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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Pah Rah Range

Olinghouse Canyon
September, 2007
By John Evanoff


In the early fall, I like to hike the hills around Reno to view the Truckee Meadows and the glorious autumn color changes. A good SLR camera is a necessity to pack so you don’t miss the splendid shots you only see in postcards.

Some of these hikes are east of Reno along the Pah Rah Range. You can get there by several routes, but one of the more interesting because of its hidden nature is from Olinghouse Canyon. Drive east on Highway 80 to the Pyramid Lake turnoff at SR 427 which leads you to Wadsworth and then take the left at SR 447 through to the Pyramid Lake Indian Reservation. About a half-mile past the reservation entrance, you’ll take a left at Olinghouse Road. This road goes west to several other Olinghouse Roads that meander along the hillside. Olinghouse was named after a sheep herder who called this side of the Pah Rah Range his home for a decade until gold was discovered in the hills in the 1870’s. But miners never really organized in the region until 1892 because of the minute amounts of gold and the necessary expense of extracting it in mass to generate enough revenue to pay for their venture.

If you keep going up the road, you’ll see some shacks in a small canyon with some mining pits behind it. Although Olinghouse is actually further up the canyon, the Olinghouse mining district covering many square miles around Green Hill contains more than 20 abandoned and working crystallized gold mines that have produced as much as a half million dollars over the course of their short lives between 1898 and 1907. There was even a small narrow gauge locomotive line between the Wadsworth stamp mill and Olinghouse for a few months in 1907, but the prospectors left when pyrite (fools gold) became just about the only mineral dug out of the ground for eight months straight. It is important to note this is private property in many areas. The Keystone, Renegade, Gold Center and Tiger Mines are still posted and protected by their owners. You must not enter without permission from the owners and the likelihood of that is minimal. What you can do is take one of the small roads leading north off the main road along Green Hill to the left up any of the other canyons. Olinghouse Canyon goes all the way to the ridge line and many of the other canyons meet there also. You’ll see all sorts of prospecting mounds as you meander along the hillside until you reach Tiger Canyon. I like this route to the top of Spanish Spring Peak at 7,404 feet, Pond Peak at 8,035 feet, Virginia Peak at 8,366 feet and Pah Rah Peak at 8249 feet because of its nearness to the Truckee Meadows and its history. It is thought that a band of Pyramid Lake Paiute Indians used a spot at Tiger Canyon to spy down on Major William Ormsby on May 12, 1860 and 105 ill-equipped drunken miners and townsmen of Virginia City, Gold Hill, Silver City, Dayton, Carson City and Genoa bent on wiping out every Indian in their path. The exact opposite happened when more than 600 angry braves of the Northern Pauite and Shoshone met the farce of an infantry and massacred most of them at the Bluffs just a few miles north of Olinghouse along the Truckee River. The Paiute Chief Numaga, known as Young Winnemucca tried to stop the battle, but the braves would not listen to him because they had been met with force before and knew of Ormsby’s intentions. The whole nasty business started when three white men kidnapped two Indian girls at Williams Station 30 miles east of Carson City a few weeks earlier and were killed when they would not return them to the Indian family living in the area. The resulting storm of wild rumors left the residents of the entire area between Genoa and the Oregon border panicky and wondering when the next attack would happen. Less than a month later, a regiment of 754 soldiers under the command of a Colonel Hays with 15 companies consisting of infantry, artillery and cavalry converged on the tribe and killed or maimed a hundred sixty Indians in retaliation. The fight by the tribe was long and arduous and only meant as a delaying tactic to aid in allowing the women and children enough time to flea to the north. Many of the Pyramid Lake Tribe escaped into the hills north of the Smoke Creek Desert and came back within the next year when a truce was made at Nixon. Young Numaga only wanted peace with the whites and was heralded as a great strategist by Hays and his officers for his hard fought stand at what is now known as Marble Bluff. Numaga went on to become very well respected by settlers, politicians and the cavalry.

There are several canyons to explore along the route including Tiger, White Horse, Fort Defiance and Secret Canyon. This set of canyons is almost fifteen miles long and I would take one at a time because of the expanse between each of the higher peaks including Virginia, Spanish Springs, Pond and Pah Rah. All of them are strenuous hikes leading to many canyons, mini-valleys and black lava cliffs along the way. The canyons are usually dry except for the spring outlets where the quail, chucker, sagehen, cottontail, jackrabbit and deer converge to water in the mornings and evening. There are many trails between prospector’s pits and tailings which wind their way around and up the sides of all the canyons and through to the ridgelines. Pick any and you will eventually end up at the top of the Pah Rah Range and Virginia Peak and further north to Pah Rah Peak, Pond Peak at the center of the range or Spanish Springs Peak to the south in the range. You will also see a few mustang in these hills.

If you haven’t the time for these hikes, there are several four wheel drive roads from the Spanish Springs side off of Vista Blvd on Hansberry Lane or from the Pyramid Lake Highway at Little Hungry Valley south of Palomino Valley to the east on Ironwood Road until you reach the end of the Wilcox Ranch Road. The Little Hungry Valley roads are the better of the two and the Wilcox Ranch Road winds up Wilcox Canyon or Hay Canyon all the way to Pond Peak.

Whatever way you go, take your time and view the surrounding sights. From Spanish Springs and Virginia Peak, you can see most of the path of the Truckee River from Verdi all the way to Pyramid Lake. The view of the Spanish Springs Valley and the Truckee Meadows will take your breath away at sundown and early morning is glorious as the sun hits Mount Rose, Slide Mountain and Peavine Peak and then lights the rest of valley with autumn shades of red, orange and gold. Ancient man traversed the Pah Rah range following the herds of deer and elk from the higher peaks to the Truckee River and evidence can be found in a few places of their writings call glyphs.

Some seismologists believe this area is the most prone fault for the next 6.0 or higher seismic event because of the uplift measured and analyzed from the last ten thousand years here. Major earth movements known as rifts, lifts and thrusts have occurred in this active fault zone every fifty years and the last large one occurred in 1938. The Olinghouse Fault is due for a major earthquake soon and it will most probably dramatically affect those who live in the Truckee Meadows. Some trenches have been dug along the Olinghouse Road that show ancient scars of shearing and uplift as much as ten feet in one movement.

For the hardy hiker, horseback rider or mountain biker, this ridge line is magnificent for its views of the entire Truckee Meadows, the Truckee River from Verdi to Pyramid Lake and the Mount Rose summit and the Sierras Nevada Range with its early fall colors. As always, take enough food and water for a couple days and be prepared with a first aid kit. Oh, and take binoculars too.

Next month, I’ll write about the town that moved almost overnight to become our sister city of Sparks. Wadsworth was the main supply station of the Central Pacific railroad for 36 years and the Big Bend saw more pioneers trudge through its streets in 50 years between 1850 and 1900 than almost any other town in the west.


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