Lassen Applegate Emigrant Trails

Emigrant History

“It was a singular place to travel through shut up in the earth, a sort of chasm, the little strip of grass under our feet, the rough walls of bare rock on either hand, and the narrow strip of sky above.”  – John C. Fremont’s description of High Rock Canyon, 1843

Step Back in Time

The Black Rock Desert High Rock Canyon Emigrant Trails National Conservation area remains unaltered from the days when John C. Fremont first mapped the canyon in 1843-44.

During the last frigid days of 1843, John C. Fremont led his expedition through a steep walled canyon following a creek he trusted would bring him to the fabled Buenaventura River, which was thought to provide access to the Pacific Ocean.

While he did not discover a navigable waterway, he did define a system of internal drainages now known as the Great Basin. He also laid the groundwork for what was to become the historic Applegate Trail.

In 1846, Jesse Applegate and his group traced a portion of Fremont’s route, establishing an alternate trail to Oregon.

The discovery of gold in California in 1848 set off a rush of gold-seekers crossing through the Black Rock Region.  During the peak year of 1849 as many as 10,000 wagons passed through the Black Rock Desert region.

More about the NCA’s 180 miles of historic emigrant trails »

Discover more about the trails in our online bookstore »

A Protected Piece of Human History

Before the influx of gold seekers, the canyons were home to humans for at least 10,000 years and every rock shelter and spring has indications of this use.

In acknowledgement of the role this incomparable landscape has played in U.S. and human history, Congress passed the Black Rock Desert-High Rock Canyon Emigrant Trails National Conservation Area (NCA) Act of 2000.

This Act gave special designation to 1.2 million acres of public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management in northwestern Nevada known as the Black Rock-High Rock country.

Throughout the NCA and its ten Wilderness Areas, you can reconnect with the natural world much as the people who came before us did.

More about the region’s original peoples »