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Cowboy Country Nevada Drive Tour
The Silver State's Old West Attractions
Explore Nevada's western heritage with stops in cities like Battle Mountain, Eureka, Fernley, and Winnemucca, and sites like the Berlin Ichthyosaur State Park, Ft. Churchill State Historical Park, and Rye Patch State Recreation Area.
Day 1: Winnemucca, Battle Mountain, Carlin
Start your tour in Winnemucca. Head east on I-80 to visit Battle Mountain and Battle Mountain’s McCoy-Cove Gold Mine. The town is the center of Nevada’s mining industry, dating back to 1866.
Over the years, silver, copper and gold have been mined in the district. The town also sits on the historic Overland Trail that followed the Humboldt River across the state and became a virtual “freeway” during the 1840s and 50s for California bound emigrants.
In 1868, Central Pacific Railroad arrived as part of the country’s first transcontinental railroad system. Further east on I-80 is Carlin. Known as the gateway to the world’s largest gold mines, Carlin had its beginnings as a campsite favored by immigrants traveling the California Trail during the Gold Rush period of the late 1840s, and grew quickly after it became the eastern terminus of the Central Pacific Railroad’s Humboldt Division in late 1868. Take 278 south Eureka.
Day 2: Eureka
Between 1873 and 1896, Eureka produced $50,000,000 in lead and silver making it the second largest mineral producer in the state behind the Comstock Lode. The town bustled with 8,000 residents that quickly departed once the Eureka Consolidated Mine closed.
In 1860, it was a station on the Pony Express Trail. Many original buildings in town date to the 1870s and have been beautifully preserved. Visit the County Courthouse, the Eureka Theatre and the Eureka Opera House. The latter was restored in 1993 and won the National Preservation Honor Award given by the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 1994. Eureka is among the best preserved historic towns in Nevada.
Day 3: Austin, Berlin, Fallon
Founded in 1862 by silver prospector and Overland Mail & Stage employee William Talcott, Austin soon became the third largest city west of the Mississippi and the second largest in Nevada with over 10,000 residents. The area’s gold and silver mines produced more than $50 million over the next 20 years, allowing residents to construct more permanent structures than usually seen in mining boomtowns. Many can be visited today. The Gridley Store and Stokes Castle were all constructed from 1863 to 1897. The town is one of Nevada’s historic gems.
Depart for Fernley by way of Fallon and a side trip to the 19th century ghost town of Berlin and the unique Ichtyosaur State Park, where archaeologists discovered the remains of an ancient sea-living dinosaur. The US 50 route takes you by one of the best preserved Pony Express stations (Cold Springs) in the country. At Middlegate, take 361 south to 844, then east 16 miles to Berlin and the park. This 1890s mining town was the result of silver being discovered in Union Canyon. Berlin has been uniquely preserved with furnished houses and offices. In the Berlin-Ichtyosaur State Park are fossil remains of ichtyosaurs – “fish lizards” or sea-living dinosaurs – that were 75 feet in length and existed 70 to 180 million years ago.
Retrace route to US 50, taking it west to Fallon and Fernley. About 10 miles east of Fallon is Sand Mountain, a natural phenomenon, one mile wide, 600 feet high and stretches for two miles. The dune was created by the wind blowing particles of desert sand into the corner of the mountains over millions of years. The Sand Creek Pony Express station is nearby with self-guided trail signs. Eight miles east of Fallon is Grimes Point featuring 150 basalt boulders with ancient Indian petroglyphs. The area is easily accessible. Fallon, an agriculture oasis, rises out of the desert floor as a welcome sight of green. It is known for its cantaloupes and home to the U. S. Navy’s famous “Top Gun” flight school. Visit the Churchill County Museum at 1050 S. Maine. Proceed to Fernley via US 50 Alt.
Day 4: Fernley
Take US Alt 95 for a 23 mile trip to Ft. Churchill State Historical Park. The fort was the first and largest Army base built in Nevada following the Pyramid Lake battles with the Paiutes. Originally occupying 1400 acres, it served several purposes including a brief stint as a Pony Express station. The Transcontinental Railroad killed its usefulness and in 1871 it was sold for $750. The partially restored ruin sits on 710 acres.
