all this out. Like most places you to, once you peel back the outer layers you find a whole lotta interesting stuff underneath and Hawthorne is no exception. Beyond the run-down exterior you discover a town of super-friendly folks proud of their heritage. Downtown is centered around the classic El Capitan (where you can also boondock by the way), dominated by the majestic 11,270′ Mount Grant, and hides two small (free) outstanding museums -> The Mineral County Museum and the Hawthorne Ordnance Museum. The former is a fantastic overview of the history of this area and well worth the visit while the latter is unlike any museum I’ve been to (ever). It covers the history of weapons from small arms up to fully-fledged Torpedoes and is simply put, fascinating. If ever a museum matched a place, this would be it and I don’t think you can pass through town without visiting it. I enjoyed both and if I hadn’t discovered these places by accident I would never have known they were there.

The unexpected surprise of Walker Lake Golf Course

The unexpected surprise of Walker Lake Golf Course

Then, there’s the little gem of the golf-course. Out here amongst all these strange bunkers, in the middle of the arid Nevada desert lies a secret which only the bold discover. Walker Lake Golf Course is probably the only golf course (in the world?) where your vehicle will be searched for ammo before entering, but once you do you’ll find a gorgeous course where the greens have been exotically described as “floating in elevated pools at each fairway’s end like green satin pillows on a velvet bed.” It’s tree-lined fairways are beautiful, almost ethereal, entirely empty and cost a pittance to play ($15 for 9 holes during the week). Who would ever have imagined?

We’ve spent several days hanging at our lakeside site and enjoying the exploration of this unusual place, but we’ve once again got the itch to move on. This time I’ve got my eye set on another intriguing piece of blue just north of here. Who knows what we’ll find up there?

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53 Responses to A Salty Lake And A Whole Sea Of Ammo – Hawthorne, NV

  1. Tom says:

    What a fascinating place to find and explore. Adding it to my list.

  2. peter says:

    Nina…Walker lake is one of the places we like very much and stop on the way up or down. You didn’t detail your BD’ing location. We now have a bit of solar(and will add more)so we are looking forward to seeing some of your spots for ourselves. We usually stay at Whiskey Flat RV park but would really like to do more of what you do. Enjoy your trip north and hopefully we can see you guys in the summer here in Florence…Peter

    • libertatemamo says:

      I’ll be doing a full review of all three boondocking spots around Walker Lake in the next post. Hang tight :)

      Nina

  3. Marshall says:

    Sounds like an awesome place! I have put it on my list of places to visit. Thanks for telling about the area.

  4. Sandie says:

    We stayed at Sportsman Beach when we were there. What a gorgeous place even if the lake isn’t fit habitation for fish. Missed the golf course (but we aren’t golfers) but loved both the museums.

    • libertatemamo says:

      I drove by to check out Sportsman’s Beach and I have to agree it’s probably the nicest dry-camping in the area. Very pretty, excellent sites. That’s where we’ll stay if we come back this way.

      Nina

  5. We love your articles. We are planning to travel by RV to Idaho and Nevada in September in our 22 foot Trail Lite motor home.
    Ann Cabezas Creed and Ken Creed (wish we could take our motorhome to Costa Rica and explore that tiny beautiful country but too expensive to do so. http://www.costaricalearn.com

    • libertatemamo says:

      Sounds like you’re going to have a fine trip. With your 22-footer you’ll be able to camp just about anywhere you wish.

      Nina

  6. John and Pam says:

    Wow! Great find…who knew!

  7. LenSatic says:

    “…the only golf course (in the world?) where your vehicle will be searched for ammo before entering…”

    Is this personal ammo or ammo “found” by treasure hunters? I’m just curious as to why a town known for, and celebrating, munitions manufacturing would require such a search.

    Pat

    • libertatemamo says:

      Good question Pat and I should clarify. The golf course is within the secure compound of the base (or what used to be the base), so you have to go through the front security gate before you can get in…thus the search. You can’t bring in either munitions (that aren’t pre-authorized) or alcohol.

      Nina

  8. Terry M says:

    Another interesting place nw of you is Patton Village, CA. If you look on Google Earth you can make out thousands of armored vehicles, field artillery, etc stored in the desert.

  9. Bev says:

    The pumps were not working at the first service station I tried to use. I drove to the next; filled with fuel and wondered why the fill was so high. I noticed there was no inspection sticker on the pumps. Wish I would have gotten 10.00 worth of fuel to see if the pumps were calibrated correctly. The whole place was straight out The Twilight Zone for me. Happy to hear that you found some “good” in that unique area.

    • libertatemamo says:

      You know I did notice gas prices seemed abnormally high here. We haven’t filled up since we’ve been here.

      Nina

  10. Rowanova says:

    Wonderful post, I really enjoyed this.
    I recall your reply to a comment I once made, that you don’t take in many sunrises. You sure grabbed a good one here. And then the sunset in the last photo, awesome.
    What a neat way to frame your story with those two photos. Smooth work.

    • libertatemamo says:

      You have a very good memory! Yes, the sunrise shot is a total rarity for me. Very unusual for me to be up that early LOL. This particular shot is a composite (mix) of 2 exposures…one for the sun/background and one for the foreground. I combined them in Photoshop. It was fun to take!

      Nina

  11. We driven past Walker Lake but never stopped. Looks like an excellent boondocking area. You always find these hidden gems!

    • libertatemamo says:

      This area is well worth the stop, even if just for a few days. I’ll be reviewing the boondocking location next.

      Nina

  12. Jeff Phinney says:

    I have recently discovered your blog and enjoy the information you provide. I see that you discovered an area where I lived and worked for a year after getting out of the Navy as an ordnancman. I lived in a one room cabin on Walker Lake and Worked security at the Hawthorne Ammunition plant. The storage sites cover 250 sq. miles as I remember. I spent many nights patrolling the desert areas and ‘shaking’ locks. Thanks for the memory jogger. This will be one place I will be taking my wife as our full time adventure begins.

