Cottontail Ranch




One of our special agents called me for assistance at an abandoned mine. Some kids exploring an abandoned mine found some old dynamite. We were going to look for the dynamite. I was the new chief park ranger learning my way around Nevada. I left at 5am, driving several hours from Reno to the Soviet Socialist Republic of Tonopah. We called Tonopah that because they were a speed trap town. Their main source of income for 2 counties was citations as evidenced by the four police cars sitting on the main drag. Each car had their engines running and drivers ready to generate some revenue. They would write you a ticket for driving one mile over the limit. The town was a functional ghost town, but nobody told it that.  

The special agent was driving from Las Vegas, so he told me to meet him in the Cottontail Ranch parking lot. I asked about meeting in a brothel parking lot. The agent said, “It’s the only landmark for miles, so it’s a good rendezvous spot.” The brothel parking lot had a great big sign of a woman in a bunny costume. We convoyed to the Sylvania Mine off route 266, west of Lida Junction. We drove down countless dirt roads until he navigated us to the Sylvania Mine. The site was so remote that cell phones and the police radio do not work. Only a satellite phone would work, if we had one.

We parked the vehicles and got out of our cars. That was then I saw the agent’s girth. I immediately questioned this guy’s ability to go into a mine, which was fairly physical. We hiked up the hill to the long closed Sylvania Mine. I noticed the special agent was bringing along an oxygen tank on wheels.

So, I asked, “What’s was the oxygen for?”

The special agent answered, “Oh, that’s for my asthma.”

So, I’m looking at the 350 pound plus special agent sweating profusely thinking, there’s no way I can carry, drag, or get this guy out of an abandoned mine shaft if he goes down. We hike up a hill to the mine complex, which is series of buildings, vehicles and campers. The agent is hyperventilating. The wheels to the oxygen tank are squeaking as we go. The complex looks like it closed yesterday. There are tools, equipment, and a 1974 calendar on the wall. We found the mine with no covering, gate or means to keep anyone out. It looked like a black hole cut into the side of the mountain.

We proceeded to go into the mine with our flashlights and the squeaky oxygen tank on wheels. The mine was narrow, dusty, and full of bats. The squeaky oxygen cart wheels echoed throughout the mine. We walked several hundred feet and the agent started breathing heavy, which echoed throughout the mine sounding like some giant spooky air pump with a wheeze. The heavy breathing negated the squeaky wheel sound. The agent stopped, caught his breath as he wiped the sweat off his brow and we kept going. We came around a sharp corner and walked right into 22 wooden cases of old dynamite.

The agent says, “Hey, don’t step in that nitroglycerin, it’ll blow us up.” He said it with no inflection or alarm like someone asking you to hand them a salt shaker in a restaurant.  

I looked down and there was several liquid crystalized trails seeping out of the dynamite boxes and across the mine floor around where I now stood. I could have easily have stepped in it as I asked myself what was I doing out here? We found blasting caps, detonation cord, and explosive chemicals. We exited the mine carefully before marking the site for the military bomb squad to come and blow it up. I questioned my vocational choice on the drive home.