Nevada History
by John C. Evanoff

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Galena

Sawmills, Scouts, Ski Jump, Sledding and serious trekking
December, 2008
By John Evanoff

Just south of the Mount Rose Highway (NV431), between Steamboat Springs, Steamboat Hills and the old Callahan Ranch Road was a town few people know about and yet is very much a part of today’s rich Northern Nevada and Washoe County History. In early 1859, a band of hardy lumber men saw the potential of the hillsides along the base of Mount Rose as growth in the mining industry expanded the region’s wealth and homes began to sprout up everywhere throughout the lower Washoe Valley. Timber needs of the many deep mining shafts throughout the Virginia City foothills also created a great revenue source for the lumber industry in the area. The mining timbers were used to keep the walls and ceilings of the mines from caving in on the workers and ore cars. Between 1859 and 1891, several small lumber towns sprang up along the eastern edge of the Sierras between Verdi and Carson City and the entire east shore of Lake Tahoe. I’ve written a bit about a few of these saw mill towns including Huffaker, Mayberry, Hobart, Davis Creek, Thomas Creek, Franktown, Ophir, Spooner and Glenbrook. Some of these camps lasted only a couple years, but a few, like Glenbrook at Tahoe grew to immense proportions throughout the Comstock Lode’s glory years.

One of these towns that grew very fast, but lasted only a few years was incomparable for what it left instead. Galena, named from the lead sulfide rocks so prominent in the mining district after which it was named in the eastern hills nearby, had a dozen saw mills powered by steam engines that used the waters of Galena, Jones and Whites Creek on both sides of the Mount Rose Highway. The mills provided hundreds of jobs for workers who lived in and around the area and the town had a couple small hotels, seven saloons, a jail and court house, a school, several churches, assorted stores and livery stables. Five large stables and two large barns attached to Blacksmith and Ferrier stations on the site were used for the lumber yards. At one time, more than five hundred horses, mules and oxen were put to task to move the fallen logs off the sides of Mount Rose to log flumes along the sides of Galena Creek and Whites Creek. The entire hillside was constantly in motion from early morning to late in the evening with the bustling business of logging. Some of the equipment still exists as examples of the hardware of the time in the Nevada State Museum in Carson City. Most of the fellers used axes and cross-saws to bring down the Ponderosa, Surgar Pine, White Fir and Jeffery Pine. The cross-saw was a behemoth weighing in at over 120 pounds handled by at two men, one on each end. Once the axes cut the starter slice, the cross-saw was placed and its efficiency felling a tree was unsurpassed until the advent of gas powered machines. Within minutes, the tree was down and the trunk was stripped of its branches. Then the oxen, mule or horses moved the logs in groups of two three or four sliding them through the dirt down the hill to the flume and the lumber mill. Some of the ruts left by these massive trees driven down the hill by teams of six to eight animals on the same logging trails month after month can still be seen along the hillsides.

In 1865, a fire from one of the huge barns burnt down half the town. Then again in 1867, another fire just about burnt the whole town down again. It was the second fire and the loss of many of the stock animals that finally killed the town. Most of the lumberjacks and townsfolk just up and moved to other lumber towns in the region including Glenbrook and Incline where the other side of the hill had narrow-gauge railway and massive flumes already being built all along the eastern shore of Lake Tahoe. The fire probably did more though in saving much of the slopes of Mount Rose and Slide Mountain from further defacing. One of the more notable leftovers from the era can still be seen from the top of Steamboat Hill. Looking up the canyon you can still see the ruts left from the sliding logs on both the right and left hand hillsides as you look up towards Mount Rose. Another leftover is Galena Park tucked into a canyon on the side of Mount Rose. Although not much is written about this canyon from that period, the creek was dammed just to the north side of where the stone building is. The dam was quite large here and used as a setting point for two flumes during Galena’s raucous lumber mill days. Two other dams, one on Whites Creek at the head of Whites Canyon and one on Jones Creek at the head of Jones Canyon were also used to move lumber off the hillsides after they were stripped of their limbs. Smaller dams existed at Browns Creek and Thomas Creek for a short while as well.

Galena Park was acquired by Washoe County in 1931 as a picnic and ski area and soon after became a frequented campsite for trekkers using trail heads for three trails, two of which are still in use. From the entrance of the park across the Galena Creek Bridge along the Bitterbrush Trail winds a path more than a half-mile long through an area that was once used by Girl Scouts. Boy Scouts used the south side of the park where now a parking lot and day picnic area now exists and the Girl Scouts used the north side of the park. Galena Creek somewhat divided the two camps. The nicest camp was built for the Girl Scouts. Some of the huge concrete slabs you see along the hillside were for charcoal stoves used to heat food and tell stories around. The canvas tents to house a troop or two of the girl scouts were forty feet long and twenty feet wide. The Boy Scouts further up the canyon on the other hand were meanwhile sleeping in pup tents and only had rock rings for their cooking and warming needs. The Manzanita, Mahogany, Jeffery Pine, White Pine, Mistletoe and Ponderosa lining the trail and canyon walls are truly a testament to the County’s work to keep the park as pure and picturesque as possible.

