What's Out There?
Honoring Native Land
Recent discoveries in New Mexico indicate the ancestors of Native Americans walked upon North American soil at least 23,000 years ago. Direct archaeological dating places date on these indigenous ancestors to 9,000+ years for artifacts and material culture, and 14,000+ years for petroglyphs dated within the Winnemucca Valley region. When the first Americans inhabited western Nevada, they lived concurrently with relic Pleistocene animals and thrived on the resources associated with massive Lake Lahontan, which covered more than 8,000 square miles of western Nevada. During this time, the Stillwater Range would have risen high above Lake Lahontan and supported flora and fauna quite different from today. The ancestral Native Americans would have utilized the resource of the early Holocene Stillwater Range as well as the lakeshore resources. Numunaa Nobe may well be one of the oldest continually occupied Native American homelands in North America.
The ancestors of the Nuumu and Newe people lived along the shore of ancient Lake Lahanton for countless generations and watched as the climate shifted and brought new opportunities for living and thriving in the region. As Lake Lahontan dried into marsh lands, marsh resources became increasing important for these early people, as did the upland resources offered by the Stillwater Range. What did not change for countless generations were the features of the Stillwater Range itself. The ancestors of the Nuumu and Newe people wrote their collective history, cosmologies, and the stories of the changes of the climates upon the enduring Stillwater Mountains, which, like the people, endured the changes of the shifting climate over millennia.
Countless Nuumu and Newe cultural stories and cosmologies are written across the geographical locations of the Stillwater Range: Weasel’s Trail is associated with the geology of the hills above White Cloud Canyon; Wolf’s Battleground is located on the east-side of the range; and Fox Peak (called Job Peak by the EuroAmericans) is recognized by many of the Nuumu and Newe people as their cultural center. Ethnographic information suggests that the area was called Fox Peak because people always saw the red foxes there when camping or hunting. But more than just an area for resource provisioning, Nuumu and Newe cosmologies place Fox Peak as the location where “Old Man Father” and “Old Woman Mother” dispersed their four children to start different human populations. The Stillwater group of Paiute people have always been held in reverence by most of the Numu and Newe people because of their proximity to this sacred cultural location. Fox Peak is the site of the creation of people, the location of Numunaa Nobe (lit. “First Parent’s Home”); the point from which people were sent away by their parents to found tribes. The Mother Stone and Father Stone atop Fox Peak embodied the essence of the Numunaa Nobe. These stones were defaced and destroyed by US Navy pilots in the mid 20th century who use them for gunnery and bombing practice.
As immigrants poured-over the Stillwater Range in search for minerals, wealth, and profit, the Native American cultural significance and connection with the area was severed by Western industrial activity, exacerbated by conflicts between EuroAmericans and indigenous people, the forced removal of the indigenous people to reservations, and buried beneath an avalanche of EuroAmerican geographical place names. The creation of the Numunaa Nobe National Conservation Area (NCA) is a positive first-step to reconnect the Stillwater Range to the traditional lifeways and cultural landscape of the Nuumu and Newe people and to their “First Parent’s Home.”
The earliest explorer to document the Stillwater Range was E. M. Kern with the Fremont 1845 expedition followed 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. EuroAmerican mining began in the Stillwater range in 1860 and led to the creation of the Mining Camp of La Plata, which served as the county seat of Churchill County from 1864 through 1868. Mining production throughout the Stillwater Range was limited and intermittent for 120 years and never reached a very lucrative level.
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 during the EuroAmerican conflicts with the Paiute people. 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.
In her 1985 book, Magee Station and the Churchill Chronicles, Childers summarizes the attitudes of the EuroAmerican invaders toward the people they displaced: "[b]y 1863... rich farmland along the Carson [River] and around Stillwater - a traditional indian [sic] campsite - was claimed and opened." Colonialism and manifest destiny are written all over that sentiment. The Dawes Act of 1877 legitimized colonialism by allowing the U.S. government to break up existing reservations into individual allotments for individual Native Americans. The primary purpose of the Act was to force EuroAmerican ideals of private property ownership upon Native American peoples, remove indigenous people from their traditional lands, collapse their traditional cultures and traditional life-ways, and "open" the land for EuroAmerican colonization. Between 1890 and 1893 nearly 200 allotments of their traditional lands were “given” to the Toi Ticutta band of the Northern Paiutes in the Stillwater area. In 1906, the Fallon Reservation was established, but with the development of the Newlands Irrigation Project and demands for by EuroAmericans for agricultural water, water rights for the reservation were cancelled and the reservation was greatly reduced in size. Most of the Fallon Reservation was flooded in 1907 when a dam broke.
