|Modern Pahrump is a rambunctious little city, one of the fastest-growing communities in the west. It attracts refugees from Las Vegas and Los Angeles, and much of it is still the modest pioneer amalgam of mobile home, cinder block and crackerbox.
Lately, though, new urban features are conspicuous — there's a two-story bank building, three bright casinos now compete for attention along the highway (Nevada 160), and the tasting room at the Pahrump Valley Winery on Winery Road is busier than ever. There are traffic lights, city-sized supermarkets and shopping centers, and asphalt is covering more of the gritty downtown acreage than ever before. Critical mass is being achieved.
"Pahrump is like Las Vegas when it was small", says a booster, while outside the pavers are laying asphalt on the desert grit.
In 1862 the Pahrump Valley (Big Spring in the lingo of the southern Paiute) attracted great attention when prospector George Breyfogle appeared in Austin, far to the north, and showed amazingly rich gold samples from a huge deposit he said he'd found here.
An assay confirmed the richness of the ore, and the excited Breyfogle hurried south at the head of an eager mob of gold seekers. But storms or the vagaries of memory had played over the landscape to such an extent that the confused man could not find the spot where the gold was waiting.
The disappointed crowd returned to Austin in disgust, but Breyfogle and other determined prospectors prowled the Pahrump Valley for years in search of the gold. You may be the one to find it — no-one else has.
Aaron and Rosie Winters were the first permanent settlers of note. They had enriched themselves by discovering a vast deposit of borax in Death Valley, and established a ranch here with the proceeds. To everyone's surprise, they planted wine grapes which flourished in the dry sunshine. Pahrump Valley wines were sold in southern Nevada Saloons for many years afterward.
By the time the ranchers in the valley managed to attract a Post Office in 1891, most of them had given up on wine grapes and switched to growing cotton, and for the past several decades lettuce, putting greens and retirement real estate have been the main cash crops.
More than a century after Aaron and Rosie had pionered winemaking in the valley, it has returned with the establishment of the Pahrump Valley Winery. The distinctive Mission-style structure — but with a bright blue roof! — occupies a prominent place on the slope below Mount Charleston, which provides an impressive, almost-Swiss backdrop when it is capped with snow. The winery grounds are nicely landscaped, lawned and watered, but there are no grape vines, other than a few for show. Grape vines once covered much of the grounds, but as the two-year-old vines were about to deliver their first crop, they were eaten by wild horses.
California growers supply the grapes for the prize winning reds (exceptional cabernet sauvignon and merlot) and whites made with the Symphony grape. The tasting room, gift shop and restaurant all reflect the highest traditions of the contemporary wine culture, including free tours.
The annual Harvest Fair is Pahrump's great celebration of itself — two 18-hole golf courses, an inviting park with picnic tables and a swimming pool are enjoyable the year around.
Pahrump is on the major Las Vegas-Death Valley route, and you can depaert here for an extended tour of this magnificent National Park. For an enjoyable shorter loop trip, take Nevada 372 west from Pahrump to Shoshone and then north on California 127 to Death Valley Junction. You'll arrive back at the Nevada line at Amargosa, then down US 95 to Nevada 160 back to Pahrump.