Comprising most of northwestern Nevada's border with California, Washoe County contains over 8000 square miles of rugged mountains and deserts. This harsh and difficult country represented the last obstacle for westbound emigrants during the early 1850's. The canyons still seem to resonate with the ghosts of passing emigrants. Many canyons still bear the marks of the early Argonauts. In the northern part of the county, west of Massacre Lake, the canyon walls along Fortynine Creek are covered with the names and dates of passing emigrants.
Washoe County is also home to a number of legendary lost mines and treasures. The fabulous Lost Padre Mine is said to be located in the Pueblo Mountains, south of High Rock Canyon. Discovered by Spanish prospectors in the late 1700's, the mine is named for the priest who accompanied the expedition and documented the find. The Lost Forman Mine lies somewhere on the western flank of the Granite Range, north of Gerlach. The massive lead deposit was first discovered in 1852 by an emigrant named John Forman. When he finally returned 8 years later, he was unable to find it.
The Lost Price Mine is said to be located on Slide Mountain, near Price's Lake. Discovered by an old prospector named Price, the mine still lies hidden today. In 1907, a small prospecting frenzy occurred south of Pyramid Lake when word leaked out that some of the local chickens had small gold nuggets in their gizzards! The Lost Chicken Craw Mine must have been located somewhere near the town of Wadsworth, but it was never found.
One of the most famous of the Washoe County lost mines is the fabulous Lost Gold Canyon of the High Rock country. Discovered by emigrants in 1851, the lost canyon of gold has assumed an almost legendary status in the frontier history of the West.
The three men who stumbled upon the fabulous placer were members of a small party of travelers camped at Emigrant Spring, in northern Washoe County. The men had just made their way across the harrowing Black Rock Desert and were recuperating at the spring when Indians ran off their livestock. A man named Stoddard and two unnamed companions took off in pursuit. The three men soon lost their way and eventually found themselves in a narrow canyon wading through a crystal-clear stream of water. Near the head of the canyon, the men discovered 3 pools of clear water beneath a small waterfall. As they peered down through the shimmering pools, they could see nuggets of gold covering the bottoms!
The three emigrants filled their pockets with nuggets and started back to Emigrant Spring. Unfortunately, they were ambushed by the very same Indians they had been searching for and only Stoddard managed to escape. He finally staggered into Downieville, California, more dead than alive. Eventually he was able to tell his amazing story.
The lost canyon of gold in the High Rock country of northwestern Nevada has aroused and excited gold seekers for over a century and a half. It still does so today.
Nevada has always been mining country. The state has been uniquely blessed with an abundance of rich mineral deposits. Nevada's history is highlighted by three major mining booms, each attended by a succession of fabulous mineral strikes.
The first of Nevada's great mining booms began in 1859 with the discovery of the famous Comstock silver lode, near the head of Gold Canyon. The Comstock discovery drew prospectors from all over the West to the Great Basin country of Nevada. They all came in search of silver and many found it. Within two years of the Comstock discovery, rich ore bodies were found near Aurora and Unionville. The following year, extremely rich silver deposits were discovered at Reese River. In 1863, the Candelaria and Ione silver veins were uncovered followed by the Pioche and Eureka strikes in 1864, the Belmont strike in 1865, and the fabulously rich White Pine discoveries in 1868.
The second of Nevada's great mining booms began in 1900 with the discovery of massive gold and silver deposits near Tonopah. The Tonopah strike was like a magnet to the prospectors of the West. This time they came looking for gold and again they found it. The Tonopah discovery was followed by the Goldfield strike in 1902, the Bullfrog strike in 1904, the Manhattan and Round Mountain discoveries in 1906, the National strike in 1907, and the great Jarbidge discoveries of 1909.
Nevada's third great mining boom began in 1962 with the discovery of immense disseminated gold deposits in northeastern Nevada. Located near Carlin, the low-grade ore bodies are poor but quite extensive. Total reserves of gold at Carlin may exceed 40 million ounces!
Compared to the rest of Nevada, Washoe County has a somewhat meager mining history. This is especially true in the northern portion of the county where the geology is not conducive to the emplacement of rich mineral deposits. Only 50,000 ounces of gold are officially recorded for Washoe County, most of it from the southern portion of the county.
Most mining in the northern portion of the county occurred around the small silver-lead camp known as Leadville. Located 15 miles south of High Rock Canyon, Leadville sprang up in 1909 after rich silver and lead-bearing veins were discovered in the surrounding hills. The camp thrived for nearly 30 years before the veins petered out.