For more information about the History of the Stillwater Range, see the Additional Resources Tab on the left.
The geology of the Numunaa Nobe National Conservation Area (the Stillwater Range) is largely composed of Upper Triassic strata dating to about approximately 250 million years ago (MYA) and a remarkable succession of post-Triassic (less than 140 MYA) volcanic and intrusive rock. There is a substantial thrust fault and many later normal faults, wherein movement on some of them have produce recent earthquakes. Today the area is very active, as evidenced by recent movement on the Dixie Valley Fault and the hot springs activity within the Dixie Valley and even reaching up into one of the east-side canyons. For the Nuumu and Newe people, the stories written on and by the rocks were just as important as the resources, such as pigments, they were collect from the area. The Stillwater Range presents geological evidence for the chaotic forces that created the Western Margin of North America and of the mountain building forces of the Great Basin. Highlights of the spectacular geology of the Numunaa Nobe NCA include:
La Plata Canyon features granites, basalts, and andesite originating about 66MYA, limestones dated to 200 mYA, and altered meta-volcanic rocks dating from 170 MYA
Fox Peak (Job Peak) and Mount Lincoln exhibit volcanics including latite flows, tuffs, and Breccias from 170 MYA juxtaposed with basalts and andesite originating about 66MYA
Table Mountain (adjacent to Fox Peak) was created by basalts and andesite from about 2.5 MYA
I.X.L. and Cox Canyons feature granite outcrops created 20 MYA
North of Cox Canyon, 200+ mya limestones dominate the range
Within White Cloud Canyon, a granite outcrop appears, possibly dating more than 60 MYA associate with small areas of limestone more than 250 MYA
Mississippi Canyon, and the area to the north, 15-20 MYA volcanic rocks interspaced with 120 MYA granites create a riot of color within the northern portion of the NCA
Many animals call the Numunaa Nobe NCA home, occasionally dipping down to the springs and intermittent streams within the canyons water for a drink. Pronghorn inhabit the lower, regions and alluvial fans while the mid to higher elevations provide habitat for mule deer. Reptiles, rodents, and many predators also hide out among the vegetation and thrive in this habitat. Large birds of prey are commonly spotted soaring over the highest summits or riding thermals in the multitude of canyons. Song birds, ravens, jays, and other corvids round-out the more common birds. The extensive sagebrush and frequent riparian habitat of this region provide excellent habitat for Greater Sage Grouse. Rodents and reptiles abound through out the Stillwater Range. Coyote, bobcat, and mountain lion prowl Numunaa Nobe NCA. Ethnographic evidence records red fox residing in the range in the not too distant past. Desert bighorn sheep, once native to the range but eliminated by poaching and the transmittal of diseases by domestic sheep which grazed the area until the 1940s, were successfully reintroduced into the WSA in 1985.
Within the canyon bottoms, a lush environment of vegetation takes hold and adds contrast to the surrounding desert of the valley beyond the mountains. Cottonwoods, wild rose, willows and other water loving plants cluster around these desert oases. The hillsides are covered in sagebrush plant communities as well as junipers, pinyon pines, and many other shrubs and bushes. In general, the eastern side of this region seems to receive more water, manifest in the form of increased plant life. The lowered reaches of some canyons contain greasewood and salt brush while bitterbrush provides forage for ungulates in mid to upper elevations. Mid elevations feature extensive woodlands of Pinyon and Juniper while the summit tablelands are covered with spreading meadows of low sagebrush, grasslands, and riotous displays of wildflowers. Numunaa Nobe NCA features a wide diversity of vegetation, wildlife habitats, and ecosystems varying from nearly bare, badlands formations to wooded forests. The Nuumu and Newe people have relied on this ecological diversity for countless generations to find the plant resources necessary to sustain themselves and their cultural traditions.