Photo By: Historical Photo - Churchill County Museum & Archives

Photo By: Sydney Martinez

Photo By: Sydney Martinez

Photo By: Sydney Martinez

Photo By: Sydney Martinez

Photo By: Sydney Martinez

Photo By: Nevada Rock Art Foundation

Photo By: Sydney Martinez

Photo By: Sydney Martinez

Photo By: Historical Photo - Nevada Historical Society

Photo By: Sydney Martinez

Photo By: Sydney Martinez

Photo By: Sydney Martinez

Photo By: State of Nevada BLM - Sloan Canyon

Photo By: Sydney Martinez

Photo By: Sydney Martinez

Photo By: Sydney Martinez

Photo By: Nevada State Parks - Lake Tahoe Nevada State Park

Photo By: University of Nevada - Special Collections

Photo By: Sydney Martinez

Photo By: Historical Photo - Elmer Chickering

Photo By: Sydney Martinez

Photo By: Sydney Martinez

Photo By: Sydney Martinez

Photo By: Sydney Martinez

Photo By: Sydney Martinez

Photo By: Sydney Martinez

16 STORIES BEHIND THE REAL NATIVE NEVADANS

By SYDNEY MARTINEZ | November 2017
Updated: November 2017

Adventure

Points of Interest

16 STORIES BEHIND THE REAL NATIVE NEVADANS | SYDNEY MARTINEZ

If you’ve spent any time in Nevada, there’s no way of missing an endlessly mesmerizing sea of sagebrush. Maybe it’s the sort of beauty that’s most appreciated with a little bit of a trained eye, but I’m not just talking about looks and looks only, baby. What if you could see beyond the sage, and come to grips with the fact that the dozens upon dozens of basins and ranges you travel in and out of as you ramble on are loaded to the brim with culture… ancient culture. Places that are so masked by the sage that modern explorers and scientists continue to make new discoveries and archaeological digs every dang day.

Many tribes moved through Nevada’s Great Basin and Mojave Deserts thousands of years ago—the real native Nevadans. The heartbeat of many of these tribes was centered around the sacredness of oral tradition, sometimes based on myths and legends. While you can access a lot of these sites today, know this: they’re critically important to modern-day descendents of the Paiute and Shoshone tribes in Nevada… visiting them is kinda like going into someone else’s church at high noon on a Sunday. You just gotta act right, plain and simple

Because of the power behind live storytelling, it’s completely vital to swing through these American Indian museums and cultural centers in person and hear it straight from the folks who know their own history the best. And trust us, there is a LOT of it. The cultural centers are the best place to start to really get the full picture, but hiking into these spots packs their own special kind of punch, so definitely do that, too. I do know there’s there’s no better way to experience Nevada’s enriching American Indian history than straight from the people it derived from. With this new realm of info in tow, hey. You may just have your own revelation and newfound connection with the sacredness in Nevada’s lands, seeing far beyond the sage yourself.

1. A PREHISTORIC CAVE AND THE MIGHTY TULE DUCK DECOY

Lovelock Cave is one of those places that, once you visit and figure out exactly where it is on the mountainside, you’re left wondering how in the heck you’ve missed it all this time. Because it’s just RIGHT THERE, painstakingly obvious. At least that’s the thing I’m asking myself every time I travel along I-80 on the outskirts of Lovelock. All of the places mentioned in this lineup have their own place and importance, but this one might be the most remarkable. The reason? A cache of thousands and thousands of ancient American Indian artifacts were found here, having been untouched for THOUSANDS OF YEARS. The place, dear friends, is none other than Lovelock Cave.

Though you may spot a few marshy pools when traveling to the cave via the Lovelock Cave Backcountry Byway, picture this: the entire valley was once totally full of a prehistoric ocean of water. As water levels receded over time, wave action created thousands of caves throughout Nevada, specifically in this northwestern region, aka the Humboldt Sink. Prehistoric Northern Paiute peoples moved in and out of this area pretty heavily, and used this specific cave the heaviest during 2,000 B.C to around 1,000 A.D. [Envision that as you’re standing inside this thing and tell me you aren’t wowed.] Guano miners re-discovered it during the early 1900s, and uncovered a totally pristine repository of around 10,000 American Indian artifacts. The most important? The Tule Duck Decoy, which in turn, has become the official Nevada State Artifact. Pretty amazing, right? Though there had been other known Tule Duck decoys in existence, these were totally unlike anything else archaeologists had ever come across, and deemed the oldest of their kind found anywhere on planet Earth. Though all of these original dozen or so decoys [along with the other massive amounts of artifacts have been removed from the cave] are safely stored in the National American Indian Smithsonian today [SO COOL!] visiting the cave itself is a powerful experience, to say the least. Experience why these ancient people flocked to the cave best by standing in it yourself, imagining it loaded with thousands of priceless, meaningful artifacts and try to tell me don’t you get a charge.

