What's Out There?
Honoring Native Land
The earliest humans in this part of Nevada were very mobile hunters, most likely following and hunting herds of Ice Age mammals, 14,000 to 12,000 years ago. Of course, the Ruby Mountains would have been a very different place at that time, still partially wrapped in the retreating mantle of mountain glaciers. To these earliest Nevadans, the Ruby Mountains were perhaps a dangerous and inhospitable place to be avoided. By 7,500 years ago, only tiny remnants of the ice remained and a different culture, characterized by “Elko” points, spent more resident time in the vicinity of the Ruby Mountains. 4,360 years ago, early people were occupying this region of Nevada year around in larger numbers. These people must have surely ventured into the Rubies in search of upland and alpine resources and to escape the heat of summer in the valleys below. In several other Great Basin Ranges during this time, high altitude camps were regularly being occupied during the summer months. Prehistoric hunting blinds and once-inhabited caves on high ridges indicate that these high mountains have been utilized for a long time. The Fremont culture ventured as far west as the Ruby Mountains, bringing ceramics and limited farming to the region from 500 AD to 1300 AD. The Numic culture thrived as the Fremont culture receded. Today, the Western Shoshone are the continuing connection of the deep history of Indigenous peoples to this amazing landscape. Please respect and protect all archaeological structures and artifacts on public lands to preserve their scientific and cultural values.
The Ruby Mountains enter history in 1828 with the arrival of Peter Skene Ogden on the Humboldt River. The Ruby Mountains take their name from “ruby garnets” (red garnets) found in the area (see more on the History of Peter Skene Ogden and the naming of the Ruby Mountains in the Additional Resources Tab). Throughout the 20th century, the Ruby Mountains provided rangelands for livestock and opportunities for hunting, fishing, and outdoor recreation for the people of neighboring Elko and Nevada.
From 1933 through 1940, the Civilian Conservation Corp operated a camp in Lamoille Canyon to create more accessibility to the mountains and build what would become known as the Lamoille Canyon Scenic Byway. Unfortunately, these crews also rigorously participated in fire fighting, which would help entrench fire suppression as a tool for wildland management and forever alter the natural fire regimes of the state.
The core of the Ruby Mountains is composed of heavily metamorphosed late Prepaleozoic and Paleozoic sedimentary rocks. In the Late Triassic, through the middle Cretaceous, and (in some places) as late as the Miocene, these sediments were deeply heated and folded by intrusive granitic dikes and sills. This metamorphosis and intrusion was so intense that nearly one third of the core of these mountains are now igneous rock. Common rock types include gneiss, slate, marble, and quartzite, all hardened by heat and pressure, creating a perfect material for sculpting high, jagged mountains. After this core was metamorphosed, these rocks were raised and faulted during an upwelling of heat starting about 6 million years ago, which raised the landscape of Northern Nevada and stretched the crust thin. This stretching, faulting, and thinning of Nevada continues to today. During the Pleistocene, the up-faulted metamorphic core of the northern portion of the Ruby Mountains experienced extensive glaciation resulting in an abundance of classic alpine landforms including: cirques, glacial horns, arêtes and hanging valleys.
Ice Age glacial sculpting created the most prominent geological features of the Ruby Mountains. With hanging valleys, clusters of lakes and snow-fed streams flowing down the U-shaped glacial valleys on the west side of the range. Because they were so heavily glaciated and have such abundant water, the Ruby Mountains represent the classic mountain wilderness and are known as “Nevada’s Alps.” Glaciers scoured the northern end of the Ruby Mountains and the adjacent East Humboldt Range, leaving the top of the ranges carved into a series of sharp arretes. Over 50 glacial headwalls and cirques have been identified in these two ranges. Massive glacial moraines, some of which pushed all the way out to the intermountain valley floors, and glacial-polished rocks can be found throughout the northern part of the Wilderness.
South of Lamoille, seven miles of lake basins and meadows characterize the high country before the terrain south of Furlong Lake turns into a narrow, grassy ridge that runs 20 miles to the Overland Lake basin. The Ruby Mountains include 10 peaks above 10,000 feet with Ruby Dome rising to 11,387 feet. The high country features more than two dozen alpine lakes.
Wildlife species include flammulated owl, golden eagle, bald eagle, northern goshawk, Williamson’s sapsucker, great horned owl, gray crowned rosy finch, black rosy finch, pika, marmot, and rubber boa. Elk, a native species to Nevada, were reintroduced in the 1930s and are currently managed by the Nevada Department of Wildlife as a sustainable game species. Major large game species include deer, elk, bighorn sheep and mountain goats. Himalayan snow cocks and Hungarian partridges have been introduced and are doing well. The Nevada Department of Wildlife manages streams and lakes in the Ruby Mountains for a variety of sport fishing opportunities. In some cases, aerial stocking is still utilized to maintain those opportunities. As many as 11 lakes in the Ruby’s have self-sustaining trout populations – primarily brook trout (non-native). In the past, the NDOW has stocked brook trout, Lahontan cutthroat trout, grayling, golden trout, rainbow trout, tiger trout and lake trout. Fishing opportunities are excellent.
The Ruby Mountain Wilderness exhibits five Great Basin plant communities: the big sagebrush covers the lowest elevations; pinyon and juniper extends from about 6,100 feet to 8,200 feet; mountain mahogany intermixes with pinyon and juniper as elevations increase, then forms nearly pure stands before yielding to the upper sagebrush/grasslands; limber/bristlecone pine begin to dominate above 8,500 feet and continue to over 10,500 feet; in the highest elevation, a true alpine tundra reflects a climate more common in the Rockies than in Nevada. The Ruby Mountain Wilderness features an impressive number of subalpine conifers: including limber and bristlecone pine mentioned above, plus whitebark pine, Engelmann spruce, and white fir, and bristlecone pine. The high country of the Wilderness features mountain meadows of lush grasses and sedges, rimmed in willow thickets and corn lilies. Wild flowers abound including Larkspur, yarrow, fireweed, lupine, cinquefoil, and wild currants. One species of note is the Ruby Mountain primrose which is limited to the high elevations in the Wilderness.