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Off-roading adventures through Nevada desert

If they’re serving kale salad in Beatty, it must be time for the Poker Run.

The Fifth Annual Bullfrog Historical Mining District Poker Run organized by Beatty’s VFW post, John Strozzi Post #12108, continues to grow, and the 2019 edition drew roughly 200 entries in 115 vehicles to a course that runs counterclockwise to the east, north and west of Beatty.

“Every year it seems to grow,” said Dan Sanders, post commander. “I think we’re at a great capacity right now. It’s not overloaded for us, and for the guys on the course it’s just right for them.”

As for an official number of drivers, don’t ask Sanders.

“We don’t count,” he said. “We’ll see after the food count.”

Yes, the food. As awesome as the scenery is, as fascinating as the history is, as fun as the wildlife is, the post-Poker Run dinner is one of the highlights of the event.

“We have at least 150 to 200 people come just for the food that don’t even run the course,” said Chaz Vaughn, sporting a VFW apron over his Pappy’s BBQ T-shirt. “On the menu today are smoked ribs, smoked chicken, kale salad, smoked corn, baked beans and rolls.”

The kale salad was the highlight last year. After all, you already knew the smoked ribs and chicken were going to be good. Kale, not so much.

“We have some awesome chefs,” Sanders said. “Chaz of Pappy’s BBQ and Julia (Lambert) is the cook for the post. They’re not cooks, they’re chefs.”

Lambert headed up the breakfast crew, which was at the post by 4 a.m. to prepare for the 7-9 a.m. breakfast.

“Breakfast was a great turnout,” Vaughn said. “We had scrambled eggs, sausage, biscuits and gravy, pancakes.”

“And it was jalapeno gravy,” Sanders interjected. “It was awesome.”

As you might imagine, Vaughn, Lambert and company didn’t roll out of bed that morning and churn out all that food.

“At least two days,” Vaughn said of the prep time. “We plan to feed more than 400 people today. It was a lot of preparation, but we pulled it off. Great team.”

The $35 entry fee for participants covered the food, as well as entry into a drawing for the grand prize of a $500 gift card to Sportsman’s Warehouse. The “poker” in Poker Run came from drawing cards at the table in front of the VFW post after completing the excursion.

Manning the table again this year was Christine Zwicker of the VFW Auxiliary.

“I headed up registration for this year, which means folks who purchased their poker tickets and stuff online or those who came in and registered at the post,” she explained. “We would take those and issue them their poker tickets, their maps and packets, things like that.”

When they were done traversing the course, they came back to the front table.

“We issue them a poker card and as they go around they get a hole punch and when they come back to us, this is the final stop and they draw their cards all at one time,” Zwicker said. “We found that was faster versus them pulling cards at each individual location.

“There was one year we had people backed up significantly at a couple of stops, and we just wanted to avoid that.”

The prize for best poker hand was $300, with $200 for second and $100 for third.

Moving the poker draw to the end was one of the improvements made over the five-year history of the Poker Run, and Sanders said they are always asking people for input.

“I ask them what did you like about it, what can we do better,” he said. “I had one lady, and she said this is her first time and she’s like ‘I’m ready to go to it again right now.’”

That is a common reaction, as participants are almost universally delighted by the course.

First-time Poker Runner Marty Campbell was enthusiastic about his adventure around Beatty.

“I’d recommend it to anyone who has the equipment to do it,” he said. “You have to have the equipment. We stopped and took quite a few pictures.”

With Campbell was Beatty resident Sandy Rowe, a relative newcomer to off-roading if not to Beatty.

“I lived here for 30 years, and I got so bored I went and bought myself that toy the other day,” she said, gesturing toward her vehicle. “I haven’t been bored since. I like to go out by the pond, but actually all over around here. Years before you get bored and need a trailer to go somewhere else.”

Rowe and Campbell estimated they spent four hours on the course, which is fairly common. But some prefer to linger at certain stops and marvel at the scenery or the wildlife.

“My niece caught a tarantula and moved it off the road so it wouldn’t get run over,” said Phil Jestic of Las Vegas, on his second Poker Run. “We went looking for petroglyphs. We didn’t find any petroglyphs, but we saw a rattlesnake and backed off and got back on the trail.”

Jestic is a regular visitor to Beatty.

“A buddy of mine has a ranch up here, and we come up and camp,” he said. But the Poker Run gave him a much wider perspective on what the area has to offer. “All the different geology, the colors, the trails, a lot of rock crawling, you name it. The mining and the history and going through Rhyolite. That was my first time in Rhyolite, and I want to go back. There’s a lot of history here.”

Also up from Las Vegas, at Jestic’s urging, was Anthony Bellina, who was not only on his first Poker Run but on his first visit to Beatty.

“It was mutual friends,” he said. “They invited me out, so I showed up to see what it was all about.”

What he found while driving his Subaru Crosstrek was perfect weather for some perfect views.

