Tuesday, April 24, 2018 | 2 a.m.
The sign at the entrance to the town of Blue Diamond reads:
Elevation - High
Population - Low
This village is only 30 minutes from the Strip, but mountains protect it from urban sprawl. Breathtaking desert views make the town of about 300 feel like a world apart.
This mining town is home to a mix of nature lovers and old-timers. Both groups prize the small-town quiet. So, while last week’s opening of a new café might not register as a blip on the radar of Las Vegas, it’s monumental in Blue Diamond.
There’s a stark contrast between the sleek, modern architecture of Cottonwood Station Eatery and the town’s other place to wet your whistle, a combined gas station, mercantile and sheriff’s office. Its style? Movie-set western, but authentic.
A dream fulfilled
Married couple Jody Lyman and Steve Enger have lived in Blue Diamond for 11 years. He commutes to Las Vegas to run Rigging Technologies, and they enjoy living near the outdoors to cycle, rock climb and hike.
“It made more sense to be in a town that felt like more of a community than a track home,” Enger says of his choice to live in Blue Diamond over Summerlin. “It feels like a neighborhood from the ’80s, when I grew up.”
The coffee shop had been long in the works for Enger and Lyman. As avid outdoor adventurers, they would travel around and note their favorite ideas and features from places they visited. Then came the long process of petitioning Clark County to allow them to start a café in a semi-protected area, not to mention getting the neighbors on board and convincing the bank that there would be enough traffic to this remote area to justify the loan.
Jody Lyman describes the menu as “not fancy, but delicious.” She grew up in Napa Valley, California, and worked in coffee shops while she studied art and sculpture. The menu is influenced by the California style, with paninis, pizzas, homemade baked goods and locally roasted coffee from Desert Wind Coffee Roasters.
On this sunny weekday morning in the first week of business, it seems like everything has fallen into place. Enger is still sporting knee pads and a scraped shin from the nine-mile ride he completed earlier that morning. “There is a lot of people that want to come out here because Vegas is the Strip and strip malls,” he says. Red Rock draws about 2 million visitors a year, and its popularity is growing.
In a town with a smaller population than most junior high schools, you can’t afford to upset the neighbors. And the owners of Cottonwood Station have done everything than can to integrate into the community, including golf cart pizza delivery.
The doors and windows are oriented away from the neighboring homes—toward what might be considered the town square—to minimize noise and disturbance. Public restrooms are accessible from the outdoors, serving the crowds of visiting cyclists who had few options when nature called.
The couple remodeled the original structure—a standalone garage—to preserve as much as they could. Bits of the building materials show up as recycled rafters and wall decor. An old truck that had spent the past few decades aging in somebody’s backyard is now a de facto sign for the restaurant; its bed serves as patio seating.
The question of whether Cottonwood Station would serve alcohol seemed to be the biggest issue, so the couple limited it to beer and wine for a calm bistro vibe. The next-closest watering station is the bar at Bonnie Springs Ranch Petting Zoo, some three and a half miles away.
Outside Cottonwood Station, a wall of annotated black and white photos tells the history of Blue Diamond. It includes a photo tribute to Tippy, the dog that helped save two miners. There’s an aerial photo of the town, which was built in the shape of Nevada, and a historical photo of the community pool, still fed by a natural spring.
Jody Lyman worked with long-time residents to find the photos and the stories behind them. She points out a picture of the original one-room schoolhouse and tells how it was eventually pushed off a cliff when no one had use for it anymore. Lyman explains how the town started as Cottonwood Spring, a watering hole on the Old Spanish Trail; its historical route runs past the coffee shop. She and her husband have plans to add a community bulletin board, murals and additional landscaping.
So far, response has been positive. “The crowds were already here in Blue Diamond; there was just no place to go at this level,” Enger says. “Now instead of standing at park, the cyclists come out and have a latte and a muffin.”
On the sunny patio, three guys are enjoying breakfast paninis with side salads and Italian sodas. They’ve just completed a morning bike ride on a nearby trail. A few of them have visited Cottonwood Station nearly every day since it opened.
“This guy's freaking stoked,” says Blake Gallagher, who works next door at McGhie's Bike Outpost. He points at his friend Liam Smillie, a downhill mountain bike racer whose parents moved from Summerlin to Blue Diamond a year ago. “His eating habits are so much better, because he's not just eating at the gas station.”
In addition to the refreshments and upgraded bathroom facilities, the trio of cyclists seem most excited about the social possibilities. Instead of disbanding after rides, “mountain bikers [will] get to know each other,” Gallagher says. “It’s a social gathering place right here.”
Cottonwood Station Eatery 14 Cottonwood Drive, Blue Diamond, 702-875-4332, cottonwoodstationeatery.com. Monday-Thursday, 6 a.m.-8 p.m.; Friday-Sunday 6 a.m.-10 p.m.