Touch some grass and get perspective at these three Nevada destinations

12 November 2023

According to recent polling conducted by the New York Times and Siena College, two-thirds of the electorate sees the country moving in the wrong direction. Voters younger than 30 favor President Joe Biden by only a single percentage point. Former President Donald Trump currently leads Nevada, a state he failed to win in 2016 and 2020, by 10 percentage points.

Two days after those poll results were released, Democrats achieved majorities in both houses of Virginia’s legislature despite aggressive campaigning from Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin. One of the candidates who won, despite running against a Youngkin-endorsed conservative candidate, will become Virginia’s first openly transgender state senator.

Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear was successfully re-elected in Kentucky — a state which Trump, who endorsed his opponent, won in 2020 with nearly a 2-to-1 margin

Ohio, another state Trump handily won in 2020, voted for a constitutional right to abortion and legalized cannabis for recreational use.

Democratic-backed candidates swept suburban Iowa and suburban Kansas school boards. 

In rural Iowa, voters defeated a measure that would have granted their city council the power to remove LGBTQ+ books from the local library.

How is this possible? If Biden is so unpopular, if Trump is gaining popularity, if two-thirds of Americans believe the country is heading in the wrong direction, surely voters have had enough of the policies and positions proposed by Democrats.

Perhaps they have.

Perhaps they have, in much the same way I sometimes have had enough pizza or kilogram-weighted burritos for lunch and wonder if I should eat a little healthier during my work day. That doesn’t mean they’re any more ready to put excrement in their body politic than I would be to grab a moldy slice of bread and start chewing.

Unfortunately for all of us, Republicans are stuck in an audience capture doom loop. A far too significant of a minority of conservative-leaning voters and politicians now believe, thanks to the last Republican president running a reality television show out of the White House, that the primary job of a politician or activist is to be entertaining enough to make repeated appearances on cable television. The trouble with that, metaphorically speaking, is that a school shooting will make more appearances on the news than a kindergarten reading session — that doesn’t mean voters are going to start voting for mass murderers over teachers.

Consequently, when faced with an 80-year-old opponent, Republicans are preparing to respond with a 77-year-old opponent who already lost once to the 80-year-old and incited a riot on his way out. Faced with the aftereffects of some of the worst inflation this nation has seen in generations, Republicans are responding by trying to ban abortion, politicize school boards, and fund aid for Israel out of the budget of the Internal Revenue Service.

Oh, and let us not forget the 22 days the Republican majority in the House operated without anyone in charge or the self-imposed looming government shutdown coming in a few days.

Yes, many voters are likely tired of the policies proposed and passed by Democrats — or, at the very least, are happy to blame the current political party in power for whatever personal woes are currently befalling them. When Republicans are willing to turn off their televisions, go outside, touch grass and talk to voters about something other than the last Two Minutes Hate they watched between advertisements for erectile dysfunction pills and freeze-dried survival rations, maybe they’ll listen.

Until that happens, Republicans will continue to “inexplicably” lose elections, even though the polls suggest they have a chance — because they do, provided they stop talking to themselves and start listening for a change.

Since I don’t usually believe in offering criticism without offering a constructive alternative, I’m going to recommend some in-state travel. 

For the past couple of weeks, I’ve selected unique locations in each Nevada county that speak to something unique and special about our state and its history. Below are three more destinations in three more counties to visit — now that I’m more than halfway done with Nevada’s 16 counties and its independent city-capital, perhaps one of the destinations I’ve chosen is close enough to your home to make the trip worthwhile to you.

At the very least, they’re all far more entertaining than anything broadcast on any cable news channel.

Lander County: Kingston Canyon

When people think of Lander County, which isn’t often, two destinations immediately come to mind. 

The one tourists actually choose to visit is Austin, Lander’s original county seat. Located less than 30 miles from the geographical center of the state, Austin is one of Nevada’s first mining towns and has the corresponding residual architecture to match. Like most of Nevada’s earliest mining towns, it was built with an outlandishly naive assumption of permanence, which led to the construction of some surprisingly permanent public and religious buildings. It’s also home to Stokes Castle, which, upon closer examination, always seems surprisingly small for a rich man’s dream home.

The one tourists usually drive through at a perfectly legal 75 miles per hour, by contrast, is Battle Mountain, Lander County’s county seat since 1979. What it lacks in turn-of-the-century charm, it makes up for in utility — if you work in one of the nearby mines or you need to grab some food or gas on your way to somewhere else, Battle Mountain will provide for you with efficiency.

Both towns are notable for their attempts to turn national pejoratives into badges of pride.

Thanks to the sharp opinions of a lone columnist, Battle Mountain was briefly known as the “Armpit of America,” a epithet which the town briefly parlayed into an annual “Festival in the Pit” (sponsored by Old Spice, naturally). 

Battle Mountain, however, had the last laugh. Unlike the rest of Nevada, which quickly experienced double-digit unemployment during the Great Recession, Battle Mountain briefly thrived with an enviable 4.8 percent unemployment rate fed by the success of the nearby gold mines. Though Lander County’s unemployment rate (Battle Mountain accounts for over 60 percent of the county’s population) would eventually reach double digits as well, it still remained comfortably under the state’s unemployment rate until 2016.

