Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Native American Pre-History Found at Petroglyph Point in Lava Beds National Monument - Part 3

One of the things that makes Lava Beds National Monument so special is that it is one of the longest continuously occupied homelands in North America.

Ancestors of today’s Modoc people resided in the area for thousands of years, leaving behind proof of their existence in the prehistoric petroglyphs (rock carvings) and pictographs (cave paintings) found on the site.

Lava Beds National Monument is located 270 miles north of Carson City via U.S. 395.

The best place to view the monument’s petroglyphs is the aptly-named Petroglyph Point, which can be found at the monument’s northeastern corner. An estimated 5,000 symbols and images have been carved into cliffs there.

Archaeologists believe the carvings to be nearly 6,000 years old. While they resemble imagery found at other locations in California and Nevada, they have never been translated, although some believe they could be related to either religious, hunting, or fertility rites.

Petroglyph Point’s carvings are particularly impressive because there are so many and they stretch along the base of the cliff for about a half-mile. A fence erected in the 1930s protects the carvings, although, sadly, there has been vandalism over the years.

Walking along the cliff, peering through the chain-link fence, one can’t help but feel the spirituality of the site. The area around the point was once covered with water, so these native artists would have had to have paddled in their canoes out to the point to create their works on the stone walls.

The carvings at the point were apparently made using a variety of techniques including incising, rough pecking at the stone, simple abrasion, and drilling and then connecting small pits to create images. The work includes geometric shapes, a few animal-like images, squiggles, and lines.

According to an interpretive walk brochure prepared by Lava Beds National Monument and the Lava Beds Natural History Association, the Modoc people have a myth that explains the creation of the point.

The Modocs believed that one day the world’s creator, Kamookumpts, was resting on the east shore of Tule Lake and realized there was nothing around but the lake. He scooped a massive mound of mud from the lake’s bottom and began to create the world, including mountains, lakes, plants, rivers, and animals.

Once he had completed his work, the tired Kamookumpts dug a hole in which to sleep under Tule Lake. He left the hill, where the point is now located, to mark the spot.

Geologists, however, have a different explanation. About 250,000 years ago, the area was an extremely active volcanic region. Magma was expelled from a crack or fault at the site and over time formed a mound of volcanic muddy layers, which, when cooled, became the volcanic “tuff” that forms the hill that is Petroglyph Point.

According to the interpretative brochure, the sheer volume of images and the fact that many are superimposed over each other, seems to indicate the point was a particularly attractive and/or powerful setting.

Lava Beds’ pictographs, some more than 1,500 years old, can be found at several of the cave entrances. They are painted in black, a color produced from a charcoal base mixed with animal fat, and white, which was made using a clay base.

The best examples are found at Symbol Bridge and Big Painted Cave on boulders along the trail and on the walls around the entrance. Additionally, pictographs have been found in Fern Cave, which is only open to the public with a Park Service guide. Fern Cave, which actually has ferns growing in it, is still used by tribal members for ritual purposes and is considered a sacred site.

For more information about Petroglyph Point or pictographs, go to: The interpretive brochure detailing Petroglyph Point can be found at:

To reach Lava Beds National Monument travel north on U.S. 395, through Susanville to Alturas. Continue north on Highways 299 and 139 (toward Tulelake). About 45 miles north of Alturas, follow the signs to Lava Beds and Petroglyph Point. There is a fee for visiting the monument.

Thursday, September 02, 2021

The Tragic History of Lava Beds National Monument - Part 2

There is far more to Northern California’s Lava Beds National Monument than its remarkable geological formations and lava tubes.

For example, it is the site of the Modoc War, the only Indian war in which a U.S. military general was killed. The monument’s visitor center has an excellent series of displays detailing the circumstances leading to the war. Lava Beds Monument is located 270 miles north of Carson City via U.S. 395.

 Archeological evidence, including petroglyphs, indicates Native Americans lived in the Lava Beds region for nearly 10,000 years. In more recent times, the Modoc people resided in domed dwellings scattered along the shores of Tule Lake and Lost River.

In the 1850s, white settlers entered the area and because they wanted to settle on land that was traditionally used by the Modocs, demanded that the Modocs be relocated to the Klamath Reservation with the Klamath and Snake Indians.

