Conservation is a EuroAmerican idea that arose from observing the impacts of exploitation and destruction of natural resources with the inevitable collapse of ecological systems. The most rapacious force unleashed upon this American landscape was the capitalization of natural resources for individual and corporate profit. The ancestors of the Nuumu and Newe people lived on and with the Stillwater Range for countless generations without any environmental evidence of overtaxing the resources to the point of collapse. During the first 100 years of EuroAmerican interaction with the Stillwater Range, the landscape only represented a source of wealth and a temporary stepping stone to attaining a future, someplace else. What was taken and the condition the land was left in was unimportant in their journey to their future selves. For the Nuumu and Newe people, the Stillwater range was an integral part of their past and future lives and the very existence of their cultural identity.
Starting in the early 20th century, EuroAmerican attitudes toward the land began to shift when people realized that, in choosing to live with public lands, places they learned to love, these fragile systems could no longer bear the patterns of neglect, exploitation, and destruction that characterized the first 100 years of EuroAmerican colonialization. In the mid 20th century, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) mission shifted from disposal and exploitation of public lands to sustaining and preserving resources for future generations. Part of the 1976 Federal Land Management and Policy Act (FLPMA) outlined a tool by which the natural resources and ecosystems could be preserved in perpetuity: the creation of Wilderness lands. In 1979, the BLM initiated an Inventory of potential wilderness lands throughout Nevada. With consideration of public input, the Carson City BLM District identified 3 separate areas of the Stillwater Range for intensive inventory study: the 120,000-acre Stillwater Range (NV-030-104) in the north; the 114,000-acre Job Peak in the middle of the range; and the 65,000-acre Diamond Canyon (NV-040-117) in the southern part. Founding members of Friends of Nevada Wilderness contributed to the efforts to support these WSAs. Despite public input that overwhelmingly supported wilderness, including individual letters and 2,288 general comments, the BLM recommended dropping the Diamond Canyon area completely from Wilderness Study Area (WSA) consideration and pared down the WSA designations for the Stillwater Range (to 92,000 acres) and Jobs Peak (to 92,000 acres). The WSAs were meant to be a first step for formal wilderness designation. With the establishment of the WSAs, the BLM would have to manage all WSAs to protect the wilderness values, until the time a Congressional Act would either formally designate WSAs as Wilderness, or release the WSA for other uses. The BLM had 10 years from the 1980 establishment of the WSAs to forward WSAs recommendations on to the president, so they could be considered by Congress.
To better understand what Wilderness meant with the people of the Carson City BLM District, in November of 1982 the BLM Conducted a Social Values survey for the value of Wilderness in Churchill County (including the Stillwater Range and Job Peak WSAs). Thirty-two (32) persons responded to questionnaire (only 3% of the respondents were Native America, which is lower than the 5% of the Native American population within the survey area). The BLM representative administering the questionnaire also pointed out the respondents were pre-selected in a politically conservative and predominately rural environment. In ranking the six different uses of federal lands, 84% of the respondents ranked protection of wildlife as “Very Important,” 66% ranked outdoor recreation as “Very Important,” and 53% ranked Wilderness as “Very Important.” A plurality of respondents (41%) indicated that they “strongly favored” the designation of some BLM administered Lands as additions to the National Wilderness Preservation System, with an additional 28% “favored” the Wilderness designations. These findings concurred with Senator Howard Cannon’s 1981 survey of Nevadans, which found that there was significant support (50% support verses 41% nonsupport) for designating areas as wilderness, and the 1981 Nevada Division of State Parks Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan (SCORP) survey, which demonstrated that 67.39% of respondents “strongly agreed,” and 25.60% of respondents “agreed” that Nevada’s unique natural and unusual areas needed preserving.