Austin, meanwhile, is still making a fair amount of a name for itself by virtue of its strategic placement on what Life magazine called the “Loneliest Road in America” in 1986.

U.S. Highway 50, to be clear, isn’t even the loneliest federal highway in Nevada, much less the rest of the United States. According to the Nevada Department of Transportation’s most recent annual traffic report, 1,400 travelers drive through Austin each day, on average, while only 250 travelers, on average, drive on U.S. Highway 6 through Nye County.

Additionally, thanks to the existence of Eureka, there is at least one gas station in the 147 miles between Austin and Ely on Highway 50. If you leave Tonopah to drive 169 miles to Ely on Highway 6, however, you better be able to go at least 150 miles without having to refuel or recharge on the way.

As a provider of opinions, I respect the desire to base a community’s public image on the opinions of a single column. That said, if you want to experience Lander County without the opinions of some national columnist coloring everyone’s perceptions of the place, there’s really only one place left.

Fortunately for the rest of us, Kingston and its eponymous canyon isn’t on any national highway. Consequently, the beautiful mountain canyon campground, the petroglyph-filled cave and stunningly endless valley views can all be enjoyed without conceit or irony.

Lincoln County: Panaca

The first Americans to establish permanent settlements in Nevada were Mormon pioneers. Panaca is the answer to the question of what life would be like in Nevada if they still ran the place.

Like Boulder City, gambling is illegal in Panaca. Unlike anywhere else in the state, however, so is the sale of alcohol — nearby Alamo legalized alcohol sales last March. Consequently, unlike even The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints-friendly Utah (which is 20 miles east of Panaca), Panaca is a legally dry community.

The cultural motivation for this relatively recent development (the ordinance prohibiting alcohol sales wasn’t passed until 1986) is obvious when one observes from above that the town’s Latter-day Saints church is on the same block as the town center, elementary school and middle school — and is noticeably larger than all of them. In case that wasn’t enough of a clue, Panaca also annually celebrates Pioneer Day, Utah’s version of Nevada Day, every July 24, just as they do in Utah.

Latter-day Saints, it should be noted, are notoriously opposed to drinking and gambling. If Nevada ever creates a state lottery, don’t expect to be able to buy tickets in Panaca.

To be fair to both Latter-day Saints and Panacans, the Latter-day Saints were in Panaca first. Panaca was first established as a Mormon colony in Utah Territory in 1864 — the same year, incidentally, when Nevada achieved statehood. Panaca continued to remain a part of Utah Territory until 1866, when the toddler-aged State of Nevada requested an expansion of its eastern boundary at the expense of Utah Territory. Since neither Mormons nor Utah were politically popular at the time, Congress honored the request, placing Panaca unexpectedly (to the Panacans, at least) on the Nevada side of the newly revised state line.

Panacans responded to this development in true desert fashion — they ignored it and continued to pay their taxes to Utah. 

After an 1870 survey of Nevada’s new eastern border and an 1871 court case clearing the back taxes of those who “unknowingly” paid their taxes to Utah instead of Nevada (since the border wasn’t properly surveyed, who could say which government they should pay taxes to?), Panaca was finally and firmly established to be a town in Nevada. There it remains today, still in Nevada but not of Nevada.

Once you’re satisfied you understand the role of Latter-day Saints in developing Nevada’s history, go pitch a tent at Cathedral Gorge State Park. It’s only a mile away and most of Nevada’s vices, if appreciated in moderation, are perfectly legal there.

Lyon County: Molossia

In The Nevada Independent’s coverage of the Nevada Day parade in Carson City, there is a picture captioned “His Excellency Kevin Baugh, President and Raïs of Molossia, Protector of the Nation and Guardian of the People.”

This caption, if you stop to think about it for a few seconds, should raise a number of follow-up questions. Why was a president and raïs at a Nevada Day parade? Where is Molossia? Who is Kevin Baugh?

The answer to all of these questions is one of most earnestly delightful bits of arcana our state has to offer. The Republic of Molossia is a micronation — an unrecognized country — located primarily but not exclusively in the outskirts of Dayton, Nevada. Its 11.3 acre territory claim is defined more or less synonymously with whatever parcels Baugh’s family owns at any given moment, with the family home serving as a de facto capital and port of entry for the micronation.

The nominal head of the micronation’s government is Baugh, who originally started Molossia as a fun project when he was a teenager in 1977. In the intervening decades, the idea of Molossia has accrued many of the trappings one would expect from a nation. There’s an official language (Esperanto), an ongoing war with another sovereign country (East Germany), several governmental agencies, a currency, signed treaties and even a customs station.

Molossia also has a space force. It has rockets and everything.

Despite this ersatz “republic” within our state borders primarily serving as a family home, it does accept visitors — but you’re going to have to wait until next April and you’ll have to make an appointment. If you have a passport, you will also be strongly encouraged to bring it.

If you’d like to learn more about where you might spend an hour of spring or summer break next year, go visit its website. In the meantime, I can confirm through direct personal experience that Molossian war bonds and railroad stocks make excellent Christmas gifts.

David Colborne ran for public office twice. He is now an IT manager, the father of two sons, and a weekly opinion columnist for The Nevada Independent. You can follow him on Mastodon @[email protected], on Bluesky or email him at [email protected]

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