Churchill Group

26 Forty Mile Desert

at the junction of Interstate Highway 80 and U.S. Highway 95.

The Forty Mile Desert, beginning here, is a barren stretch of waterless alkali wasteland. It was the most dreaded section of the California Emigrant Trail. If possible, travelers crossed it by night because of the great heat.

In 1843, the Walker-Chiles Party became the first wagon train to use the route. Regardless of the desert’s horrors, this became the accepted trail, as it divided five miles southwest of here into the two main routes to California – the Carson River and Truckee River trails.

Starvation and thirst preyed upon people and animals every mile. A survey made in 1850 illustrated appalling statistics—1,061 dead mules, almost 5,000 horses, 3,750 cattle, and 953 graves. The value of personal property loss was set at the time at $1,000,000.

The heaviest traffic occurred between 1849 and 1869. The trail was still used after completion of the Central Pacific Railroad in 1869, although it saw declining traffic after that.

19 Ragtown

along U.S. Highway 95 Alternate, one mile east of junction with U.S. Highway 50

Ragtown was never a town. Instead, it was the name of a most welcome oasis and gathering point. This mecca on the banks of nearby Carson River received its name from the appearance of pioneer laundry spread on every handy bush around.

The Forty Mile Desert, immediately to the north, was the most dreaded portion of the California Emigrant Trail. Ragtown was the first water stop after the desert. To the thirst- crazed emigrants and their animals, no sight was more welcome than the trees lining the Carson River.

Accounts tell of the moment when the animals first picked up the scent of water—the lifted head, the quickened pace, and finally the mad, frenzied dash to the water’s edge. Then, emigrants rested for the arduous crossing of the Sierra Nevada that lay ahead.

In 1854, Asa Kenyon located a trading post near Ragtown, offering goods and supplies to travelers during the 1850s and 1860s. Ragtown was one of the most important sites on the Carson branch of the California trail.

10 Sand Mountain

along U.S. Highway 50, twenty miles east of Fallon, Nevada

Sand Mountain dominates the Salt Wells Basin and is visible from Mt. Rose peak in the Carson Range 82 miles to the west. The dune is important to off highway vehicle enthusiasts, biologists, Native Americans, and geologists. Sand Mountain is a sinuous transverse dune derived from Ice Age Lake Lahontan beach sands piled here by southwesterly-trending winds. The dune is the Stillwater Northern Paiutes’ Panitogogwa, a giant rattlesnake traveling to the northeast with the wind to its back. The snake can be heard as it moves toward its hole, a phenomenon geologists associate with “singing” sand dunes. The Sand Mountain blue butterfly is only found here where it is depends on the Kearney buckwheat plant. The dunes clearly marked the location of nearby Sand Springs, improved and mapped in 1859 as a potential emigrant stop by Army Lieutenant James H. Simpson. Sand Springs later served as the location of the Sand Springs Pony Express Station in 1860 and the terminus of the 1866 Fort Churchill and Sand Springs Toll Road.