The 1991 Nevada BLM State Wide Wilderness Report recommended no Wilderness for either Job Peak or Stillwater Mountains WSAs, citing conflicts with the mineral and energy potential (including oil and gas) of the WSAs, despite the clear evidence that the mineral wealth of the Stillwater Range had always been a chimera that floundered for 120 years before being completely abandoned in the mid 20th century. The BLM also dismissed the opportunities for solitude in the WSAs because “with an increase in air operations and full use of the [Fallon] SOA [Supersonic Operating Area], impacts upon solitude in the WSA[s] could be severe… solitude opportunities may be diminished even further and there could be an additional adverse impact to the overall wilderness quality of the WSA[s].”
Fortunately, the BLM recommendations did not relieve the agency from the obligation to manage the entirety of the WSAs to protect the wilderness values of the WSAs until such time as Congress made the decision to either designate them as Wilderness areas, or release them from wilderness consideration. That decision would not be made until December 23, 2023. Throughout the 1980’s, while working toward the 1991 Recommendations, the BLM held numerous meetings and opportunities for public comment. During the public comment period on the Draft Lahontan RMP/EIS, public hearings were held in Reno, Fallon and Carson City:Job Peak WSA
A total of 39 comments had been received, both oral and written, which specifically mentioned the Job Peak WSA. In general, 25 commentors supported wilderness designation for all or part of the WSA. Fourteen commentors supported no wilderness for the WSA.
Stillwater Range WSA
A total of 45 comments had been received, both oral and written, which specifically mentioned the Stillwater Range WSA. In general, 24 commentors supported wilderness designation for all or part of the WSA. Twenty-one commentors supported no wilderness for the WSA.
In addition, the National Park Service “expressed concern about preservation of cultural resources,” however the BLM did not state whether or not the NPS supported Wilderness designation. The Bureau of Indian Affairs commented, but again, the BLM did not report whether or not they supported Wilderness in their comments. The EPA made the general statement that Wilderness designation would protect water and air quality, but did not specifically comment on the Stillwater Range or Job Peak WSAs. Those opposing wilderness for the Stillwater Range and Job Peak WSAs included the Governor of Nevada’s consistency review, Churchill County, which “voiced a general opposition to any wilderness within the county,” and the Department of the Navy “felt that if the area was designated as wilderness, air warfare training activities could be constrained at some future date.”
Most of the commenters opposed to Wilderness for the WSAs, cited the fact that there was no wilderness anywhere in the Greater Stillwater Range, because of the US Navy overflight operations. Although the Stillwater Range was never a designated bombing range for the US Navy, the proximity to the Fallon Naval Air Station meant that it would always tacitly be a part of their operations from the beginnings of the Naval Air Station in 1944 and 1945 until the present. This is just on small example of how Nevada’s American public lands would be monopolized by the Department of Defense with little or no accountability or public oversight. Fallon NAS has not been a particularly good steward of either their withdrawn lands or the public lands surrounding the military withdrawn lands. In 1988, the Navy spilled 30,000 gallons of jet fuel on BLM public lands adjacent to the Stillwater Wildlife Refuge. In October and November of 1989, the Navy conducted a surreptitious clean-up of wayward military ordinance that ended up on adjacent public lands. This activity found 1,389 undetonated bombs, 2,230 inert bombs, 123,375 pounds of weapons-related scrap metal, and 28,136 live-rounds of ammunition. In 1990, the Navy was investigated for strafing bighorn sheep in one of their bombing ranges. A source within Fallon NAS admitted that, in one incident, pilots used the bighorn sheep as “live targets.” The Navy insisted, however, that no carcasses were found in association with that event.
