Ely (pop. 4,756; E-lee, as in Robert) is a sprawling crossroads community where US-6, US-50, and US-93 all intersect. For nearly 100 years, Ely was a boomtown flush with the wealth from the massive Kennecott-owned Liberty Pit copper mines, Nevada’s largest and longest-lived mining venture, which produced over a billion dollars’ worth of ore while employing nearly 10,000 people at its peak during the 1950s. After the main mines closed down in 1982, the railway that had shuttled pay dirt from the mines to the smelter was abandoned—track, stock, and depot. The entire operation was turned into Nevada Northern Railway Museum (Wed.–Sun. in summer only; 775/289-2085) in 1985, and now you can take a 2-hour tour aboard the “Ghost Train,” pulled by a 1910 Baldwin Steamer locomotive. The train leaves from the depot at the north end of East 11th Street and uses a ton of coal and 1,000 gallons of water; tickets cost around $20.
Ely’s other main stop is the White Pine Public Museum (daily; free; 775/289-4710), 2000 Aultman Street (US-50), which has a wide-ranging collection of minerals, mining implements, and Pony Express memorabilia on display.
Along with extensive mining history, Ely has motels, gas stations, the only supermarket for the next 250 miles east, and dozens of vivid, building-sized murals depicting various aspects of the town’s heritage. The heart of town is a neon-rich few blocks of Aultman Street (US-50) west of the US-93 junction, centering upon the landmark Hotel Nevada ($30 and up; 775/289-6665), with its giant cowboy and neon-lit slot machines. Inside there are real (as opposed to video) slot machines, pool tables, a café, and a bar with nightly live music. Another place worth stopping is the Ramada Copper Queen Casino ($65; 775/289-4884), on the south side of Ely, where motel rooms open directly onto a lobby shared by banks of slot machines and a small swimming pool. Also nice is the quiet Four Sevens Motel ($35 and up; 775/289-4747), a block north of Aultman at 500 High Street.
For food, Ely has three coffee shop–style restaurants along US-50, plus the chance to down a milk shake at the soda fountain inside Economy Drug, Aultman and 7th Streets.
The route east of Ely toward Great Basin National Park is an official “scenic route,” rolling across sagebrush plains and climbing over the Schell Creek and Snake mountain ranges through dense groves of pine and juniper.
Ely is also a stop along our Border to Border road trip.