Jackpot!

It all began with a crinkled and worn map found in the bottom of Richard’s father’s old
wood-and-canvas backpack. A treasure map! Roy, his father, had been an avid rock hound and
spent a large part of his life prospecting in northern Nevada. He never struck it rich, but
he did bring home fascinating minerals — lots of jasper, some geodes, agates, copper and a
lot of things we can’t identify. Here was his map with sites marked around Jackpot, Nevada,
where he’d found part of his collection. We were eager to search out these locations, and
thus began the first of our many trips to Jackpot. While we won’t share our map with you,
you can contact the Elko Field Office of the Bureau of Land Management to request a copy of
their rock-hounding map, which lists many of the same locations (with notations as to what
minerals can be found, where). Gem Trails of Nevada, by James R. Mitchell, is also a handy
reference. If you aren’t familiar with rock-hounding, Mitchell’s Rockhound’s Handbook is
another resource, though the sport has given rise to a number of excellent guidebooks.
Jackpot, population 1,500, is about as far north from Las Vegas as one can get and remain
in Nevada. Still, for a little town that began as a single small cabin full of one-armed
bandits several decades ago when crusades against gambling and slot machines shut those
activities down in Idaho, it’s come a long way. Today, with half-a-dozen casinos, two RV
parks, a golf course and an airport, this little town — even though located in Nevada —
is southern Idaho’s largest employer. Since so many minerals and fossils can be found
within a 35-mile radius of Jackpot, we usually camp in town and use our 4WD dinghy on
rock-hounding expeditions. The campgrounds are very nice; our preferred spot is the RV park
at Cactus Petes Resort Casino. Cactus Petes is the largest of the casinos, and while
camping there we can enjoy an Olympic-sized swimming pool, tennis courts, 18-hole golf
course, ballroom and several restaurants. Rock-hounding groups often rendezvous in Jackpot
and have a great time sharing maps and going out together in search of minerals. Texas
Springs Canyon, approximately 25 miles southeast of Jackpot, is a favorite spot known for
its agates, petrified wood and pink agate limb cast. Much of the high desert surrounding
Jackpot remains as it was a century ago. As you bounce and rattle across the desert
scrubland in search of treasure, it’s not hard to imagine yourself back in the 1800s with
grizzled old prospectors leading mules burdened with mining tools across the rocky terrain.
Back then, people thought of the region as a wasteland, failing to see the beauty in the
barren landscape, the faraway mountains and the abundant wildlife. Many still think of it
as a wasteland, not knowing about the wonderful outdoor activities available, and never get
beyond the casinos. Yet, only minutes away, you can find hunting, fishing, rock-hounding
and four-wheeling. Idaho’s Salmon Falls Creek Reservoir is a few miles to the northwest,
and we’ve heard tell of good-sized trout, salmon, bass and walleye that seem to be eager
for your hook. If you’d like to see fossils and beautiful waterfalls, take the Thousand
Springs Scenic Byway along U.S. Highway 30 between Bliss and Twin Falls on the Idaho side
of the border. This route follows a section of the old Oregon Trail along the Snake River
and may be traveled with RVs of any size. Gaze up along the cliffs on the opposite side of
the river to see crystal-clear springs cascading down the steep cliff walls. The water
comes from the Snake River Plains aquifer, one of the largest groundwater systems in the
world. Early pioneers on the Oregon Trail probably saw 1,000 springs (as the name implies)
but now, as hydroelectric projects divert some of the water to other uses, you will see
only 100 or so. In Hagerman, near the western end of the byway, stop at the Hagerman Fossil
Beds National Monument to see the largest concentration of Hagerman Horse fossils in North
America. Want to try gold panning? Take your pan and your enthusiasm and leave Highway 93
at Rogerson in Idaho, south of Twin Falls, then travel back into Nevada along the Jarbidge
Road. It is about 65 miles of splendid scenic country to the ghost town of Jarbidge,
located in the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest. This is not a road for an RV, but you can
travel it easily in a dinghy — though the road will turn to dirt about the time you cross
back in to Nevada. This is one of the more remote areas in the Lower 48, so travel prepared
for any emergency … and don’t expect to travel very fast. A gold strike in 1909 brought
upwards of 1,500 miners to the area, making Jarbidge the last of Nevada’s boomtowns. A wild
and lawless place, the last stagecoach robbery in the West took place just outside of town.
Winters are extremely harsh, and as the gold proved more and more difficult to find, miners
drifted away. Only about a dozen people still live there, providing services to hunters,
fishermen and campers. There is a small restaurant and gas pump in town, but everything was
closed at the time of our visit and a lonely wind whistled through the empty buildings. We
didn’t see a single soul anywhere. As we hiked along the quiet trails searching for likely
streams to pan, we found ourselves looking over our shoulder at the slightest strange
noise. Shoshone legend says a band of their braves chased the original Jarbidge (a beastly
creature) into a cave many years ago and blocked it inside with rocks. What, we wondered,
does a Jarbidge look like? Tired and hungry after a long day, we returned to Jackpot for a
hot shower, a good meal and some “indoor prospecting.” Those old-time prospectors never
dreamed of having it so good.

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