Being on the playa is like being on a large lake, except you are on a firm, deep layer of silt. It is a remnant of the ancient Lake Lahontan. This is one of the largest playas in the United States. It covers an area about 35 miles long by 12 miles wide. It is where the world land speed record of 763 miles per hour was set in 1997. When the surface is dry, visitors can drive around the playa following a road. There are no road signs or speed limits, but drivers on the playa must exercise common sense and look out for transient dunes, ruts, campers and other vehicles.
When precipitation has occurred, some areas of the playa become wet and muddy. Do not drive on wet areas of the playa. If you do will get stuck. Ask about playa conditions on the playa in Gerlach before venturing out.
The playa is open to vehicle use except in the dunes, vegetated areas, and in a small part of the southeast playa (the site of Gary Cooper's first film, The Winning of Barbara Worth, which was filmed in 1926).
Camping on the playa is unlike any other camping experience. The stars come out at night and the meteorites, too. Campsites on the playa need to have reflectors or beacons to help protect against being struck by motor vehicles at night.
More than 250 species of neo-tropical birds and many other water birds stop in Black Rock-High Rock Country for varying lengths of time. When wet, especially in spring, the playa is a favorite place for these winged visitors to rest and feed. If the playa is wet for a month or so, the shallow waters team with fairy shrimp born of eggs that have lain dormant in the silt crust for long periods of time - sometimes for many years. The edges of the playa and the Quinn River Sink stay wet longer than the rest of the playa, which concentrates the fairy shrimp and migratory birds in those areas.
In summer, several commercial activities, competitive events and large organized events are scheduled on the playa.
High Rock Canyon is one of nature's masterpieces. It is a narrow defile cut 800 feet deep through layers of dark lava and multi-colored volcanic ash. The canyon can be traversed by high-clearance four-wheel-drive vehicles except between February 1st and the second week in May when the road is closed to vehicles to protect wildlife during nesting and lambing times. Hiking is allowed year round. Vehicle camping is restricted to primitive, designated sites only. This is the best place in Black Rock-High Rock Country to view bighorn sheep and raptors.
The Applegate-Lassen Emigrant Trail passes through High Rock Canyon. Graffiti scratched into the rock walls or painted on with axle grease, known as emigrant glyphs, can still be seen here. These glyphs are important cultural resources graphically documenting a unique period in American history and are not to be damaged or embellished by adding modern graffiti.
Side canyons to High Rock include Little High Rock, Fly, Pole, Yellow Rock, and Upper High Rock, as well as the unusually formed Box Canyon. Each offer hiking or horseback adventures.
Between 14,000 and 10,000 years ago, two landslides blocked the drainage from intermittent High Rock Lake. The second slide caused Box Canyon to go dry and created a new lake outlet through Fly Canyon. Fly Canyon is best known today for its "potholes." These potholes were carved in the bedrock of the canyon by sand and gravel swirled in whirlpools and can reach depths of several dozen feet. One large pothole is a dizzying 78 feet deep. Fly Canyon also contains the visible remnants of a difficult wagon slide traversed by the emigrants.
Mahogany Canyon is closed to motorized vehicles. Where it has perennial water where nature has reestablished a few trees in the wake of the emigrant migration and now offers hikers a cool, shady break from the relentless summer sun.
In Pole Canyon, remnants of homesteads begun in 1915 and abandoned before World War II can still be seen. Several of the homesteaders settled on lands that were already owned by a large ranching concern. This resulted in a four-year court battle that was eventually decided in favor of the large ranch.
Yellow Rock Canyon, named for yellowish-green rock composed of volcanic ash altered by plumes of hot water, shelters a stone garage built by homesteader David B. Fox shortly after 1915.
Stevens Camp is the remnants of an old buckaroo camp. There is an old line shack available to visitors on a first-come, first-serve basis. There are several information signs, a good horse corral, and a vault toilet, one of only a few in the NCA!
Upper High Rock Canyon is an extremely narrow, rocky section of the Applegate-Lassen Emigrant Trail that is closed to motorized vehicles. Because of the difficulty of travel there, the emigrants thought it was 10 miles long, but it is actually only one mile in length.
Little High Rock Canyon is considered to be the site of the last Indian massacre in the United States.
Massacre Ranch has a two-room cinder block cabin available on a first-come, first-serve basis. Legend has it that the area was named after a party of emigrants killed by Indians. No supporting information for this supposed massacre can be found. Obsidian, the black volcanic glass, is common in this area.
