Tunnel Camp, Nevada, is the featured ghost town in this month’s installment of Ghost Town Trails. It is located a day or two drive north from last month’s visit to Bonnie Claire.
Tunnel Camp came into existence in late 1926 to support the digging of a nearly two-mile long “deep” tunnel to connect with the mines in nearby Seven Troughs.
As with many vertical mines, the mine shafts in the Seven Troughs district became more difficult to “dewater” and hoist the ore to the surface as they penetrated deeper into the earth. To solve the water problem and make it easier to get the ore out, a gentlemen named L.A. Friedman bought up the mines with the idea of constructing a horizontal tunnel to intersect the mines at the bottom acting as a drain. He also reasoned it would be more efficient to haul the ore from the mines on ore cars running on a horizontal track rather than lifting the ore nearly 1,000 feet to the surface.
Work started on the deep tunnel, being dug by hand, in 1919 but proceeded exceedingly slow. By 1926 the tunnel had only progressed 506 feet. At this time Friedman reorganized and invited two financial partners to join in his endeavor. With this influx of capital, the needed infrastructure was built to speed up tunneling, which resulted in the establishment of Tunnel Camp.
The new town of Tunnel Camp
The new “town” soon had a company store, bunkhouse, and several houses, most of which were moved from the nearby abandoned town of Vernon. In September 1927, a power plant was constructed consisting of three 120-horsepower diesel engines contained within a galvanized steel-sided building, which still stands.
With modern equipment and a workforce housed, work accelerated on the tunnel, reaching 5,495 feet by April 1928 and extending to 7,200 feet by March 1929. At that point, one of the richer ore veins was expected to be encountered in a couple hundred more feet of tunneling. In anticipation of reaching the ore, a massive mill was completed in 1930 to process it.
While Friedman’s idea was sound, the execution of the tunnel was not. When the tunnel broke through into the first mine shaft, it was discovered the tunnel had been constructed at too steep of an upward angle, intersecting the mine hundreds of feet higher than intended, totally defeating the purpose of the tunnel. Not being able to drain the mines meant no access to the ore they hoped to extract in the lower levels.
While mining activities continued for many years in the area, the failure of the tunnel led to the demise of Tunnel Camp.
My wife and I visited in the fall to take advantage of the cooler weather. Wet weather greeted us the morning of our visit, which settled the dust from the road. Unfortunately it produced some very sticky / slippery mud, which was not ideal for taking photos. However, it’s all part of ghost-towning, so I engaged the four-wheel drive and we pressed on.
Our first stop was the townsite of Vernon, mentioned above, where there is not much left to see. We then headed toward Tunnel Camp, encountering wild burros on the way. It is worth noting that the wild burros are also a remnant of Nevada’s mining past.
These non-native relatives of horses were introduced into the West when the gold and silver mines played out 100 plus years ago, with prospectors abandoning their animals in the wild. Arriving at Tunnel Camp, we drove around to get our bearings. Once we had the feeling for where everything was located, we parked and began exploring. There were many more intact buildings than I expected, and the remains of vintage vehicles kept my wife busy snapping pictures.
An intact stamp mill
One of the more interesting items was an intact stamp mill containing five stamps.
The gloomy weather only added to the ghostliness of the site. Hoping the weather would improve later in the day, we then drove over to the townsite of Mazuma, which was wiped out by a deadly flood in 1912. An old safe is one of the few items left to identify the townsite.
We then proceeded to Seven Troughs. Standing among the mines at Seven Troughs, it was hard to imagine that the deep tunnel from Tunnel Camp lay far below me with nothing to demonstrate the money, time or labor wasted to construct it.
Lunch was eaten in the truck to avoid the weather, before heading back to Tunnel Camp. Fortunately, the weather began to break as we returned to Tunnel Camp, providing much better conditions for photos. Our final stop was at the cemetery on the outskirts of the camp to pay our respects as we headed back to the RV.
From the Pershing County Courthouse in Lovelock, NV (just follow the signs) at the intersection of Main Street and Central Avenue, head north on Central Ave (aka Hwy 398) just about 1.5 miles to Pitt Road (aka Hwy 399). Turn west (left) on Pitt Road and travel approximately 12 miles to a dirt road exiting to the north (right) at N40°17.828 W118° 38.737. There is room to drop your RV at this intersection if you will be continuing in your tow vehicle or dinghy.
From the intersection, navigate in a northwesterly direction approximately 12 miles to Tunnel Camp at N40° 26.584 W118° 46.316. A good paper map or topo map downloaded on your smartphone will be helpful for this leg of your journey as there are several forks in the road. A two-wheel drive vehicle with good ground clearance is suitable for the dirt portion of the road in dry weather. As always, let someone know where you are going and when you plan to return. And please consider carrying a satellite messenger.
- RV Parks: The Candy Beach RV Park (formerly Lazy K RV Park) was once upon a time a KOA, and is currently about the only legitimate RV park choice in Lovelock.
- Boondocking: My wife and I boondocked alongside an old corral (pictured below) just off Hwy 399 at N40°15.882 W118° 37.286. This is about 2.5 miles before the dirt road turn off to Tunnel Camp. Those with the right RV (4×4 Class B, 4×4 truck with a truck camper, Black Series Camper, etc.) could boondock in any of the ghostly townsites mentioned.