The Techatticup Mine was once the richest gold producing mine in southern Nevada. The mine shut down at the end of World War II and was left to the mercy of the harsh desert elements and vandalism for the next 50 years. Then, in 1994, Tony and Bobbie Werly bought the mine, restored it, and created the surrounding tourist attractions and activities that exist today.
But before we get to the mine today, let’s take a step back and look at its origins and the history of Eldorado Canyon, where Spanish prospectors and American Indians were living in the late 1700s. The Spaniards found silver, but not the mother lode of gold they were searching for, and eventually left the canyon.
In the 1860s, the canyon again drew the attention of prospectors, this time Americans working their way up the Colorado River on steamboats from Yuma. During the same period, Civil War deserters wandered into the area, finding the remote canyon a great place to hide. During this time, nearly 300 hardy souls lived in Eldorado Canyon compared to 40 in the nearby settlement that would eventually become Las Vegas. This new group of prospectors and deserters discovered a rich ledge of gold that the Spaniards had missed. The mixture of cultures produced a lawless, ruthless environment. Daily fights erupted over gold, women and mining claims. Claims were jumped, innocents were shot, and renegade killings by the Indians led to countless episodes of vigilante justice. The closest sheriff was stationed over 200 miles away in Pioche, which was a multiple-day ride on horseback. Being too busy (Pioche had its own problems) and too far away, the sheriff couldn’t uphold the law in Eldorado Canyon, so a detachment of U.S. soldiers was sent in to bring order.
Many mines were discovered, staked and claimed in the canyon during this unsettled time, making it one of the earliest and richest mining districts in the young state. A tribe of Paiute Indians lived nearby in the arid, barren hills surrounding the new mines. They would wander into the mining camps telling the miners over and over, “Techatticup,” meaning, “I’m hungry.” A party of prospectors named their newly discovered mine for the Paiute word. The Techatticup Mine soon became one of the state’s largest, as miners tunneled farther and deeper into the hills to recover precious metals. As ore in one section of the mine would give out, new deposits would be discovered elsewhere. After decades of mining, the quest for gold and silver created a mine 12 levels deep with 22 miles of tunnels and half a hillside wide. The ore finally played out and the mine was abandoned after World War II.
The Next Chapter
Thanks to creative thinkers, Tony and Bobbie Werly, new life and activity have returned to Techatticup and Eldorado Canyon. The Werlys operate a kayak and canoe rental business out of Boulder City. Kayak trips launched from below Hoover Dam exited from the Colorado River at the base of Eldorado Canyon. While traveling to and from the launch site and exit points, Tony Werly noticed the neglected buildings of the old mining camp.
“When I was growing up I used to dream of retiring to property that included an old country store and gas station,” Werly says. In 1994, he and his wife purchased acreage that included several Techatticup mining claims, the company store, the stamp mill, an old bunkhouse and a few small miners’ cabins. Just prior to closing on the property they made a discovery that changed their destiny. A long abandoned lower entrance to the mine was unearthed. Over the years, tons of mine tailings had flowed past and into the mine entrance from the stamp mill, filling the tunnel entrance to within inches of the ceiling. Soon the entire Werly family and others, including the local football team, were mucking the mine tailings from the tunnel with buckets and wheelbarrows.
“It took us three months of Saturdays to clear 80 yards of the tunnel,” Tony Werly says. “We dreamed of being able to open the mine for tours.”
After tailings and other debris were cleared away, work commenced to bring the tunnel up to state safety codes. Lighting, metal catwalks, railings, emergency equipment and adequate ventilation were the first improvements. Buildings original to the property were restored and new ones constructed with additional period- appropriate artifacts added. Across from the mine sits the historic 1861 store that now serves as a museum for Eldorado Canyon and the Techatticup Mine.
Mining Camp RebornToday the historic mining camp is booming once again as news of its revival and underground tours travel far and wide. In place of gold miners, history buffs, tourists and school children follow the stringers of white quartz underground. One of the best things about Techatticup and the mine tour is experiencing the buildings and mining equipment as they existed decades ago. History comes to life right before your eyes. During your tour inside the mine you will see the tools miners used to excavate the tunnels and shafts, historic pictures and other items of interest.
With the improvements made by the Werlys, the mine tour is a safe and easy one for children and adults. No need to worry about falling down a vertical shaft or climbing around rocks or other hazards like the old days when there were rails, ties and ore cars running through the mine. There is plenty to see outside the mine as well. The museum, housed in one of the original buildings, is worth a visit by itself. It is a treasure trove of mineral specimens, mining artifacts and photographs. Many of the pictures portray the claim jumping and murderous deeds that made this canyon legendary. Oddities including a room full of space aliens and other surprises!
If Bobbie Werly is working in the museum (also the Werlys home), be sure to have her show you the special exhibit kept in the freezer. There are thousands more artifacts and items of interest lying around outside that make this special place unique, a must for relic lovers. It is also very photogenic and has become a popular place to film movies, music videos and commercials and to stage model shoots. Motion pictures filmed at Techatticup include “Eye of the Beholder,” “Breakdown,” “Johnny and the Highrollers” and “3,000 Miles to Graceland.” In one scene from “3,000 miles to Graceland,” Kevin Costner blew up Lucky’s Gas Station. If you saw the movie, it was the place where an airplane served as an awning over the fuel pumps. You can see the plane, or what’s left of it, during your visit sitting across the road from the museum. With so many striking backgrounds, Techatticup is a “gold mine” for photographers.
If the mine and surrounding grounds aren’t enough to satisfy your sense of adventure, half-day or full-day tours of the surrounding canyons and mining areas are available via horseback or ATV. Plus, true to the Werlys beginnings, they still provide kayak and canoe trips on the Colorado River.
Next time you find yourself sweltering in Las Vegas, make the short drive down to Eldorado Canyon and discover this cool side trip.
Dave Helgeson and his wife, Cheri, promote RV and manufactured home shows in Western Washington. They spend their free time traveling the West in search of history and forgotten places.
If You Go:
Tours of the Techatticup mine are offered by reservation seven days a week. The one-hour tour is both above and below ground. Each tour requires a minimum of four persons. Cost is $12.50 for adults, and $7.50 for children 12 and younger. For information, visit eldoradocanyonminetours.com.
Directions: To get to mine from Las Vegas, take U.S. 95 south toward Boulder City. Just before Boulder City U.S. 95 and U.S. 93 split, continue south on U.S. 95 for 13 miles to SR 165. Turn left on SR 165 (Nelson Road) for about 11 miles to Nelson. Continue on SR 165 through Nelson, and the Techatticup Mine is just a few more miles down the road. Keep an eye out for desert tortoises and big horn sheep along the way.
Camping: Although there are no formal campgrounds in the area, much of the land is administered by the Bureau of Land Management, which allows boondocking (aka dispersed camping) for up to 14 days.