The Modocs and the other two tribes, however, were historic mortal enemies so attempts to force them to live together were doomed to fail.

One Modoc leader, Kientpoos, and a handful of his tribe refused to live at the Klamath reservation, which was in southern Oregon, and petitioned for their own reservation on the Lost River. Their presence along Lost River disturbed settlers, who pushed to have the Indians returned to the Klamath reservation.

Kientpoos agreed to return to the reservation but immediately faced harassment by the Klamaths. In April 1869, he again left the reservation, along with 371 members of his tribe, and returned to Lost River.

The situation worsened over the next few years and in late 1872, troops were sent from Fort Klamath to forcibly return the Modocs to the reservation. 

The troops fought with the tribe and burned their village, but were unsuccessful in relocating them to the reservation. In retaliation, one band of Modocs led by a man named Hooker Jim headed east of Tule Lake and killed 14 male settlers. Meanwhile, Kientpoos, who the settlers called “Captain Jack,” traveled to the lava beds area with the rest of the tribe.

Following the killings, Hooker Jim and his followers returned to the rest of the tribe. Kientpoos reluctantly allowed them to stay despite feeling that their murderous rampage might lead to retaliation against the entire tribe.

The area in which Kientpoos and the tribe settled was located in the rugged northern portion of Lava Beds Monument, just south of Tule Lake. The terrain is covered with sagebrush and encompasses deep lava trenches and small caves—which create the sense of being in a maze.

It was a perfect natural hideout for the Modocs and has become known as “Captain Jack’s Stronghold.”

In January 1873, about 300 troops marched on the Modocs, who numbered about 50 men and more than 100 women and children. The Modocs, however, were able to hold off the soldiers for the next five months.

Finally, President Ulysses S. Grant designated a Peace Commission to meet with the Modocs, who continued to insist on being granted their own reservation.

While Kientpoos favored negotiating a peaceful settlement, Hooker Jim (who had been indicted for murder and had no interest in peace) and other rival leaders jealous of Kientpoos’ authority led an effort to kill the Peace Commissioners.

Since the Modocs made decisions by consensus, a majority of the members sided with Hooker Jim and voted to execute the Peace Commissioners. On April 1873, two unarmed Peace Commissioners, which included General E.R.S. Canby, met with Kientpoos and several other Modocs. The Modocs again requested their own reservation but that proposal was rejected. In response, members of the tribe opened fire on Canby and the other commissioner, killing both.

General William T. Sherman soon called for the “utter extermination” of the Modoc people.

The U.S. government sent a much larger army to bring the Modocs to justice. They marched into the area only to find tribal members had again escaped into the Lava Beds landscape.

In May, the Modocs launched a counter-attack on the troops, who were camped at Dry Lake, but were rebuffed by the better-organized and better-equipped army. The failed attack resulted in the disintegration of the tribe into smaller groups, with Hooker Jim leaving with about a dozen other men.

The army quickly captured Hooker Jim who agreed to track down Kientpoos in return for amnesty. On June 1, 1873, Kientpoos finally surrendered and the war came to an end. Following a trial, Kientpoos and three other leaders were hanged. The remainder of the tribe was sent to a reservation in Oklahoma, where most soon died of various diseases.

Lava Beds Monument has several historic markers designating the sites of places related to the lengthy war.

In addition to Captain Jack’s Stronghold—where you can clearly see how the Modocs were able to hold off the army for months—there is Canby’s Cross, a large white cross with the inscription, “Gen. Canby U.S.A. was murdered here by the Modocs April 11, 1873.”

Visitors will find two self-guided trails leading through the rocky lava beds where Kientpoos and his people successfully avoided being captured by soldiers.

For more about the history of Captain Jack’s Stronghold, go to:

To reach Lava Beds National Monument travel north on U.S. 395, through Susanville to Alturas. Continue north on Highways 299 and 139 (toward Tulelake). About 45 miles north of Alturas, follow the signs. There is a fee for visiting the monument.

More on the cultural history of Lava Beds National Monument next week.

Thursday, August 26, 2021

Lava Beds National Monument's Fascinating Subterranean Passages - Part 1

The 72-square-mile Lava Beds National Monument is a geologic marvel, and also a place filled with cultural treasures and a reminder of a tragic period in American history.

