Nevada History by John C. Evanoff

Visitreno.com is excited to present this series of articles by noted author and poet, John C. Evanoff. John will tell us about Nevada history and cover some of the more remote and unusual things to see and do in Northern Nevada.

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Elko and Carlin

by John C. Evanoff
August, 2006


The Central Pacific Railroad used an area near the Humboldt River as a rest station when it was laying track and completing the cross country line back in 1868. Aside from a few railroaders and merchants, there was little population in the area until 1869 when some hard rock miners started to look around for gold in the region and ranching began to expand. The saloons, hotels and merchant buildings followed and Elko became a county and town with a newly built court house at its center. Elko was named by a Central Pacific executive after the many Elk he saw in the mountains nearby. He just added an “O” and the name Elko was born. By the mid 1870’s, Elko was a bustling town of 5,000 and was a major hub for freighters, cattle and mining activity. The town was selected as the site for the University of Nevada and a campus building was built where the High School now stands. The mining depression of 1881-82 drove business and the University out of the town and the population dwindled to less than 1000. The University was moved to Reno in 1885. But Elko remained and grew stronger because of the railroad and by 1896 the town had the first county High School on the old college campus grounds. The original school building still stands and is used by the county for office space. By 1917, the town had grown back to a population of 2,500 and became an incorporated city. Elko citizens and politicians were outspoken in matters of Nevada State government affairs. Many of its population were elected to high level state and federal positions including Governor and Congressman. After 1932, gambling took hold in the little town and mining came back strong to the region. Today, Elko is a gleaming star besides the beautiful Ruby Mountains. The nation knows of its existence because of cultural events like the annual Cowboy Poetry event and its nearness to some of the most spectacular geography and outdoor recreation in the country. If you like rodeo, Elko is home to a half dozen rodeos including a Senior Pro Rodeo event, the Elko County Fair and Rodeo (the oldest in Nevada) and the annual Ranch Hand Rodeo.
But what I like to remember most about Elko is it’s down home style and easy going country folk. I’ve fished and hiked with many of them and can attest to their genuineness and almost stress-free existence. If you get a chance to sit down at a Basque dinner table at any one of the Basque restaurants, you will understand what I mean. Folks there gather around a long bench table talking with people from all over town and the entire country and just have fun entertaining each by sharing in the generous quantities of food, wine and conversation. The Elko citizenry cares about the simple things in life and it was even named one of the best places to live and retire in the United States by several media and financial organizations some years back.

West of Elko on I-80 is the little town of Carlin. Carlin grew up as the company town for the mining activities north of the Interstate. The Carlin Trend which encompasses the two largest gold mines nationwide are presently located just north of town. The Newmont Mining Corporation began mining operations in 1965 and today operates open pit and underground facilities included on more than a million and a half acres of land owned by the company. The mining technology used to break down the tons of ore can be viewed first hand on special tours from the Northeastern Nevada Museum in Elko. Not many people know that Nevada also has working oil wells just south of Carlin in Eureka County. About a half million barrels of oil are pumped from several working wells each year and with the cost of buying oil from other countries going higher, new fields stand a chance of being opened and old fields re-drilled to find fresh reserves.

Besides the commerce and the people, Elko and Carlin has some of the best fishing and hunting in the state very nearby. To the north seventy miles on NSR225 is Wildhorse Reservoir and almost the same distance north on NSR226 is Wilson Reservoir. Both lakes are teaming with rainbow, German brown trout, bass and catfish. To the south of Elko is South Fork Reservoir. Most fishermen use bait, but boaters do well trolling lures and I have successfully caught and released a number of fish in the five pound range with wet flies. All three reservoirs are also ice fished in the winter but I would check with the Fish and Game Department to see if the ice is thick enough to be safe. Between these reservoirs is the Independence, Bull Run, Adobe and Tuscarora Mountains all of which are full of antelope and mule deer. The sagebrush in this part of the state sometimes reaches a height of ten feet, so hunting can be extremely demanding and bow and musket hunters have early seasons to give them a better chance before the high powered rifles hit the field. Aside from big game, my father and I used to hunt sagehen, quail, cottontail rabbit and chucker in these same mountains and we always bagged limits in less than a couple hours in the early mornings of hunting season. North of Wildhorse on the Owyhee River is Mountain City and Owyhee. Spend some time fly fishing the river and you’ll be pleasantly surprised and walk around and visit both towns to get the old west feel of freedom and friendliness.

Hiking the peaks in the region used to be one of my superb leisure activities in the region but bikers and equestrian lovers should enjoy this area as well. If you travel west of Carlin on I-80, you will go through some impressive tunnels and view the canyons that created anxiety for railroaders and emigrants as they moved east and west in the 1800’s. These mountain canyons were among my favorite to hike and horseback ride in Northeastern Nevada.

Next month we will proceed west on I-80 to Battle Mountain, home of the 1978 World Saddle-Bronc Champion, Joe Marvel and Winnemucca, the town that made “The Wild Bunch”, Butch Cassidy, the Sundance Kid and their Hole-in-the-Wall-Gang a mesmerizing yarn that today still lives at an annual Butch Cassidy Days celebration there.


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