TRAVELNEVADA PRO TIP: See a replicated Tule Duck Decoy like those found at Lovelock Cave [among many other pretty incredible American Indian rarities] at the Under the Stars exhibit at the Nevada State Museum in Carson City.

2. ONE OF THE LAST STANDING AMERICAN INDIAN BOARDING SCHOOLS IN THE COUNTRY

People certainly had a different way of thinking back in the 1800s, and the endlessly interesting Stewart Indian School is physical evidence of that time. Chances are, you’ve never heard of anything about it, none the less the dozens of schools just like it, that once spanned across the U.S. Just like it never happened right? Wrong, very wrong. I’m here to tell you that you need to learn this part of our nation's history, right here right now, and there’s no better gateway than Carson City’s Stewart Indian School.

Though hard to picture today, the Stewart Indian School and 138 others just like it were established in the U.S. during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, stripping American Indian children from their families and tribes in an attempt to eradicate the entire Native American culture. The plan was to teach the students vocational skills, like ranching and farming, mechanics, woodworking, cooking, sewing, laundry and more, but along the way to make them forget their language and culture while assimilating into American society. Though this is a tremendously hush-hushed arena of America’s history, you can experience a lot of it, full throttle, at the Stewart Indian School. The crazy part is, although there were over 100 of these schools in the US, Stewart is one of very few intact and preserved, making it all the more special. It originally opened in 1890 and get this—REMAINED OPEN—until 1980… this is super recent history I’m talking about here. Stewart was gigantic too, hosting students from about 200 tribes found throughout Nevada, California, Arizona and New Mexico. The campus was comprised of 60+ stone masoned buildings, all of which are included on the National Register of Historic Places. The architecture is amazing, but really hearing these stories from the former teachers and students who attended is moving beyond belief, so make time for the “Talking Trail,” a free audio walking tour that plays through your phone. In it, you’ll hear personal accounts about each of the buildings, and what it was like to live here and attend the school from alumni themselves—a long-overdue experience you won’t soon forget.

TRAVELNEVADA PRO TIP: Good news! Though the self-guided Walking Tour is absolutely engaging, the Stewart Indian School plans to renovate and open one of Stewart’s original buildings and use it as a Cultural Center. Plans for this are still in development, but check back at our site for updates as this sincerely exciting progress continues to unfold.

3. THE LOST CITY 

Take a breather from the clamoring casinos on your next Sin City jaunt by taking an hour-ish off-the-strip excursion. To where, you ask? THE LOST CITY, you American Indian history-chasers, you. Though it kiiiiinda sounds like something from a bit of a fairytale or perhaps a far away escape, this place couldn’t be more real—or culturally important—to Nevada’s history. The real southern Nevadans lived here, pre Lake Mead, pre Las Vegas… long before the region was a glimmer in Lewis and Clarks’ parents’, parents’, parents’ eyes. 

Waaaay back around the year 200 AD, a group of ancestral Puebloans lived in modern-day southeastern Nevada. They built a pueblo cluster or village, comprised of adobe structures made of mud and sandstone with clay floors. To put in perspective, one of these houses could accommodate two families. Flash forward to the 1920s when a group of archaeologists discovered and excavated the ruins of these structures, which ran along the northeast edge of the Moapa Valley. Along with the building ruins, they found tons and tons of amazing artifacts, like pottery, canteens, baskets and turquoise. 

As if that weren’t over the top fascinating in itself, there is another totally cool thread of history going on at the Lost City: the involvement of the Civilian Conservation Corps. While this group of boys was busy building the majority of the country’s infrastructure during the 1930s, they had yet to participate in any sort of archaeological work or preservation, until the Lost City. By the time the CCC’s work at Lost City was finished, they had unearthed more ruins comprised of 610 rooms, and are responsible for building the Lost City Museum you can visit today.

