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 2)

Squaw Creek Reservoir and Wall Creek Canyon
January, 2007
By John Evanoff

North of Gerlach on NSR447, you’ll come upon a reservoir on your left that seems out of place for the desert plain. Squaw Creek is a warm spring running from a ground fault located west of the Granite Mountain Range. These mountains are spectacular from either side, but the way the storms come from the west leaves the west side much more wet and more densely vegetated. The black lava cliffs throughout the hillsides are left over from massive volcanic movement more than twelve million years ago. Ancient man used these lava outcrops as hiding places to wait out game as it passed by on game trails. For that reason, the Northern Paiute and Shoshone Tribes used this region extensively for their encampments. The hills to the east of Squaw Creek Reservoir are filled with game including vast herds of antelope, mule deer and elk. There are also bobcat, coyote, mustang, weasel, badger, skunk and mountain lion as well as an occasional desert big horn and mountain goat. The area is also a prime sage grouse nesting ground and coveys of quail and partridge can be found throughout the many canyons and hillsides. My father and I hunted here throughout the 1950’s and I have fond memories and many stories of our hunts and friends there.

The Indian families that lived here for thousands of years had no problem living off the land in this valley and because the sands around the creek and surrounding hot water springs stayed warm throughout the winter, the sagebrush huts were fairly comfortable. In places throughout Squaw Creek and Wall Canyon, some of the hillsides are covered with obsidian, chert and slate flakes left from the Indian Brave’s who created their arrowheads, knives and drill pieces there. These tribes made some of the more exquisitely worked arrowheads in the entire west. Kit Carson, the great western scout who guided John Fremont in his quest to map the west, commented on the Northern Paiute’s attention to detail and artistic hand in the making of these pieces as well as their finely made tule and willow baskets.

The fishing at Squaw Creek Reservoir and the creek that feeds it is excellent. Most fly fishermen use float tubes and maneuver around the north end near the tule reeds for bass and German brown trout. The bait and lure fisherman like the area near the small campgrounds at the dam and east side of the lake. I have caught sizeable catfish in the four pound range near where the creek enters the lake in the winter after filling my bag with cottontail rabbit in the morning. The lake is planted with rainbow, German brown and cutthroat trout every spring and once again before hunting season in the fall. I’ve never seen anyone go home empty handed from a fishing visit to this lake. Some of the trout get up to three pounds and I’ve caught bass in the four pound range. Nymphs and wooly buggers are best for fly fisherman and colors depend on the sky and color of the water. Bait fishermen favor nightcrawlers and lure fishermen have a ball with rooster tails and panther martins. None of the campgrounds in the region have garbage cans or rest facilities, so it is imperative you keep a clean camp and take out what you take in.

The hills and canyons around the reservoir are great for hiking, horseback riding and mountain biking. To the west of the lake stands Poodle Mountain in the Buffalo Hills. If you have a few days and a good topographic map you’ll find Sawmill Canyon, Poodle Mountain Canyon, Jones Canyon on the east side of Poodle Mountain and Tin Canyon, Stockade Canyon and Twin Springs Canyon on the west side. Within these canyons in the Buffalo Hills the sagebrush stands six feet high or more in places and in the winter you can usually find pygmy and cottontail rabbit in such abundance that filling your limit bag only takes an hour of hunting. What I enjoy the most about the canyons and hills is its extreme solitude. I’ve been on a horse for two weeks in the Buffalo Hills and never even seen a plane fly over let alone heard a car or seen another person.

North of Squaw Creek on NSR447 about 27 miles and just past Duck Flat on your left, a dirt road veers east past a windmill to Wall Canyon Reservoir. You must have a good four wheel drive vehicle with heavy duty mud and snow tires to travel this road. In some places, the slate and volcanic rock is so thick and sharp that you could chop a bag of potatoes up just by dragging it behind you. But the tough road is worth the drive once you reach the lake. Most people like to fish from shore but if you have a float tube and work a purple or black and red wooly bug near where the creek runs in, you’ll catch and release ten to twenty fish in a very short while. The biggest fish I’ve caught was a four pound brown trout on a small dark nymph but a friend of mine once caught a nine pound brown on a brass colored Little Cleo years ago. The brown trout use the stream to spawn and do very well in the reservoir because of all the food. On occasion when the ranchers have almost depleted the water, the Nevada Fish and Game Commission has been called in to save the fish. On one occasion several years ago, they netted more than eleven thousand fish and moved them to Squaw Creek. Some of the browns and rainbow-cutthroat trout were quite large and made for fantastic fishing at Squaw Creek for those in the know. The bass fishing is also pretty good but they never get very big, probably because the brown trout is such a voracious hunter.

Some of the little roads that come off NSR447 are fun to explore including one just past Squaw Valley heading northeast along Crutcher Canyon. It leads all the way north to the Lund Memorial Petrified Forest and NSR34. There, you’ll see some fenced in areas where Petrified logs protrude from the earth. I wrote of this in the last column. You can also get to the NSR34 by taking a road east just 22 miles past Squaw Valley on Lost Creek Road. That road follows a canyon to a small pass and then down into Cottonwood Creek and on to NSR34. From there you can go north to Vya or south past Leadville and on south to Gerlach. If you stay on NSR447 north from Squaw Creek, it turns into the Surprise Valley Road and ends up in Cedarville, California. From there, you can take California State Route 299 to Highway 395 south to Alturas, California. That trip can make for a fun weekend roundabout drive from Reno to Gerlach to Squaw Creek to Cedarville to Alturas and then back to Reno.

Next month we’ll take a trip on NSR447 past Gerlach and west through the historic Smoke Creek Desert north of Pyramid Lake. We’ll visit a place called Deep Hole and follow the Smoke Creek Road to Sand Pass. You may recognize those names in the news one day because a giant coal fired power plant is expected to be built near there. I’ll also give you a glimpse of desert valley life, the railroad and the history of the Smoke Creek in the early 1900’s.


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