Nevada History
by John C. Evanoff 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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Oasis of Nevada
December, 2007
By John Evanoff

When explorers like Peter Skene Ogden (1829), Joseph Walker (1833) and John C. Fremont with Kit Carson (1843) came through Northern Nevada, one area was avoided because it was so vast, empty and dangerous looking. This area lies between the usually dry Carson Lake south of Fallon and all the way east to Lovelock and is called the Carson Sink. Almost every one of the 49’ers took routes around or to the sides of this part of the desert to circumvent the dangerous alkali flats and muddy tule marshes there. Early man was known to live along the shores of this once large fresh body of water and tule marshes more than 10,000 years ago and mummified evidence was found of the 9,000 year old Spirit Cave Man at Grimes Point south of Fallon along the Lahontan Mountains which is west of the Stillwater Range. Most of the pioneers who came behind the explorers and cartographers along the old California Immigrant Trail and the Carson Trail to the north of the wasteland in the mid 1800’s stopped to refresh themselves from the rigors of the Humboldt Sink and the Forty-Mile Desert at a place along the Carson River known as Rag Town. Rag Town got its name from the settlers moving west in their wagons and using this spot as a watering, bathing and wash area whereupon the wet clothes were hung out to dry on the tree and brush limbs for a half mile along the river’s edge. The clothes, blankets, canvas and leather goods strewn all over anything off the ground gave this place the appearance of a landscape of rags and thus the name. A trading post was set up there for the pioneers and later an entrepreneur named Mike Fallon built a store on his ranch land in 1896 to handle some of the traffic. If you drive to Fallon south on Highway 395 to Carson City and then east on Highway 50 you will come to Alternate 50 which travels from the east side of Fernley. You can then head south on what is known as the Reno Highway along US 50 to visit Rag Town about a mile south from the fork on the way to Fallon. Between Alternate 94 at Silver Springs on the Highway 50 route from Carson City is Lahontan Dam and Reservoir and the old Fort Churchill Ruins. Take the time to visit both and get acquainted with the history through the museums at Carson City and Fallon (Churchill County Museum on Maine Street). Between 1890 and 1902, the mining and ranching activity created a need for the county seat to be built in Fallon for Churchill County.

Lahontan Dam was completed in 1915 as part of the Truckee/Carson Reclamation Plan known as the Newlands Project and the canals running from the reservoir manage the irrigation of more than 60,000 acres in and around the Lahonton Valley and Fallon making Fallon the Oasis of Nevada. The early ranchers and farmers who came there were primarily interested in cattle and alfalfa, but soon crops like corn, beans, tomatoes and melon and the Fallon Turkey became an important part of creating the celebrity of the vicinity. Then, with the advent of creative ventures begun by more than 30 melon farmers in the valley between 1920 and 1930, the Hearts O' Gold Cantaloupe became world famous. Every Labor Day Weekend, Fallon celebrates its heritage and the famous sweet melon at the Hearts O’Gold Cantaloupe Festival. The golden meat of the fruit is so sweet and soft that once you’ve tasted it, you will no longer enjoy any other cantaloupe the same way again. Every fall, I made a habit of a journey to pick up a couple cases of the golden juicy fruit, which I ate every morning for a couple weeks afterward and baked into bread for friends. Only a few farmers still plant and sell this marvelous melon, but the wait to taste its juicy sweetness is well worth the money and drive.

Much of Fallon is built around farming, ranching, a few nearby mines and the Naval Air Station, which has the Top Gun Fighter Pilot School headquartered there. A portion of the Southern Pacific Railway skirted south from Luva near Fernley to Fallon in 1870. The combined operations and eventual merger of the Central Pacific and Southern Pacific in 1885 helped to create a well established line for the hay farmers, cattle ranchers and a small salt mine. Although the railway has been little used throughout history, it served as part of one of the first routes of the original transcontinental railroad line before multiple rerouting took away its prominence.

The Fallon National Wildlife Refuge and the Stillwater National Wildlife Refuge just east of Fallon are my favorite places to see birdlife in Northern Nevada. More than 280 species of migrating birds make their way to these two refuges during several periods during the year. In the early fall, I have seen hundreds of thousands of birds flying, landing and feeding in the marshes of both of these refuges. Only the Salton Sea in Southern California has more birds along its shores within the entire western hemisphere’s major migrating routes. Many of the species are ones birders look forward to adding to their personally observed rare species lists. On occasion, you may bump into people from as far away as Great Britain with spotting scopes, telescopic cameras and tape recorders moving along the marshes or in special birding blinds adding information to their index cards and journals. Early morning is best viewing at these times of heavy migration, but anytime is a good time to view the many species of shore and water birds flying through to nesting grounds as far away as the Sea of Cortez. You can reach both of these areas by some well traveled roads and some that are hardly roads at all. The first is NSR116 just south of town at the Highway 50 bend and N. Harmond and Stuart Road. This road extends in several directions into the Fallon Indian Reservation and into Stillwater. Most of the little ponds and marshes in this direction are good places to view from the roadway. Another road further south just past Salt Wells on the left leads all along the south end of the Stillwater and eventually comes out on NSR857 fifty miles away which leads into Highway 80 about ten miles northeast of Lovelock. If you take this road, be prepared with lots of gas and supplies. This route is one of the more challenging roads to explore because of its length through desolate arid wilderness, but your experience will be one of the more remarkable ones you’ll have of the entire Carson Sink basin. The other route leading into Fallon National Wildlife Refuge is east off Highway 95 (North Maine Street) north of Fallon about 12 miles. These roads are not maintained most of the year, but travel by several alkali beds, ponds, lakes and tule swamps. This also moves along the south side of the West Humboldt Range and is fun if you have a lot of time to four wheel drive into the north end of the Fallon Refuge to the end of the Carson Sink and all the way into the Antelope Valley nearly sixty miles east. The alkali flats can be impossible to travel when wet or extremely dry because when wet, the mud is soft and sticky and when dry the dust is thick and deep. Make sure you stay on the traveled road unless you have the time to dig yourself out or call for a tow truck to extract your vehicle the next day. Some people like me just get out of the truck and start walking into the flats. And if you have a mountain bike, there are a few places you can peddle miles into the ruddy canyons of the Humboldt Range along old miner trails. The thing that simply amazes me about the flats are that you can walk so far and so for long without seeing a rock bigger than a baseball, a plant or any life at all past a couple lizards and then suddenly trek over a small sand dune and see a tule marsh with cattails eight feet high and with tens of thousands of birds. As always, take food, water and first aid kit along with you in your backpack and please don’t go without taking binoculars and a camera or two. If you want a picture to hang on the wall of your study or office, this place will give you the opportunity. Imagine two dozen American Avocets peering at you from just a few yards away as you merrily click away at their innocent wondering glances. It’s a precious chance to catch nature at its best.

Next month, I’m going to surprise you with a place very few people even know about let alone can find on a map.

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