4. THE OLDEST PETROGLYPHS IN NORTH AMERICA

Pretty insane, right? The petroglyphs, or ancient rock carvings left by American Indians is not really a new thing; I mean stuff like this is uncovered all over the world, and the American West. But, the fact that scientists were able to study a cluster in Nevada and conclude that they’re the oldest confirmed rock carvings in North America is a bit of a game changer to say the very least. Just how old, you ask? FOURTEEN THOUSAND, EIGHT HUNDRED YEARS. They’re even suspecting that this is evidence pointing to the fact that these Nevada petros could date back to the very first human presence in the New World. Mind. Melted.

Guess where these super ancient limestone rock carvings have been for thousands of years? Quietly cloaked in a sea of sagebrush in the middle of a Nevada basin, is where. Yep, those exact same basins are tirelessly chocked up to be dead and boring, not meriting any attention or worth. Crazy to see what happens when you start focusing on the details, and seeing beyond the sage, eh? Aside from their astounding age, these ancient symbols separate themselves from other petroglyphs in the American West and Nevada because the illustrations are a bit more complex than others, including carvings that can be interpreted as diamonds, trees, flowers, and even veins in a leaf. As you might imagine, saying these artifacts are invaluable are the understatement of the century. Plus, the petroglyphs are still very much cherished and a sacred site for modern day American Indians to boot. That means this: I can’t tell you where they’re at—vandalism is just too real. But to think there may be others like it out there, waiting to be discovered? Yeah, definitely a thing that makes me want to drop off grid in every iota of spare time—so don’t act like it ain’t the same for you babes too.

5. AN ANCIENT FREMONT INDIAN VILLAGE ON THE OUTSKIRTS OF ONE SERIOUSLY AMAZING NATIONAL PARK

You know the thing I was saying about how many of these American Indian archaeological excavations are happening all the time? I know what you’re thinking, it sounds a lot like BS, but this little gem is blatant proof I’m not just over here spewing off sensational facts. Just outside Great Basin National Park lies the remains of a Fremont Indian village that was occupied right around 1220 AD thru 1225 AD. The place: Baker Archaeological Site, or Baker Village [I bet it’s clicking why the nearest town to the site has the same dang name rights about now] and it was excavated less than 30 years ago. Unbelievable, right? The truth is, archaeologists knew about the Baker Village for years, but only excavated it in the early 90s.

More than 15 adobe homes and pit houses were excavated. The team of archaeologists and students uncovered a few surprising factors during their excavation—like traces of wild plant foods. But in order to have that sort of agricultural situation going on here [with corn, beans, etc.] meant that they had to irrigate in water. Though the scientists never found actual evidence of irrigation [like presence of canals,] it seems highly likely that this was the case—these crops wouldn't have been able to grow without it. That was totally unusual, along with the fact that up until this dig, it was believed that the Fremont peoples were less sophisticated than the Puebloans [like those at Lost City] because of the positioning and structural components of their dwellings. The Baker Village excavation was important in disproving that notion, verifying that the Fremont were just as refined as their neighbors in the south.

After the site was excavated it was backfilled—a crucial step in protecting the cultural features that still remain after all these years [‘cause hey, more excavation work could still be done here.] Under the watchful eye of the BLM, the foundations at Baker Village require a little imagination, but the site is none the less a great spot to take a Highway 50 breather, or enjoy a picnic after exploring Great Basin National Park

6. ASTOUNDINGLY BEAUTIFUL , YET SOMEHOW RELATIVELY UNKNOWN SACRED POOLS

I think it’s human instinct to be drawn to beautiful things, right? Specifically bodies of water—there’s some kind of hypnotic quality about staring into the crystal clear Caribbean Sea. But isn’t it even better when you uncover something like this that you never saw coming, something that after you’ve found it feels totally out of place, only making it all the more special? Of all places on earth, I had this exact sort of ah-hah moment at Death Valley. Yeah, the place that’s supposed to literally be dead, and provoke actual death it’s so extreme? Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge is the place, and the total unsung hero of this incredible national park. It’s definitely got a wow-factor all on its own, but this part of the Death Valley complex is a total diamond in the rough any damn day of the week. 