In the last decade of the 20th century, conservation efforts to protect the Stillwater Range languished as a result of the demands of the US Navy, resistance from local government, and overall opinion of the Carson City BLM District office that the range had few natural resource values worth protecting. In 2005, the Fallon Paiute Shoshone Tribe approached the BLM district offices in the Winnemucca and Carson City districts with the nomination of entire Stillwater Range as a cultural Area Of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC). In totality, this included 55,322 acres of the Stillwater Range within the Winnemucca BLM District and 325,123 acres of the range within the Carson City District. “The Stillwater Range nomination… 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. Pinyon-Juniper trees dominate the landscape and have been the source of traditional pinyon nut and wood harvesting in the area” (from the 2006 Winnemucca BLM District AREAS OF CRITICAL ENVIRONMENTAL CONCERN: Relevance and Importance Evaluations). In the 2013 Winnemucca District Resource Monitoring Plan, the BLM supported the nomination of the 55,322-acre Stillwater Range Cultural ACEC; the 2013 Carson City District ACEC Report concluded that only 48,391 acres of the Fallon Paiute Shoshone Tribe 325,123-acre Cultural ACEC Nomination met the relevance and importance criteria for ACEC consideration. The reduced Fox Peak Cultural Area focused on Job Peak, totally within the boundaries of the Job Peak WSA. In 2013 Friends of Nevada Wilderness (FNW) inventoried the sections of the Stillwater Range dropped by the BLM after the 1980 Intensive Inventory. The Inventory found two substantial areas, one between the Stillwater Range and Job Peak WSAs and the other in the area south of Job Peak WSA that met the criteria for Lands With Wilderness Characteristics (LWC). FNW worked to get these areas managed by the BLM as LWCs throughout 2013-2015, until the Carson City District Office efforts to update their Resource Management plan collapsed in 2015.
In early 2015, the US Navy stepped-up their game plan for expanding operations and bombing areas on to more American Public surrounding the Fallon NAS. As the proposal came into focus during public meeting over the next several years, it became apparent the US Navy, despite putting on a dog-and-pony-show of engaging in a dialogue with the public and other stakeholders, was determined to expand their control across 600,000 acres of Nevada’s, regardless of the massive coalition of oppositional voices, governments, entities, and groups that arose to counter this expansion. The US Navy refused to budge from their planned expansion and spent 10s of millions of taxpayer dollars over the next 7 years to drown out the opposition of American taxpayers and to lobby and force their expansion through Congress. With the unlimited resources available to the military, conservation-minded citizens were poised to lose vast swaths of Jobs Peak, Stillwater Range, Clan Alpine Mountain WSAs, and the juggernaut created by the US Navy was garnishing support for completely eliminating the WSAs within the Stillwater Range and possibly throughout Churchill County. As America struggled through the aftermath of Covid and extreme political polarization, the US Navy worked behind the scenes to open a pathway through Congress to get what they wanted. The Conservation community working with the Nevada Tribes, scrambled and used their clout to include conservation measures in the final days of 2022 that would permanently protect 182,715 acres of threatened wilderness surrounding the US Navy expansion with formal wilderness Designation, create the 217,845-acre Numu Newe Special Management Area Designation to protect the cultural resource of additional lands under threat by Navy expansion, and permanently protect the cultural and natural resources of 160,224 acres of the Stillwater Mountains within Churchill County with the Numunaa Nobe National Conservation Area (NCA). The work of conservation is far from over in the Stillwater Range. Management plans will need to be developed, written and enforced, and future opportunities for conservation protections to prevent future take-overs America’s Public Lands in Nevada by the Navy or corporate development will always become available.
History of the Stillwater Range
The earliest explorer to document the Stillwater Range was E. M. Kern with the Fremont 1845 expedition. Kern’s group traversed the Carson Desert from the sink of the Humboldt (near Lovelock) to Carson Lake (today’s Salt Wells and Sand Mountain area. Fremont’s 1848 map of Oregon and Upper California clearly shows an unnamed mountain range bordering the eastern edge of the Carson Desert. During the early immigrant period the Stillwater Range was bypassed and ignored, as it only served as an impediment to crossing through Nevada. The first in-depth survey of the Stillwater Range area was by Captain J. H. Simpson, who passed to the south of the range via Sand Pass on June 4th & 5th, 1859 while exploring for a shorter wagon route across Nevada from Utah to California. Oddly, on the 1860 Map of Wagon Routes of Utah Territory compiled by Simpson, the sketched-in location for the Stillwater Range as seen on the Fremont map had vanished on Simpson’s map and had been replaced by a blank spot labeled “Unexplored.” Simpson and was primarily interested in expedient wagon routes, and apparently had little interest in documenting features beyond his exploration. The 1860 War Department map, included information from both the Simpson and Fremont expeditions and clearly showed a rough sketch of the location of what would eventually become known as the Stillwater Range.
