More than 8,000 years ago, Native Americans first visited Grimes Point, now one of Nevada’s finest National Recreation Trails where rock writings and petroglyphs can be viewed on a self-guided tour.
Grimes Point Archaeological Area is just eleven miles east of Fallon and features a fascinating self-guided trail filled with intriguing rock writings and art of ancient civilizations. The information about the trail is provided at the site in a brochure that visitors can pick up and take with them as they explore. The site has been recently upgraded and includes a restroom, five sheltered picnic tables, an interpretive kiosk, new benches and a paved parking lot and road. The trails have been upgraded for wheelchair accessibility.
Grimes Point showcases several different styles of petroglyphs and rock surfaces upon which they are etched. The various patinas are evidence of chemical changes in the rocks over time. After a petroglyph is etched into the rock, the newly exposed scar is lighter than the original surface. Over time, the petroglyphs will eventually patinate and be as dark as the original rock surface. Some of the petroglyphs are darker than others. These are most likely older than the lighter ones.
Deciphering the meaning of petroglyphs is often difficult. Many scientists and archaeologists disagree on their meaning, but it is generally acknowledged that the petroglyphs at Grimes Point are not a form of writing. Whether they depict constellations, hunting areas, or markers of another kind, Grimes Point offers a must-see window into the past.
It is also important to remember that the environment at Grimes Point was much different 8,000 years ago. As you look at the mountain ranges in the distance, you’ll notice a series of horizontal lines or terraces etched into the side of the range. These scars are results of waves from ancient Lake Lahontan that once covered most of the area. The maximum depth of the lake was 700 feet, covering Grimes Point. By the time human population moved into the area, Grimes Point was above water.
Grimes Point can also be a vista of contrast. Standing on the trail and looking out over the valley, it is fun to imagine what the landscape looked like to ancient peoples. As you imagine a fresh water lake filled with fish and ducks and waterfowl swimming under the shade of cottonwood trees, you may look over-head to see an F/A-18 Hornet from NAS Fallon making a sweeping turn in the sky. It’s a view from the past to the present in the blink of an eye.
The Sand Springs Desert Study Area is a fenced, 40-acre tract that preserves a remnant of land the way it was during the time of the Pony Express. There is a half-mile, self-guided interpretive loop trail that winds through the study area and past the Sand Springs Pony Express station.
Along the trail, there are more than a dozen signs, which provide information about the wildlife, plants, history and geology of the Sand Mountain area. The area is teeming with unexpected life, but one must be quiet and quick to take a glimpse of it.
For a real slice of the old west, a visit to Old Middlegate Station approximately 50 miles east of Fallon on Highway 50 is worth the trip. The station is located on the historic Pony Express Trail and features a motel/RV park, free camping and great food and drinks.
Middlegate was named by James Simpson in his journal “Across the Great Basin in 1859.” He named the cuts in the mountains “gates” to identify the route he took across the desert. His exploration served the stage lines and wagon trains that crossed the country.
Simpson’s journal is filled with tribulations and encounters during his 1859 journey. He writes of meeting a friendly naked Indian at the middle gate who was surrounded by several dead rats and lizards that had been killed for food. It was at this spot that the Overland Stage & Freight Company built a station to serve the mines south near Tonopah and east to Ely.
The station served as a Pony Express stop in 1860 – 1861. After the demise of the Pony, the station continued in operation until the mines closed. Ranchers setting up operations in the valley carried off much of the material used in construction of the original station.
The station also sits close to the original Lincoln Highway, a 3,143-mile “rock highway” that stretched from New York to San Francisco, bisecting the heart of America. A piece of that original highway is preserved at Middlegate.
In the 1940s, Ida Ferguson purchased the station at a land auction. She hoped to restore the station to its original glory, but retired in 1972 before she could complete project. Today, owners Russ and Fredda Stevensen are dedicated to preserving the station’s place in history.
The Shoe Tree is located just east of Old Middlegate and is one of the oddities that can be seen along Hwy 50.
For more information about Old Middlegate Station, call 775.423.7134.