Everyone is blowing past this place, headed for Titus Canyon, Badwater Basin or even Devil’s Golf Course, not realizing there are heavenly pockets upon pockets of caribbean-esque pools of water at Ash Meadows… something so crazy that when you see it, you legitimately think you may be experiencing a mirage for the first time. Again, they’re absolutely masked by a sea of sagebrush, but once you come up on one of these babies there’s no forgetting them. Which could be exactly why the Timbisha People flocked to the region, calling these digs home nearly 10,000 years ago. In fact, the Timbisha—a Southern Paiute branch of the Shoshone— respected these springs with such esteem because they were a life source to them, because without these pools, they wouldn’t have clean drinking water, food or a bathing source.

Perhaps most interesting is that the Timbisha not only worshiped the springs, but also authored a boatload of fascinating cultural folklore about them, too. In a version of one legend, mothers would warn their children not to play in the spring-fed pools for too long because they believed creatures would eventually emerge from the pool’s unknown depths and swallow them whole. That, and the story of Tso’apittse—who the Timbisha believed was an evil giant who lived in the caves or springs in surrounding mountains—would reveal himself only to snatch and gobble up unsuspecting victims. Is visiting this place worth the trek? Absolutely, and in more ways than you can count, and with this little snippet of info, you may just impress the volunteers at the visitors center to boot.

7. THE REFINED [AND NOW VERY FAMOUS] BASKETRY OF DAT SO LA LEE

If there is one new thing you take away from this line up, it’s this one. That right there is my wish for you, friends. Kind of like the Stewart Indian School, Dat So La Lee was one of those tremendously important historical figures that they just don’t teach you about in school. In fact, a lot of the details of her story haven’t really been shared until recent history, which is borderline insanity to me, considering the type of talent this lady was working with and imprint she left on western culture as a whole. Like, people who are into the “basket craze” probably know about her, but not really anyone else for some odd reason.

Dat So La Lee was a member of the Washoe tribe in northwestern Nevada—think Washoe Valley, which is the Valley that lies in between Reno and Carson, and even included parts of the Tahoe region. It’s no surprise that, when you dig into it, lots of American Indian women [in the last 150 years or so] made a living as a hired laundress. [Makes sense right, since those were common vocational skills taught at American Indian boarding schools throughout the nation.] It’s believed that Dat So La Lee was hired as a laundress in the late 1800s, where her employers instantly recognized the fine quality and artistic characteristics of her willow basket weaving. She was probably best known for her degikup, or “day-gee-coop” baskets, which began with a small, circular base that extended up and out to a maximum circumference. It didn’t take long for the couple to decide to promote and sell her basketry, and here’s the cool thing: they were progressive enough thinkers that they documented every single basket she made until her death in 1925.

Right around this same time, the oldest museum in the state was about to open—the Nevada Historical Society—and purchased a whopping 20 of her baskets. This is what’s so flipping cool: each of the baskets she sold included a receipt that included her hand print, which was copyrighted, to certify the sale. The receipt also included a description of the basket, the number of stitches to the inch, what type of design was used, and the date it was made. You can see this collection, which is one of the largest in existence, proudly displayed just north of downtown Reno today.

8. WHAT ARCHAEOLOGISTS SAY IS THE BEST PLACE TO GET A DOSE OF REAL SOUTHERN NEVADA CULTURE

If we’re talking about getting the heck out of that beautiful little stretch of Strip and getting into some real Nevada for an afternoon, the choice couldn’t be more clear: Sloan Canyon National Conservation Area. And get this: it’s practically ', the suburb of Henderson pretty much abuts it… I’m talking only about 30 total minutes of driving time away from Disneyland for grownups. Howcome nobody ever talks about this place? Seriously, that’s the same question I ask myself all the dang time, cause this place isn't exactly small. In fact, it’s 48,438 acres of land protected by the BLM, which means it's yours and mine. We own it, all you gotta do is get the heck out there and get all up in the 300+ petroglyph panels screaming to be photographed. 

It’s true, archaeologists are just going full bore with Sloan Canyon, declaring it to be Southern Nevada’s most significant cultural resource. Though it’s definitely fun, I couldn’t think of a more perfect outing to balance a full over the top, artificial experience than Sloan. These 318 rock art panels are packed into about ONE square mile of land, with a hard-to-believe 1,700 individual design elements.  So who was it that left these remarkable illustrations at Sloan? Archaeologists have documented Puebloan presence [the same peeps at Lost City, up in #3,] and also Patayan and Southern Paiute people in present-day Sloan Canyon.

