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 Middle of Nowhere in Nevada

Austin, Mount Jefferson, Arc Dome, Manhattan and the Geographic Center of the State
by John C. Evanoff
February, 2006

Many people have asked me what was worthwhile or noteworthy about being in the middle of nowhere in Nevada. Well, for the residents of Austin and the visitors to the Alta Toquima, Arc Dome and Table Mountain Wilderness areas the answers are some of the best backpacking trails in the west with massive glacier carved canyons, rivers and streams full of fish and breathtaking terrain that will exhaust your camera finger. You’ll have thousands of pictures you will want to exhibit to all your friends. Located on Highway 50, “the loneliest highway,” Austin was once home to more than 10,000 people. The silver vein there was discovered in 1862 and the area produced more than 50 million dollars in just a few short years. The little town is now home to just a few hundred folks, but the area is rich in history and if you are interested in seeing ghost towns, this is the region to go. Austin, Manhattan, Bunker Hill, Kingston, Belmont, Canyon City, Jefferson and of course, Berlin, to name just a few of the most notable, all lie within this region. What makes this area so wonderful to explore is the terrain. For backpackers and mountain bicyclists, the network of trails extends through three mountain ranges and two long valleys. Once you discover the many trails, you may not want to hike anywhere else. The Toiyabe Crest Trail and the Reese River Valley are as diverse in ecosystems as anywhere in Nevada. Bunker Hill at 11,474 ft in elevation and Arc Dome at 11,775 ft are the major peaks in the Arc Dome Wilderness area just south of Austin on the eastern slope of the range on SR376. One of the areas to access the wilderness is located in Kingston Canyon just about six miles east of Austin Summit and about twelve miles south of Highway 50 on SR376. Groves Lake in Kingston Canyon and the creek that feed it are full of trout, so bring a fly rod. You can follow the spine of the Toiyabe Range more than 70 miles south from there. This trail hike is spectacular to say the least. If you have the time, take the entire crest trail and you will be amply rewarded with incomparable views of both sides of the Toiyabe. The Reese River Valley can be found west of Austin about six miles on a gravel road leading 50 miles south almost to Ione. The Reese River flows north out of the Shoshone Range and Arc Dome Wilderness all the way to the Humboldt River near Battle Mountain. It is only a river for a short distance though. It very rarely reaches the Humboldt except during floods but at its headwaters, the river is full of trout and the valley and hillsides are teeming with wildlife.

East of the Arc Dome Wilderness is the Toquima Range in the Alta Toquima Wilderness. Mt. Jefferson and its three massive peaks at more than 11,900 ft stand above the little mining ghost town of Round Mountain and several trails and roads lead into this unbelievably magnificent area. The hills are full of Sage Grouse, Chukar, Golden Eagles, Quail, Mule Deer, Elk, Coyote and Big Horn Sheep. You may even see a Bobcat or Mountain Lion along the way. There are coves of cottonwood and quaking aspen throughout the hills. My idea of hiking in a wilderness area is to be in a state of complete and utter isolation away from anything resembling a crowd. Yosemite National Park in California is beautiful but has nothing on this region. The glacier carved rocks and alpine beauty here are beyond the normal exorbitant adjectives. This landscape must be truly experienced by hiking it though, so if you like to spend a weekend or week in the solitude of the middle of nowhere in Nevada, this is the place to go. The Paiute Indians who lived in this area for thousands of years held Jefferson Peak in high regard. In fact, the highest known archeological site of an Indian settlement in North America sits atop Mt. Jefferson. It is thought the Indians used the summit to watch for intrusions into their lands by other tribes and also as a post to capture views of migrating herds of deer on the hillsides below. There are also many Indian caves and petroglyph drawings along both sides of the Toquima Range, a testament to the hunting importance of this area to early man.

South on SR378 and east on SR377 is the little town of Manhattan. Actually, there are three Manhattans. North, Central and South Manhattan all existed for short periods of time depending on the magnitude of the silver veins. Central Manhattan is a picture postcard of a mining ghost town though. Sitting just below Bald Mountain at an elevation of 7,000 feet, this mining camp was one of the more active in the area. Mining continued throughout the Manhattan district, which included more than a dozen mining camps, during two periods from 1866 to 1870 and 1901 until 1909 with on and off discoveries leading to the building of the town. Manhattan had several saloons, two hotels, two boarding houses, two schools, two churches and three banks. With a population at its peak of more than 1,000, and the many camps around it including more than 3,000 miners, Manhattan remains an interesting look into our Nevada past.

Heading east from the Toquima Range sits the Table Mountain Wilderness and the Monitor Mountain Range. This area is very popular for horseback packers and equestrians because of the many wide trails winding through the pinion and juniper forest in the area. The best access is east on Highway 50 past Hickison Summit 20 miles to a gravel road leading south into the eastern base of the Monitor Range just below Summit Mountain at 10,461 ft in elevation. This is the most accurate definition of the middle of nowhere in Nevada. The Table Mountain Wilderness extends more than 100 miles south and leads my list of best Nevada pack trail locations. Because I have ridden this range on many occasions, I can tell you from experience you will be well rewarded with great fly fishing and views of some of the largest mule deer and bull elk in the country. I have also seen some of the largest blue grouse and golden eagles in all of Nevada in this range. Be sure to pack in enough equipment for a longer visit. You’ll enjoy Nevada as it really should be enjoyed. The nights are crisp, clean, and dark and the days are full of visual wonders.

Without a doubt, the geographic center of the State of Nevada is second to none when it comes to adventure and sightseeing. When you’ve visited and returned to your friends and family, you can then say you’ve been to the middle of nowhere in Nevada, but you’ve also seen more out-of-the-way incredible vistas, some of the most notable natural flora and fauna and extraordinary topography on earth. Make sure your 4x4 and hiking boots are in good shape. Have plenty of supplies for your day-or-more-trip and include a camera and binoculars. Next column down the road is about the town of Eureka, the Diamond Mountains, Duckwater and the southern entrance to the Ruby Mountains.


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