What's Out There?

Honoring Native Land

For well over 14,000 years, the Granite Range and surrounding surrounding deserts have been important traditional lands and for the the life ways of the Nuumu people and their ancestors. The southern extremity of the Granite Range formed the dependable cape that protruded into the rising and falling waters of the Black Rock and Smoke Creek Deserts.  Granite Range, rising 5,000 feet out of the playa system, provided a wide diversity of habitat, native plants, and hunting opportunities that complemented the littoral resources surrounding the ever-changing lakes of the surrounding deserts.  The first EuroAmerican documentation of the Granite Range by Fremont in January of 1844 describes finding sign of the Nuumu people in the area.  From his camp a Great boiling Springs, Fremont wrote  (using the racist vernacular of the era): “Indians appear to be every where prowling about like wild animals, and there is a fresh trail across the snow in the valley near.” While scouting south along the eastern edge of the Fox Range, Fremont recorded: “We found here a broad and plainly marked trail, on which there were tracks of horses, and we appeared to have regained one of the thoroughfares which pass by the watering places of the country.”   What Fremont failed to recognize is that the Nuumu people living in this area were thriving despite the severe winter conditions that threatened the lives of his men, cost him many of his horses, and very nearly doomed his expedition.  Unfortunately, the region overseen by the Granite Mountains includes areas of EuroAmerican and Native American conflict, and at least one documented massacre of Nuumu people by the US military in 1865 by Captain Wells. Most certainly, the “thoroughfares” described in Fremont’s report in the southwest portion the Black Rock Desert were very familiar to the Nuumu people and were utilized by them to elude the US Cavalry during the various conflicts in the region.     


Natural History

The Granite Range is a large northwest-trending horst block separating the Black Rock and Smoke Creek Deserts and their associated basins in northwest Nevada. The southern-most part of the Granite Banjo wilderness features classic Great Basin faulting where  Cretaceous granitic rocks have been thrust high above the surround valleys.  At the foot along the southern part of the range, Pliocene and Pleistocene deposits derived from the eroding granite create short, steeply sloping alluvial structures briefly before the foot of the range vanished below the horizontal Black Rock and Smoke Creek Playas. Moving north, particularly along the west side of the range, the uplift of the granites is less severe and the faulting becomes more complex.  Middle to late Miocene volcaniclastic materials begin to hide the intensely uplifted granite basement rocks seen in the southern part of the range.  The northern end of the range becomes lower in elevation, more spread-out, and the rocks transition through the Miocene volcanic rocks and into the slightly newer basalt rocks that dominate the geology of northern Washoe County from the Granite Range north to the Oregon border.  




Typical wildlife species found in the Grantie Banjo Wilderness include mule deer, California bighorn sheep, pronghorn antelope, sage grouse, chukar partridge, mountain quail, coyote, bobcats, mountain lions, and various rodents.  The steep cliffs and deep canyons provide thermals, up-drafts, and nesting sights for a multitude raptors.

Vegetation varies from salt desert shrub communities at lower elevations to big sagebrush/grass communities at upper elevations. Typical species in the salt desert shrub community includes shadscale, budsage, winterfat, black greasewood, Indian rice grass, squirrel tail and Sandbergs bluegrass. Species typical of the sagebrush/grass communities include low sage, mountain big sagebrush, bitterbrush, mountain mahogany, aspen, snowberry, rabbit brush, Utah juniper, needlegrasses, basin wild rye, squirrel tail, Indian paintbrush and phlox.  


On January 6th, 1844, John Fremont, Kit Carson, and Charles Preuss (the expedition’s cartographer) climbed what might have been Old Razor Back to get above the oppressive and frigid Pogonip (frozen fog) that had been plaguing their travels through the Black Rock Desert. From their vantage point they observed the rising column of steam from Great Boiling Springs at the base of the Granite Mountains, which formed a cape between the Black Rock, Smoke Creek and San Emidio Deserts. Fremont led his party across the sixteen miles of frozen desert to arrive at an encampment next to Great Boiling Springs that afternoon. Over the next three days, the party recruited their animals, explored the surrounding area, discovered better feed and water for the animals at Granite Creek, and took astronomical observations for determining their position. What Fremont failed to recognize was that he had stumbled across a crossroad that had been important for the ancestors of Nuumu people for countless generations and would become a crucial avenue for transcontinental travel for Euro Americans, beginning with the exploration of the Nobels Trail in 1851 and the subsequent development and use of the trail. The Nobles Trail proved to be one of the easiest of all the wagon routes into northern California and received heavy use in subsequent years. The Granite Range provided critical sources of water for travelers, with stations developed at Granite Creek (today known as Bowen Canyon) along the southern edge of the range and at Deep Hole directly southwest of the mountains. The Granite Creek Station would host a post office from July 1866 through August 1867; Deep Hole Station would host a post office from July 1866 to August 1867 and again from February 1894 until October 1911. These stations would serve travelers along Noble Trail as well as the later Honey Lake to Humboldt Wagon Road, the Reno to Idaho Road, and the later, the Gerlach, Sand Pass to Gerlach, Deep Hole, and Granite Creek roads. Both these former stations would become important centers for cattle operations beginning in the 1880 and would lose importance with the construction and operation of the last transcontinental railroad in 1910 (see more on the history of the Granite Range and the Western Pacific Railroad in the Additional Resources Tab).