Geologic Points of Interest - Humboldt-Toiyabe

Belmont Mining District | Fossil Cave Bear
 The Table, Mt. Moriah Wilderness
 Aurora-Bodie Volcanic Field
 Alkali Valley and Mud Spring Canyon Spillway
 Sawtooth Ridge | Lamoille Canyon
 Angel Lake Scenic Byway
 Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Monument
 Mt. Rose Scenic Byway | Slide Mountain
 Mt. Charleston Scenic Byway

Type

Mining

Site Name

Belmont Mining District

Directions

45 miles northeast of Tonopah on the east side of the Toquima Range.

Description

From 1865 to 1890, the Belmont area produced about $15 million in gold and silver. For a time, Belmont, located about 45 miles north of Tonopah, was the Nye County seat. It seemed well on its way to permanence. However, once the ore dried up, the town began to fall into the familiar pattern of decay and neglect.

A visit to Belmont is a chance to commune with the spirits. Just outside the main part of the town are ruins of an abandoned mill site. Red brick walls and the remains of large smokestacks are all that is left of the Monitor Mill. Newer houses have been constructed around the older structures, including one home with a satellite dish. It appears that Belmont has been at least partially reclaimed from the ghosts. Despite the new construction, there is still plenty of old Belmont to see. The main street, now paved, is lined with aging storefronts and remains of what was once the town’s central business district. On one side, one can find the arched brick facade that probably was the town bank. Across the way are tumbledown pieces of the former Cosmopolitan Saloon.

North of the town’s center is the Belmont Courthouse. The picturesque two-story brick structure has been partially restored by the Nevada Division of State Parks, which no doubt saved it. A historic marker notes that the courthouse was built in 1876, about 11 years after the town was founded. For nearly 30 years, the building served as the seat of Nye County. However, in 1905, upstart Tonopah eclipsed the fading Belmont and claimed the county seat for itself, which guaranteed the demise of the community.

The surrounding hillsides tell additional stories about Belmont. To the southeast are brickworks, notable for a massive brick smokestack of about 30 feet. To the south are the impressive walls of a large mill and in between sits the foundations, walls, and ruins of brick and wooden homes as well as other buildings.

Image(s)

Photo of the Belmont Mining District - Click on the image to enlarge.Photo of a mill on the Belmont Mining District - Click on the image to enlarge.Photo of a mill on the Belmont Mining District - Click on the  image to enlarge.

Photo of the Courthouse on the Belmont Mining District - Click the image to enlarge.Photo of a millstack on the Belmont Mining District - Click on the image to enlarge.

 

Type

Fossils/Tracks

Site Name

Fossil Cave Bear at the White Pine Public Museum, Ely NV

Directions

The museum is located at 2000 Aultman Street, Ely, Nevada 89301, 775-289-4710.

www.wpmuseum.org
wpmuseum@sbcglobal.net

Description

The bones of two giant short-faced bears (Arctodus simus) were discovered in a White Pine County cave on National Forest Land in 1982. A model of one of these 12,000-year-old “Cave Bears” is exhibited at the White Pine Public Museum. The giant short-faced bear is an extinct species of bear that lived in prehistoric North America from about 800,000 to 12,500 years ago. It was the largest mammal carnivore to live on the North American continent. This giant bear was up to 50% larger than the largest living bears. During the Pleistocene, the North-American plains where roamed by Arctodus simus. It was larger than any bear alive today, 700 kilos heavy, and 1.7 meter high at the shoulder. When it stood on its hind legs, it was 3 meters high. Unlike many other bears, who used to be omnivores, the Short-faced Bear was just a carnivore. Bears do not have an ideal body construction to hunt. They are built for strength, not for speed. Although they can run faster than people can, this is not fast enough to catch up with prey. The Short-faced Bear solved this problem by evolving longer legs so it could run faster. With its size and strength, it would be able to scare other predators, dire wolves, and sabertooth cats, away from their prey, which would have made it an effective scavenger. Arctodus simus probably hunted on deer, horses, buffalo and juvenile mammoths and ground sloths.

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Type

Mountain Ranges/Basins

Site Name

The Table, Mt. Moriah Wilderness

Directions

The Big Canyon trail provides access to The Table and Mount Moriah via a scenic canyon with a good trail. From Baker, drive 5 miles northwest on Nevada Highway 487, turn left on Highway 6/50. Continue 14.4 miles and turn right on a dirt road. Go 12.1 miles and turn right on Fourmile road. Drive east 2.6 miles and bear left. After 12 miles, the trailhead is reached at the end of the road.

Description

Adjacent to Mt. Moriah is The Table, a Forest Service Research Natural Area consisting of a broad, 7000-acre, mildly sloping plateau at 11,000 feet, having a unique environment of alpine plants and wind-battered bristlecone pines. The open topography of The Table affords excellent views of Mt. Moriah and the surrounding terrain. The Mt. Moriah Table contains subalpine bristlecone forest, grasslands, and a minor shrubland community in good to excellent condition and supports an extensive mosaic of subalpine steppe grassland dominated by blackroot sedge and purple reedgrass with minor inclusions of the Goldenbush purple reedgrass shrub steppe. Remnant grasslands such as found within the RNA are uncommon on the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest. Open bristlecone pine forests and Engelmann spruce occupy gentle to steep terrain at the lower elevations in the RNA. Individual bristlecone trees in the open woodlands are 20 to 25 feet in height. An optional side trip to the Big Canyon cirque on the northeast flank of Mt. Moriah offers additional rugged mountain scenery.

