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Basques and buckaroos, meadows and marshes.

"This is some nice country. But if you just drive by on the freeway you don't see none of it."

That's how Nevada saddlemaker Eddie Brooks brags about his part of the world, the town of Elko and its Ruby Mountain hinterland. He's right. Interstate 80 slices straight through the region. But it doesn't show you enough not the Ruby Mountains' meadows and glacier-carved cliffs, or Ruby Lake's cranes and ducks and herons, not Elko's Basques or its cowboys. Pull off the highway, and you'll find that this is, indeed, some nice country.

About 6 hours from Reno or 5 hours from Salt Lake City, Elko and the Rubies aren't exactly casual destinations. But they're as handsomely Western as one of Mr. Brooks' saddles. And this month, one of the West's biggest Basque festivals sets Elko dancing and shouting, and the Rubies-newly proposed for wilderness status-offer aspen-shaded respite ftom summer heat.

In Elko: feats of strength, Basque food, cowboy duds, and a Western museum

Elko's gangling layout testifies to its start as a railroad town, born with the arrival of the Central Pacific in 1868. Later came ranching and gold mining. Mining is resurgent: rising gold prices have sent miners pouring into town, pushing Elko's population from 13,000 to 20,000.

Of course, Elko has seen such influxes before. Probably the town's most famous settlers are the Basques, who began immigrating from northern Spain in the 1890s to work as sheepherders. Today, a substantial portion of Elko's residents claim Euskaldun (the word "Basque" in Basque) ancestry.

Elko celebrates this heritage June 30 and July I and 2 with its 26th National Basque Festival.

Friday night's events weren't set at our press time. Saturday starts with an 11 A.M. parade along Idaho Street. Then come the competitions. Challengers see how many times they can shoulder a 500pound cylinder, how far they can pace burdened by 104-pound weights in each hand. Between such feats, troupes dance Basque jotas, their steps punctuated by tbe irrintzi-a whistling cry originally intended to echo across the Pyrenees and terrify any foe within earshot.

Saturday's competitions run at the county fairgrounds, 13th Street and Fairgrounds Road; tickets are $5. Sunday's begin with a barbecue, and run at Elko City Park on Idaho Street; tickets are $10. For details, call Ramon Zugazaga at (702) 738-9691 or 738-2046, or write to Elko Basque Club, Box 1321, Elko 89801.

Lodging note: the gold rush has left Elko tight on motel space, especially at festival time. But last-minute vacancies do occur. You might also try Wells, 50 miles northeast of Elko on I-80.

If you miss the festival, you can still sample Euskaldun culture at the town's Basque restaurants. Barbecued lamb, chicken, spiced beans, and bread appear in quantities guaranteed to stretch your belt a few notches. (Be prepared for waits during the festival.) Some choices: Bittoki, 405 Silver Street; (702) 738-969). Open 4 to 10 Pm. daily except Wednesdays. Nevada Dinner House, 351 Silver Street; 738-8485. Open 5 to 10 Pm. daily except Mondays.

Star Hotel & Restaurant, 246 Silver Street; 738-9925. Open 5 to 9:30 Pm. daily except Sundays.

A second distinctive group resides in the Elko area-one of the few places in the West where the wor "cowboy" still denotes a serious job, not a Friday-night affectation.

You can visit the world of the working cowboy at one of Elko's Western wear stores. Capriola's, at 500 Commercial Street, caters to the Nevada buckaroo with custom saddles, and to more casual shoppers with wallets, clothing, and hats. It also has a fine display of historic bits and spurs from the G.S. Garcia Company. Capriola's is open from 8 to 5:30 daily except Sundays.

Other Western stores include Bob's Togs (453 Idaho Street; 9 to 5:30 daily except Sundays) and Elko General Merchandise (416 Idaho; 10 to 5:30 daily except Sundays and during lunch). Eddie Brooks no longer operates a retail store but still makes fine custom saddles: if you're interested, call 738-8833 or write to him at 596 W. Dunes Dr., Elko 89801.

A final Elko stop should be at the Museum of Northeastern Nevada, 1515 Idaho Street. Behind a Pony Express cabin stands a modern museum with exhibits on Basques and buckaroos, Paiute and Pima Indians, mining, and Great Basin wildlife. It's open, free, from 9 to 5 Mondays through Saturdays, noon to 5 Sundays. For details, call 738-3418.