Remnants of the Old West can also be found 60 miles east of Fallon at Cold Springs on U.S. Hwy 50. Visitors will find ruins of freight and telegraph relay stations, and an interpretive ramada highlighting the history of the Cold Springs Pony Express Station which also marks the trailhead to the ruins. The Pony Express ruins are a moderate 1.5 mile hike from the ramada.
Cold Springs Station is located 60 miles east of Fallon on U.S. Hwy 50, which parallels the historic Pony Express Trail. The station is open year round and includes a full restaurant with a separate family dining area and outdoor patio dining.
Cold Springs Station also includes a full bar with a pool table and satellite TV. Gasoline, diesel and propane are for sale along with RV parking with full hookups, tent camping with restrooms, hot showers and truck parking. You’ll find a picnic and play area for kids and a dog run at the station, too.
Owner and partner Margo Morrow says there are plans to include a trap shoot area and a park inside the RV park that will include barbecues and gazebos. Recently installed overhead street lighting from the highway has made access to Cold Springs Station much easier.
Cold Springs Station is an oasis on the highway for travelers headed into the Nevada heartland. For more information call the station at 775.423.1233 or stop by at 52300 Austin Highway.
There are no water facilities at these sights. Visitors should prepare for trips into the desert by bringing water and other items necessary for a safe trip.
Ghost Towns/Old Mining Towns
The rooms in the Fallon Convention Center are named after old Nevada mining towns such as Rawhide, Wonder, La Plata and Fairview. Most mining towns boomed, then busted, gone and forgotten. Some still cling to the past. In fact, in Nevada, ghost towns outnumber the living ones by about ten to one.
Most of the boomtowns and mining camps were founded on mineral strikes that were often greatly exaggerated by rumor. “Boomers” flocked to the newest canvas tent town hoping to get rich. And as the digging progressed, merchants, families, ladies of fortune and unscrupulous lawyers followed the transient prospectors. Soon there were streets, log cabins, storefronts and saloons crowded together as if to ward off the loneliness of the vast Nevada deserts.
You can visit some of the old ghost towns, mining towns, and boomtowns that sprang up near Fallon.
Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park
Berlin, a turn-of-the-century mining town, is preserved in a state of “arrested decay.” Ichthyosaurs (pronounced ick-thee-o-sores) were ancient marine reptiles that swam in a warm ocean, which covered Nevada 225 million years ago. Fossils of these giant animals are on display at the park’s Fossil House, and are a primary attraction for visitors throughout the world. Other activities include hiking, camping and picnicking. An interpretive trail and seasonal tours tell of the history and features of Berlin and its mines. A nature trail connects the campground to the fossil house.
The State Park’s elevation is 7,000 feet and is located about 100 miles southeast of Fallon. Go east on Hwy 50 to State Route 361. Take 361 toward Gabbs and go to State Route 844. The park is 23 miles east of Gabbs.
Go to the state’s website at http://parks.nv.gov/parks/bi/ for more information. Or call 775.964.2440.
Fort Churchill State Park
Fort Churchill was once a U.S. Army fort built in 1861 to provide protection for early settlers. It was abandoned ten years later, and today the ruins are preserved in a state of “arrested decay.” A visitor center displays information and artifacts of the fort’s history. The Pony Express and the Overland Telegraph once passed through this area. Nearby is Buckland Station, a Pony Express stop, supply center and a former hotel built in 1870. Facilities at Fort Churchill State Historic Park include trails, a campground, picnic area and access to the Carson River.
Visitors can enjoy hiking, historic and environmental education, canoeing, photography, camping and picnicking. The park is located about 28 miles southwest of Fallon. Take Hwy 50 west from Fallon towards Reno for 10 miles and turn south at Leetville Junction towards Carson City. Go to Silver Springs and go south on Alternate U.S. 95 to the park. For more information call 775.577.2345.
Hazen was established in 1903 to house the laborers working on the Newlands Irrigation Project. That project was established to help protect the nation’s interests in the West by encouraging farmers and ranchers to settle in the Lahontan Valley. The plan was to reclaim the desert by diverting the waters from the Carson and Truckee Rivers for agricultural and ranching uses. Water rights were sold to settlers in the valley and the land soon became home to lush farms and ranches that stretched on for miles. Those farms and ranches remain a vital part of the area’s personality and economy. They are testimony to the determination of the men and women who settled in the Lahontan Valley.