Set aside as a national monument in 1925, Lava Beds not only boasts the greatest concentration of lava caves or tubes in the continental U.S. (700 of them) but also prehistoric Native American petroglyphs (at Petroglyph Point) and pictographs (in Fern Cave) as well as lava fields that served as a refuge in the 1870s for members of the Modoc tribe trying to escape cultural extermination.

The lava tubes are what attract most visitors to the national monument. Nearly two dozen caves are marked and open to the public. They vary in length from 6,903 feet long to 148 feet.

The area’s geology is a result of it having been the focal point for major volcanic activity over the years. In fact, it is still considered a semi-active volcanic zone because several cinder cones in the region are less than a century old.

The monument sits on the northern slope of the Medicine Lake volcano, which last erupted 11,000 years ago. Volcanic rock, which formed from lava that flowed during eruptions 30,000 to 40,000 years ago, covers nearly the entire area and was responsible for creating the monument’s complex network of cinder cones, craters, chimneys and lava tubes.

The lava tubes were formed when streams of hot, flowing lava began to cool. The center of the stream would stay hot and continue to flow but the outside edge cooled and hardened. Once the hot lava drained away, it left behind a pipe-like cave.

Over time, multiple eruptions created stacks of caves on top of one another, creating multilevel underground passages. In some cases, the lava branched tree-like in various directions, creating smaller tunnels that sprouted from a central one, which is often known as the master tube.

Some of the caves at Lava Beds were used by Native people as campsites and as a source of water. During the first part of this century, J.D. Howard, a miller from Klamath Falls, Oregon, began exploring and mapping the caves.

Howard spent more than 20 years wandering through the underground passages and provided most of the colorful names for caves and cave features that are still used, such as Cleopatra’s Tomb, Hercules Leg, and the Labyrinth. His interest helped spur the creation of the create the monument.

Signs lead to the many open caves scattered throughout the monument lands. The most accessible are clustered near the visitor center along a paved road known as Cave Loop.

Visitors can pick up a flashlight at the visitor center and purchase an inexpensive, plastic hardhat (recommended because some of the caves have low ceilings). Guided tours of selected caves are offered most days, although visitors can do plenty of exploring on their own.

Best place to begin a look at these underground passages is Mushpot Cave, located adjacent to the visitor center. This is the most developed cave with lighting (you use your flashlight in all the other caves), informative signage, and paved walking surfaces.

A short walk away is the entrance to the Labyrinth, which is the largest branch of the system, connecting to eight major caves spread over two miles.

A steep metal ladder draws you into the inky depths of the Labyrinth. At the bottom, there is a large chamber that leads in three directions, each of which entails some bending (to avoid low ceilings) or climbing (to get over rubble).

In almost any of the caves, you can wander for a time and begin to feel totally alone. Shut off the flashlight and listen—most of the time you won’t hear anyone else.

During one visit severalyears ago, I zigzagged through one cave for about twenty minutes before coming to a dead-end. I started back and realized that nothing looked familiar. I tried to retrace my steps but I wasn’t sure I was going the right way.

Despite the coolness below, I began to get nervous and perspire. I looked at my phone every few minutes. I took one branch but it led to another dead-end. I realized that I honestly didn’t know where I was or how to get out.

Finally, I heard voices. I followed the sound and spotted sunlight streaking through an opening in the ceiling. A couple came down the ladder. As they passed me in the tunnel, they asked if it was scary.

Embarrassed I had felt so panicky just a few moments earlier, I lied and said it was “a piece of cake.”

To reach Lava Beds National Monument travel north on U.S. 395, through Susanville to Alturas. Continue north on Highways 299 and 139 (toward Tulelake). About 45 miles north of Alturas, follow the signs to the national monument. There is a fee for visiting the monument.

For more information go to

More about the monument’s tragic history next week.

Thursday, August 19, 2021

Discovering Reno's Art Deco Treasures


El Cortez Hotel, Reno

Art Deco architecture is pretty easy to identify. In the U.S., perhaps the most well-known Art Deco structure is the Chrysler Building in New York City, with its elegant spire, streamlined torso and geometric accents crafted in chrome and glass.

