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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Troy Peak

The Grant Range and Quinn Canyon Wilderness
May, 2007
By John Evanoff

This month, we’ll travel across the vast Nevada landscape to the southeastern portion of the state to visit one of my favorite spring hikes to the monolithic cliffs of Troy Peak in the Grant Range and the tranquil fir and pinion trimmed Quinn Canyon Wilderness. Of course, the best route from Reno is to use Highway 50 east (The Loneliest Highway) through to Ely and south on Highway 6 to Currant where you head south on the gravel NSR379 route (Railroad Valley Road) through Railroad Valley. The dirt road is manageable with a car, but use of a four-wheel drive for stability in certain areas up some of the canyon roads along the Grant and Quinn Wilderness areas is advisable. You’ve been looking up at the steep white limestone cliffs of the Grant Range for almost half an hour on your left and now you are about to ascend their heights through the glorious colored walls of Troy Canyon. The west side of the Grant Range is pretty spectacular. In fact, it was what may have contributed to John Muir’s climbing of them after he saw them from far away while hiking the peaks around Mt. Whitney. From that distance, they look like a serrated white knife edge on the far horizon. Troy Peak stands at 11,268 feet and the peak just to its north is Timber Mountain standing a thousand feet shorter at 10,280 feet. The old mining ghost town of Troy lies in Troy Canyon and some of the mining shafts around the area are at elevations of more than 8,000 feet. No one knows for sure the explanation of Troy’s namesake. One thought was the miners coming eastward from Virginia City including Alex Beaty’s group of prospectors moving around the outskirts of Austin staked five claims at the site in the mid 1860’s including one they called Troy. A troy once was the way their mining treasures were weighed and the theory goes, that’s how the peak, canyon and town got their name. The town of Troy had an interesting chapter in Nevada mining laurels. Although some silver was found in the nearby canyons, not enough was found to make the little town of around 75 people wealthy. According to the tale, the strike was sold to an English firm who bought it with the intent of making a fortune. One of the English representatives saw the venture and had English investors thinking they were very close to becoming rich. Over a decade of sporadic funding, the English company finally gave up sending money to the mining camp and sold the claim and most of the town to other ventures further north around Ely and Eureka moving many of the buildings and equipment in less than a month. What remains are some of the foundations and metal scraps of that era.

There are several ways of hiking into and up the Grant Range, named after General Ulysses S. Grant, and all of them afford fantastic views of the geologic magic of rainfall and wind on the mammoth limestone walls. About 36 miles from Highway 6, you come upon the Cherry Creek Road (NF410) heading into the mountains at the south end of the Grant Range. Between late May and early July, the hills come alive with wildflowers and the streams are clear and clean. By mid July, all the water seeps into the limestone and the mountains and canyons become dry so it’s best to try your hikes in late May or early June. It’s also a good time to view the bighorn sheep and antelope eating the fresh tender shoots of the young plants. You’ll also see a few mule deer and an occasional fox or coyote in the high canyons. The hike up Scofield Canyon on the east side is the most dramatic because of the unusual red limestone shapes and an entire bristlecone pine grove that leads all the way to the summit. The hike is about three miles from the base of Scofield Canyon to Troy Peak, but well worth the time and energy. To get to Scofield you drive the Cherry Creek Road over the summit from the west side of the Grant Range and onto the east side of the range. Going north, you’ll see it on your left just past Rimrock Canyon. You should have excellent hiking boots and a sturdy walking stick for this hike. Take lots of pictures along the way but save some picture taking for the entrance into the heart of the canyon. Both sides and to the front of you rise awesome structures you’re not apt to see anywhere else in the world. The walls of red rhyolite and white limestone claw into the sky above mixed evergreen colors of the some of the oldest living things on earth in the bristlecone pine. This sight will leave you breathless enough but the tough climb the rest of the way up the left side of the canyon to the ridgeline will have you gasping for air. From there, a simple crest line jaunt to Troy Peak to the North is all that is left.
The other routes include Troy Canyon, Grant Canyon and Heath Canyon on the west side as well as a couple of others on the east side near Timber Mountain at Murphy Wash and Big Spring. Grant Canyon had its own mining town of Grant City for a short period in the late 1860’s as well. What ever way you hike, try to take along enough equipment to stay overnight on the mountain. The entire crest of almost eight miles is over 10,000 feet and the stay atop Troy Peak is one you won’t forget for its dramatic views of Railroad Valley to the west, the White River Valley on the east, the 15,000 foot snow-capped peaks of the Sierra Nevada far to the west and the unforgettable dark and starry nights. Bring good binoculars (at least 7x35), a video camera and a good digital camera. The vistas are breathtaking and you’ll see why the famed naturalist, John Muir, thought so highly of this range of mountains and especially Troy Peak.

South of the Grant Range is the Quinn Canyon Wilderness which is another wonderful set of hikes all unto itself. The hills are full of pinion pine, white pine and some of the oldest stands of juniper in the Humboldt National Forest. If you have some time and a horse or mountain bike, I would definitely take this trip and ride into the colorful canyons and hillsides of this tranquil and yet exhilaratingly awesome countryside. Quinn Canyon extends from Water Canyon south into the Sand Spring Valley at the southern end of the Quinn Canyon Range. If you head into any of the southern canyons heading up into the Quinn Canyon Range, you will reach the ridges and be able to ride or hike the entire crest all the way northeast to Cherry Creek Road. Along the way, you’ll view an amazing array of geological and natural wonders wrapped in a solitude that will have you coming back for more. My advice to anyone taking the trip is to do just that. You can’t see everything the first time and there is just too much beautiful scenery to take in all at once. What you miss or glance on the first trip, you will be sure to be fascinated with on the next and the next.

Amazingly, about thirty miles south of Quinn Canyon is Nellis Air Force Base, the home of the United States Air Force aerobatic team The Thunderbirds. Very seldom will you hear a jet or sonic boom over the Grant and Quinn Canyon Wilderness, but occasionally you might see one high in the southern sky. Just a bit further in the same southwesterly direction is the Nevada Nuclear Test Site, Yucca Valley, Plutonium Valley and Frenchman Flat where more atomic bombs were exploded above and below the ground than anywhere else on earth. The infamous Yucca Mountain also occupies the same region with its massive tunnel and awaiting repository for the expected thousands of tons of nuclear waste.

Next month, I plan to take you south of Reno to Carson City, Nevada’s capital. Some historians in Nevada have more stories and memories wrapped up in this little town than anywhere else on the map, because its history is full and politics being what they are, constantly changing.


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