Escape to Nevada | Pat Hickey

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a sign on the side of a mountain: Sign greeting visitors to Unionville, Nevada.

© Pat Hickey, provided to the RGJ
Sign greeting visitors to Unionville, Nevada.

a man wearing a hat and glasses: Pat Hickey

© Provided by Pat Hickey
Pat Hickey

This opinion column was submitted by Pat Hickey, a member of the Nevada Legislature from 1996 to 2016.

There’s no denying it — the past seven months have made me stir-crazy. With all the lockdowns and shutdowns, it’s begun to actually bring me down. Like most, I’ve stayed at home. Any traveling I’ve done is restricted to daily walks in the neighborhood and occasional hikes in the nearby Sierra. Seeing faraway grandchildren has been reduced to a regular FaceTime encounter, which is about as satisfying as sampling a gourmet meal and a glass of wine via a Zoom meeting.

I’ll admit, I’ve probably been infected by the ultimate party pooper; “COVID fatigue.” Even a come-on from friends at Southwest Air, like “Want to get away?” seems like a relic from a distant past — with little hope of pretzels or a drink coupon being redeemed anytime in the immediate future.

So … why not escape? Where? Why not Nevada? Thousands of Californians flock here every weekend to Tahoe and Vegas in order to part ways with Governor Gavin Newsom’s stay-at-home orders.

I wouldn’t be the first to go looking for a Shangri-La in the Silver State. Mark Twain did so in “Roughing It.” Twain dreamily wrote, “I never had been away from home, and that word ‘travel’ had a seductive charm for me.” Me too.

My wife and I decided to go somewhere in Nevada Samuel Clemens had been to before he became Mark Twain. Sorry to my California friends, but there are too many of you already spending your weekends in places like Incline Village and Virginia City. Instead, we chose Unionville, with its 20-or-so-person population.

Given that it’s a presidential election season, I’ve grown weary of all the politics, partisanship and polarization that’s become a staple of our daily info diet. An escape to Unionville, without any cell service or the internet, is an oasis of sorts, somewhere west of I-80 between Lovelock and Winnemucca. It seemed to be the perfect refuge from all the that’s political. That is, until I saw the town sign that greets visitors to its once silver-rich canyon walls. The sign says: Unionville (est. 1861) and below it in bright red letters, reads: “Caution: Feud in Process.”

Lest I scare you off from visiting this charming chunk of Nevada folklore, let me explain a little of the town’s history. There were feuds of a political kind from the town’s earliest beginnings. In fact, the town was first named “Dixie,” in honor of the mostly Southern Democrat inhabitants who first staked their claims there. Soon, Republican-leaning Northern sympathizers from California and the Midwest came seeking their fortunes and eventually prevailed in renaming the town “Unionville.” Still, the partisan pitched battles were mostly overshadowed by the prospects of bipartisan silver riches.

Mark Twain was such a seeker of Unionville’s refuge and riches. “Smitten with the silver fever,” Twain wrote in “Roughing It,” that “It was always daylight on the mountaintops before the darkness lifted and revealed Unionville.” Twain and his fledgling mining crew are rumored to have a built a “small rude cabin” (or so says the Historical Marker) that “cattle used to tumble in occasionally, at night …” Twain of course, is known for his tall tales. Most local historians think his yarn about a cow falling through the roof is a prime example of Twain’s storytelling prowess. Some modern academics have even gone so far as to publish papers on how Twain (and his journalistic counterparts) may have been the originators of “fake news.”

What’s not fake about today’s Unionville, is its charm and natural beauty. Its charm is epitomized by the Old Pioneer Garden Country Inn (not so modern) bed and breakfast. You can even stay in the Victorian-style bedroom that Hollywood types Sandra Bullock and Matthew McConaughey once frolicked in. You can also meet self-described misanthropes and amateur historians like David Brady, who’s crafted a Walden Pond-like park on his property, and was the local character responsible for painting the folding red-letter feud sign welcoming folks to Unionville.

Visiting Unionville, a part deep inside of you may feel welcome. Towns like Unionville are a not only a reminder of Nevada’s past. They’re a touchstone to a tranquil reality that we can only dream will one day be a part of Nevada’s future.

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This article originally appeared on Reno Gazette Journal: Escape to Nevada | Pat Hickey

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