Because Simpson’s Route across Nevada was 280 miles shorter than the circuitous Humboldt River Route, in the spring of 1860 the Central Overland California and Pike’s Peak Express Company decided upon the Simpson Route for the Pony Express. The Pony Express started service in early April 1860, with the route by-passing the Stillwater Range to the south and stations situated at Sand Springs and Carson Sink. By early May 1860, the relationship between the EuroAmericans with the Pyramid Lake Paiute had deteriorated. On May 6th, 1860, Paiutes tracked two kidnapped young Paiute girls to the Williams Station (a stagecoach station, general store, and saloon located on the Carson River west of present day Fallon). The Paiute men found the two girls bound and restrained in a cellar and victimized by sexual assault. In retribution, the two proprietors of the station and 3 patrons were killed and the station was burned to the ground. EuroAmericans organized into a militia and marched on Pyramid Lake, starting the Pyramid Lake Indian War on May 12, 1860. During the following conflicts the Pony Express Stations, especially in the remote region of Sand Springs Station and the Carson Lake (Wildcat Station) were raided for livestock and burnt by the Paiute. By the end of 1860, the Pony Express Route was moved north into the southern Stillwater Range, which was determined to be a safer route. This “Stillwater Dogleg” route was taken over by the Butterfield Overland Mail Company, which established Fairview Station on the east side, Mountain Wells Station within the southernmost Stillwater Range, and Stillwater Station on the edge of the Carson Sink on the west. The Pony Express continued to use this “Stillwater Dogleg” until its demise in October of 1861. The Overland Mail Company stage and telegraph continued to use the “Stillwater Dogleg” route for several more years. Part of the “Stillwater Dogleg” route forms the southern boundary of the Numunaa Nobe NCA.
Coincidentally, the same month that Simpson was exploring a possible wagon route around the southern end of the Stillwater Range, silver was discovered on the Comstock Load in June of 1859. This began a prospecting rush throughout western Nevada, including what would become know as the Stillwater Range. The first recorded mineral find in the Northern Stillwater Range was a nickel-silver ledge in 1860 by Alva Boyer in Cottonwood Canyon near the Pershing and Churchill County border. This is actually a little north of the Numunaa Nobe NCA, and, to make maters confusing, there is another Cottonwood Canyon in the Stillwater Range within the NCA just south of Mississippi Canyon. The Boliva Mining Camp sprang-up in the northern Cottonwood Canyon with the principal mining properties located by Alva Boyer, C, S. Kellogg, Jacob Stranager, and Patrick Reid. An arrastra was constructed and operated in the canyon in early days at the camp. The Boyer Copper Mine, located about 2.2 west of Bolivia, near the head of head of Bell Mare Canyon, shipped several large wagon-trains of rich copper sulfides and oxides, which were hand-cobbed Boyer from his “Treasure Box” property. to Sacramento in 1861. The Bolivia Mining Camp and Boyer’s Copper Mine would become the first activity in the Table Mountain Mining District.
Silver ledges were discovered in what would become known as the Silver Hill District in I.X.L. Canyon on the east flank of the Stillwater Range in 1860. In the spring of 1861, a townsite was laid out, which boasted 200 inhabitants and an express stage line to Virginia City. The difficulty of working the meager mineral deposits in the area combined with rumors of richer finds else where least to the locators of the claims and their followers deserting the area and town in June of 1861.