The Art Deco (and the closely-related Art Moderne style) era is generally considered to have reached its heights in the 1920s and 30s.

In Nevada, Art Deco buildings can still be found in a number of places. Perhaps the most famous Art Deco building in the state was the now-demolished Mapes Hotel in Reno (it was blown up in 2000).

Built in 1947, the Mapes was constructed at the tail-end of the Art Deco period and boasted the ornate spires and panels that often grace such structures.

Fortunately, a handful of other Art Deco buildings have avoided similar fates. Reno, in fact, still has several other fine examples of the architecture, including the former Reno Post Office (at 50 South Virginia) and the El Cortez Hotel (239 W. Second).

The Reno Post Office was erected between 1931 and 1934 to serve as a post office and federal office building.

Designed by noted Nevada architect Frederic DeLongchamps, the structure contains plenty of examples of Art Deco flourishes, including a pale green terra cotta exterior (which resembles quarried stone) and the dark marble walls highlighted with cast aluminum in the first-floor lobby.

A local development group acquired the building in 2012 and have carefully restored it into a successful commercial and dining complex.

The El Cortez Hotel, constructed in 1931, is a six-story, 60-room Art Deco gem that was Reno’s tallest building at the time it opened. Designed by Reno architects George A. Ferris and Son, it boasts a beautiful terra cotta base and parapet. The frontispiece entrance to the hotel is a magnificent example of the Art Deco style.

Now known as Siegel Suites El Cortez Apartments, the building remains in use as a residential complex.

Another Reno building considered to have an Art Deco look is the former Southside School (190 East Liberty), built in 1936. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP), the school is considered noteworthy for “its embodiment of a regional interpretation of the Art Deco style in Nevada,” according to its NRHP nomination.

Three less well-known but noteworthy examples of the Art Deco/Moderne style are the Veterans Memorial Elementary School (1200 Locust Street), Landrum’s (1300 South Virginia Street) and an apartment building at 633 W. 2nd Street.

Veterans Memorial Elementary School was built in 1949 and was one of the first schools constructed in Nevada following World War II. The building was expanded with two cinder block annexes in 1958.

Named to honor former Reno students killed in the conflict, the school was designed by Reno architect Russell Mills. It remains in use and is now known as Veterans Memorial STEM Academy.

Landrum’s, originally known as Landrum’s Hamburger System No. 1, is an interesting case. According to the NRHP, in 1947 the building was prefabricated in Wichita, Kansas, and shipped to Reno on a railroad flat car to be assembled at its location.

The company that made the building, Valentine Manufacturing, advertised its diners as “absolutely the most fool proof operation in the world” and noted the only things a customer had to do to get the business up and running was to lay down a foundation and hook up electricity, gas, water, and sewer.

Valentine apparently manufactured these diners in various sizes, with Landrum’s being the smallest model. Called the Little Chef, it could seat six to 10 customers with a single operator to run the grill.

The structure is elegantly stream-lined (in white and green) with a distinctly Art Deco entrance. It continues to be used as a restaurant (now called Beefy’s).

The apartment building at 633 W. Second Street is perhaps the most obscure Art Deco building in the city.

Apparently constructed in the 1930s, it was built as a housing option for divorce seekers who flocked to Reno at that time to establish their six-week residency in order to qualify for a “quickie” divorce. Not much else is known about the building, which continues to be used as apartments.

Of course, Art Deco buildings can be found in other parts of the state and I’ll talk about them in the future.

Thursday, July 15, 2021

Despite Nevada’s Desert Image, the State Boasts Some Big Trees

Bristlecone Pine Tree, Mt. Charleston

The Nevada Division of Forestry’s State Big Tree Program has been identifying the largest specimen of every native and introduced tree species growing in Nevada since 1992.

The division’s first register listed some 70 trees, which, with submissions from the public over the years, has grown to 303 tree species. Keep in mind that most of the state’s biggest trees are found on private property, so seeing them can be difficult.

The Division of Forestry notes that trees selected for the Big Tree list are compared on a point basis that includes not only height but circumference and crown spread. The measuring guidelines are set by American Forests, which maintains a national registry of big trees.

So, what are some of the biggest trees found in the Silver State and where are they found? For purposes of this article, I’ll only mention landmark trees found on public property.

