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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The Bottomless Spring and Monster Fish Lizards

The Clan Alpine Mountains, Dixie Valley, Gabbs & Berlin Ichthyosaur
by John C. Evanoff
January, 2006

We continue our adventure along the “loneliest highway” Highway 50 east of Fallon just past Sand Mountain and Frenchman to NSR121 going north into the Dixie Valley. The valley is more than 30 miles in length and was once one of the many arms of the great Lake Lahontan inland sea some 12,000 years ago. It is bordered by the Stillwater Mountains to the northwest and the Clan Alpine Mountains on the southeast. What makes this area noteworthy is the giant Humboldt Salt Marsh that sits at its northeastern entry. The Paiute Indians were extremely successful for thousands of years here, and now, some of the best chucker and duck hunting in Nevada can be found in this region because of the many springs that feed from the two ranges into the marsh. The marsh itself is amazing because it lies above a massive aquifer and many of the bubbling pot holes are remarkably deep. Some folks even believe the springs are bottomless. This area is just plain beautiful to behold and occasionally noisy because the Naval Strike Air Warfare Center at Fallon, “Top Gun,” uses the area for gunnery and air strategy practice. Both sides of each mountain range should be explored for their awesome beauty and you should also include the Pony Express station just before Cold Springs just off Highway 50 going east towards Austin from Middle Gate Station. On the north side of Highway 50 heading east around Cold Springs Station are many tiny creeks that meander down the slopes of the Clan Alpine Range. These streams, although hard to get to, are full of trout and can be a test for the avid fly fisherman. South of Middle Gate and Cold Springs Station are two roads, one heading to Gabbs and the other heading east to Austin.

The road heading south, NSR361, about 30 miles to Gabbs is of particular interest because Gabbs was famous at one time for its magnesium and iron mines and its importance to the war effort during World War II and Korea. It is almost a ghost town now but for a couple hundred people who still live in the area. What sets it apart in the present era is the road leading east from it for a couple dozen miles into Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park. The mining town of Berlin is a chance to view a perfect Nevada ghost town. The mines in the area around Union, Ione, Grantsville and Berlin belonged to the Nevada Company, one of the largest silver and gold mining operations in central Nevada between 1899 and 1909. Tons of ore were processed through the mill at Berlin and the buildings and mines there are very well preserved giving visitors an opportunity to view an operation that looks like it could easily be started up again. The Diana Mine tour, a walk into a tunnel more than a thousand feet in length through solid rock is a great way to examine the area’s mining heyday with displays including ore carts, the actual timbers still holding the mine roof up and huge veins of quartz within the many side tunnels. One place is a must-see when you visit Berlin though. Ichthyosaur State Park has campgrounds and a building housing one of the best examples of prehistoric fossil beds ever found in Nevada. At one time, the prehistoric ocean of more than one hundred million years ago enveloped all the land except for a couple islands of mountains in what is now central Nevada. The bays and inlets formed by these islands often caught creatures in their basin mud and led to the present day discoveries of fossils by scientists. One of the monstrous oddities of the ancient Jurassic and Cretaceous world was the ichthyosaur, a giant marine reptile some fifty feet in length. These fish lizards did not have gills and bore their young alive. They had large eyes, were air breathers, had long jaws with sharp teeth and were extremely fast according to marine scientists and paleontologists. These monsters ruled the seas for millions of years until around 90 million years ago when they suddenly vanished. Their extinction remains a mystery still today. Of all the ichthyosaurs discovered in the world, the fossils found at this park are among the largest specimens. When you see these fossils up close and personal, you get the feeling they might harbor the secrets of an entire age of giant creatures. More than forty of the giants were found in the area. The park is best seen in early summer and early fall. Fall is by far my favorite because of the tree colors on Arc Dome with an elevation of more than 11,775 feet to the east and the two Shoshone Peaks to the north at more than 10,000 feet each. The campground is clean and pleasant and many of the walking and nature trails in the area feature information on Berlin and the Fossil Shelter. The tour program is open during the summer and guides can give you a more close-up informational view of the area and the giant fish lizards. The Toiyabe National Forest in this area is home to abundant mule deer, antelope, coyote, elk, bighorn sheep, mountain goat, mountain lion, badger and game birds such as partridge, quail and sagehen grouse.

Many of the old roads in the area lead into the Toiyabe Range and north to Highway 50. You could spend several weeks exploring and discovering the geography, resources and history of the region but remember to always carry plenty of water and food and wear sturdy hiking boots.

Next on my lists of must-see-to-believe visits of Northern Nevada are Austin, Bunker Hill, Mount Jefferson, Manhattan and the geographic center of the State of Nevada.

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