High Rock Canyon Wilderness

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Map Information

Wilderness Area Statushighrock_mccurry_web.jpg

Designated Wilderness Area
Year Designated: 2000

Act or Law: Black Rock Desert - High Rock Canyon Emigrant Trails National Conservation Area Act of 2000
Acres: 46464
State Region: Northwest Nevada
County Regions: Washoe   


Managing Agency: Bureau of Land Management
Local District: Surprise Field Office
Contact Info: (530) 279-6101
602 Cressler St PO Box 460 Cedarville, CA96104hrc_mvm0510_02_web_bbeffort.jpg
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Area Description

The High Rock Canyon Wilderness is painted with layers of white, gray, orange and brown rock formations. The bright green of the canyon floors and pockets on the walls contrast with the grey green of sagebrush. A 360 panorama of valleys, terraces and mountain ranges open up 60-mile vistas in all directions. The wilderness area's northeast border hits the abrupt edge of High Rock Canyon. Antelope and birds of prey are common here.

Mahogany Creek
One of the best features of the wilderness is the Mahogany Creek side canyon that comes off High Rock Canyon. Mahogany Creek has places where the sheer, dark basalt walls narrow into slot canyons where you have the feeling of being able to touch both sides. The walls are full of nesting birds. Swarming swallows are highlighted against the narrow slice of blue sky hundreds of feet above you. At your feet, you are often walking on the highly sculpted, water eroded smooth bedrock. Periodically, you come to the pools of water suddenly appearing in the rock. Amazingly, these pools contain endemic desert fish left over from the days of ancient Lake Lahontan. As you continue climbing above the headwaters of Mahogany Creek, you come out into the wind-swept, rolling, basalt plateaus. Remnants of ancient lava flows - very different from much of the Great Basin. From the plateau, the visitor can see deep gashes in the rock that form various canyon edges.

The wilderness supports nesting population of golden eagles, prairie falcons, hawks and owls. The canyon floors and walls are home to quail, chukar and non-game birds. The shaded canyons support mule deer. The buttes and uplands are home to pronghorn antelope. A small population of bighorn sheep was reintroduced in 1996, after being extinct from the area for 50 years.

The story of High Rock Canyon began 17 million years ago when the volcanic activity of the Columbia River Plateau moved south spreading layer upon layer of dense, black lava across much of northern Nevada. Eight million years later, as the Basin and Range building forces intensified, sections of the lava flows were faulted, tilted, and uplifted to form the high, unstable mountains of the northern Calico Mountains and the North Black Rock Range. From atop the northern Calico Mountains, a visitor can look out into the orderly tablelands and deep canyons of the High Rock complex or gaze down upon the chaotic debris which collapsed from the mountain, filled Box Canyon, and formed High Rock Lake. A similar collapse from the western side of the North Black Rock Range formed Summit Lake.

"It was a singular place to travel through shut up in the earth, a sort of chasm, the little strip of grass under our feet, the rough walls of bare rock on either hand, and the narrow strip of sky above."
John C. Fremont's description of High Rock Canyon- 1843

During the last frigid days of 1843, John C. Fremont led his expedition through a steep walled canyon following a creek he trusted would bring him at last to the Buenaventura River, a fabled watercourse believed to flow from the Rocky Mountains to San Francisco Bay. Fremont did not know that he had entered the Great Basin and the creek he now followed beneath the towering walls of High Rock Canyon would never reach the ocean. In a few dozen miles the waters of the creek would sink into sediments and disappear beneath the greatest of Nevadas dry lakes, the Black Rock Playa. During the peak year of 1849, more than 10,000 wagons passed through the canyon. Before the influx of gold seekers, the canyons were home to humans for at least 10,000 years and every rock shelter and spring has incdications of this use.

This wilderness is a component of the Bureau of Land Management's National Conservation Lands.

Wildlife: Long-nosed Leopard Lizard, Zebra-tailed Lizard, Great Basin Rattlesnake, Gopher Snake, Mule Deer, Mountain Lion, Pronghorn, Bobcat, Desert Cottontail, Chukar, Great Horned Owl, Greater Sage-grouse