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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Where the Path Parts

Green Valley, A fork road through history
February, 2008
By John Evanoff

About 25,000 years ago, the mountain ranges around Winnemucca were mere islands surrounded by the ancient inland sea known as Lahontan. Some of the ranges were connected by shallow saddles that barely rose above the water’s edge. These spots are more noticeable in the basin architecture of Nevada where today five mountain ranges come together east and south of the Humboldt River. The sea receded to mere alkaline lakes and salty marshes between 17,000 and 12,000 years ago and left these distinctive mountain ranges standing as high as 10,000 feet and the fertile valleys below them surrounded by steep walled canyons covered with sagebrush standing seven and eight feet tall today. Early man similar to the Clovis and Kennewick people walked along these hillsides for centuries between 13,000 and 11,000 years ago hunting the last herds of mammoth and giant bison almost into extinction before a second migration of peoples from Asia began flowing into the continent 11,000 years ago and a third migration began around 10,500 years ago. Many arguments to what native cultures actually were the first to inhabit this part of Nevada still exist. We know for sure the vast amount of ancient artifacts and bone fossils found by miners and archeologists in these canyons and some of the caves along the mountain cliffs came from a nomadic people living at least a thousand years prior to current Indian cultures because of DNA research. The skull and skeleton features of the Eastern European Kennewick and Clovis man who came across a possible land/ice bridge during the earlier glacial age are undeniably different than that of Indian skeletons of the same or later era. These people were big game hunters and survived for centuries moving with the vast herds of giant bison and mammoth. The people coming to the coast of California from eastern Asia and probably the Japanese islands in the second migration were extremely territorial. They struck out across the North American continent and built language and custom barriers between others of their own kind and probably also slaughtered any and all Clovis or Kennewick in a genocidal multi-century war. The facts point to some of this being the case and many scientists believe this as the only possibility for all remains of an entire organized civilization being almost completely stricken from existence. Opinions vary but the hard scientific evidence is slowly being uncovered of the Clovis people once ranging over many of Nevada’s mountain ranges and valleys. Now, the courts remain the battle ground between who is Native American and who is not and what is to be done with any skeletons found in the past or in the future. Native Americans want the Spirit Cave mummy found just west of this area kept deposited in their grave site and scientists want to explore it further for DNA likeness to European man. Whatever the verdict, the path was certainly parted between two great cultures living along these five breathtaking mountain ranges.

Another major migration into the area happened when modern man discovered gold in the Northern Nevada Mountains. At one time, Dun Glen Peak and the East Range, Star Peak and the Humboldt Range, the Osgood Mountains, the Tobin Range and the Sonoma Range were littered with mining camps and boomtowns filled with thousands of miners. A bit further southeast another called the Fish Creek Mountains was just being discovered. Between 1846 when the Donner Party came through this region and 1914, more than 100,000 people came to look for gold and silver in these hills and for most, the sad hard life of mining did little for their pockets but leave holes. Many had dug into the ground to uncover ancient fossils and a bit of the shiny yellow metal and others competed to service the needs of those who mined. Today, some of their findings including entire mammoth skeletons, artifacts made by early man and cave drawings can be viewed in many exhibits in Nevada museums. The best of these is presented at the Nevada State Museum in Carson City.

But if you have the time, you’ll really enjoy a trip to this place. The valleys between the ranges as noted above were later inhabited by settlers moving west and by miners who remained to work the land and raise herds of cattle. The Humboldt River was also well known by the early immigrants as the deciding fork in the road on their maps where those headed into Northern California and Southern Oregon took the turn north from around present day Imlay, Nevada on the Lassen-Applegate trail north through the Black Rock Desert or those heading to Sacramento headed southwest through the 40 Mile Desert on one of two California Emigrant Trails to either the Donner Pass or the Carson Pass.

To get up close and personal to the most remarkable of these long fertile valleys between mountain ranges in Nevada, you can visit one called Grass Valley just south of Winnemucca. When you come to Winnemucca on Highway 80, go into town on West 4th Street to Hanson Street south and then the Grass Valley Road heading southwest. This road meanders for miles through one of the more productive high desert regions in Northern Nevada known as Grass Valley. Even though you are driving through more modern era communities at first and then between large farms, you soon come to the Sonoma Canyon and the Sonoma Range. Along South Grass Valley road on your left and to the right in the East Range are many of the mining canyons I spoke of and further south you’ll come to Leach Hot Springs. Not much is left of this once highly used pack train and stage stop, but then there are at least a dozen hot springs in the valleys along the mountain ranges in this region which were once visibly utilized and then fell into anonymity. Traveling further south on South Grass Valley Road to Golconda Canyon, you begin to see the multicolored steep canyon walls are peppered with mines. This road is fun to ride with a mountain bike or on horseback since it moves up and into some really fantastic terrain. The lava domes and spiked basalt and limestone chimneys are unusual and make for interesting photography. I once found a large piece of turquoise in the canyon about the size of a baseball just lying in a dry creek bed. This canyon is full of wildlife including coyote, jackrabbit, cottontail, quail, chucker, sagehen, goshawk, badger, skunk, deer and an occasional antelope. South Grass Valley Road continues down to Pleasant Valley (another fun bike ride or hike) and ends at the Jersey Valley Road which goes southwest into Dixie Valley and eventually Highway 50. This big circle is a great way to spend a weekend sightseeing one of the more fascinating long stretches of high desert country road in Nevada. Along both sides of the road are many paths and trails to discover and astonishing sites to behold. My trips through all of Grass Valley and down through Dixie Valley have always been full of spectacular pictures and memories. The sunsets in this long valley are some of the best in Nevada. Bring a good pair of binoculars, a camera or two, lots of food and water and a map. You can get a good topo map at the Bureau of Land Management or the Nevada Forest Service, but also at a couple sporting good stores in Reno. The BLM Pershing County maps show good detail, but Forest Service maps show off-roads a little better. Search around for a couple good ones so you can pick out where you are on the map and where you want to go to explore and discover your own Nevada adventure.

There are no camping grounds to speak of here, but a tent along side a creek or spring in one of the canyons does quite nicely. Many hunters over the years have built spots throughout the canyons where you can setup camp. Those are the best places for camping. The dark skies at night are especially superb for picking out astronomical features, so if you have a telescope, you might want to do some searches for nebulae and star clusters you don’t normally see from anywhere else. Some of the creeks are fishing wonders where a tightly tied nymph dressed in brown pheasant tail on a #12 or #14 barbless-hook will bring up an occasional two to three pound German Brown, Cutthroat or Brook trout. Of course, always understand your responsibilities when it comes to Nevada fishing and hunting regulations. The spring is by far my favorite time to visit Grass, Pleasant and Dixie Valleys and the mountain ranges around them, but early summer and late autumn are fun too. I just like going when the wild flowers begin to bloom because the colors are so revitalizing after a long winter and the streams run full, cold and clean.

Mining activity is still prevalent in many of the canyons and posted areas are not to be encroached upon for your own protection. The cottonwoods, juniper, aspen and chokecherries in the canyons should be viewed as natural attractions and not cut down for firewood or inscribed upon with knives. Your footprint should be light so that the countryside lives for future generations to enjoy.

Next month, we’ll head back to the Sierras northwest of Reno to an historical point almost no one knows of and yet many have passed without knowledge of its significance.

 


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