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 Vanishing of Rochester and Unionville

Hidden, Forgotten and Beyond Beautiful
January, 2008
By John Evanoff

Surprisingly, very few people know about the next few places I will be writing a little about in the next couple months. They are hard to find off the beaten path and extremely hard to find on any road map, but you’ll find yourself visiting these places over and over again once you know how to get to them simply because they are truly Nevadan.

When I was young and riding ranches in Northern Nevada, breaking young horses, haying and participating in mini-corral rodeos, I found a place so out of place it justified my going back many times to explore. East of Reno on I-80 about 95 miles is the town of Lovelock and then another 40 miles east is the hamlet of Imaly. Between those two spots on your right is the Humboldt Range, a massive structure forced up by millions of years of fault movements and ruggedly cut by the ancient Lake Lahontan, the icy creeks running down its many peaks and the harsh desert winds of our famous Northern Nevada climate. At the eastern end of this range stands the majestic Star Peak at more than 9,836 feet. If you ever get a chance to climb all over its slopes and along the crest of the Humboldt Range, you’ll find it exemplifies the Nevada spirit of adventure. Sheer cliffs on many sides rising a mile from the valley floor and limestone and quartz filled canyons that wall up and thrust into the sky give you the feeling you are much higher than you really are and not just in high desert Nevada. From the top of Star Peak, you can see in every direction for more than one hundred miles and many of the pioneers used the mountain as a guidepost on their way across Nevada to California. South of this peak lies the beautiful Buena Vista Valley which extends southwest for thirty some miles to the edge of Antelope Valley, the Carson Sink and the Stillwater Range. On the north side of the range is the Humboldt River, Rye Patch Recreation Area and the Pitt-Taylor Reservoirs. The best way into the Buena Vista Valley is by way of the Mill City exit off I-80 a few more miles east of Imaly and on to Toncston Road which turns into SR400 going south and follows a canyon over a hill into the valley. This road is very accessible but make sure you have plenty of gas and rations just the same. The folks in the valley are some of the nicest people you’ll ever have the pleasure of bumping into, but I always tell people to be prepared. Even though there are many ranches, farms, mines and houses throughout the area, you might not see anyone for a day when you drive up one of the many canyons to explore. Some of the mines are posted and believe the signs when they instruct you to stay out. It’s mostly for your own safety, because there is still some mining activity where dynamite or use of heavy equipment on claims is currently prevalent.

The Paiute Indian tribes who inhabited the area for thousands of years before immigrants and miners came through, were adept at hunting and arrowhead knapping. The obsidian and jasper arrow and knife points from this area show an eye for detail and one form of purple agate which is extremely rare has been found in abundance along many of the hillsides of both portions of the Humboldt Range. Of course, it is now unlawful to move artifacts from where they rest, but you can see a worthy collection at the Humboldt Museum and a few taverns in Winnemucca.

In 1846, the Donner Party had horses and cattle stolen from their wagon train by the Indians in the Buena Vista Valley near Unionville when they decided to take this cutoff from the main Emigrant Trail to save time. It was October and the wagon party needed to make up as much time as possible, so they decided to take the Hastings Route which was not really a route at all. If they had stayed to the north along the Humboldt River, they would have made it into the Truckee Meadows and over the Sierras before the giant snow storm hit the region a month later. Many of the Indian families in the valley traded with the miners in the decades that followed and in fact, the Indians brought some of their attractive rocks to trade for some of those goods. The miners who understood what they were looking at in the stone began to ask the Indians for locations of more of those rocks and the race for gold was on. Some of the rocks were assayed at such high gold ore rates that several hundred men moved from Austin and Tonopah to take on the search for claims.

For a while, between 1860 and 1914, the Humboldt Range was home to so many dreamers that words still ring true in many libraries and schools across the United States as to the trials and tribulations of this forgotten land in a book titled “Roughing It.” The writer was none other than Samuel Clemens, known literally as Mark Twain, and for a very short time, he was one of the many dreamers clinging to the hope of finding riches in gold and silver just waiting to be discovered in the canyons of Unionville on the east side of the Humboldt Range. Unionville was one of a half-dozen towns including Unionville, Star City to its north, Dunn Glenn to the northeast, Humboldt on the north side of Star Peak and Mill City which was the railroad town for the mining district. These towns sprung up on the nearby hillsides and in the canyons over the course of five decades, but in 1861 when Clemens was working next to Buena Vista Creek with a shovel instead of a pen, only a few cabins dotted the canyon’s side. Then, in just a few years, some ore was analyzed and discoveries brought thousands of miners and jobs. Further south at the other end of the Humboldt Range is the ghost town of Rochester, which is still being mined in a few places. Rochester had a population of 1,200 and even had a narrow gauge railway between Upper Rochester and Lower Rochester and the half-dozen mines located in the vicinity in 1913, but the rush sputtered to a standstill and by 1917, only a few lucky prospectors made enough to remain in the neighborhood.

The same could be said for Unionville except its history was much richer by comparison. The Arizona Mine which dug deep into the earth from atop one of the high cliffs a thousand feet above the town created a quick increase in population, primarily Chinese. At one time, 3,000 people lived in the town with nine saloons, a brewery, two hotels, one bank, several livery stables, two churches, a schoolhouse and a host of small businesses flourishing. Actually, before 1860, the growing town was known as Dixie because of the men’s bent towards the confederate philosophy, but as more men with favoritism towards the Union came to town, the name was changed in July of 1861 to Unionville and in 1862 the town became the county seat of Humboldt County until Winnemucca took the title away in 1872. Over a period of sixty years, this region produced millions of dollars in gold and silver and today is currently being mined in several locations by large operations that have been fairly successful at extracting rich minerals from just above the lime line.
If you want to spend more than a day in the area, you can either camp in one of the many canyons or stay over in Unionville at the Old Pioneer Garden Country Inn which boasts of its authenticity to the era between 1861 when it was first built through the years until 1917 when most of the miners and townsfolk had left. The mountains, the orchards, the creeks, the valley, the canyons, the wildlife and the old Nevada west is still alive in this hidden, forgotten, beyond beautiful vicinity. If you have a horse, you’ll be riding for days enjoying it all, but to truly take in this historical and awesome region, you have to hike. One note of caution though is that the hills are still full of deep mine shafts. In most cases, they have been filled in by weather and time, but it’s important you keep a watchful eye in front of you.
Next month, I’m going to surprise you further with a place near this spot but deeper into history.

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