Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Northern Nevada's Lagomarsino Canyon is a Special Place

Sometimes you visit a place and you get the feeling that there’s more to it than what you can see. For example, some ghost towns have that almost indefinable vibe—you might only see a handful of decaying buildings but you know there’s a lot more to the place.

Another place like that is Lagomarsino Canyon, a petroglyph (prehistoric Native American rock writing) site located in a remote part of Storey County.

The canyon has an aura that hints of being something more than it appears to be on the surface. Of course, what's visible is pretty special: the canyon's gray rock walls are covered with perhaps the largest concentration of petroglyphs in Northern Nevada.

Standing at the bottom of the canyon and looking up at the uneven rocky ridge that runs along the north side, and seeing the petroglyphs for the first time, can be one of those moments of discovery that make exploring Nevada so worthwhile.

Centuries-old carvings of human stick figures, geometric shapes, animal symbols, circles, and seemingly random lines and squiggles, that even the most brilliant archaeologists have been unable to decipher, peek from the dark, rock walls and challenge all to read them.

The volume of petroglyphs at Lagomarsino is impressive. By some estimates, there are thousands of carvings in the Lagomarsino site, which stretches over about a quarter of a mile. Even more amazing is that they are believed to be 2,000 to 4,000 years old.

Lagomarsino Canyon isn't easy to reach, which is good because it is such a fragile place. The canyon is a designated historical archeological site so all care should be taken not to disturb anything in the area. It is against the law to damage or remove any of the petroglyphs.

The dirt road leading to the canyon is rutted, rough and rocky. A high-clearance four-wheel drive vehicle is the only way to make the journey.

While there are several ways to reach the canyon, one of the easiest methods is by driving to Virginia City. Continue north to the Virginia Highlands area and turn left on Cartwright Road. Drive for about three miles and turn north onto Lousetown Road.

Continue on Lousetown Road for about five miles. The road winds through foothills of sagebrush, junipers and piñon pine trees. It will begin to climb before turning east and dropping into another valley. Continue east for another mile or so, heading toward visible powerlines.

The road will reach an intersection with a north-south dirt road (this is Long Valley Road). Turn north and continue until you find the remains of a wrecked blue car. Continue north for a half-mile, then turn right (just before reaching a pink-colored car wreck). This road crosses a creek bed and leads into the canyon.

A steel fence runs across the mouth of the canyon and a turnout adjacent to the fence offers a good place to park since the road is nearly impassable beyond that point.

While the drive is a challenge (it took us a couple of tries to find the petroglyphs), it's a beautiful journey through some of Northern Nevada’s most scenic and unspoiled country.

For example, if you head south of Lagomarsino Canyon on Long Valley Road you can drive through the Chalk Mountains (visibly brown and dusty), which are popular with all-terrain-vehicle riders.

The road also passes scenic old homesteads including a place known as the Old Stone Corral or Cottonwood Springs, which makes for a nice shaded picnic or camping spot.

Long Valley is also home of dozens of wild horses. During one visit, we counted more than 50 mustangs, including several foals, grazing in the vicinity.

A good source of detailed information on Lagomarsino Canyon and Long Valley is "Mountain Biking: The Reno-Carson City Area, Guide 13," by R.W. Miskimins, which offers simple maps and directions.

Additionally, the Nevada Rock Art Foundation has been recording all the images at various sites throughout the state including Lagomarsino Canyon. Volunteers to assist with this effort are welcome.

The foundation also conducts field trips throughout the year to various rock art sites and encourages their preservation. For information about upcoming tours, contact