I’ve made the drive along Highway 95 between Las Vegas and Reno, Nevada countless times. I always have to be aware of mileage as gas stations and any resources are few and far between. Highway 50, which connects Carson City in the west of the state to Ely in the east, has the nickname of ‘the loneliest road in America’, though it’s clear to me Highway 6 is even more sparsely populated.  It can be hours before another car can be seen. So yeah, you gotta know where the next gas station is, because you never know how long it will be if you run out of gas or have car troubles. Coaldale, Nevada was a place you could have stopped decades ago. There was a gas station. There was a restaurant. There was a motel. This outpost was located at the western junction of Highway 95 and HIghway 6, west of Tonopah (home of The Clown Motel) and south of Mina (home of the Wildcat Ranch, a strange and sad brothel in a very quiet town, that appears to have closed at the time of my writing). Driving north towards Reno, it is easy to miss Coaldale; but driving south, it is a strange beacon of despair and failure, emerging prominently from the horizon just past the Esmerelda County line.

Nowadays, Coaldale is a modern day ghost town, unlikely to be repopulated. The buildings have been blown out by the winters and crank-afflicted mayhem. The 75 foot sign for the gas station is just a skeleton. Torn and trashed furniture strewn about the grounds. Toilets and sinks smashed. Not a single pane of glass remains intact. All shattered. Graffiti of varying degrees of stupidity and ability covers most of the surfaces by now. There used to be a modified sign for the restaurant which originally read ‘bar & slots’ that was changed to ‘bar & sluts’. It’s since been removed. There’s unusual amount of rusted nails littering the desert floor. Evidence of people trying to squat in the buildings persists, but anybody who would try to permanently encamp there would be a fool. There are limited resources. No water, and any food would be in the form of jack rabbits and rattlesnakes. The desert is very sparse here, though the mountains are vibrant in layered colors of gray, copper, black, and red.

I love ghost towns. They are beautiful and they are humbling. Some feel very lonely. Some feel utterly tragic. Some are welcoming. Coaldale is of the tragic variety. Most ghost towns are tucked in the mountains where it was easier to extract gold or silver, deep in a slot canyon, well outside the vast expanse of the Great Basin. Coaldale is completely exposed as it was intended for travelers. Looking for gas. A bite to eat. A place to sleep. I never really knew this place had a name for a long time. Just a shell of an establishment where I often would stop and take in the wreckage and all of the compounded psychic stains on the place.

Coaldale collapsed in 1993, and as the name suggests it was originally established in the late 19th Century to mine for coal. But then a gas station opened sometime in the 30s or 40s, followed by a motel and a restaurant. By several accounts, it never thrived, but kept puttering along. In 1993, the Environmental Protection Agency made some regulatory changes demanding stricter control over gasoline tank leakage. When a major leak was discovered at the Coaldale gas station, it was too expensive to fix. And after the gas station closed, everything else followed.

My excursions to ghost towns are escapes from the city, from work, from my problems, from myself. Much of Nevada’s wilderness is within the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Land Management, meaning camping is pretty much permitted anywhere, including many ghost towns. Sometimes I camp in and around the ghost towns. Sometimes it’s just a daytrip. These are my private rituals, and I do like finding places far far away. Secrets that I keep to myself. Coaldale is not one of those places, and I would never want to camp there or sprawl naked under the stars of a hot summer night. Yet, I am always attracted to this place. An eyesore whose collapse is about my same age. That parallel seems fitting.

All photos are from 2021.

Ester Kärkkäinen is a musician and artist whose work centers around themes of desire, lust, rage, hostility, and depression through the reproduction of the body using noise, electronics, voice, and xerox. She records under the moniker Himukalt and has worked with Tesco Organisation, Total Black, Old Europa Cafe, Malignant Records, and many other labels. She lives and works in the Nevada desert.