They trickled in, often in pairs, to VFW Strozzi Beatty Post #12108 on Saturday, overwhelmingly enthusiastic about the 51-mile off-road trip they had just completed.
At a table out front, volunteers waited to check them in and deal cards for a poker hand that would deliver cash prizes for the top hands. Inside, dinner for almost 300 was being prepared, while across the street Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts, with some adult help, are washing cars.
What brought some 200 people to Beatty on a perfect fall Saturday was the fifth annual Bullfrog Historical Mining District Poker Run, and judging by the comments of many drivers, most of them will be back for a sixth.
“This is our best year so far,” said Dan Sanders, in his first year as VFW post commander. “We’ve got over 200 people that are running the course at the moment. We expect to feed just under 275 people here.”
The Poker Run is not a race, but an off-road journey that takes drivers on a tour of the area’s scenic and historic sites. Sanders said the course can be completed in less than three hours, but those who take their time to enjoy the area easily can spend closer to five hours on the route.
“We have quads, we have UTVs and four-wheel drive off-road vehicles,” Sanders said. “We don’t do any motorcycles, and this year because the course is so tight we’re not doing any long crew cabs or anything of that nature.”
The event was the brainchild of Karl Olson, the caretaker at Rhyolite, the ghost town a few miles west of Beatty.
“I was at Belmont, and Belmont did a miniature one around the historic district,” Olson recalled. “And I came back and I thought we have the most dynamite area to do it in with all of the old mines, some of the archaeological stuff, the petroglyphs.”
And after only five years, the volunteers who help Olson bring the event to fruition pretty much have it nailed down. There was not a discouraging word to be heard as drivers arrived at the VFW post on Main Street to check in and draw their poker hand.
That is the “poker” in Poker Run. The $30 entry fee included dinner, a raffle ticket for the grand prize of a $500 gift certificate to Sportsman’s Warehouse, and a poker hand. The best hand drawn was worth a $300 cash prize, with $200 for second and $100 for third.
Christine Zwicker sat with other volunteers in front of the post’s door, checking that each participant had a card punched at each of the checkpoints and spreading cards out for them to draw a hand.
“Last year they were drawing their poker cards at each checkpoint, and that slowed things down a little bit,” she said. “So what we decided to do this year was hole punches at the checkpoints instead, and then they draw their whole hand here at the end.”
That change is part of an ongoing process, as organizers actively seek feedback from participants to improve the event from year to year.
“It’s getting better and better every year,” Sanders said. “We were a bunch of guys who just threw it together and said, ‘How are we going to do this?’ but every year we’re getting better and better. We ask the folks, ‘What did you enjoy, and how can we make it better?’ So every year we try to improve everything.”
They keep coming back
Plenty of drivers and riders are happy with the results. Comments afterward were uniformly positive, praising every aspect of the day. Pahrump Valley 4 Wheelers members Debbie and Mike Zaman were among those who noticed the changes.
“This one’s better than last year,” said Debbie Zaman, who said the opportunities for photography were a highlight of the ride. “There was a lot more to see.”
Mike Zaman said the club, which counts 85 vehicles, started a decade ago and travels to Ely, Laughlin, Mesquite, Caliente and Tonopah, among other destinations. But he said the Poker Run course was outstanding.
“It had a lot of different terrain and was an off-roader’s dream,” he said. “It’s a real good run, had everything.”
“It was a wonderful course, very well laid out, very well marked,” said Melinda Stull, who said she particularly enjoyed seeing wild burros along the course. “They did a great job.”
“The trail markings were superb, the organization, the whole thing,” Keith Stull added. “Top of the line. It was a good time. We’ll be back.”
The Pahrump Valley 4 Wheelers was not the only club to make the trip. The nation’s oldest Jeep club, the Auburn Jeep Club of Auburn, California, has been around since 1951, and club members have made the trip to Beatty for the past three years.
“We have a number of vets in our club, and one of them received a flyer three years ago and we kind of looked at it and said, ‘Well, let’s go on down,’ ” said club member Chris Clabaugh. “So we had a small handful that came down and stayed over at the Atomic Inn and ran the course. We had a wonderful time. It’s one of the best, most-organized events I’ve ever seen. For a volunteer situation, it’s very well done.”
It would have to be, considering it’s a 400-mile trip to get to Beatty from home for the club. But their members now make a weekend out of the Poker Run.
“This year we had 14,” Clabaugh said, which was a bit down from last year. “The staff at the Atomic Inn are very, very nice to us. We do a barbecue there on Friday night. It’s really a pleasant town, great company here, a well-run event and beautiful weather. You can’t ask for more.”
Safety a top priority
All the amateur radio guys were on communication with Leo Marchetti, who was ensconced at a table outside the VFW, radio in hand. Although the event ran smoothly, Marchetti and his volunteers were ready in case it didn’t.
“If there’s any kind of emergency, we get the people where we need them,” Marchetti said. “Today has been a good day. We only had one person have a shock break on their vehicle. That’s the worst thing. But if someone got dehydrated and passed out, anything like that, we need to be able to get them help as soon as possible.”
Marchetti said he had volunteers spread throughout the course, ready if needed.
“I believe I have about 15 out there right now, and two of them are 15 years old,” he said. “They’re the youngest in Nye County to have a ham radio license.”
Should any of them report a problem, Northern Nye County Search and Rescue was there.
“The most important thing they do is they stage themselves at the most difficult parts of the event, and what’s most important is what they call a sweep,” Sanders said. “When the last vehicles go, a search and rescue person follows them all around the course to make sure everybody’s out of there at the end of the event.”