TRAVELNEVADA PRO TIP: I get it, I’ve totally been right there myself. You wanna touch it so SO bad, but you just can’t! It’s a big no-no when it comes to conservation. In order to keep these ancient petros on the pristine side, you have to appreciate sans contact because the oils from your skin will get in there and wreck ‘em. [Or at least the culmination of thousands of people rubbing their mitts all over them throughout time.] Definitely get all up in some photographs or personal sketches, but even rubbings are a faux pas, so are touching them. 

9. LAKE TAHOE? YEP, YOU’VE GOT NEVADA’S WASHOE TRIBE TO THANK FOR THAT BEAUT OF A NAMESAKE

Great Basin. What is it that resonates with you about that term? To me, it can mean so many different things, encompassing so many different types of subjects. It’s powerful. We could be talking about the National Park exclusively, we could be talking about one of America’s four deserts, or we could be talking about the cultural elements at play within that area. In any case, this is a big assed area—almost all of Nevada, in fact, and as I’m sure you’re discovering, encompassed many different ancient tribes. It has so much depth, there’s no questioning that part.

One of those tribes that moved around Nevada’s Great Basin is the Washoe Tribe—like the one Dat So La Lee was a member of. In fact, the Washoe Tribe [pronounced Wah-Show] lived in an around Nevada’s Great Basin for a stunning 9,000 years—tribal lore even says that they’ve lived in the Great Basin since time began. Though they moved around the Great Basin, the Washoe predominantly lived in the modern-day Carson Valley and even parts of Tahoe. [Side note: imagine what Tahoe must’ve looked like 9k years ago. Pristine on pristine, people.]

The name Washoe? Totally white people version of the tribe’s real name: Wa She Shu. Just like we totally biffed the actual name of their tribe, we also completely eradicated all cultural elements from the Washoe tribe’s original naming of Lake Tahoe. They are considered to be the first people up there, and named it “Da ow”...Tahoe to the untrained ear.

10. THE ENDLESSLY INTERESTING MEMBERS OF THE TOI TICUTTA TRIBE

I gave you a little taste of the fascinating splendor the Tule Duck decoy divvies up above [in #1,] but I knoooooow you wanna know more. Here we go. So go back to the giant prehistoric sea that once covered the majority of northwestern Nevada - Glacial Lake Lahontan. This thing slowly evaporated as global temps increased, various tribes of Nevada’s Great Basin occupied many of the basin and ranges throughout modern day Nevada. Though thousands of years later, a few of these valleys in northwestern Nevada still have water in them - some gigantic amounts, and others are left with marshy areas - both of which are replenished by winter weathers systems each year. Here’s where it gets interesting: each of these individual areas in Nevada had different variations of the same tribes, who were mostly named for the types of food they ate. For example, the people living at Pyramid Lake were Paiutes, but members of “Cui Ui Ticutta,” which translates to the Cui-ui eaters. But get this, the Paiutes living near what’s now Fallon and the Churchill County Museum & Archives, or the Carson Sink, were the “Toi Ticutta,” meaning TULE EATERS

The people of the Toi Ticutta lived in the entire area, and specifically the Stillwater Marsh because they depended on the resources the water source would provide. They hunted the marshes, using Tule Duck decoys like those found at the Churchill County Museum & Archives to lure in their catch. Sourcing local materials, they used - you guessed it - tule reeds, real bird feathers, and red ochre, and made different variations, accurately depicting male and female bird species to boot. Some of the best variations, and largest number of publically displayed curations of Tule Duck Decoys is definitely at the Churchill County Museum, along with tons and tons of other artifacts like arrowheads, shells, tools, historical photos, and even an entire replica village depicting what life was like for this group of people thousands of years ago. 

...Oh, and did I mention they safely stored these Tule Ducks and other items of value in another super interesting cave?

11. HIDDEN CAVE & THE PETROGLYPHS AT GRIMES POINT

Read it and weep, friends. That whole wave action thing that was happening in Nevada really did create hundreds if not thousands of caves in the Great Basin area. The Toi Ticutta used another Nevada cave that was also created from wave action to store their Tule Duck decoys, animal pelts, arrows and other precious items in a cave unsuspectingly perched in the Stillwater Range: the aptly named Hidden Cave.

