The Nevada Traveler: Long Journey to Jarbidge is worth the effort
I hate to admit that it’s taken me this long to finally visit Jarbidge, Nev.
For years, a trek to Jarbidge has been on my unofficial bucket list. I’d seen plenty of photos and videos, and read lots of travel guides, but for some reason I had never made it to the town that is said to have the some of the purest air in the United States.
Boy, am I glad I finally made the effort to get there.
The drive to Jarbidge is long but so worth it. I think part of the reason I never made it before is that the (easiest) access road to Jarbidge requires you to travel north to Rogerson, Idaho, then head west before dropping south into Jarbidge.
Apparently, there are other roads that come in from the south (north of Elko), but signs in Jarbidge indicated that way was closed for the foreseeable future.
So, what’s so special about Jarbidge?
Part of it is the amazing isolation of the place. This is a town so isolated that cell phones might as well be paperweights. There is a peacefulness that comes from being so far away from the hubbub and hurry of civilization.
It’s also an extremely beautiful place, surrounded by the Jarbidge Wilderness Area, a 113,000-acre natural refuge that boasts 10 mountain peaks of greater than 10,000 feet. Created in 1964, it was Nevada’s first federal wilderness area.
The drive into Jarbidge is memorable. After leaving the paved road, you wind down fairly well-maintained dirt 3 Creek Road into Jarbidge Canyon. For the next 40 miles, the road, which parallels Jarbidge River, passes by dozens of spectacular and weird-looking stone spires and arches — known as hoodoos — which are made of eroded basalt and rhyolite.
At the end of the scenic drive you reach Jarbidge, which has become a sort of summertime tourist community for snowbirds and families who enjoy hunting, fishing, hiking, and just being able to escape. The town itself lines the road and there are several dozen permanent homes as well as a handful of businesses that cater to the visitors and locals.
Visitors can find a gas pump, the Outdoor Inn (a very good restaurant-saloon-motel-RV park), the Trading Post (a local store), the Tsawhawbitts Bed & Breakfast, the Red Dog Saloon, and Nevada Glassworks.
The town also contains more than a dozen historic structures, including homes and commercial buildings, dating back to the early 20th century. One of the most impressive is the red-brick Jarbidge Community Hall, still in use, which was built in 1910.
Jarbidge traces its modern beginnings to the fall of 1909, when gold was discovered in the canyon. Within a few months, about 50 prospectors had trekked into the remote canyon to begin extracting ore.
In March 1910, newspapers were reporting that the Bourne Mine in Jarbidge had more than $27 million in gold that was easy to mine, which spurred a rush. In less than two months, the settlement had swelled to 1,500. Photos from the time show a canyon filled with hundreds of white tents.
The boom was quickly extinguished after the new residents discovered the newspaper accounts had grossly exaggerated the amount of gold to be found and by the following May, Jarbidge’s population had settled back to a few hundred.
Area mines were productive enough, however, to sustain a community and by mid-1911, Jarbidge’s tents had been replaced by wooden houses and a commercial street lined with saloons, crude hotels, and other businesses soon sprouted.
The town experienced a series of booms and busts during the next few years, with the population growing during the spring, summer and fall months, then declining in the harsh winter months.
Jarbidge is also noteworthy for being the location of the last stagecoach robbery in the west. In December 1916, the stage between Jarbidge and Twin Falls, Idaho, was robbed by a lone gunman who killed the driver and escaped with more than $3,000 in cash and mail documents.
Just before fleeing the scene, however, the robber propped the dying driver in his stage chair, smearing his hands with the man’s blood. He stopped near the river to wash up and began opening the mail, leaving traces of his fingerprints and palm prints on the envelopes.
Later, when he was brought to trial, the prosecution was able to make its case against him based on those same finger and palm prints, making him one of the first criminals to be convicted using such evidence.
The town’s name also is an interesting story. According to Shoshone legend, the area was once the home of a man-eating giant named Tsawhawbitts, who would capture and feast on their people. One day, the tribe finally became fed up with the evil monster so it attacked the giant in a fierce battle that ended when the creature was trapped in cave with the entrance buried by rocks and boulders.
The tribe named the area after the monster. Once the miners arrived, they bastardized the name into Ja-Ha-Bich, which was Anglecized into Jarbidge.
For information about Jarbidge, go to http://www.cowboycountry.org/Jarbidge/.
Rich Moreno writes about the places and people that make Nevada special.