The clamor of trains and blaring whistles no longer disturb folks in Ely. The railroad tracks now skirt the northern edge of this old mining town, not quite a four-hour drive north of Las Vegas. The dozens of trains that once rumbled by each day, carrying both ore and passengers, have dwindled to a handful each week. Antique carriages now are filled with camera-toting tourists lured by the Nevada Northern Railway, a real railroad turned living history museum. The tab for two: $74 for a standard room at the venerable Hotel Nevada and $40 for a tasty dinner for two at the inviting All Aboard Cafe & Inn.
The downtown Hotel Nevada (501 Aultman St., Ely;  289-6665) is known for its Western flair. Hand-painted murals of cowboys ropin’ and ridin’ adorn the hallways of this vintage property, which offers 24-hour dining and, of course, gambling. Although the rooms are pleasant, some guests may be put off by the signs prominently placed in the bathrooms:
Due to the age of the hotel 1929
the shower fluctuates
from hot to cold without warning!
People fearing a shower surprise may prefer one of the newer chain hotels on the edge of town.
The All Aboard Cafe & Inn (220 E. 11th St., Ely,  289-3959) is a great choice for delicious, home-cooked food at affordable prices. The 1907 building, just half a block from the old depot, once was a boarding house for railroad workers. (Five guest rooms remain upstairs.) Locals rave about spaghetti with homemade meatballs ($10.95). Owners Becky and Ralph Werber have East Coast roots, so the menu also features lobster salad tossed with an orange-lemon vinaigrette ($14.95) and grilled crab cakes with rémoulade sauce ($16.95). Dinners include an ample salad bar. Open year-round for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Rail fans come to town to journey back in time aboard the Northern Nevada Railway (1100 Avenue A, East Ely;  289-2085). Ninety-minute narrated train rides take visitors along a part of the route that carried 4½ million passengers between 1905 and 1941. Some of the trains are still pulled by the original locomotives. There’s a museum inside the old station, and the rail yard is open to explore. Combo tickets (train ride and guided tour of rail yard and engine house) cost $31 for adults and $15 for children 4-12. Most of the trips take place from June to mid-November. Polar Express train excursions begin Nov. 19 and continue on weekends and some weekdays through Dec. 28.