Like Lovelock Cave, this treasure trove of American Indian artifacts remained undisturbed for close to a cool 8,000 years. The beauty in it? The place was discovered in the spirit of true adventure - the same exact thing I’m encouraging each of you to get after. Though there had been savage rumors of a cave housing a loot of treasure in the mountains surrounding Fallon since the late 1800s, no one knew where it exactly was. That is up until a very determined group of four local boys combed the hillsides and stumbled upon what would later become Hidden Cave. Imagine the disappointment! No booty - on their terms anyway; no jeweled crowns or golden goblets, not even a golden cobra head cane with emerald eyes. The catch? This place redefines serious darkness to begin with because there is only one tiny little entrance, so it makes sense that couldn’t see that it was loaded with invaluable American Indian artifacts. It took some time to get together a proper archaeological dig, but once that went down, HOT DAMN. The cave was used by the earliest American Indians in the area, from 1,800 B.C. to about 1,500 B.C - a prehistoric safe deposit box of sorts. The Toi Ticutta used the diurnal shelter to stash their most valued items, sometimes hiding them so well that it seems even they couldn’t relocate them. 

After the excavation went down throughout the 1940s, 50s and 70s, archaeologists and university students left the place as if they merely stepped out for lunch, driving home a legit Indiana Jones sort of vibe… only making Hidden Cave that much cooler. The Cave is part of Grimes Point Archaeological Area too and is loaded with petroglyphs, which gives any visitor a tour that packs a satisfying punch. 

TRAVELNEVADA PRO TIP: The tour for both Grimes Point and Hidden Cave runs every other Saturday of each month, and departs from the Churchill County Museum & Archives. Hit up the museum first to watch a legitimately fascinating video about both areas, and get a sense of what you’re about to explore at the museum. Then spend the afternoon on location, experiencing the sites documented so well in the museum. Did we just up the ante with a 3-for-1 experience?

12. THE LADY OF THE LAKE

We now know that the Washoe Tribe was living in and around Lake Tahoe [but if you missed that part, backtrack to #9]. Considering they named the entire Lake itself, it should come as no surprise that they named significant features in the surrounding areas too, right? This is exactly what happened with a striking rock formation on the southeastern shore of Lake Tahoe, otherwise known as Cave Rock. And hey, if you’ve had the luxury of traveling to the most beautiful lake in America, you may have even traveled through it without realizing what just happened.

Once you realize what you’re looking at, there’s no going back—you’ll never forget it, or not realize you’re driving through it—ever again. The rock formation has been nestled against Big Blue’s crystal clear shoreline for millions of years, and Cave Rock can been seen from anywhere on the Lake, believe it or not. And people have been navigating around this very distinctive formation for thousands of years, starting with of course, the Washoe Tribe. Early Washoe Tribe members originally traversed around the rock on a route now referred to as the Old Washoe Tribes Trail, and by the time early anglo explorers made their way west it became known as Johnson’s Cut-Off Road, that went over the top of Cave Rock [imagine the terror in that scenario—wagons hauling massively heavy loads of freight like timber—no thanks]. Later, it even became part of a very well-known roadscape—the first transcontinental highway in the U.S.—the Lincoln Highway, or as we like to call it, the Loneliest Road in America. This is when they constructed a road that tunneled through the rock formation, versus around. It all went down in 1931, and expanded to four lanes [what you’ll experience while driving through it today] in 1957.
This pretty incredible formation has never stopped being sacred to the members of the Washoe Tribe, and as I mentioned before, can be seen from almost everywhere at Lake Tahoe. [I know I’ll be testing this out on my next stint on the water, that’s for sure]. And get this: they called it “The Lady of the Lake” because you betcha booty you can spot a distinct outline of a woman’s face in the rock structure. 

TRAVELNEVADA PRO TIP: Cave Rock has been under the watchful eye of Lake Tahoe Nevada State Park for decades, and while you can drink in some pretty incredible vantage points from the boat dock within the park, you can best see the “Lady” while driving southbound toward South Lake. If you’re looking to up the ante on your Cave Rock experience, you can even hike the formation too, by accessing the State Park.

13. A SIDE-SPLITTING RENDEZVOUS AT SOUTH FORK

You learned it in school, I learned it in school, we all learned it in school: the detailed accounts of American Indians’ first interaction with anglo explorers. Sometimes, this wasn’t so pretty, but there are several truly wonderful tales of unlikely friendships going down between these two groups in Nevada. One of which you can really dive deep into at the California Trail Interpretive Center, just outside Elko on 80. This place, you guys, is super impressive because it’s entirely devoted to learning the history of all the people along the California Trail [which of course, went through the exact portion of Nevada the Interpretive Center sits on] and admission is FREE. In other words: you best be exiting that pretty little exit for a supreme road trip breather.

