The only places that are more than a ghostly outline of civilization in the nearly 300 miles of Great Basin Desert that US-93 crosses between Ely and Las Vegas are the wildly different towns of Caliente, Panaca, and Pioche. The oldest and most northerly of the three, Pioche (pop. 1,002; pronounced “pee-OACH,” which means “pick-ax” in French) is a onetime mining boomtown that had its heyday well over a century ago. Now bypassed by the main US-93 highway, which runs around the east side of the historic town, Pioche is so remote—back then exponentially more than now—that during the 1870s it descended to a level of anarchy to rival Tombstone, Arizona. Local lore says that in its mining heyday, more than 75 men were killed here before anyone died of natural causes.

Corruption was also the order of the day, and you can tour Pioche’s “million-dollar” Lincoln County Courthouse on Lacour Street (Hwy-321) for a graphic example of it. Designed in 1871 at an estimated cost of $26,000, the courthouse wasn’t completed until 1876, to the tune of $88,000. Then, unable to pay off the principal, the county commissioners kept refinancing the debt, while interest accrued, year after year; by the time it was paid off in 1937, the courthouse had cost a million bucks and been replaced by a more modern structure. Now restored, the old courthouse is open for self-guided tours (775/962-5182, daily May-Oct., donation) of the offices, the courtroom, and the old jail.

The eclectic Lincoln County Historical Museum (63 Main St., 775/962-5207, daily, free) at the center of town is another good stop, as are nearby historic buildings such as the Thompson’s Opera House and the Commercial Club. The rusting remains of the aerial tramway that ran through Pioche up through the 1920s, carrying ore to the stamp mills, can be explored—cables, cars, and all—from various points in town. Two state parks to the east (Echo Canyon and Spring Valley, 13 and 21 miles away, respectively) round out your Pioche-area sightseeing.

Pioche is a pretty long way from anywhere else, so if you want to stay the night, try the characterful Overland Hotel (662 Main St., 775/962-5895, $68-105), which has a popular Old West saloon downstairs. The photogenic but ramshackle downtown also has a couple of cafés, including the Historic Silver Café (97 Main St., 775/962-5124), convenience stores, and a vital gas station.