The Monte Cristo Range is a crescent-shaped chain of highly eroded peaks located in the northernmost corner of Esmeralda County, Nevada. This range of highly weathered and dissected peaks is bounded on the east and south by Big Smoky Valley and on the west by the Columbus Salt Marsh. To the north, the Monte Cristos gradually merge into a series of broken hills and peaks that rise up to form the Cedar Mountains. To the northwest, the Monte Cristos eventually give way to the loftier Pilot Mountains. The highest point in the Monte Cristo Range is Doyle Peak with an elevation of 7083 feet.
In the heart of the range, the abandoned ruins of the mining camp of Gilbert still slumber. The boom town of Gilbert was appropriately placed and aptly named for the Gilbert family. The Gilberts and the Monte Cristo Mountains will always be inextricably linked.
In 1896, John Gilbert and a fellow prospector discovered the rich Carrie lode on the rugged slopes of the Monte Cristo Range. (In some accounts of the story, Gilbert's first name is listed as Herman.) A generation later, the Gilbert family discovered additional deposits of precious metals in the Monte Cristos. A small boom followed and the short-lived town of Gilbert sprang up near the mines. The Gilbert family certainly had mining in their blood. But the Gilberts were driven in their search for mineral wealth. They knew that somewhere in the rugged vastness of the Monte Cristo Range a fabulous lode of gold-bearing quartz was just lying at the surface.
In 1896, the mining industry of Nevada was in a virtual slump. Most of the early mining camps lay dormant and very few new discoveries had been made. Indeed, the single most important discovery of the 1890's occurred 40 miles southwest of Pioche, in the Delamar Mountains. Producing over $15 million during its lifetime, the Delamar Mining District was the only bright spot in Nevada's mining industry during the last 10 years of the century. Nevertheless, prospectors still combed the mountains and deserts of west-central Nevada in search of mineral wealth.
One of these prospectors was a man from Pahranagat Valley named Charles Lampson. While roaming the Monte Cristo Range near Crow Springs, Lampson stumbled upon a chunk of extremely rich, gold-bearing float. The specimen consisted of clear quartz shot through with native gold. But try as he might, he just couldn't find the source of the float. Eventually, he told his friend John Gilbert about the gold. Gilbert took one look at Lampson's ore sample and spent the rest of his life searching for the lost vein. He eventually passed away in 1905. Charles Lampson returned to the Monte Cristos in the early 1920's. In 1924, Lampson discovered an old marker that he had placed on a promising lead back in the 1890's, nearly 30 years before! He christened it the Last Hope Mine. The ore from the Last Hope was nowhere near as rich as the incredible specimen of float found near Crow Springs, but the mine was a good producer for a number of years.
John Gilbert and his family discovered a number of precious metal deposits in the Monte Cristo Range but the hidden lode near Crow Springs forever eluded them. It has never been found.
The history of mining in west-central Nevada must surely begin with the earliest inhabitants of the region, the ancestors of the Paiute and Shoshone Indians. These early native Americans utilized obsidian and various forms of quartz for their knives, points, and scrapers. The Indians especially prized turquoise. They mined it from several locations in the state including the Bullion District, Crescent Peak, and the low, weathered range known as the Royston Hills. There is some evidence to suggest that the early Indians utilized various copper ores (like malachite and azurite) for paints and pigments. While visiting these outcrops of ore, the Indians occasionally picked up samples of native gold or silver. A number of important silver deposits in Nevada were first worked by native Americans prior to the arrival of the white man. These include Pioche, Pahranagat, White Pine, and Robinson.
Evidence for early Spanish mining activity in Nevada is less certain. Our best estimate places Spanish prospectors in southern Nevada by the late-1770's. But they found very little gold or silver. Like all the other major precious metal deposits in the American Southwest, the Spaniards missed the big ones in Nevada too. The history of the West would have been quite different if the early Spaniards had stumbled onto the many great bonanzas lying north of the border. Incredible as it may seem, the Spaniards missed the vast goldfields of the California Mother Lode, the Comstock silver lode, and the Cripple Creek gold deposits. They overlooked the massive ore bodies at Creede, Silverton, Rico, Elizabethtown, Superior, Globe, and Tombstone. The early Spaniards were the finest prospectors and miners of their day. It was quite uncharacteristic of them to miss so many of the world's great precious metal deposits.
It would be the intrepid American prospector who would eventually open up Nevada's vast mineral deposits. Nevada is a haven for the prospector. The state has been blessed with three important mining booms during its history. Each has had a profound effect on the economy of the state and indeed of the whole world. The first mining boom began with the discovery of the fabulous Comstock Lode in 1859 and continued for more than 20 years. The second boom in Nevada mining history lasted from 1900 to about 1908 and included the Tonopah, Goldfield, Manhattan, and Round Mountain strikes. The third mining boom began in 1987 and is continuing to this day. The incredible reserves of the Carlin gold deposits have vaulted the state of Nevada to third place in world production.
The Monte Cristo Range is home to a very small mining district known variously as the Gilbert District and the Desert District. Two types of precious metal deposits occur in the Monte Cristos, gold-bearing and silver-lead-bearing. The rich silver-lead ores of the famous Carrie Mine were discovered by John Gilbert in 1896. Nearly 30 years later, the sons of John Gilbert discovered additional precious metal deposits in the heart of the range. A small gold rush ensued and the boom town of Gilbert sprang up near the mines. Unfortunately, the gold didn't last. By 1932, the Gilbert District was dead.
Prospectors continued to roam the Monte Cristos throughout the 1930's. Placer gold was recovered from the canyons and arroyos that drain the northern slope of the range in 1935 and 1938. During the 1980's, a small but rich pocket of ore yielded more than 10,000 ounces of gold! More recently, turquoise has been mined in the area.