The most notable find in the Stillwater Range early mining history was the La Plata District, located in the southern Stillwater Range along the southern border of the Numunaa Nobe NCA. Silver was discovered here in 1862 and the town of La Plata was established in 1863 and served as Churchill County seat from 1864 until 1868. Located only several miles from the Overland Stage and mail route, La Plata prominence was primarily speculative with mining interests being sold and traded to eastern capitalists. A year after the County Seat was moved to Stillwater in 1868, most of the miners deserted the town of La Plata and the mining district to head to more promising mineral findings in eastern Nevada.
Holt's 1866 Nevada State Map
The mining production throughout the Stillwater Range never reached a very lucrative level. Production was limited and intermittent for 120 years. The imagined minerals and wealth simply was not there. On the 1863 DeGroots Map of Nevada Territory, the town of Uniontown appears on the west side of the Stillwater Mountains (the mountains only identified as the “Silver Hill District” on DeGroot’s Map). Although the scale of the map and sketch of the Stillwater Mountains is of insufficient detail to accurate location of Uniontown, the map appears to shows the location in the middle of the range somewhere between Cox Canyon and Whitecloud Canyon. It is interesting to note that the mineral prospects and activity located in the western portion of the Stillwater Range were neither discovered nor developed until the 1870s and into the early 1900s. This raises the question as to what the purpose of Uniontown was and why it was important enough to had a Wagon Road connecting it to the “Redmonds Bridge” (on DeGroot’s 1863 Map) located south of the town of Stillwater. The 1866 NV State map produced by the General Land Office shows both “Redmonds” [Bridge?] and Uniontown. The 1866 State Map published by Holt no longer shows the townsite of Uniontown, adds the County Seat of La Plata for the first time to a map, and shows Job’s Toll Road crossing over the Stillwater Range, Dixie Valley, then over the Clan Alpine Mountains. It is interesting to note that the sketch of the Stillwater Range on Holt’s map now included a non-existent pass though the mountain, which conveniently accommodates Job’s Toll Road. This same 1866 Holt map, places for the first time, a name on the Stillwater Range, labeling the entirety of it as “Silver Hill.”
The Numunaa Nobe NCA is bookmarked by two of the most beloved authors of the 19th Century: Samuel Clemens and John Muir. In the Summer of 1861, Samuel Clemens and his brother Orion traveled by overland stage from St. Joseph, Missouri to Carson City Nevada by a route that would have taken them via the “Stillwater Dogleg” along the southern border of the future Numunaa Nobe NCA. In the 1878, John Muir, working as a guide for the U. S. Coast and Geodetic Survey, explored the Stillwater Range and climbed to the summit of Fox Peak (Job Peak). Of these two literary figures, there is a rumor that Muir may have left journal records of his explorations within the future Numunaa Nobe NCA.
Job Peak: What's in a Name?
The name for Job Peak within the Numunaa Nobe NCA originated from the Moses Job, who "operated a toll road from Stillwater to Silver Hill, charging fifty cents for camels probably used in the salt trade, and a quarter for horse and rider." (Childers, Magee Station and the Churchill Chronicles). According to Angel (1881:364), Moses Job settled at Stillwater in 1863, and sometime after that date he built his toll road. Place names related to Job’s Toll Road include East and West Job Canyon, and Toll House locate east side of Stillwater Range about 1.4 miles up East Job Canyon (Moses Job was the same person who lived in the Carson Valley in the 1850’s, climbed the high peaks in the southern Carson Range, and named one after himself and another after his sister.) Clarence King, of the Fortieth Parallel Survey, occupied Job Peak on September 22, 1867. As King was about to read the angles of his theodolite to a distant station, an electrical flash came through the instrument, striking his right arm and side. It took him a week to recover. The geodetic point on Job Peak was established in 1878 by William Eimback of the U. S. Coast and Geodetic Survey. It was a primary station called "Carson Sink" in their transcontinental triangulation system of stations.
The name for the Stillwater Range itself must have become attached to the mountains after the Churchill County seat was moved to the town of Stillwater in 1868.