This tale of unlikely friendship went down when Swiss emigrant Johann Heinrich Leinhard, along with tons of other pioneers who were laser-focused on the American Dream, was making his way west via the California Trail. Interestingly enough, his trip was only a few weeks ahead of the disastrous Donner trek, but Leinhard met some Western Shoshone Indians while following the Harlon-Young part of the Hastings Cutoff—which runs through South Fork canyon—in 1846. Leinhard was experiencing some sort of trouble, which he tried to communicate to the Western Shoshone he encountered. In return, they gave him some yamba root to eat, which backfired in the worst way… he had the ultimate worst intestinal situation going on for the entire night. The next morning, Leinhard tried to tell the Western Shoshone the horrible night he endured, but when faced with a serious language barrier, acted it out with noises. Leinhard’s animated storytelling brought the Shoshone to tears with laughter and they ultimately parted as friends.

Like any good early explorer, Leinhard kept a trail journal that he documented all of this in. It’s not publically displayed at the Interpretive Center, but I bet they know all about it, just ask ‘em. Best yet, the California Trail Interpretive Center is right across the valley from South Fork Canyon, so even if you don’t hike in there or experience the Recreation Area yourself, you can at least see where this friendly exchange went down. To dive deeper into this story and others like it, head for the CA Trail Center… you won’t be bummed you engaged in this memorable I-80 pit stop.

14. A LADY WHO DEFINITELY NEEDS NO INTRODUCTION

Speaking of embracing Anglo-American settlers, this lady straight cornered the game, forming friendships no one else had ever experienced… a progressive thinker and visionary. Maybe you’ve been lucky enough to see a monument dedicated to her in Washington D.C., or perhaps you’ve even read her book. By now maybe you know who I’m referring to: none other than the iconic Sarah Winnemucca Hopkins. A true visionary, Winnemucca single handedly formed uncanny friendships with early explorers, and later became an author, activist and educator. 

Sarah Winnemucca was originally from the Humboldt Lake area, which is sometimes called the Humboldt Sink. This is the same exact area surrounding Lovelock Cave [see #1] or just south of the present day community of Lovelock. Sarah’s father was the chief of all of the Northern Paiute and the war chief of about 150 people, but Sarah certainly had a conflict-free frame of mind. In fact, her grandfather had gone great lengths to create positive relationships with European Americans, so great in fact, that Sarah briefly lived and worked in the household of William Ormsby, who owned Ormsby House and worked as the civic leader of Carson City. During this time, she improved her English, and studied the Euro-American way of life. And get this: from a young age, Winnemucca was one of very few Paiute American Indians who knew how to read and write English. In fact, she and her entire family spoke english and often traveled throughout the west performing on stage, and soon became known as the “Paiute Royal Family”... Winnemucca in specific was called the “Paiute Princess.”

Winnemucca and her family made some moves that had never before happened, like fleeing the area to avoid conflict, specifically during the Paiute War that occurred near Pyramid Lake. She quickly became an advocate for American Indian rights, and soon traveled the United States to deliver lectures to Anglo-Americans about the plight of her people. Winnemucca even went on to lobby for Paiute rights in Washington D.C., and later served the United States forces as a messenger, interpreter, guide and teacher for imprisoned American Indians. 

Out of all of her accomplishments, her work as a writer was definitely the most impressive. In 1883, Winnemucca released a memoir-meets-history book outlining her, and her family’s relationships with European Americans. The book, Life Among the Piutes: Their Wrongs and Claims, made history for what seems like infinite reasons, but was especially important because it is the first known autobiography written by an American Indian woman. Her book made history in the 1880s, but she was also inducted into the Nevada Writers Hall of Fame posthumously in 1993.

The good news: you can experience [and pay homage to] a little of Sarah Winnemucca’s legacy wherever you travel in Nevada, whether that’s at any of the Nevada State Museums, the California Trail Interpretive Center, Lovelock Cave, or the Churchill County Museum & Archives. She’s everywhere, all you gotta do is drink it in.

