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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North of Gerlach (part 1)

Soldier Meadows, High Rock Canyon
and The Sheldon Antelope Range
December, 2006
By John Evanoff


Last month, we took Highway 95 from Winnemucca north to NSR 140 into Denio and then on a gravel road heading west into the Summit Lake Indian Reservation. The best method to reach our destination this month is to head north on NSR447 out of Wadsworth east of Reno and just past Gerlach to a fork and then go right on a unpaved road. You proceed on the south east side of the Granite Range where you will come to another fork. If you have some time, go to the right till you reach a sign pointing to Double Hot Springs. You’ll see some strange colorful mounds built up by minerals bubbling from the hot earth. From there, you can venture further along the Calico Hills to find Jackson Reservoir, Mud Meadows Creek and Reservoir and Soldier Meadows next to the Soldier Meadows Ranch. Soldier Meadows has an abundance of wildlife including the endangered Desert Dace, a small fish which only lives in the hot springs feeding Mud Meadows Creek. The four wheel drive roads from here continue on into the Summit Lake Indian Reservation to the northeast and High Rock Canyon to the west.

Let’s go back to the fork in the road at the top of the Black Rock Desert and head left at the fork we went right on and head north again where you will be just east of to the Granite Range and their spectacular cliffs of white and grey granite. Just past 8,533 foot Division Peak on your right, there are several points of interest for those who would like to see and explore some of Northern Nevada’s most beautiful and desolate high desert country. High Rock Canyon and High Rock Lake can be driven into by four wheel drive. You can also horseback ride or hike into the area but however you wish to enter the area doesn’t matter. Once you find the canyon and lake, you’ll want to make the trip many more times and during different periods of the year. If you plan to go, take a good topographic map of the area to find the better four wheel drive roads leading into the High Rock Canyon region and the topography to judge your hiking trail difficulty.
The fly fishing is great at High Rock Lake for Rainbow, German Brown and Bass. The lake is relatively murky except for early winter and the dark wooly bug in purple and black is the best imitation of the crawfish or dragonfly nymph living in the lake. During the winter, some of the roads can be treacherous and I wouldn’t try them unless you knew them already and then only with enough provisions and gear to get out if you happen to get stuck.

The Northern Shoshone Indians traveled through High Rock Canyon for thousands of years from the valleys both south and north of the canyon. The hunting was always good and the tribe spent much of their time in the area in the late spring and summer. John C. Fremont and his trusted guide Kit Carson came through the canyon and mapped the area in 1844 and on that same trip discovered Pyramid Lake to the south. The Applegate clan came through the canyon in 1846 and in 1849 the Applegate Trail became a well trodden path to Oregon’s Willamette Valley. The fifteen or so miles of the High Rock Canyon are great for hiking and wildlife viewing. You will see coyote, fox, badger, cottontail, jackrabbit, sage grouse, chuker, quail, deer, antelope and many raptors. The geography was left by a volcanic rift zone that tore through the area millions of years ago. The many landslides from the resulting fault cliffs created the natural lake and you can view the eons of movement of ice and water along the canyon walls. This is a great place to horseback ride because of its ruggedness. If you take a passenger car it’s a great day hike if you stop at the base of the canyon next to the creek and proceed from there.

North of Soldier Meadows and the High Rock Canyon is the Sheldon Antelope Range and Vya. No other high desert plateau wilderness area in the United States is as magnificent and isolated as this region. The Sheldon National Antelope Refuge encompasses more than 550,000 acres and range from 4,500 to more than 8,000 feet in elevation. The plateau was carved by a giant ice shelf a mile thick in places which moved across the area during the last ice age between 60,000 and 15,000 years ago the results of which can be seen by the many flattened tops of hills and mountains in the area. When the ice melted, the ancient Lake Lahontan grew to its peak covering about 8,000 square miles of Northern Nevada. Only a few bodies of water remain from that great inland sea including Pyramid and Walker Lakes. The roads in and around the refuge are tough traveling. A good time to journey on them is in the late summer and early fall when they are dry and the herds of game are moving through and into the valleys. I’ve seen more than five hundred antelope in one binocular sweep from the top of Catnip Mountain looking west into the Swan Lake Reservoir valley. I’ve also seen herds of as many as two hundred mule deer moving in the early morning through the canyons of Badger Creek. One day while horseback riding north of Massacre Lake I spotted two mountain lions running down a small antelope. They only needed about two minutes to take it down and another ten to haul it up into the cliffs for lunch.

Nevada is respected by hunters and fisherman from all over the world and many Boone and Crockett records have been established from this region including yearly antelope, mule deer and the desert big horn sheep trophies. The more you explore the Sheldon Antelope Range, the more you will appreciate why Northern Nevada is so close to my heart. Just walking around the many canyons and valleys and suddenly coming up on a high desert oasis full of wildlife, water, juniper, willow, cottonwood and such a wide variety of wildlife is awe inspiring indeed.

Most all the roads west of the Sheldon Antelope Range lead to a little way-stop called Vya. If you drive south from Vya you eventually return to Gerlach. Along the way, you may see some protected fenced areas along the road. If you stop, you’ll see stumps of fossilized giant red wood trees that stood more than a hundred feet high and were as much as ten feet across or more and once covered thousands of square miles of this region. About eight million years ago, Northwest Nevada was heavily forested and animals such as camel, bison, mastodon, giant ground sloth and the saber-toothed tiger roamed the hillsides and valleys. The ice age and inland ocean erased the forests and animals and left the visual emptiness you observe for miles in every direction.

Whenever exploring the Nevada wilderness, take care to bring along enough supplies and first aid to handle emergencies. A four wheel drive vehicle is worthless if you don’t have good off-road tires, a spare, a full five gallon gas can and enough equipment to get you out of any predicament. Also take abundant water. They don’t call this the high dry desert for nothing.

Next month I will take you from Gerlach north on NSR447 to Squaw Creek Valley, Squaw Creek Reservoir and to Wall Creek Canyon. A friend of mine caught a nine pound German Brown Trout at Wall Canyon on a Little Cleo brass lure in the late 1970’s and I’ve caught three and four pound black bass at Squaw Creek Reservoir.


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