What's Out There?
Honoring Native Land
Archaeological evidence shows direct carbon-14 evidence for ancestral Numu and Newe people in the region around Fencemaker Ridge for over 9,000 years. Dates based on artifacts in association with depositional layers and dates from petroglyphs along the shore of ancient Lake Winnemucca suggest these people may reach back to at least 14,000 years ago. The earliest peoples in the area may have initially focused on the relic Pleistocene fauna in the region for the bases of their food economy. Later the shallow lakes and marshes supplied access to migrating waterfowl and sedges and cattails for food. The traditional societies also foraged into the surrounding mountains for seeds and root resources when they became seasonally available. Less than 4,000 years ago, pinyon pine migrated into the Fencemaker and created new, plentiful source of protein and plant nutrients. This change too ushered in a change in hunting and gathering strategies. In 1980 interviews with Numu consultants in documented Fencemaker Pass as a culturally significant area for the Lovelock Paiute Tribe for "pine nutting [pine nut gathering] hunting of deer, mudhen, quail, rabbit, dove, and groundhogs." In the 2006 Bureau of Land Management Draft plan for the northern Stillwater Range, this area was nominated for an Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC): "approximately 55,322 acres... contains significant historic, cultural, religious, and scenic values important to Native Americans. The Range is the heart of the aboriginal territory of the Fallon Paiute Shoshone Tribe and the Lovelock Tribe." It is informative, while visiting Fencemaker Ridge, to ponder how many climatic and ecological changes the ancestral Numu and Newe witnessed over the course of their multiple generations and the adaptations they require to continually thrive in this dynamic environment.
Despite being only 30 miles from the immigrant trail along the Humboldt River, Fencemaker Ridge in the northern Stillwater Range did not attract attention of EuroAmericans until the discover of the Boyer mineral deposit just south of the proposed wilderness in 1861. Over the next 100 years mining interests and prospects were pursued in the vicinity of Fencemaker Ridge, including the Dixie prospect in Old Man Canyon on the east side of the ridge and the Susie prospect on the west side about 2.5 miles northeast of mustang spring. The largest and earliest operation was the Fencemaker Mine established near the top of the ridge in 1885 in an area that would become known as Fencemaker Pass (although today the pass over Fencemaker Ridge is impassible down the steep eastern side). The moniker "Fencemaker" for this section of the northern Stillwater Range is not explicitly explained in Nevada history. The early date of the Fencemaker Mine, however suggest a possible explanation. The northern Stillwater Range is close to the northern limit of the dense stands of pinyon pine in the area of Nevada. The Fencemaker Mine required a road to ship ore down the mountain to mills in the Unionville mining district. This same road provided access to the denser stands of pinyon growing near the top of the range. The 2010 Bureau of Land Management Resource Management Plan discussed a concern for the diminishing of the pinyon forest in the vicinity of Fencemaker Pass caused by excessive harvesting of trees for "firewood, posts, and Christmas trees." This excessive harvesting peaked in the 1970s and 1980s, however it had probably been a source of wood and fence posts for Euro American industry since the mining road made access possible in the 1880s. The name "Fencemaker Ridge" could have been attach to the ridge as early as the 1880s. Alternately, Fencemaker Camp, just below the mouth of Fencemaker Canyon could have been named for an individual. The August 10, 1866 Gold Hill Daily News mentioned that H C Fencemaker arrived in Gold Hill by the overland route. The Fencemaker name then vanishes from Nevada records and the likelihood that the area was named after an individual with the surname of "Fencemaker" seems highly improbable.
The northern portion of the Stillwater Range in composed of Mesozoic metasedimentary and metavolcanic rocks. The oldest, Triassic rocks include limestone, shale, sandstone, and metavolcanic rocks dating from 200 to 250 million years ago. Later Jurassic gabbros (145 to 200 million years ago) and Late Cretaceous (66-100 million years ago) quartz monzonite intruded these earlier Triassic rocks. The intrusive rocks can be found in the southeastern portion of Fencemaker, particularly in the Old Man Canyon area. The Triassic limestone rocks comprise the spectacular cliff walls that make up the central spine of Fencemaker Ridge. The gray limestone on the western side of the area creates a dramatic topography. Huge cliffs tower above the Buena Vista Valley and several deep canyons cut deep into the Stillwater Range. The most pronounced of these, Grayson Canyon, offers a scenic route of passage the area’s west slopes. This canyon is marked by tall cliffs and strange rock formations, a rugged landscape indeed. On the eastern slope, topographic relief is truly impressive and Fencemaker Ridges form an imposing wall from the floor of Dixie Valley. The eastern portion of Fencemaker is close to the very seismically active Dixie Valley Fault which saw a substantial movement in the area in 1915. Gazing deeply into the colors and patterns of the ancient limestone formations of Fencemaker is reminiscent of lying beneath an infinite midsummer's night sky and staring-up into the Milky Way.
Wildlife is plentiful throughout Fencemaker Ridge, including most animals which commonly roam the Great Basin. Antelope can be spotted throughout the foothills and flats, both solitarily and in larger herds. Mule deer hide throughout the hills, and the rocky terrain of this region provides an excellent habitat for desert bighorn. Large rams can be seen in lower elevations when they frequent the springs. In addition, this area is home to predators, including bobcats, coyotes, and the elusive mountain lion. Rugged terrain creates an excellent habitat for such creatures, providing numerous small shelters and caves for dens. The area’s undisturbed forest provide plenty of shelter and an escape for these wild beasts as well. The unit is also full of numerous birds, reptiles, and rodents. Many cliffs and rocks provide nesting grounds for large predatory birds, and an excellent habitat for snakes and lizards. Jackrabbits and cottontails, a fixture in the great basin, are also prevalent here. This is an excellent and relatively undisturbed natural habitat for many wild creatures.
Pinyon and juniper form the most abundant trees of Fencemaker, however these woodlands are not as widespread as in other parts of Nevada. The pinyon pine of Fencemaker is particularly vulnerable to anthropogenic effects like livestock grazing, fire suppression, invasive annual grasses and weeds, and global warming. In the Stillwater Range, nearly all of the pinyon pine stands (29,050 acres) are infested with pinyon dwarf mistletoe (Arceuthobium divarcatum). Dwarf mistletoe impacts tree health resulting in decreased growth, decreased seed production, increased susceptibility to bark beetles or other insects or disease, decreased drought tolerance, and in most cases, mortality of the infected tree. Young trees are particularly susceptible, and mortality for these trees is very high. Immediately west of Fencemaker, the northern Dixie Valley is plagued by invasive grasslands (mainly cheatgrass) and invasive annual and biennial forbs (tall whitecap, Russian knapweed, halogeton, and whitetop). Some of these invasive plants can be discovered creeping up to the imposing eastern wall of Fencemaker Ridge.