Saturday, October 13, 2007
Historic Kingston Canyon
On many road maps, Central Nevada seems to consist of the town of Austin—and lots of empty space. But hidden in the canyons, mountains and valleys, explorers can find dozens of historic sites and natural attractions.
In fact, Kingston Canyon, located 27 miles southeast of Austin, is one of the most beautiful of central Nevada's lesser known scenic gems. To reach the site, travel 17 miles east on U.S. Highway 50 to State Route 376, then south for about four miles to Kingston Creek Road, which leads into the canyon.
At the mouth of Kingston Canyon, you'll pass through a relatively developed area consisting of a dozen ranch homes and a few larger buildings, including a general store and church. Just past the newer development, to the right, you'll spot the last remnants of Kingston, a mid-19th century mining camp.
Perhaps the best ruin is the former Victorine Mill, which consists of fairly substantial stone walls and large timbers. Around the mill site, there are also the scattered foundations and walls of other structures no longer identifiable.
From here, you can start driving up on a maintained dirt road into Kingston Canyon. The canyon walls offer some impressive rock formations and classic Nevada pinion and sagebrush landscape.
The road rises above the surrounding Big Smoky Valley—offering a wonderful view—into the Toiyabe Range. About a mile from the canyon entrance, you reach the rustic Kingston Forest Campgrounds, operated by the National Forest Service.
A bit farther is a pretty, small reservoir, a popular local fishing spot. From here, the road curves around Bunker Hill (the 11,474-foot-high peak to the north) and rides the crest of the Toiyabe range for a few miles, paralleling Kingston Creek.
The scenery here is incredible; to the west you can see the beauty of the Reese River Valley, while to the east is the spectacular Big Smoky. A few miles ahead, Kingston Creek becomes Big Creek and the road reaches the Big Creek Forest Campground, a relatively undeveloped back country campsite.
The road continues northwest from the campground, dropping down into the Reese River Valley at a point about ten miles south of Highway 50 and Austin.
Records indicate that silver and gold were discovered in the Kingston area in the early 1860s. A small camp, originally called Bunker Hill, was established and existed for about two years.
In 1864, Kingston was staked near the entrance of the canyon to be closer to the mines. Several mills were built, including the massive Victorine, and, because of the availability of water from the creek, a number of crops were planted, including grapes (which apparently did not flourish).
By the end of the decade, it became obvious that the Kingston ore wasn't as rich as originally believed and the town began to decline. The mills were dismantled and moved to other locations.
Kingston's mines were reworked several times in later years, including in the 1880s and at the turn-of-the-century. Today, the area remains a sleepy ranching hamlet with a handful of businesses. In recent years, retirees have discovered Kingston and begun moving into the area.
For more information contact the Austin Chamber of Commerce, Box 212, Austin, NV 89310, 775-964-2200, www.mountainsage.org.