Based on the register’s information, the tallest tree in the state appears to be a California Red Fir, which stands at 166-feet-high, found in Spooner Lake State Park. This tree also is a circumference of 248 feet.

Runner-up is a Pacific Ponderosa pine tree, measuring 161 feet in height, that has been found in the Carson Range in Douglas County. This particular tree has a circumference of 275 feet, making it a pretty husky specimen.

Not surprisingly, several of the state’s big trees can be found on the University of Nevada-Reno campus, which long has nurtured tree specimens in its arboretum. Among the championship species there are the state’s biggest Ginkgo tree (62 feet tall), Japanese Flowering Cherry tree (43-feet tall) and the largest Northern red oak tree (89 feet).

The Wilbur D. May Arboretum at Rancho San Rafael Park in Reno is another place hosting big trees, including the tallest white oak tree (70 feet), scarlet oak tree (71 feet), and a Weeping European Beech tree (36 feet)

Reno’s Idlewild Park is another prime spot for big trees, with the biggest Cedar of Lebanon (79 feet), Sweet Cherry tree (53 feet), American Elm (86 feet) and red maple (70 feet).

In southern Nevada, the Ethel M Chocolates plant has a very extensive desert trees and plants garden that contains the largest Twisted Acacia tree (34-feet-high), the tallest Chilean Mesquite tree (34-feet) and the biggest Reese Mesquite tree (37 feet).

Perhaps surprisingly, the biggest Bristlecone pine tree is not found at Great Basin National Park, which is famous for its Bristlecones, but at Mount Charleston near Las Vegas. This tree is also thought to have the largest circumference of any in the state, measuring 455 inches around or about 12 feet.

Great Basin National Park does have a couple of noteworthy trees including the state’s biggest white poplar (53 feet tall) and Curlleaf mountain mahogany (28 feet tall and 124 feet around).

The largest Western Juniper tree (74 feet high) is located in the Mount Rose Wilderness, along Bronco Creek while the biggest Washoe pine (117 feet high), a fairly rare species found only in the eastern slopes and foothills of the northern Sierra range, stands on Mount Rose.

To review the most recent roster of Nevada’s Big Trees go to:

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Discover Exceptional Views from Reno's Huffaker Park Lookout Trail

Perhaps the best and most accessible place to find nice views of the Truckee Meadows is Reno’s Huffaker Hills Regional Park, located in the southern part of the city.

This regional county park contains several miles of hiking trails that wind across some 251 acres located between South McCarran Boulevard and the South Meadows/Double Diamond area.

Developed in 2005, the Huffaker Hills park consists of two loop trails of about 2.5 miles in length that wind up the side of the southwestern-most part of the hills and along a ridge that offers panoramic views of the Truckee Meadows. Additionally, a gazebo (unfortunately vandals have trashed it) can be found near the top of the ridge.

Near the trailhead, the park also offers a nice covered picnic area, playgrounds, an enclosed tennis court and basketball courts.

Obviously, the best aspect of the park is the hiking trail system. Just south of the covered picnic area is the trailhead. You cross a small wooden bridge over a creek and begin the trek up the side of the hills.

This is probably the most challenging part of the hike as you ascend on a fairly steep, dirt pathway via a series of switchbacks. At the top you reach the gazebo and your first (and perhaps most impressive) scenic outlook.

From here, you can look north over the city of Reno and see Peavine Mountain in the distance. At night, the view can be particularly spectacular.

The trail continues from here along the ridgeline with a handful of smaller, spur trails leading to other outlooks, some with metal benches. The terrain is covered with clusters of native grasses and sagebrush, with large moss-covered volcanic rocks peeking through the vegetation.

The path loops around the southwestern edge of the hills and, at this point offers views of the Damonte Ranch area and, to the west, Mount Rose and the Thomas Creek region.

The hills are named for Granville W. Huffaker, one of the first non-Mormon settlers in the Truckee Meadows. In 1858, he and a partner drove an estimated 500 head of cattle into the area from Salt Lake City, Utah and settled onto land near the southwest tip of a string of small hills that would be named for him.

Huffaker had been born in 1831 in Monticello, Kentucky, and in the early 1850s, he drifted west to Utah. In Salt Lake City, he and Louis P. Drexler operated a general store, which they sold in the late 1850s in order to make their fortunes in Nevada.

