Ely, Nevada: The New Riding Boom Town
As trail development picks up, a sleepy stopover town comes alive
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On my first call with the folks from Ely, Nevada, to talk about bringing our bike-test project to their high-desert trails, I pronounced Ely (properly said: Eel-ee) “Eli.” My mispronunciation was a dead giveaway; I was a Nevada neophyte. Admittedly, I knew nothing of the small town, located at the convergence of Highways 50 and 93 in an otherwise-desolate part of a pretty desolate state, before we traveled there last fall for the Beta Tests. But, many longtime riders will recognize Ely as the home of the Tears, Fears and Beers Enduro race, dubbed the oldest enduro race in the country. TFB is held each year on the trails directly above town, culminating in a 2.2-mile downhill run that screams 1,600 feet down from the peak above town in a jumble of slow-speed tech, straight-line chutes and ledgy rock drops, to nearly the doorstep of an operating brothel, for which the trail is named.
Like many former boom towns, Ely is in the midst of a transformation from railway and resource extraction-driven economies to being more reliant on recreation. The railway is now mainly a tourist attraction, the steam trains whistling through town are a constant reminder of Ely’s past, while an active copper mine sits above town, bridging the past and present. At the same time, trucks with bikes slung over the tailgates cruise through town and cars with hitch racks sit at trailhead parking lots, as Ely’s riding reputation rises. And it’s experiencing a boom of another kind these days, with trailbuilding projects on nearby Ward Mountain, where the likes of Powderberry Divide and Ice Plant boast long, fast descents on hardpack singletrack. The tech ticks up a notch out on the Cave Lake trails east of Ely, as do the views, with 10,000-foot peaks every direction the eye can see on the climb up Twisted Pines to High Roller. Places like Ely represent the next frontier of riding. Like Fruita or St. George 10, 15 years ago, the town is still behind the trails—it doesn’t have the craft brewery, the health food store or the café serving frothy caffeinated drinks just yet—but the riding already speaks for itself, and it’s only a matter of time for the rest to come along.
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Photos by Anthony Smith.