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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Northern Nevada’s Hot Water and Ice

November, 2012
By John Evanoff

This is two columns in one dealing with what a lot of people believe Northern Nevada does not have in abundance but which is far from the truth. Water is certainly scarce in the high desert and some of the mountain ranges in Northern Nevada’s interior, but it can be found in abundance if you know where to look. This column provides some information of the many current and past pools of hot mineral water people have in the past and still bathe in as well as the ponds, lakes and rivers which freeze over thick enough in mid winter to skate on in Northern Nevada.

First, let’s take a look at the hot water famous in Nevada. Northern Nevada has more than 220 naturally occurring hot springs and many of them are now being plumbed for geothermal energy. Some of the largest geothermal sources in America are still untapped in Northern Nevada, but several huge companies have purchased leases on land and have already or will begin drilling and site construction. For that reason, Nevada leads the nation in geothermal energy development including Beowawe and Clayton Valley in Eureka County; Brady, Desert Peak, Dixie Meadows, Salt Wells, Soda Lake and Tuscarora in Churchill County; Faulkner in Humboldt County; Homestretch in Lyon County; Jersey Valley and McGinnis Hills in Lander and Pershing County; Galena, Richard Burdette and Steamboat Hills in Washoe County; and Tuscarora in Elko County. That’s a lot of jobs and watts produced in and for Nevada.

Some of these hot water pools are closed because of geothermal energy production, but in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, hot springs and spas were big enterprises valued for their supposed healing properties and were located in the Black Rock Desert, the 40 Mile Desert and just south of Reno. These were closed because visitors just stopped coming or the maintenance of the systems just got too expensive. In the Black Rock, Black Rock and Double Hot Springs north of Gerlach had hot pools and tubs where the water was taken from the main pools by bucket for bathing for many years since the water was too hot at more than 140 degrees to swim in. Both of these areas of extremely hot pools in the Black Rock were fenced and closed to the public because their heat can kill bathers from third degree burns in seconds. Bog Hot Springs near Denio and Kyle Hot Springs east of Unionville are also dangerous to bathe in because of extreme temperatures. The pools north of Pyramid Lake were closed by the Pyramid Lake Paiute Indian Tribe since they were a liability and people trashed the area over the course of decades of misuse. The Brady’s Hot Springs Spa along Highway 80 about 15 miles east of Fernley had six pools and a couple large bath houses until the mid 1940’s when people stopped coming and maintenance became too expensive. If you take a right at the Nightingale exit on Highway 80 and go to the road leading to the onion dehydration plant you will see some of the pools left from that era. The Steamboat Hot Springs pool and spa at the corner of the Mt. Rose Highway and Highway 395 South in southern Reno had the largest hot water swimming pool on the West Coast during the 1930’s thru early 1950’s. Steamboat’s history as a source of hot water goes back to the Washoe Indians who used the waters to clean the pitch off their pinion pine nuts every fall and for many other uses as well. I wrote another article about Steamboat for this site and you’re welcome to go back and read it for more information on its history and importance. The Steamboat Hot Springs still has a Spa and tubs but it is much smaller than when first built at its present site and the adjacent monster public pool and site up on the hill a half mile to the west.

Of the pools and spas still open and doing business in Northern Nevada, one of them dates back to 1862 on the Jacks Valley Road leading south from Carson City and Highway 395 towards the town of Genoa. Walley’s Resort and Spa not only has a beautiful setting next to the Sierra Nevada overlooking Minden, Gardnerville and the Carson Valley, but also overnight accommodations, dining and a large mineral pool. We enjoyed Walley’s because it has a resort atmosphere and the sightseeing is fantastic. Carson Hot Springs in Carson City on Old Hot Springs Road has been enjoyed by bathers since the late 1800’s. Three outdoor pools and 10 private baths give bathers different temperatures to choose from, ideal to comfort sore bones and muscles. Carson Hot Springs is unusual in that the sulfur smell so prevalent at other resorts is not as intense. We always enjoyed Carson because it was close to Reno and not as stinky. Some hot springs are what they are, primitive and off the beaten path, but they present a short and enthusiastic hike to the tourist looking for something different. These include Spencer Hot Springs in Austin and Alkali Hot springs northwest of Goldfield. Both have hot water pools or tubs enough to relax and enjoy after hiking in the area.

Now, for the ice, but let me make this clear, ice can be dangerous no matter how thick and it’s important you get information relating to the safety and thickness of the ice from the county or state park service or the Nevada Forest Service in charge of these areas before ever attempting skating, crossing or entering these areas. In the 1950’s, the two ponds at Idlewild Park, the pond at Lake Park in Northwest Reno, Manzanita Lake at UNR, Virginia Lake in southwest Reno and even the Truckee River were used by anyone who wanted to ice skate. There were also ponds that froze well enough for skating near Washoe Lake and just east of Galena. Lakes and ponds near Fallon, Fernley, Carson City, Yerington, Gardnerville and Elko were also used to skate during the winter. Now though, most of the ice skating is done on rinks although on some occasions, the county park services allow ice skating. One of these facilities is below Slide Mountain 20 miles south from Reno on old Highway 395 at Davis Creek Regional Park. Be sure to call Washoe County Parks for conditions permitting ice skating and for more information before making the drive at (775-823-6501). The pond at Davis Creek is large at more than two and a half acres and is a very well managed facility when open for ice skating. The park allows fires in the picnic area around the lake and campground facility and restrooms are available. Davis Creek Pond is a natural lake fed by Ophir and Davis Creek and was used by the Winters Ranch as a reservoir and to harvest ice. Washoe County Parks and Recreation spent a lot of time and effort making Davis Creek Park what it is today and the pond was deepened in 1998 to improve fish habitat for the black bass and rainbow trout which are regularly stocked there. Like I say, be sure to call to make sure the pond is open for ice skating ahead of time and bring lots of friends who enjoy the outdoors because this lake harkens back to the days when ice skating was adventurous and as outdoorsy as it can get.

For those who are really adventurous, you could put your snowshoes on and take the Ophir Creek Trail out of Davis Creek Park as far as you can. If you go the entire way up 4,000 feet of elevation to the Tahoe Meadows, be sure to have someone pick you up there so you don’t have to tramp through the snow all the way back. This snowshoe hike is extreme and should not be attempted by anyone other than expert hikers with winter trail knowledge of the area.

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