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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The Blooming Desert

The Mountain, the Jets, the Cracked Earth
December , 2005
by John C. Evanoff

Highway 50 east of Fallon has always been one of my favorite sojourns on my way to secret places in the middle of Northern Nevada to hunt and fish. The high Nevada desert is truly attractive as a place of many marvelous oddities and Sand Mountain is definitely one of them. Traveling east on Highway 50 through the lower Carson Lake (a dry remnant of the ancient great Lake Lahontan), you come upon this wonderful mountain about 15 miles east of Fallon on your left. Its stunning white sands shocks your view and everything around it at more than 600 feet in elevation and two mile long shape. Its sword-like shape (‘seif’ dune) can best be seen from the air but the two-mile road to its base brings you nearer and nearer to this amazingly huge booming dune. The Great Basin desert around the mountain once held a tremendous amount of water (Lake Lahontan) and when it dried up thousands of years ago, the resulting shores of white sand piled up from the persistent southwest winds into this corner of Carson Lake. Booming dunes are sought after by naturalists all over the world because of the strange musical sounds the sands make when the wind picks up the particles and rubs them together. One of my favorite things to do here is to walk up to the summit of Sand Mountain in the middle of the winter early in the morning. You will hear all kinds of sounds from low moans to loud cracks, all from this unusual mountain. The only other place you might hear the same sounds in Nevada is near Tonopah at Crescent Dune but clearly the loudest of all that I have climbed is Sand Mountain. The Paiute Indians in the area told stories of the singing mountain to their siblings for centuries. Man was near this place for at least the last 3,500 years because evidence exists of their existence at the nearby Grimes Point Petroglyph area and Hidden Cave just ten miles east of Fallon. Some of the stories told of a huge lumbering monster that slid from the receding lake bottom covered by wind blown sands. The tales tell of the sleeping giant resting till the day the water comes back to the lake. The booming sounds of the sand must have given the tale a lot of credibility because on a clear day, you can hear the wailing and singing for miles around.

Sand Mountain is a playground to hikers, dune buggies, ATV’s, sand boarders, sand skiers, paragliding and hang gliders. The Bureau of Land Management is in charge of the region and facilities exist to enjoy an overnight stay. There are kiosks at the base that tell of the features and wildlife of the area. One of the more interesting sights in the spring is a small blue butterfly called the Sand Mountain Blue Butterfly. They feed on the buckwheat grass that grows at the base of the mountain and sometimes they will alight on the dunes displaying their colorful wings to the sun in the thousands. The Pony Express also came through the area at Sand Springs Station near the mountain’s base and a sign pinpoints where the station existed. The Grimes Point area is a great place to stop and view glyphs from more than 2,000 years ago attributed to the tribes abundant success at hunting game and fishing in the area. Hidden Cave around the corner from Grimes Point is open to the public for viewing on every second and fourth Saturday of each month. You can view the cave structure by going to the Churchill County Museum which begins the free tour with the Hidden Cave display and film at the museum at 9am and a caravan to the cave site at 10am.

Another astounding highlight while visiting this region is the occasional sonic boom or strafing run by strategic jet fighters from the Fallon Naval Air Station. The station is home to the Naval Strike Air Warfare Center “Top Gun,” the elite airmen of the navy and marines, the Fighting Saints of VFC-13, the Desert Outlaws of Strike Fighter Weapons School and the Carrier Airborne Early Warning Weapons School (Top Dome). This is the only facility in the world where an entire aircraft carrier wing can practice realistic battlefield scenarios. The almost three mile-long airstrips at NAS Fallon make for an impressive view when as many as 30 jets begin their runs. Four bombing ranges including the largest and oldest, Bravo 20, make up the facilities. NAS Fallon has been around since 1942, originally designed to meet the threat of a Japanese strike on the west coast. It has enlarged considerably through World War II, Korea, Vietnam and the Gulf War to become the most important training area for naval airpower deployment throughout the world. The electronic warfare range just around the bend from Sand Mountain is where you can see some really fantastic flying. Bravo Areas near Lone Rock northwest of the Stillwater Range and the Bravo Area just south of Middlegate are also where you can view some of the fighter squadrons hard at work practicing to keep our country safe. It’s not unusual to see several dog fights and aerial maneuvers by the best and most sophisticated jet aircraft in the world during a typical day. The aircraft you see most notably are the F-14 Tomcat, F/A-18 Hornet and Super Hornet, E-2C Hawkey, EA-6B Prowler, F-5E Tiger, S-3 Viking, C-2A Greyhound and AV-8B Harrier. You’ll also see some big planes like the E-6A/B Mercury (Tacamo) and C-130 Hercules with a host of helicopters and spotting and rescue aircraft to fill the list and sky. Every year Fallon Naval Air Station puts on a spectacular air show and you can see the base up close and personal. Don’t miss the chance to visit with our pilots and this one of a kind airbase in the summer. The Blue Angels regularly participate at the show as an added attraction.

So, now you know of two booms in the desert. Finally, there is the crack. In 1954, four large earthquakes, the largest a 7.2 magnitude hit the Dixie Valley area and opened up a scarp more than twenty feet high south of Frenchman near Middlegate. An earthquake scarp sign designates the importance of the area to geologists and earthquake scientists. The road leads south from Highway 50 some 40 miles east of Fallon and six miles west of Middlegate through Stingaree Valley to the fault scarp at the east base of the Fairview Peak. There are several key monitoring stations in the area still functioning and recording seismic activity. No quake in recent Nevada history had such a resounding affect on such a large portion of land. From the fault scarp south of Frenchman seventy-five miles north through Dixie Valley and the Stillwater Range, the size and severity of the quake was tremendous. Highway 95 and Highway 80 were completely destroyed in some areas and hot pools and geysers opened up at Brady Hot Springs more than seventy miles away. Some people believe the force of the earthquake was caused by supernatural forces. At the time, many people were looking to the skies for UFOs and still today, from Fallon south past Tonapah and northeast to Ely, a lot of sightings are still recorded. The crack in the earth is especially pronounced in this area and you must stand next to it to get the real feeling of land suddenly falling more than twenty feet in just a few seconds. From the incredible booming and enormity of Sand Mountain and the sounds and sights of jet fighters almost close enough to view the pilots, to the astonishing crack in the earth that will make you feel extremely vulnerable, this region is an unforgettable experience.

The Highway 50 adventure continues throughout the next few months so you can plot your strategy for your next visit to this incredible area of Northern Nevada. Remember to bring along water, food and a first aid kit. It’s also important to bring different kinds of outerwear. The high desert environment can be warm one minute and cold the next, so it’s best to be prepared for both. Also, please stay on the roads with your vehicle. There is nothing more frustrating than getting stuck up to the axel in the desert. And don’t forget the binoculars and a camera. The views and pictures will astound you.


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