Retrace route to Fernley. Take 447 from Fernley to Nixon and 445 along the shoreline of Pyramid Lake to the visitor’s center. The lake is one of two remnants in the state of the massive prehistoric Lake Lahontan that covered most of the western portion of the Great Basin 50,000 years ago. Since the lake sits in the middle of the Pyramid Lake Indian Reservation, a day pass is required. The center has exhibits about the earliest inhabitants dating back 11,000 years. The Paiutes are thought to be their descendants and regard the Lake as a special site for their tribes. The great western explorer, John C. Fremont named the lake after the smallest of the islands because, rising some 450 feet out of the water, it reminded him of “the Great Pyramid of Cheops.” In 1860, an incident occurred here leading to the “Pyramid Lake War.” Back on 447, between Nixon and Wadsworth, is where the Donner Party passed on their fateful trip to California in 1846 and for many, experiencing a tragic death in the Sierras.
Return to Fernley and take I-80 east to Lovelock. You pass the Humboldt Sink, almost unnoticed, where the Humboldt River meets its demise. It is also part of the Humboldt Wildlife Management Area. The town of Lovelock was named after a Welsh quartz miner named George Lovelock. He migrated to California via Australia and Hawaii in 1850, arriving in Humboldt County in 1861 homesteading a ranch. When the Central Pacific arrived in 1868, Lovelock gave the railroad 85 acres to name the new town after him. He died in 1907 at the age of 83. Visit the Marzen House Pershing County Museum. (It also houses the Chamber of Commerce. Ask for directions to the area’s Tufa formations and Lovelock Caves.) Also stop at the uniquely designed Pershing County Courthouse at Main Street and Cornell. It is one of only two so designed courthouses in the country.
After driving along Broadway Street, the old business area along the railroad tracks, take I-80 east for 72 miles to Winnemucca. Along the way, you pass Rye Patch State Recreation Area that contains 200,000 acre feet of water and uses 40,000 acre feet of it for irrigation of area farms and ranches. The reservoir was built in 1936. Winnemucca was originally known as French Ford since it was once the place where a Frenchman ferried travelers on the Emigrant Trail across the Humboldt River for a fee. The crossing was where wagons split off to the Applegate-Lassen Cutoff when heading for northern California. When the Central Pacific arrived in 1868 the name was changed to honor the great Paiute chief who was a peace maker and defender of Native American rights. With the presence of Native Americans, miners, railroaders, Basque sheepherders, Chinese and ranchers, the area has had a colorful history.
Be sure to see the Buckaroo Hall of Fame and Western Heritage Museum at 50 West Winnemucca Blvd. They have an outstanding collection of cowboy gear that you may not have seen before or knew was worn. There is the restored building (northwest corner of Bridge & Fourth Street) that once housed the infamous First National Bank of Winnemucca, the last bank to be robbed by Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid with their Hole-in-the-Wall gang on September 19, 1900. Check out the 1901 restored two-story rooming house, Shone House, at 6th and Bridge Street and the Humboldt Museum, with excellent exhibits of artifacts from the area. The museum building was once St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, constructed in 1907, at a different site and moved next to the city’s Pioneer Park. A building in the rear houses an antique car collection featuring the first automobile, a 1901 Merry Oldsmobile, in Humboldt County.
Day 5: Winnemucca
Take US 95 north from Winnemucca for 22 miles and then 290 into Paradise Valley. This area was visited in 1828 by Hudson Bay trapper, Peter Skene Ogden, but was not homesteaded until 1863-64 by William F. Stock. His well-known “96” Ranch is still owned by his descendants. Due to battles with area Paiutes and Bannocks, Ft. Winfield Scott was established here in the early 1860s, but moved north when an army Colonel was killed. Be sure to visit the Paradise Saloon & Mercantile Co. The ceiling is covered with autographed dollar bills and the decor is pure western. Drive down main street, with all of its historic storefronts, and fantasize a “showdown at high noon.” Continue north on a well-maintained gravel road (steep and winding) for a scenic drive through Humboldt National Forest, over two summits, before dropping down to join US 95 thirteen miles south of McDermitt. Started as an Army outpost in 1864 for protection of miners and travelers on the Boise-Winnemucca Stage line, it became a camp in 1865 after Colonel McDermitt’s death. In 1879 the site became a full-fledged fort, covering 2,000 acres with several structures and a hospital. This was where Sarah Winnemucca, the well educated daughter of Chief Winnemucca, brought 500 of her tribe begging for food. She spent her life working in behalf of humane treatment for her people and was the first Indian woman to write a book in English, Life Among The Paiutes. In 1889 the site became a Paiute Indian Reservation. There is a 13 mile loop road into the reservation where a small portion of the old fort still remains. Follow US 95 south to Winnemucca.