Deputy Chad Cobb, search and rescue coordinator for the northern area command of the sheriff’s office, was among those who came down from their Tonopah office to keep an eye on things.
“I came down and I’ve got four other team members that came down with me,” said Cobb, at his first Poker Run. “The course was fantastic. They did a really good job putting it together. I’ve got one reported problem of a guy who wasn’t driving very well, but other than that everybody made it through safely.”
“Our search and rescue and a couple of our officers come out and help police the area and make sure that we don’t have stragglers,” Nye County Sheriff Sharon Wehrly said. “If somebody breaks down, we take them back to where they need to go to get fixed.”
Wehrly got a first-hand look at the course as a participant, and like everybody else, raved about what she saw.
“They always make it different, and there’s always a little bit of excitement that goes along with it,” she said. “The highlight this time was going down the mountainside with the road cut out of the side of the mountain. It was great. It was really tight, but I don’t think there was much danger to it because the outside was beefed up so people couldn’t just fall off. But it gave you a little bit of a thrill, and it was a lot of fun.”
Meanwhile, across the street …
For several hours, Beatty scouts were across the street from the post, washing cars for a fundraiser of their own.
“We were over here about 10 o’clock, but we just started washing cars,” scoutmaster Theresa Mossey said just after noon.
“The kids ate some lunch, then got everything set up and ready. We’ll be here maybe until about 5 o’clock, it just depends on the flow.”
Mossey said they have been doing car washes for about six years, and both Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts participate.
“I’ve got some that are in first grade all the way up to 10th grade,” she said, including her son, Liam, who acknowledged it isn’t that hard to get people to volunteer on a perfect fall Saturday.
“It is a little bit, but it’s not too bad,” Liam Mossey said. “Everyone likes to come out, pitch in, have a little fun.
“It’s gotten bigger. Whenever we do car washes, we usually get around maybe 40 cars.”
Washing cars is pretty routine work for Liam Mossey, whose Eagle Scout project involved improvements at David Spicer Ranch, including a rebuilt shade shelter, tables, grill, fire pit and fishing benches to go around a pond.
Not quite at Eagle Scout level is 10-year-old Emmit Carter, who was happily washing cars a few spaces over. Or at least he would be.
“Two!” he answered when asked how many cars he had washed. But Carter was ready to do more, having volunteered at the event last year.
While the Scouts were soaking cars, Chandler Vaughn was smoking meat. The Illinois native has been cooking for some 20 years, getting his start cooking for church events. The 18-year Las Vegas resident and VFW member cooked for last year’s Poker Run.
“On the menu tonight we have smoked ribs, smoked chicken, smoked corn on the cob, kale salad and potato salad,” said Vaughn, who said he uses primarily mesquite for smoking. “I kind of put a wood blend to it with my own little twist.
“Last year was my first time cooking, and they wanted me to come back. Apparently, they’ve given it to me permanently.”
It’s a lot of work
Putting together the Poker Run does not happen overnight, and it doesn’t happen alone.
“This is our number-one fundraiser,” Sanders said. “We enjoy doing it. It’s a lot of work, but it’s a lot of fun.”
“We do the permits through the BLM, so there’s a lot of work through that,” Sanders said. “There’s a lot of pre-planning. We have several guys that go through the course and look the course over every year.”
“Every year we try and design a new one,” Olson said. “You’ve got to come back to town on certain roads. This is a route we never did before. We went back behind the mountain. We save things and try not to duplicate them, and this was three-quarters, maybe two-thirds new. And we try not to beat the roads up.”
And for other tasks, the organizers get specialized help.
“Elaine Ezra, she owns Terra Spectra Geomatics that does geophysical work, and she partners with us,” Olson said. “She makes our maps every year, and they’ve been making them for us for five years. Genne Nelson from the Park Service, she wrote four guidebooks about our event, she’s a geologist and hydrologist and was a mine engineer who worked out here in the old days.”
The results include a course that wins compliments from participants that have quality maps and guides for their experience.
“They get to see a lot of the local area, it’s not just let’s get out there and race,” Sanders said. “We do a 25-mile-an-hour drive, and you get to see a lot of beautiful country. They’re getting to see some wildlife; we’ve got the bighorn sheep that they’re observing today and yesterday when we were setting up.”
“We get a good group,” Olson added. “We don’t have any crazies. It’s people that are interested in the area, because it gets into the history of the area, the mines, all the early 1900s stuff.”
Between the scenery, wildlife, history and food, the $30 price tag seems a bargain, especially for an event created to raise money.
“The money that we get goes to scholarships,” Sanders said. “This year we’re trying to give away three scholarships. Last year we gave away two. A lot of this money goes for that.”
The VFW also helps out with things that might crop up during the year. When Beatty High School distance runner Jose Granados qualified for the Junior Olympics nationals in North Carolina, the VFW was one of the groups that helped make his trip possible.
In turn, the VFW had some sponsors for the Poker Run, including the Beatty Chamber of Commerce, Cervus Gold and US Ecology, and their participation helped create a successful event that left a lot of smiling faces around Beatty.
“It’s a great event,” Marchetti said. “The people here at the VFW are awesome, and we love working with them.”
“It’s very fun,” Vaughn said. “The people here are fun to work with, and I enjoy everybody.”
“It seems like they had a really good time,” Cobb added.
And those kinds of comments made all the work worthwhile for Olson and Sanders, who said the event brought out what’s good about Beatty.
“We’re a small community, but we’re a good community,” Sanders said. “It’s just people helping people.”
Contact Sports Editor Tom Rysinski at email@example.com On Twitter:@PVTimesSports