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 Denio Detour

by John C. Evanoff
November, 2006

North of Winnemucca about 31 miles on Highway 95, Nevada State Route 140 proceeds into the northwest Nevada badlands towards Denio and Denio Junction. This road into northern Humboldt County runs by some spectacular geography including the Quinn River Valley, Jackson Mountains and the Pine Forest Range. The geology of this area was produced by fault uplift, volcanic magma movements and the ancient inland sea called Lake Lahontan. You can see some of the sea’s remains along the hillsides as a stratified beach mark and traces of magma flows running down worn down volcano mounds.

As you cross the Quinn River at about the ten mile mark things really become remarkable. The valley and river are more spectacular if you can get up on the hillsides and look down on them but just traveling through allows you to capture some of the reasons many people have raised entire generations here without leaving. The Quinn Lakes (Dry most of the time) and Quinn River Ranch along the way are good places to hike, four wheel drive, mountain bike, and horseback ride. Further along, the Quinn River Crossing was where many settler’s wagons and later supply wagons crossed the river at or near this area. The easy fording was created by earlier settlers who filled the river with rocks from the nearby hillsides to make the crossing easier. As you travel through this long valley, look for mule deer and antelope. There are also coyote and bobcat looking down on you from the knolls. On the left as you travel north is the Pine Forest Range. When I was younger, I remember coming upon a flock of chucker numbering over a hundred. I was so amazed at all the birds in the air at the same time; I never got off a shot. I will always cherish that memory the rest of my life. The thunderous flutter of so many chucker wings was astonishing. I have yet to ever see so many game birds in one flight although my father told me stories of flights of sagehen even larger in the late nineteen-forties.

At Denio Summit, take a hike up into the hills. These hills are full of opals and I mean plumb full of them. All you have to do is walk a few hundred yards and you will probably pick up a couple small specimens of Nevada Opal. West of Denio Junction about 25 miles on NSR140, are the Bonanza Opal Mine, the Royal Peacock Mine and Rainbow Ridge where you can pay a small fee from late May through September to find larger specimens of the famous Virgin Valley Opal. The Nevada Fire Opal is found all over northern Nevada but especially in northern Humboldt and Washoe Counties. The area was heavily wooded many millions of years ago and with volcanic eruptions and subsequent laying down of silica from hot water fissures into the wood’s cracks and then tons of pressure from mile high glacier ice and resulting inland seas, the famous stone was born. Some pieces are white with a fiery sliver of gold colored mica running through them and others are black with rainbow bolts of colors throughout the entire rock. Others are red and yellow with cracks of clear quartz-like veins within them. These hills are fun to walk and hunt for opals but remember to ask if you happen upon private land or a mining claim. There is a fully equipped RV campground at the head of the valley and a motel in Denio and don’t forget to try a Denio Burger while you are there in town.

Denio got its name from a hard working man named Aaron Denio, born in Illinois in 1824, who lived for a time on ranches he owned in Paradise Valley between 1865 and 1874. He had businesses with associates and with the miners moving to and from the strikes in central Nevada and southern Oregon and Idaho. He had worked as a miner for short periods all his early life including some in Nevada and Idaho like Humboldt, Starr and Silver City and understood the need for beef and bread to keep the miners alive. After many hard years in the area though, he moved his family in 1885 to a little sod and mud hut he built in Pueblo Valley on the Nevada/Oregon border and began to farm and mine. He opened a station for travelers to stop at which eventually became the post office in 1897 and Aaron became its postmaster. Denio Station was born and the area became a regular crossroads for freight wagons and settlers moving north from Winnemucca and Paradise to Fields, Burns, and eventually the Willamette Valley.

The Pine Forest Recreation Area is a large area that looks extremely desolate at first, but the more you explore, the more you’ll discover including Bog Hot Creek. The geothermal activity in the area is fascinating in the cool dry autumn months. The wisps of steam can be seen for miles from the ridges of the Pine Forest Range. Bog Hot Creek is nine miles west of Denio Junction to a gravel road turn off that proceeds four miles until you reach a ditch of steaming water. Follow the ditch to the shallow ponds made by bathers and make sure to check the water before you hop in so you don’t cook. There are also some warm stretches of water along the Virgin Valley Warm Creek. I found both of these as great places to relax after hunting and horseback riding excursions.

Throughout the Virgin Valley are constant reminders of why Northern Nevada is so amazing. Ruts in some of the dry gulches were left by Conestoga wagon trains passing through the area into Oregon country. Some of the emigrants were guided on this detour because of the perilous passage along the Snake River and the Oregon Trail in Idaho. The Modoc, Klamath and Northern Shoshone Tribes raided the livestock of the early travelers and eventually several Calvary camps and forts were built in the region including Fort Bidwell, Fort McGarry and Fort McDermitt. The US Calvary began to hunt down the bands of Indians and several large battles almost wiped out whole families of the Modoc and Klamath. But many of the emigrants still sought out quieter trails like the Applegate to cross into Oregon into Klamath Falls and the Denio Detour to Surprise Valley and Lakeview in Southern Oregon. It was calming to the settlers to be able to look so far without seeing an Indian raiding party but the trip was still arduous.

This region will calm your spirit too. The nights are really dark when there is no moon in the sky and that helps if you are an amateur astronomer and have a telescope or binoculars. In fact, the Leonid Meteor showers during the middle of November around the 17th put on their fascinating show every year and if you park yourself on one of the many ridges around the east and west parts of the Virgin Valley, you’ll see them more spectacularly than anywhere else. Every year, the Earth flies through the meteor stream left from Comet Tuttle. Some years, you can count one or two a minute and then other years you might encounter twenty to forty a minute in an amazing storm of falling stars. The fireworks can be spectacular but whatever meteor shower occurs, this is by far the best place to view it in Northern Nevada in November. The meteor showers are one of the reason I like the area in November but finding a Nevada Fire Opal in the quiet solitude of this region is amazingly refreshing and invigorating indeed.

A little further west on NSR140, you will find a gravel road that leads west and then southwest approximately 15 miles to an unimproved road heading southeast into the Summit Lake Indian Reservation. For hundreds of years, the Northern Paiute called this part of Nevada their home, from Summit Lake to Lovelock. And Summit Lake is the only reason Pyramid Lake is the famous fishery it is today. The lake has the only native populations of the ancient Lake Lahontan cutthroat trout which were used genetically to bring back the Pyramid Lake cutthroat species we have today. President William H. Taft set aside the area for a reservation in 1913 for the Northern Paiute at Summit Lake and inadvertently saved the trout and Numa (“People” in the Paiute language) from extinction. There is no camping, hunting or fishing allowed on the reservation but the vistas are exceptional.

The mountain south of Summit Lake is Pahute Peak at more than 8,500 feet and it makes for a great day hike from the High Rock Canyon side. Two spots can be seen from the top that we will venture to next month. High Rock Canyon and Soldier Meadows are famous for their presence as natural paths for the emigrants using one of the variations of the Appelgate Trail and by John C. Fremont and Kit Carson who came through them as they mapped the region moving south into the Black Rock Desert and Pyramid Lake. I will discuss this area and the region north of High Rock known as the Sheldon Antelope Range in the next column.

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