Lamoille and the Ruby Mountains About 25 miles east of Elko rise the Ruby Mountains. There's false advertising in the name: the rubies found here were only garnets. But in every other way, these mountains surpass expectation. The highest and wettest of the ranges that run north-south through the Great Basin, the cool, green Rubies surprise all the more in light of the sere landscape at their feet. The Rubies are currently making news. In May, Nevada Congressman Bilbray and Senators Bryan and Reid introduced a bill that would create a 90,000-acre wilderness in the mountains.

From Elko, take State Highway 227 southeast 20 miles to lush, hay-mown Lamoille. A farmhouse turned B & B, The Breitenstein House, offers rooms ($40 to $65 a night double occupancy) and dinners (served from 5 to 9 daily). Write to the house, General Delivery, Lamoille 89828, or call 753-6356.

From Lamoille, you enter the mountains via Lamoille Canyon Road, a 1 2-mile ride through a canyon akin to Yosemite in impact if not in scale. Displays at turnouts explain how glaciers carved this chasm; at the second turnout, a 1-mile nature trail takes you into an avalanchecleared meadow. Picnickers will find five sites at Power House, at the canyon's mouth. Campers can choose between 9 sites at Terraces, 8 miles up,and 42 sites at Thomas Canyon. Either costs $5, on a first-come basis.

The road ends at the canyon head, at 8,850 feet-the entrance to 40,000-acre Ruby Mountains Scenic Area (part of the proposed wilderness). Here begins the Ruby Crest Trail. Normally open by July 1, it gives hikers horizon-to-horizon views of mountains and basin. For a good dayhike, follow the trail 5 miles south to Favre Lake, then return. Backpackers can keep on the trail several days until it reaches Harrison Pass, 40 miles south.

For more hiking information, stop by Humboldt National Forest headquarters, at 976 Mountain City Highway in Elko; 738-5171. Or visit the Ruby Mountain Ranger District, 301 S. Humboldt, Wells; 752-3357. A good trail guide is Hiking the Great Basin, by John Hart (Sierra Club Books, San Francisco, 1981; $9.95). Note: hikers should prepare for severe weather. Even in summer, storms brew at these elevations with hazardous speed.

You can also see the mountains by horseback. Five outfitters lead pack trips into the Rubies and adjacent East Humboldt Range. Prices vary from $75 per person for day trips to $195 per person per day for all-inclusive trips (outfitters supply horses, food, and service throughout).

Elko Guide Service, 227 N. Belloak Court, Elko 89801; 738-7539.

Hidden Lake Ouctstters, Ruby Valley 89833; 779-2268.

Humboldt Outfitters, Box 60-160, Wells 89835; 752-3714.

Nevada High Country, Box 135, Wells 89835; 752-3809.

Secret Pass Outfitters, Ruby Valley 89833; 779-2232.

To Ruby Lake and the East Humboldts On the Rubies' eastern slope, water percolating through limestone gives birth to fresh-water marshes and to Ruby Lake. Protected as Ruby Lake National Wildlife Refuge, this 37,632-acre area supplies nesting habitat for sandhill cranes and canvasback and redhead ducks. It's also a popular fishing spot, though some say overfished in the last few years.

From Elko, you can follow State Highway 228 south 3 miles past the town of Jiggs, then take the graded dirt road over 7,247foot Harrison Pass. Or drive southeast on State 229 from 1-80 to gravel-surfaced Ruby Valley Road. Either way, stop at refuge headquarters (open 7 to 3:30 weekdays) for maps, bird lists, fishing regulations; fishermen need a Nevada license, availabie in Elko but not at the reserve. For more information, write to Ruby Lake National Wildlife Refuge, Ruby Valley 89833, or call 779-2237.

One final destination deserves a detour: the East Humboldt Range, the Rubies' northern extension. From Wells, follow the signs for Angel Lake; the road rises 18 miles to a Forest Service campground.

From here, trails probe the mountains, One stiff hike goes 5 miles to idyllic, 8,723-foot Greys Lake.

A new book on the Great Basin Nevada travelers can enjoy a handsome new book on the region, Stephen Trimble's The Sagebrush Ocean: A Natural History of the Great Basin (University of Nevada Press, Reno, 1989; $34.95). To be published in August, it will be available at bookstores or from the University of Nevada Press, Reno 89557; 784-6573. Add $2 for postage and handling.
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Copyright 1989 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Elko, Nevada
Date:Jul 1, 1989
Previous Article:Trout fishing and inner-tubing near downtown Boulder.
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