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 Little Yosemite

Starr Valley, Lamoille Canyon and the Ruby Mountains
by John C. Evanoff
July, 2006

My love of Northern Nevada was born in my exploration of peaks and valleys I wanted to hike into and discover for myself. Curiosity, a willing young saddle horse or a good 4x4 and strong hiking boots allowed me to experience many of the places I’ve written about and I’ve always enjoyed finding out about the history, fauna, flora and geography of what’s on the other side of the hill. But I also love writing about these places and creating reasons for other folks to see for themselves the inspirational beauty I find in these natural wonders.

On our trip going west from Wendover and Wells on Highway 80, we begin to glance at spectacular granite spires to the south. Just past Welcome, Nevada, there are a series of roads and valleys to the south. This is Starr Valley, which is crisscrossed by dozens of creeks that fall from the western side of the East Humboldt Range and into the Humboldt River. The Western Shoshone Indians lived and prospered in the area for thousands of years. Signs of their many encampments can still be found throughout all of Elko County. Peter Ogden, a fur trapper for the Hudson Bay Company, first came by this way in early 1827. Joseph Walker, Kit Carson and John C. Fremont came by a few years later. The California Trail that meandered along the Humboldt past Deeth came into existence in the early 1840’s. A lot of people heading for California and the promise of a new life and wealth remembered this valley and would later come back to it because of its bountiful game, lush meadows and proximity to gold mines in the area. Many Basque ranchers have made the area their home over the last century for their cattle, sheep and horses.

State Route Eleven just a few miles before Devil’s Gate, winds its way past some ranches and up to the mountains to Secret Valley and Secret Pass. If you follow the road further, it bends into the Ruby Valley. Each of the creeks and canyons you pass along the way along the west side of the Ruby Mountains have names that evoke marvelous images like Smiley Creek, Poverty Gulch, Hoot Owl Spring, Devils Slide, Poison Canyon, Emigrant Spring, Snake Hollow, and Starvation Canyon. The Lamoille Valley stretches further west and south and several roads including the Lamoille Highway SR227 off of State Route 46 from Elko lead up to the quaint town of Lamoille. From Lamoille, you begin an ascent into Lamoille Canyon and the Little Yosemite of Nevada.

Besides being amazing, the geography in Lamoille Canyon and further into the Ruby Mountains can best be viewed by hiking or horseback. The best time to visit is July and August when most of the snow is depleted from the trails and the wildflowers are in full bloom. The glacial action that shaped these canyons and granite domes will immediately remind you of Yosemite. Mountain peaks within the 100 mile long u-shaped Ruby Mountains including Mt Fitzgerald, Thomas Peak, Snowlake Peak, Lake Peak, Verdi Peak, Wines Peak, Mt. Stilliman, Lee Peak, Mt Gilbert, Cotton Peak, Green Mountain, Pearl Peak, Cass House Peak and Sherman Mountain are more than 10,000 feet in elevation and Ruby Dome is more than 11,387 feet high. In the spring the falls of the Right Fork and Thomas Canyon will astound you. The road goes up to a couple small campgrounds at a spot known Thomas Canyon campground and the Terraces and ends at a parking area for hikers and horseback riders at 8,800 feet. Trailhead signs give you information on distances ranging from two to seven miles in length but if you have a couple days, take the lake loop or hike the Ruby Crest Trail. Lakes include Island Lake, Dollar Lakes, Liberty Lake, Verdi Lake, Favre Lake, Castle Lake, North Furlong Lake, Lost Lake, Overland Lake, Pearl Lake and Echo Lake. All of the creeks and most of the lakes are full of colorful but small brook trout and an occasional cutthroat or rainbow. A few Mackinaw have been caught in Liberty Lake on occasion in late July at depths of 40 to 50 feet using a silver jig from a float tube. You will also see Big Horn Sheep, Mountain Goat, Mule Deer, Elk, Mountain Lion, Bobcat, Coyote, Porcupine, Skunk, Muskrat, Beaver, rabbit, quail, grouse, chucker, Hemalayan Snowcocks, sagehen, eagles, hawks and falcons. Along with spectacular vistas and perfectly blue lakes, the dark nights allow you to see the heavens as you have never seen before. Also, some of the best helicopter skiing in the west can be found in the Ruby Mountains in the winter.

There are several roads and trails in the south Ruby Mountain scenic area including the Harrison Pass Road and the Overland Pass in south Huntington Valley. Remember to take on plenty of food, water and clothing for your hikes into this region. Maps can be acquired at the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest office in Elko. It might also help if you have a good GPS or compass and of course sturdy hiking boots and a comfortable backpack for the trip. The hike into Echo Lake can be strenuous but the reward is a chance of a lifetime to see a true alpine treasure. If you plan to camp along the trails, you must have an overnight permit obtainable at the Forest Service office in Elko. This is mostly for your protection so someone knows where you are in case of emergency. Also, it’s best to use a small camp stove instead of tree limbs for heat and cooking.

Singer and Actor Bing Crosby owned several working ranches in the area over a fifteen year period, the largest being more than 25,000 acres in size. The Crosby’s loved Elko, the Ruby Mountains, the North Fork and Lamoille Canyon. They spent time relaxing, raising funds for charities in the region, ranching and having friends over from Hollywood. Bing was named Honorary Mayor of Elko in 1946 and held the distinction until his death in 1977.

Next month we will back up into Elko and Carlin and you’ll learn about cowboy poetry, the oldest rodeo in the state, the gateway to the largest gold mines in the world and the first site of the University of Nevada.


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