“It was beautiful,” Bellina said. “Nice day, nice weather, really easy trail. It was two-wheel-drive friendly. We saw tons of mines, we went to Rhyolite and got to see that area. I wouldn’t mind coming back out here again.”

And that is music to the ears of Ann Marchand, president of the Beatty Chamber of Commerce.

“It brings a lot of revenue to the town,” Marchand said of the Poker Run. “The rooms are booked. No rooms available, and most of the RV spaces are not available, either.”

Marchand said the town had 350 motel rooms and 20 Airbnbs.

“I think as each year goes word gets out what a great event it is. I think this year is probably our biggest year.”

“It was Thursday, and the town was full of ATVs,” Marker said. “All day Friday they were running all around town.”

An event that draws that many people requires a lot of preparation.

“The VFW puts a lot into it,” Marchand said. “Some of the other Poker Runs don’t put as much into them as Beatty does. They have a great dinner, the prizes are wonderful, and the organization of the Poker Run is just superb.”

“We start about a year out because you have to have all of the permits and everything like that,” Sanders said. “We start a year out, thinking about what we’re going to do for the next year. Then a couple of months out, it really starts cranking.”

A lot of that cranking involves lining up help. Many people come together to make the Poker Run happen, many behind the scenes.

“We want to give special thanks to Cindy (Campbell) at the Atomic Inn,” Vaughn said. “She sends a crew of her housekeeping people down here to help us set up and tear down every year.”

“Normally we’ll have the boy scouts over here washing cars, but they have a jamboree this weekend,” said Bill Marker, post adjutant. “But the girl scouts are going to be here helping to serve the meal.”

Of course, a lot of the help is on the course itself.

“The volunteer fire department is out there sweeping the course for us,” Sanders said. “They’re doing the final sweep to make sure everybody is off the course so we don’t leave anybody on the course. As long as they’re on the course, we make sure they come home. Safety is our biggest thing.

“We have the radio club that monitors the progression of all the vehicles for us. They’re also there in case there’s an emergency of some kind, something as simple as a flat tire. We have probably 20 folks on the course right now.”

Sanders also wanted to thank the Poker Run’s sponsors, Corvus Gold, U.S. Ecology and Coeur Mining, operators of the Sterling Gold Project in Beatty. Marker also noted that the Stagecoach Hotel & Casino in Beatty donated $500 for the event.

“That’s what I love about Beatty,” Marchand said. “Everybody tries to work together to make things happen.”

And when it comes together, it helps dozens of people enjoy a course that runs roughly 10 miles east of town, turns north, goes past some mines before it turns to the west, runs almost 18 miles west and southwest before reaching Rhyolite and then heads back to Beatty. There is plenty to see.

“You get to stop and see the wildlife, burros, bighorn sheep,” Sanders said. “Enjoy the scenery. There’s a lot of mines you can stop and look at. There’s petroglyphs out here in different places.”

The course map let drivers know where they were supposed to go and noted the places a poker stamp would be given. Green arrows pointed drivers in the right direction, while red wrong-way signs made sure drivers didn’t go too far when they wandered off course. Blue signs reminded everyone where a poker card would be stamped, and orange camera signs tipped off drivers to points of interest that would make good photo opportunities.

“It’s a tour,” Marker said. “There’s a nice map. You can stop at every place, and it has a picture that tells you about the geology and the history of the place. You can do it in three or four hours, but if you want to look at everything they have on that course you can spend six, eight or 10 hours out there.”

“I’ve been all over the desert, and I saw roads I’ve never seen before,” said Rowe, the Beatty resident on her first Poker Run.

And if a hearty breakfast, several hours of touring around Beatty and a barbecue dinner weren’t enough, this year live entertainment was added to the program.

“We’re going to have a street dance tonight,” Sanders said. “We’ve got a band coming up that’s going to play live tonight, and the same band is going to play at Beatty Days. We thought we’d do something a little different this year.”

The band, Maria Anderson and Her Southern Knight Band 3.0, came up from Las Vegas and brought a mix of rock, country, blues and pop to the Poker Run. For an event that didn’t need anything to make it bigger and better, live music into the evening was a great way to make it bigger and better.

Not all of the entry fees go toward prizes, as the VFW post uses money for good causes when it can. Back in August, the post voted to provide $100 to help Beatty High School senior Jose Granados attend the Junior Olympics, and some of the money from the Poker Run also will find its way to high school students.

“What it does for the post is it provides for scholarships,” Sanders said of the financial side of the Poker Run. “We give a couple of $500 scholarships to high school students.”

So the folks Campbell met on the course who came down from Tonopah or up from Pahrump, the ones Sanders saw from Tonopah and Las Vegas, or the ones Vaughn knows who came all the way from Utah, are not only bringing their money into Beatty’s hotels and eateries but helping a couple of kids pay for college.

”It’s a community thing, so everybody benefits from this,” Sanders said.

Judging by the reaction of those who organized it, those who helped the organizers and those who participated in it, everybody will be benefiting for years to come.

Said Rowe: “I can’t wait until next year.”

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