Nevada is part of what geologists call the Basin and Range Province; an area extending from northern Mexico to southern Oregon and Idaho that is dominated by long arid valleys separated by north-south mountain ranges. It is a rugged area formed by uplifted and downfallen blocks of the Earth's crust with faults lying along both sides of the valleys.
With 314 mountain ranges, Nevada is the most mountainous state in the United States. Five of these ranges are to be found in Black Rock-High Rock Country; many others are within sight. The higher areas of these five ranges are designated as wilderness areas. The wilderness areas and much of the other mountain areas provide exceptional natural scenery and extraordinary opportunities to experience solitude and the natural environment. The mountain and wilderness country is sprinkled with hidden natural wonders that are well worth a hike or horseback ride into the back country. One such spot is Colman Creek in the North Black Rock Range Wilderness, boasting a rare perennial stream with a waterfall in its upper reaches.
Total wilderness area is 1,175 square miles, which is more than three-quarters the size of Rhode Island. The ten wilderness areas in Black Rock-High Rock Country range in size from 25,000 to 315,000 acres. This vastness provides ample space in which to experience solitude or primitive and unconfined recreation.
Wilderness areas are closed to motor vehicles and mechanical transport and equipment, including mountain bikes, wheeled game carriers, chainsaws, and similar kinds of motorized or mechanized equipment. However, persons requiring the use of wheelchairs may use them in wilderness, but no special accommodations are made for such use. Roads that are outside of wilderness areas or that have been excluded from wilderness designation, such as the 33 cherrystem roads that dead end into wilderness areas, are open to motor vehicles, mountain bikes, and mechanical transport and equipment.
There are three outstanding peaks to climb in the wilderness areas. King Lear in the South Jackson Mountains Wilderness, at 8,923 feet is the highest point in Black Rock-High Rock Country and features a nearly 3,000 foot clear prominence at its top.
Pahute Peak (pronounced pi yoot) or "Big Mountain" in the Pahute Peak Wilderness, at 8,594 feet provides great views of the northern part of Black Rock-High Rock Country.
Donnelly Peak is centrally located in the Calico Mountains Wilderness, and at 8,533 feet offers spectacular panoramic views of nearly the entire Black Rock-High Rock Country.
Maps for each wilderness area are available for printing on the Where To Go map page at the end of this section.
Hardin City was a mining camp established in 1866 when prospectors thought they had found James Hardin's lost deposit of silver. Excitement ran high, and investors, prospectors, and others swarmed to the area and erected two stamp mills. When no silver materialized, the town quickly disappeared. All that is left today are a few twisted pieces of metal and short segments of the stamp mills' stone foundations. A 4-wheel-drive road leads to the site, which is marked with an interpretive sign placed there by the Oregon-California Trails Association.
This historic site has a rustic cabin, wooden outhouse, corrals, and a loading chute. Stock drinking water is available at the corrals only during the cool seasons; by mid-summer visitors should bring water for their livestock. Road access to this site is generally good and there is sufficient room to park several horse trailers.
The camp site includes a primitive three room cinder block cabin with a propane and wood stove (bring your own wood and propane, regulator, and fittings). Bunk beds, vault toilet, livestock water (non-potable for humans), corral and loading chute are present. Road access to this site is generally good and there is sufficient room to park several horse trailers. There are also dispersed camping sites in the area.
Soldier Meadows a spring-fed wetland that, for thousands of years, has been inhabited by fish and snails that live nowhere else on Earth and a low-growing, yellow-flowered cinquefoil with an extremely limited range. Prior to the designation of the NCA, the popularity of the warms pools and streams here caused adverse impacts to these sensitive species. To protect the unique plant and animal life, camping is restricted to designated (primitive) campsites only.
Soldier Meadows Ranch
Located just a few miles from the warm pools and campsites, Soldier Meadows Ranch was the site of a cavalry post Camp McGarry from 1865 to '68, which gave the place its name. Shortly after the military left, ranchers moved in to graze livestock on the meadows; a use that continues today. Visit Soldier Meadows Ranch, for information about the privately owned cattle ranch which operates a lodge for visitors.
Black Rock Desert Playa
The land speed record of 763 miles per hour was set on the Black Rock Desert Playa, by a British Thrust SSC Project team in the northwest part of the playa in 1997. The 20,000 pound car, powered by two jet engines, was driven by Royal Air Force pilot Andy Green. This was the first time a land based vehicle broke the sound barrier. Few places on Earth are flat enough over a long enough distance to safely allow a vehicle to reach such speeds and come to a stop! There is no visible evidence on the ground of this historic event because the racing team practiced Tread Lightly! and Leave No Trace outdoor ethics.