    • libertatemamo says:

      How interesting that you lived here! It’s a small world when you get down to it. Thanks for sharing some of your history. Love to hear shout these connections.

      Nina

    • Jeff Phinney says:

      In addition to the ammunition plant ‘proper’ there are areas in the desert where testing is done on various systems. I remember one unusual assignment that sent myself and another guard to stand watch in a travel trailer in the middle of a dry lake bed deep in the desert. I believe they where testing unmanned aerial vehicles as I recall. This is well before anyone was familiar with drones. That was one weird assignment.

      I was raised in Reno and have learned that the Nevada desert has many strange and unusual stories. All it takes is a little exploring.

      • libertatemamo says:

        How interesting. The testing is probably also the reason most of the southern portion of the lake is barred to entry. I do so enjoy all these hidden secrets. As you said the desert always has a story to tell.

        Nina

  13. As I was reading about Walker Lake I thought it sounded familiar. Had to search on our blog and found we were there in November 2009 and stayed at Sportsman’s Beach. Not sure how we would ever remember where we’ve been without a blog!
    Turns out we only spent a night there, and didn’t explore the town, so that will be for next time. Looks like an interesting place.

    • Jim & Gayle – Over our years of exploring, hiking and camping, we have kept online photo albums (with dates) and then Facebook (almost impossible to go back and look at the past) and now a blog. If only us and family read it – all worthwhile. I look at the blog as an online diary with photos. I have so much fun reading other blogs! Cheers

    • libertatemamo says:

      Too funny…without the blog I’d forget half of what we do too!!

      Nina

  14. Upriverdavid says:

    Hi Folks, I just sit out here “Lurking?”..But you should visit Berlin-Ichthysaur State Park..Not sure of the spelling…I believe they have campsites,It’s been many years since I visited, but well worth visiting as you are close by. Watching you head towards my neck of the woods in Washington. Keep having fun!
    David

    • libertatemamo says:

      Looks mighty interesting. It’s about 80 miles from us which is (waaay) further than we drive in a day-trip, but I’m going to keep it in mind for when we come back to Nevada. Cool tip!

      Nina

  15. Upriverdavid says:

    Ooops I forgot..Lyrid meteor shower this week, you are in a perfect place to watch..Wish I was there..
    David

  16. Mary Ann says:

    My father lived in Hawthorne years ago. I visited with my then 9 month old son, and when my dad inquired about renting a crib, someone in the store just told him to come by their house and pick up one they had, and just return it whenever we went back home. We found everyone there to be very friendly.
    Traveling those long, lonely distances, I, too, wonder about the settlers traveling there, seeing that same view for weeks on end, perhaps not knowing how long it would take, and what they really would find at their destination. Also, with every step, knowing there would be no easy return trip if it didn’t work out well for them. I don’t know how they found the courage to say goodbye to their families, probably to never see them again.
    Thanks for the post!

    • libertatemamo says:

      I definitely found folks to be incredibly friendly here. Had a long chat with the nice lady at the Ordnance Museum (turns out her parents were Danish) and another nice chat with the security guards by the golf course. I think there’s a real sense of community that evolves in these small towns.

      Nina

  17. Sounds like another really neat place. Adding this to my Streets and Trips file for the must see places out there.
    Do watch out for the unexploded ordinance, scary!!

    • libertatemamo says:

      Thankfully our site is well away from those unexplored ordnances. I don’t think they even allow you to drive into the dangerous area. It’s a huge lake!

      Nina

  18. Steve says:

    Nina,
    Looks like you are further west than our route to Utah will take us. So maybe we’ll see you in Oregon when we get back, or perhaps later this summer up in the O.P. Safe Travels.

  19. Jil says:

    what a gorgeous spot and great fotos…I really think you found a gem in this state that so many put down…I think it may have to be one we explore in the future and add it to a few others for a short time out…

    • libertatemamo says:

      It was indeed quite a nice, and surprising find. I think there’s alot more to NV than most folks imagine…and we’re just scratching the surface too.

      Nina

  20. Dan says:

    I hope your still not on the shores of Walker Lake. It’s windy here in Smith Valley and I bet it’s howling there. Even your Beast might blow away ;)

    • libertatemamo says:

      We’ve moved north to Silver Springs and are settled by the lake in a more sheltered spot amongst the trees. Still pretty windy, but better than our last spot which was very exposed. We saw this storm coming on the forecast which is partly why we moved.

      Nina

  21. Brenda says:

    We love those places that have such stark contrasts, New Mexico was like that for us. Lovely boon docking spot.
    Brenda

    • libertatemamo says:

      The New Mexico State Parks were outstanding too. We need to get back there sometime. Maybe next spring….

      Nina

  22. […] A Salty Lake And A Whole Sea Of Ammo – Hawthorne, NV […]

  23. Kevin and Kim says:

    You seem to always amaze us. :-) (in regards to the double expose photo) We’ll see where this posts… lol ..
    Notes on data coverage?

    • libertatemamo says:

      I’ve included data coverage info in my review (just posted today). Basically we had full 4G Verizon signal at our site, so all-around excellent signal.

      Nina

  24. G says:

    Aliens then Ammo, what’s next Aardvarks? Great posts!
    G

  25. Love reading your blog. We’re learning a lot for when we hit the road. I’m a computer nerd so I was wondering who hosts your blog?

    • libertatemamo says:

      I’m using Dreampress (from Dreamhost.com). My blog got too big for the cheaper hosts which is why I went with the Dreampress option. So far so good. No complaints at all.

      Nina

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