A fascinating story few people remember is the ski jump built at Galena Creek in the early 1930’s. The early days of skiing as recreation consisted of people on long wooden boards mostly going straight down a hill for the thrill of speed and then slowing at a long outrun. The ski jump was only five meters or so high, but gave brave souls the chance to get the adrenalin rush of speed without too much height and danger. The area was locally well known as a ski area until Sky Tavern was built with a T-Bar and later a large ski lift was built to the south up Slide Mountain in the later 1930’s. What is left now at Galena Park is just the hillside to the left of the Highway Department’s building, but further in to the park are two sledding hills you should get acquainted with this winter with the first low elevation snows. Sledding, tobogganing and tubing have become the most economical way of discovering the rush of slipping down a hill of snow or ice. Everyone loves the excitement of not a care in the world except the panic from not knowing when or how you might stop. On the snowy days in the winter, Galena Park has Washoe County Park Rangers in charge of keeping the sledding orderly and relatively safe, although a few tailbones always get bent out of shape during the winter on these hills. One hill is rather slight and the other is fairly steep, but both have run-outs that leave a lot of room for speed and slowing safely to a stop. Toboggans and wooden sleds are not allowed on these two hills, but most other sledding devices are. If you like monster tubing and toboggans, a better bet are to use the dunes just over the Mount Rose Highway Summit. That area has longer run-outs but no rangers to keep things safer. At Galena Park’s sledding hills, if you have small children, it might be wise to helmet them. Plenty of padding around the back and tailbone helps a lot too.

Down the road about mile on the Mount Rose Highway is the Jones Creek-White Creek Trailhead that begins at the top of the parking lot at the lower Galena Park entrance. This park has parking for horse trailers and hitching posts for your horses. The trail moves all the way to Church’s Pond and is more than nine miles in length. There are offshoots, notably the Thomas Creek Trail over a small ridge at the base of the first turn down Whites Creek four and a half miles into the hike and a trail at Church’s Pond that straddles the ridge and comes out above Thomas Creek Canyon almost three miles further north. These are all considered fairly easy to hike although you must be in condition for such extended wear and tear. It goes without saying that you need to bring along a gallon of water and plenty of energy foods. A change of socks and a good first aid pack including mole skin is necessary also. The up and down nature of these trails and the long distances prevalent on these hikes needs your attention to detail when preparing for blisters, scrapes and other possible minor emergencies.

The really old Galena Mt. Rose Trail goes up the entire Galena Canyon to the top of Mount Rose. It meanders along the creek right next to Chocolate Peak and thru Contact Pass up the heavily boldered canyon and then you take a right along the bottom of Mount Rose Peak. This intersection leads to the Mount Rose Trail and then on to the top of the mountain at more than 10,700 feet. This hike is only for the hardiest of mountain trekkers. I’ve been up it twice when I was much younger and can tell you from experience; it is not for the casual backpacker. The Mount Rose Wilderness begins just a couple miles up this canyon and extends for 23,000 acres to and over the crest of the Mt. Rose peak. This protected wilderness will be forever a special place for trekkers and environmentalists simply because of its majesty and unspoiled beauty. I say unspoiled because in the 141 years since the lumber town of Galena burnt down and almost everyone left the area between Joy Lake and Thomas Creek, only a couple forest fires and a few floods have changed the landscape. The Jeffery Pine, Ponderosa and White Pine have successfully come back in the canyons and along the hillsides to where in places, it is sanctuary quiet and awesomely cathedral-like.

Birders will enjoy the Jones Creek-White Creek Trail for its fine quantity of raptors to be seen including Goshawks, Golden Eagles, Red Hawks, Woodpecker and Clark’s Nutcrackers, which are easy to find with their constant chattering calls. There are deer and some coyote in these hills and I’ve also seen a bobcat, a few bear and foot prints of a cougar in the area. Please don’t feed the bears. They’re small but extremely energetic when it comes to food and can cause harm if they are hungry. If you’re in the way of obtaining food, a black bear will go right through you to get to it. The trail moves up the hill at a rather steep pace to a juncture where a sign points west to Church’s Pond. Take this trail for an extra special addition to your hike. You can then move north along the ridge to the top of Thomas Creek Canyon or go back and then down the White Creek Trail. This is almost all down hill through the White Creek Canyon almost to Timberline Drive. There is a small trail that leads to Thomas Creek at the base of the first downhill trek from the Church’s Pond junction. You can take this trail as explained before through a small canyon and over a ridge and then down Thomas Creek. The Whites Creek Trail goes down along the pretty Whites Creek then you have the two and half mile walk back to the Galena parking lot where you parked. This is definitely a day hike so take plenty of water and food along for the trek. If you ride a horse, be sure to stop along the way and rest the animal.

The mountain bikers in our group of friends love the lower Galena Creek Trail that moves down Joy Lake Road below Galena Park off the Mount Rose Highway (NR431) and then all the way down to Highway 395. Both the uphill and downhill rides on this road are exceptional for their views and places to stop and relax.

The neat thing about all of these routes is that they are so near and can be done in a day or less. Visitors often comment to me that they had no idea such a wonderful place existed so close to Reno. The Galena Creek Park Stone House Visitor Center at the main entrance of the park near the creek is open in the afternoons on the weekends, noon to 4pm and has displays of the history, flora, fauna and geology of the area.


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