Gary Cooper made his acting debut in 1926 in a western movie called The Winning of Barbara Worth that was filmed in the southeast part of the playa. This area is closed to motorized use to protect the few remaining traces of this epic of the silent movie era. The film provides visual evidence that the scenery visible to today's visitors to Black Rock-High Rock Country were not materially changed by human activities during the tumultuous 20th century.
Parts of two historic trails pass through Black Rock-High Rock Country. In 1843-44, explorer John C. Fremont, with scout Kit Carson and party, traveled from the northwest through High Rock Canyon and Soldier Meadows, along the edges of the Black Rock Desert Playa, and camped near present-day Gerlach enroute to Pyramid Lake and beyond. No traces of Fremont's travels can be found, but he created maps that were used by later explorers and travelers.
In 1846, the Applegate Brothers back-tracked Fremont's route to establish a wagon route to Oregon that would avoid the treacherous Columbia River. Two years later, Peter Lassen took the same route though the Black Rock Country thinking it was a quicker route to his northern California ranch. He got lost and ended up blazing a new road, the Lassen Trail, to get to his ranch. From this combination of interests the Applegate-Lassen Trail was born.
In 1851, William H. Nobles blazed a cutoff from the Applegate Trail west through present-day Gerlach that shortened the journey to Northern California via today's Susanville. This short cut branch route, known as the Nobles Cutoff, was established as an emigrant trail in 1852. Initially, the trail left the Applegate Trail at Black Rock Hot Spring and traversed the bulk of the Black Rock Desert Playa. In 1856, an alternate route was found that leaves the Applegate at Rabbit Hole Spring and passes by Trego Hot Spring.
Many traces of the passage of these early emigrants remain at various points along these routes, such as wagon wheel ruts, axle grease markings on rocks, and emigrant glyphs. It is possible to follow along much of these trail routes today by vehicle. There are short sections where motorized vehicle routes leave the original trail to protect the evidence of early emigration from damage, but even here the available motorized routes closely parallel the historic trails. The views from these historic trail routes are virtually identical to those seen by the emigrants who traveled here in the early to mid-1800s.
More information on these trails is available from the Oregon-California Trails Association. A virtual tour of the Applegate-Lassen Emigrant Trail is located at Trails West, Inc. A trail guide is also available for purchase from Trails West.
Black Rock-High Rock Country is a popular venue for a variety of organized recreation activities. The Bureau of Land Management uses Special Recreation Permits (SRP) to authorize and manage various uses and activities on public lands. Permitting allows BLM to monitor potential impacts to natural or cultural resources, and/or conflicts with other recreation or commercial users.
Special Recreation Permits are required when an activity falls into one of the following categories:
Commercial Uses - This is defined as recreational use of public lands and related waters for business or financial gain. When any person, group, or organization makes or attempts to make a profit, receive money, amortize equipment, or obtain goods or services, as compensation from participants in recreational activities occurring on public lands, the use is considered commercial.
Examples in the NCA include the annual Burning Man festival, several hunting outfitters and guides, 4-wheel drive tours, equestrian tours, wagon train rides, cattle drives, and filming or photography for profit associated with a recreational activity.
Competitive Uses - Any organized, sanctioned, or structured use, event or activity on public land in which two or more contestants compete and either (1) participants register, enter, or complete an application for the event, or (2) a predetermined course or area is designated.
Examples in the NCA include unique activities such as rocket launching and land sailing. The world land speed record and the amateur altitude record were authorized under a competitive SRPs.
Organized Group Activities and Event Uses - Any non-commercial and non-competitive organized group activity that has the potential to create impacts on public land.
Examples in the NCA include a large scout camp out, a fraternity activity, a large family reunion, or a large cross-country horse ride.
Vending - This type of permit can be temporary, short-term, non-exclusive, or a revocable authorization to sell goods or services on public lands in conjunction with a recreation activity.
Examples in the NCA include vendors at rocket launches that transport and sell rocket construction and launching materials.
Permit applications must be received at least 180 days in advance of the proposed event or activity. Use the following checklist as a guide to determine if your event or activity will require a permit:
• Are you charging a fee?
• Do you expect to make money on the event or is the fee to cover expenses?
• Will there be a competition?
• Will you advertise?
• Will you mark a course?
• How many vehicles are you expecting at your event?
For questions regarding the Special Recreation Permit program, contact the Black Rock-High Rock NCA Recreation Planner at the Winnemucca Field Office: 775-623-1500.