15. WHAT EXPERTS SAY ARE THE BEST PICTOGRAPHS ON THE ENTIRE CONTINENT

So we’ve talked about a few of the countless petroglyphs sites in Nevada, but Toquima Cave? Totally different. This is because what you can find here are pictographs… which means they’re ancient drawings, not carvings. And,Toquima  is yet another in-yo-face example of seeing beyond the sage, lovies. Sure, many chock the Loneliest Road up to be, well, lonely. But, I hope you’re now getting well-versed all the crazy-incredible experiences that beg to be bagged along the way. Toquima Cave couldn’t be a more perfect example of that school of thought: it’s not far from Nevada’s geographic center, and due south of Highway 50, quietly nestled in the very appropriately named Toquima Mountain Range. 

Like the Carson and Humboldt Sinks [which we covered in #1, #10 and #14,] the area that’s now the Big Smoky Valley and Monitor Valley were also filled with water, and seriously inhabited by ancient cultures thousands and thousands of years ago. In addition to Toquima Cave, find presence of the Shoshone Tribes who lived in these valleys somewhere around 9,000 years ago at places like Hickison Petroglyphs, and the Alta-Toquima Wilderness Area—an area known for its unique and extreme alpine conditions AND the highest prehistoric American Indian hunting grounds in the entire CONTINENT. But, that’s another story entirely. Today? Today we talk about Toquima and Toquima only, but know there are tons of other American Indian sites in direct proximity of the cave, so don’t knock those spots if you’re in at the Cave.

The cave just so happened to be positioned in such a perfect way that it remained protected all this time, preserving the Cave’s contents for 3,000 years. Though it was occupied for a short time, the Western Shoshone who used the cave left drawn or painted images on the surface of the rock face. The reason why Toquima Cave merits an obvious visit? Well, aside from the fact that these drawings are thousands of years old and look like they were made just yesterday, the number of independent motifs is noteworthy, and also the fact that all four colors that were available at the time were used. Experts are saying the illustrations are abstract, but some shapes are easily recognizable as deer or buffalo, all drawn in either red, black, white or yellow. The Cave still holds massive cultural importance to American Indians, particularly the Western Shoshone.  You’ll see why when you drink in the view from this place… I honestly can’t come up with many better places to clear your head and find yourself again. 

TRAVELNEVADA PRO TIP: SPOILER ALERT! Just so there aren’t any nasty surprises when planning a visit to this deliciously remote location, there is a large steel fence covering the entire entrance of the cave. We weren’t joshin’ ya when saying this place is still very seriously sacred to modern-day Western Shoshone members. But, lucky for you, the fence was built with visitation in mind: you definitely can’t get into this sturdily built gate, but the slots are wide enough to slide a camera lense through, or just have a good, long look. Primitive camping is available right near the base of the cave, so if you want to extend your visit, you totally can. Explore the Toquima Range, the Cave itself, and Spencer Hot Springs [which are just down the hill.] Word on the street is, there’s also a pretty sweet little geocache near the cave too.

16. THE FASCINATING LEGENDS OF PYRAMID LAKE

If you’ve been to Pyramid Lake, you already get it. This place has some sort of a special vibe about it that’s hard to really describe… when you’re there, you just feel it, knowing deep down that some sort of something special happened here. Probably because it DID, and has the folklore [along with history books] to prove it. From the pyramid-shaped rock formation in which the Lake was named after itself, to the stories behind the Stone Mother, to the Pinnacle rock formations, to stories behind the native fish and animal species themselves, Pyramid Lake has enough history to match its mighty volume [and that’s a LOT, considering it’s Nevada’s largest natural body of water, and even has 25% more volume than the Great Salt Lake.]

I could attempt at telling these myself, but that would only be a version of the story, and not nearly as in depth as it deserves. Plus, wouldn't you rather hear it straight from the people they derived from? To get into the weeds on these fascinating tales with the power they’re owed, book it to the Pyramid Lake Museum and Visitor Center in Nixon. Expect to see hundreds of invaluable artifacts, learn details [and specific site specs] of the Paiute War and how to respectfully and responsibly enjoy this unparalleled natural and historical resource. And, if you’re lucky, you might just get this rundown from Ralph Burns, who single handedly helped save the Paiute language, build the visitor center and in general, highlight the tremendous history of the Cui-ui Ticutta [or ancient Paiutes] who lived here, and their ancestors who still do. #DFMI

Point of Interest Go››

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