What kind of person leaves a perfectly comfortable modern home in the city, drives out the interstate to a lonely road, to a lonelier road, to a dirt road to a two track and finally stops, gets out to gaze with reverence upon, explore and photograph a wrecked and abandoned mining town at the foot of a mountain range nobody’s ever heard of?
I have to admit, I’m not quite sure. Perhaps I’ll know someday. If this sounds like you, read on.
Heading out on an overlanding adventure through Tunnel Camp. Photo by Mike Henderson
This place where you can camp and walk unperturbed, by living souls at least, is called Tunnel Camp. The mining district and mountain rage are called Seven Troughs and if you take Interstate 80, itself a piece of American history roughly following the California Trail and the Lincoln Highway, out near the town of Lovelock, NV then head northwest on NV399 you’ll find a dirt road that will take you right to it.
Derelicts of Tunnel Camp Ghost Town. Photo by Steve Hamel
You can find info on Tunnel Camp freely on the web, and it’s also on the topo maps of the area. If you’d like full GPS tracks of our trip, you can check out our Patreon page where Patrons of All-Terrain Family get access to all of that info.
Though a latecomer to the once well populated district of Seven Troughs, Tunnel Camp is the only one still standing as of 2019. To the East is Vernon, a population center once so vibrant it had a post office, but now is marked only by flat spots in the rocky ground, a few crumbling rock foundations and a label on the map. Some structures from Vernon were hauled to Tunnel Camp and may well remain there still, at least bits and pieces.
To the north is Mazuma, also labeled on the map at the mouth of Seven Troughs Canyon, which was washed away in a flood in 1912. The 9 victims of which have rested in the cemetery below the townsite of Tunnel Camp these 107 years.
Sunrise over Star Peak from Tunnel Camp Ghost Town Nevada. Photo by Steve Hamel
Tunnel Camp was and is a dream. In 1927 the site was planned for mills, both stamp, ball and cyanide to process ore from the unified mining operations in the adjacent canyons. The plan was to build a tunnel through the mountain to drain the Seven Troughs, Coalition, Fairview, and Mazuma hills mines which had encountered high water flows in their excavation and were in various states of inundation. It also was hoped to be a conduit to transport the ore out to the planned milling operations at Tunnel Camp.
While several mills were erected and operated at Tunnel Camp, the Tunnel was never functional as it was misaligned and did not connect to the mines it was intended to drain. One can assume that the large plug of debris above the townsite as well as the several terraced reservoirs in the drainage next to town are fill material taken from the mine.
Either way, much of the foundation of the old cyanide mill remains below an iron 5 stamp mill which is below one of several large ore hoppers in the area. The roads and drainages in the Seven Troughs Range are littered with these elevated wooden hoppers which metered ore into the stamp mills for crushing, though most of the mills are now gone.
Driving through Tunnel Camp Nevada. Photo by Mike Henderson
In the Townsite of Tunnel Camp 6 buildings yet remain along with two hoppers, two dugouts, and countless foundations, platforms and random unidentifiable structures. I’m not sure how many souls resided there in the past, but at least the 9 killed in the Mazuma Flood, are still there. According to some they continue to haunt the derelict structures of what’s left of the town.
Camping and Overlanding in the Seven Troughs
Our camp at Tunnel Camp Ghost Town. Photo by Steve Hamel.
For the overlander the Seven Troughs Range is a gold mine. Roads criss-cross the canyons and there are many structures, artifacts and canyons to explore. We spend a day of our trip making the loop to Seven Troughs Canyon, up and over the pass by Signal Peak and then down to the site of Vernon. It’s a fairly easy loop for a moderately equipped 4×4. It would be a good loop on a mountain bike or a ATV as well.
Overlanding Seven Troughs. Photo by Steve Hamel
For sight seeing, it’s hard to beat the view of the sunrise over the Humboldt Range to the east and the sunsets are amazing. While you can camp wherever you want, the best place is the flat area of mine tailings above the town. From there you can walk to all of the interesting structures and artifacts left at Tunnel Camp. I have seen people camp right there in town, which is not my choice for reasons discussed below.
Above town there is the foundation of the power plant which housed several diesel generators. There are several super creepy dugouts one with clothing hanging from the rafters like a changing room for spirits. The other has 4 bunks on one wall that have junky old mattresses stuffed in them. The very idea of sleeping in there should make you shudder and zip up your hoodie. There are several ore hoppers which fed mills only one of which remains.
I’m not sure what the buildings remaining used to be except the large red brick structure with continues to crumble. It was once the office for the mining operations in the area.
If this site isn’t to your liking for camping, Vernon, to the west would be good, as would Mazuma, though they never did find that last body from the flood…
Seven Troughs Ghosts
Ghosts of Tunnel Camp. Photo by Steve Hamel
Though it should go without saying, Tunnel Camp Ghost Town is haunted. The 9 people, several of which were children, who died in the flood of 1912 could, for all we know, still be restlessly inhabiting the town and graveyard where they were laid to rest.
There’s also the theory that a woman named Nan Dixon who came to the area looking for her brother who lived there with his family in 1978 and apparently owed her money. Nan drove her very-un-overland Datson B210 to collect the $6000. I don’t know where he was supposedly living, but perhaps hiding out in a trailer like several others seem to be doing in the valley below Tunnel Camp still today.
“One theory is that her disappearance is connected to alleged air drops of illegal drugs in the Seven Troughs area; perhaps she witnessed one and was killed as a result.” –Charley Project
For all I know the ghost stories are true. If you’re interested you can find a bunch of hokey videos on YouTube discussing the matter. For my part, I believe in ghosts. They could be spirits who haven’t found respite in the afterlife. They could be ghosts we take with us everywhere we go who only come out in places like this. They could just be donkeys braying in the wind high up the mountain.
I have to admit, I’m not quite sure. Perhaps I’ll know someday.
History of Seven Troughs and Tunnel Camp
Photos by Steve Hamel
Steve Hamel Stepping on a nail. Photo by my drone…
As noted in the captions, some of the images here and in my accompnying videos are from Steve Hamel. You can see more of his work at http://www.hamelstudio.com
Thanks for watching and Happy Trails!