Monday, November 16, 2009

Visit Winnemucca's Humboldt County Museum

People in Winnemucca like to say their town was the crossroads of early Nevada—-and they’re not wrong.

Winnemucca was founded in the late 1850s by a Frenchman named Joe Ginacca who settled on the banks of the Humboldt River and traded with pioneers heading west on the Emigrant Trail to California and Oregon.

Ginacca also operated a ferry service and transported wagons across the Humboldt. In time, the settlement became known as French Ford, after Ginacca.

By the mid-1860s, French Ford had a small hotel and a bridge over the river. The town began to grow rapidly after gold and silver were discovered in the region, at places like Unionville, and the settlement became the supply center for local mines.

In 1868, the Central Pacific Railroad reached the community, which was renamed Winnemucca in honor of a famous Paiute chief. The railroad brought additional jobs (switching crews were stationed in the town) and linked the town to the rest of the country.

While Unionville was named the first seat of Humboldt County in the mid-1860s, the mining camp’s decline resulted in the county seat being moved to Winnemucca in 1872.

One of the best places to learn about Winnemucca’s role in the development of Nevada is the Humboldt Historical Museum on Jungo Road, just north of downtown Winnemucca.

Established in the 1970s, the museum consists of several buildings housing exhibits detailing various aspects of the region’s history. It hosts nearly 8,000 visitors per year.

The museum’s centerpiece is the historic St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, a quaint whitewashed, one-room church built in 1907. The building—the oldest church in Winnemucca—is jammed with displays ranging from historic Native American objects to vintage furniture.

Wandering through the old church, you can find a large collection of arrowheads and spear points from the area, some more than 5,000 years old. Adjacent is a display describing the Lovelock Cave, an archaeological site that has yielded hundreds of prehistoric Indian artifacts including net fragments, shells and duck decoys made from tule reeds.

Other items displayed in the church include: a nice rock collection with petrified wood and fossils; a 19th century oak desk with an antique Remington typewriter, both of which were used by the railroad for more than 60 years; and a display about Edna Purviance, a silent movie star who hailed from Humboldt County.

One exhibit details the last Indian battle in the U.S., which occurred north of Winnemucca. The event occurred in January 1911 and involved a local Native American known as Shoshone Mike, who, with a handful of family members and friends, attempted to avoid living on an Indian reservation. After being unjustly accused of a crime, Shoshone Mike and most of his band were hunted down and killed during a shoot-out.

The former church altar now contains historic furniture such as an ornate, hand-carved chair made by a Chinese laborer who came to Winnemucca while working on construction of the railroad. It was built for the Episcopalian minister, who added elaborate tapestry cushioning.

Behind the church building is a modern brick structure that houses the museum’s vintage automobile collection. Among the vehicles on display is a red 1901 Merry Oldsmobile, the first auto in Humboldt County.

Other cars in the collection include a 1911 Fearless Cycle Car, a compact car made with a motorcycle engine, 1907 Schacht and a 1910 Brush truck. There is also a large black horse buggy, which dates to the 1860s. A large mural behind the autos depicts Winnemucca in 1912.

Other historical items on display include the first organ in Humboldt County, which was manufactured in the mid-1860s, and an antique Melodian, which was the first musical instrument in the old mining camp of Unionville.

The museum grounds also contain a picturesque 19th century grain shop, which was the first store in the community. Today, the wooden building, which has a classic frontier false front, houses the museum thrift shop.

The Humboldt County Historic Museum is open Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturdays from 1 to 4 p.m. (May through October). There is no admission charge but donations are accepted. For more information, call the museum at 775-623-2912.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Discover Burney Falls: the 'Eighth Wonder of the World'

Nevada’s such a dry place that seeing a waterfall can be a novelty. And while Burney Falls is not in Nevada, it’s located close enough to Northern Nevada to make for an interesting day trip.

Burney Falls are the centerpiece of the McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park, 40 miles north of the Lassen Volcanic National Park.

The 900-acre park (with two miles of frontage along Burney Creek) is located about four hours north of Fallon via U.S. 50 and U.S. 395 to Susanville, then northwest on California State Routes 44 and 89.

Located on scenic Burney Creek, which is part of the Pit River water system, Burney Falls deserves being called the “eighth wonder of the world,” a title bestowed on it in the early 20th century by President Theodore Roosevelt.

Standing before the falls, you can’t help but be impressed by its beauty and power. Water falls 129 feet into a pool that is 22-feet deep. More than 100 million gallons of water flow over the falls daily. On sunlit mornings, rangers note that you can often see a small rainbow created by the fall’s mists.

It is easy to understand why the area’s earliest inhabitants, the Ilmawi tribe, believed the falls to be a sacred place. Native American historians note that the tribe, which considered things of beauty to have great power, used it as a place for meditation and visions.

A quarter-mile paved trail takes visitors from a parking area to the foot of the falls. Looking up into the magnificent waterfall, you realize it consists of not just one large flow but of several that pour over the top as well as out of the sides of the cliff.

The handful of smaller ribbons of water that seem to come out of the center of cliff are actually the flow of an underground stream exposed by erosion of the basalt rock face.

This interesting phenomena means that the falls never stop flowing. During most of the year, the water that flows over the top of the fall is snow melt from nearby mountains. In late summer, however, the creek bed will be bone dry about a half mile upstream but the falls will continue to have water because the stream bed is above this underground acquifer.

Like nearby Lassen National Park, Burney Falls State Park contains many volcanic features. The flat landscape of the park is the result of liquid lava-created plateaus. Additionally, the cliffs of the falls are formed of basalt, a volcanic byproduct.

In addition to the Native American inhabitants, the area was attractive to early European explorers, who trapped along the creek, then later attempted to farm the area. In the late 19th century, a pioneer settler, Issac Ray, built a lumber mill above the falls but that proved financially unsuccessful.

In the early part of this century, a number of hydroelectric dams were built on many branches of the Pit River system, including one that created nearby Lake Britton (the park includes the southern tip of the nine-mile long reservoir).

The falls, however, were saved in 1922 when Frank McArthur deeded them and the surrounding 160 acres to the people of California. He was concerned the beautiful falls might be destroyed for a hydroelectric project, as had occurred at nearby Fall River Mills.

In addition to the falls, the McArthur-Burney park offers developed campgrounds, fishing, picnic tables, boat launch (on Lake Britton), and five miles of hiking trails.
One of the latter takes you to the Pioneer Cemetery where some of the region’s earliest settlers were buried. Additionally, the Pacific Crest Trail, which stretches from Canada to Mexico, passes the west side of the falls before heading to Lake Britton Dam and beyond.

There is a day use fee at the park. Campsite reservations are also available by calling 1-800-444-PARK. For more information contact the McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park, 24898 Hwy. 89, Burney, CA 96013, 530-335-2777.