Within a few years, Huffaker’s Station, as his 600-acre ranch became known, was home to several hotels and saloons as well as livery stables and express yards. By the mid-1860s, nearly 300 people lived around the settlement.

The station benefited from having an excellent location—it was at the crossroads of the main north-south and east-west travel routes (linking Virginia City and California)—and by the early 1860s was the largest community in the Truckee Meadows.

In 1867, a one-room schoolhouse was erected on land donated by Huffaker and served as a popular gathering spot for community dances and meetings. In 1992, the schoolhouse, which had been preserved over the years, was moved to Reno’s Bartley Ranch Park and restored. Today it is open for tours.

For more information about hiking the Lookout Trail, go to

Friday, July 09, 2021

The Legend of Tahoe Tessie Persists

For years, Lake Tahoe souvenir shops have sold t-shirts, bobble-heads, and other items featuring “Tahoe Tessie,” a local version of Scotland’s Loch Ness Monster. In most depictions, Tessie is a big, friendly eel-like creature who frolics in Tahoe’s deep, cold waters.

But is there more to the story?

For a number of years there have been alleged sightings of something in the lake. In the early 1980s, the Reno News and Review newspaper featured a story about a fisherman named Gene St. Denis, who, along with a friend, reported seeing something unusual near Cave Rock.

St. Denis said he and his companion were in a fishing boat when they spotted a ““a blotchy gray creature about 10 feet to 15 feet long” swimming nearby. He said the thing turned sharply in the water, leaving a big V-shaped wake.

Later, St. Denis claimed that several fish he caught that day showed signs of being scored by teeth marks on by something as he tried to reel them in.

“About halfway to the boat, these fish—they were big fish—got raked,” he said.

As for what might have attacked his fish, St. Denis said he thought it might be a giant white sturgeon or an oversized Muskie.

Or maybe it was something else. Over the past decade there have been a handful of reports from people saying they have seen some type of big, serpent-like creature swimming in Lake Tahoe.

For example, the Tahoe Daily Tribune reported in April 2005 that two Sacramento visitors, Beth Douglas and Ron Talmadge, saw a strange, dark undulating object near Tahoe Park Beach. Douglas said she had seen something very big and long, which appeared to have three to five humps on its back.

Talmadge told the paper, “Damn, that’s Tessie . . . I thought, ‘Whoa, this sucker’s real.’”

Perhaps the most bizarre story is one that has appeared on several web sites alleging that the world famous oceanographer, Jacques Cousteau, explored the bottom of the lake in the 1970s using a special submersible vehicle and stumbled on a horrible sight.

According to this tale, Cousteau found something so grotesque that he refused to ever show the film footage he shot that day or to ever speak of it again. Cousteau supposedly said the world wasn’t ready for what he had found down there.

Despite Cousteau’s vow of silence, these Internet sites claim that the explorer had found something even more unbelievable than a giant eel monster. It’s said he encountered remarkably preserved, virtually untouched human bodies at the bottom of Lake Tahoe, including drowned 19th century Chinese woodcutters and victims of various gangland executions.

Unfortunately for those who spread the story, it isn’t supported by any facts. Former Nevada State Archivist Guy Louis Rocha, who is adept at puncturing Nevada myths, has written that the story is false because Cousteau, who died in 1997, never visited Lake Tahoe.

Further, Rocha wrote, experts, such as Dr. Graham Kent of the Scripps Institute of Oceanography in San Diego, say there’s no possible way the bodies could be intact because they would have been eaten by fish and digested by bacteria.

In other words, it’s complete nonsense.

As for the existence of Tessie, retired University of California at Davis professor, Dr. Charles Goldman, studied Lake Tahoe for more than 40 years and has long dismissed the legends.

“You can’t prove that something’s not there,” he told the Reno News & Review in 2004. “We think that a lot of the Tessie reports are actually colliding boat wakes which produce a series of waves.

“Tessie’s like Santa Claus. It’s a fun story,” he said.

A longer version of the legends about what lives at the bottom of Lake Tahoe can be found in the newest version of my book, “Myths and Legends of Nevada,” published in 2019 by Globe Pequot Press.