This annual festival of art and self expression is held the week leading up to Labor Day. A temporary community known as Black Rock City (BRC) is built on the Black Rock Desert Playa. Since 2003, the population of BRC has exceeded 30,000, making it the seventh largest city in Nevada and the largest special recreation permit event administered by the BLM.
More than 80 stipulations are assigned to the permit to cover health, safety, administrative concerns, and guarantee protection to the environment. Burning Man follows Leave No Trace! outdoor ethics principles that ensure that all evidence of Black Rock City and its activities disappear within weeks of the event's end.
Visit the official Burning Man website for information about this year's festival.
The Black Rock Desert is a mecca for rocket launching enthusiasts. Several amateur rocket clubs use the Black Rock Desert Playa as a launching site because of its remoteness, good sight distance and good weather.
At least three different rocketry clubs conduct launches and campouts on the Black Rock Desert Playa each year. Club websites are listed in the References section of this eBook.
The current altitude record for amateur rocketry was set by the Civilian Space Exploration Team (CSXT) on May 17, 2004, when its "Go Fast" rocket reached an altitude of 72 miles (380,160 feet). This was the first amateur rocket to cross the officially recognized threshold of space, which is 100 kilometers or 62 miles above sea level.
Land sailing is a favored activity on the playa. The Sunny Acres Sailing, Sipping and Soaring Society (SASSASS) conducts two land sailing events each year on the Black Rock Desert playa.
No permit is required for individual recreational land sailing. More information about land sailing and land sailing organizations is available online by visiting Landsailing in America.
Guided Horseback Tours
Wilderness guided horseback tours and wild horse viewing opportunities are available within the NCA. Would you enjoy experiencing Black Rock Country the way the original explorers did?
Several outfitters are available for guided hunts to enhance your hunting experience in the Black Rock-High Rock Country. A variety of packages are available depending on your needs. Guides in northern Nevada specialize in mule deer, antelope, bighorn sheep (California), mountain lion, predator and upland game bird hunting. Booking with a guide increases your chance of drawing a big game tag.
Hunting in Black Rock-High Rock Country is regulated by the Nevada Department of Wildlife (NDOW). A valid State of Nevada hunting license and applicable tags are required. The NDOW website provides a link to "Guides and Subguides" for contact information for outfitters and guides, some of whom operate in Black Rock-High Rock Country under BLM permit.
Did you ever want to drive a Hummer or an off-road jeep? There are highly skilled OHV/ATV guides available in northwestern Nevada who know the Black Rock-High Rock Country intimately and will rent Off Highway Vehicles (OHV) and All Terrain Vehicles (ATV) for your wild lands adventure.
Some areas within the NCA are environmentally sensitive and closed to off-roaders. Contact the BLM Winnemucca Field Office for recreation maps and a current list of commercial tour operators in the area.
Historic Trail Tour Guides
While the historic trails can be toured alone, the expertise and knowledge of professional historic trail tour guides will surely enhance your experience and understanding of the trail and it's resources. Several organizations offer commercial tours of the historic trails.
Check the BLM Winnemucca Field Office for a current list of guides and permit holders.
|Dave Cooper||Manager, Black Rock Desert-High Rock Canyon Emigrant Trails National Conservation Area (BRHR NCA)|
|Roger Farschon||Ecologist, BRHR NCA|
|Jamie Thompson||Public Affairs Officer, BLM Winnemucca Field Office / BRHR NCA|
|David Lefevre||Outdoor Recreation Planner, BRHR NCA|
|David Valentine||Archaeologist, BRHR NCA|
|Stephen "Vince" Lincoln||GIS Coordinator, BLM Winnemucca Field Office|
|Laura Levy||GIS Specialist, BLM Winnemucca Field Office|
|Robert "Bob" Wick||Planning Environmental Coordinator, Arcata Field Office|
|JoLynn Worley||Public Affairs Officer, BLM Nevada State Office|
|Barb Keleher||Outdoor Recreation Planner, BLM Nevada State Office|
|Marguerite McKee||GIS Specialist, BLM Nevada State Office|
|Standley White||Photographer (volunteer), BLM Nevada State Office|
|Kim Mincer||Visual Information Specialist, BLM Alaska State Office|
|Diane Nelson||eBook Coordinator, BLM National Training Center|
|Art Ferraro||AV Producer/Director, BLM National Training Center|
|Kim Menning||AV Specialist, BLM National Training Center|
|David Book||Writer, Friends of Black Rock/High Rock|
|Chuck Dodd||Writer, 19th Century Publications|
|Jim & Darice Massey||Riders of the Sage, Cedarville, CA|
|Matthew Ebert||Friends of Black Rock-High Rock|