The broad, arch-like physiography of the northern Snake Range is shaped by its geology, which is unique in the region. It is a classic example of a Cenozoic metamorphic core complex. The most prominent structural feature is the Northern Snake Range Decollement (NSRD), a low angle fault that juxtaposes an upper plate of Paleozoic and Tertiary strata against a lower plate of metasedimentary and igneous rocks. The NSRD is spectacularly exposed along the deeply incised canyon walls and beneath Mt Moriah on The Table. (From: Lee et al. 1999)

Image(s)

Photo of Mt. Moriah in the Snake Range of Nevada, looking southwest from 'The Table' - Click on the thumbnail to enlarge.Photo that shows the lava flow (black area on plateau), Mud Volcano (rounded knob middle ground), and  and Mt. Hicks (dormant volcano)
 

Type

Volcanic Activity

Site Name

Aurora-Bodie Volcanic Field

Directions

Highway 359 is south of the Aurora-Bodie volcanic field. The Old Bodie Road from Highway 359 south of Hawthorne NV enters the heart of the area.

Description

The Aurora-Bodie volcanic field occurs east-northeast of Mono Lake, between the Sierra Nevada and the Great Basin. Calc-alkaline andesite, dacite and trachyandesite lavas, breccias and ashflow tuffs, dated 15 to 8 million years ago, underlie a tighter concentration of younger alkaline-calcic cinder cones and flows. The older volcanics cover approximately 80 square kilometers with a volume of approximately 35 cubic kilometers.  Andesite domes and flows, 4.5 to 2 million years in age, occur at Cedar Hill and other areas in the field, and Pleistocene to late Holocene basaltic rocks forming well-preserved cinder cones and flows cover approximately 100 square kilometers. The probable late Pleistocene age Mud Springs volcano consists of a steep-fronted bulbous flow surrounding a depressed vent area, and a 7-kilometer-long ridged flow, together creating a remarkably distinctive landform. Although trees cover the flows, partially accounting for their dark color, the volcano is clearly one of the freshest in the Aurora-Bodie field.

Aurora Crater, approximately 12 kilometers west of Mud Springs volcano, is a 1.7-kilometer-wide breached crater of approximately 250,000 years, totally surrounded by lava flows, with an estimated total volume of 2 cubic kilometers.  Many of the volcanoes are cut by faults, and Pleistocene basalt has been warped as well. The topography of the entire area has been softened by ash probably erupted by the younger Mono Craters to the southwest. Gold and silver found in quartz veins in the Miocene (but not younger) volcanic rocks were mined until about 1950, and only the ghost towns of Bodie, California, and Aurora, Nevada, remain. (From: Wood and Kienle, 1990)

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Type

Volcanic Activity

Site Name

Alkali Valley and Mud Spring Canyon Spillway

Directions

Highway 359 is south of the Aurora-Bodie volcanic field. The Old Bodie Road from Highway 359 south of Hawthorne NV enters the heart of the area.

Description

Mono Basin, on the eastern flank of the central Sierra Nevada, is the highest of the large hydrographically closed basins in the Basin and Range province. Geomorphic features, shoreline deposits, and basalt-filled paleochannels have been used to reconstruct a Pleistocene record of shorelines and changing spillways of Lake Russell in Mono Basin. During this period, Lake Russell repeatedly attained altitudes between 2205 and 2280 m—levels far above the present surface of Mono Lake (1950 m) and above its last overflow level (2188 m). The spill point of Lake Russell shifted through time owing to late Tertiary and Quaternary faulting and volcanism. During the early Pleistocene, the lake periodically discharged through the Mount Hicks spillway on the northeastern rim of Mono Basin and flowed northward into the Walker Lake drainage basin via the East Walker River. Paleochannels recording such discharge were incised prior to 1.6 million years ago and again after 1.3 million years (ages of basaltic flows that plugged the paleochannels). Faulting in the Adobe Hills on the southeastern margin of the basin eventually lowered the rim in this area to below the altitude of the Mount Hicks spillway. A pre-Pleistocene aquatic connection through Mono Basin between the hydrologically distinct Lahontan and Owens–Death Valley systems has been long postulated by biologists. Recent work confirms a probable link during the Pleistocene for species adapted to travel upstream in fast-flowing water.  

A low divide in northeastern Mono Basin lies at an altitude of 2237 m in the northwest corner of Alkali Valley, a northeastern appendage of Mono Basin. At the time of the highstand at 2155 m, 13,000 years ago, Lake Russell inundated the southern part of Alkali Valley but did not reach the higher northeastern part of the valley. Subdued lake terraces in the northern part of the valley below 2180 m probably were deposited during the 2188 m highstand of Lake Russell that did enter the valley. The late Tertiary and Quaternary sedimentary and volcanic stratigraphy of the area between Alkali Valley and Mud Springs Canyon records a history of older northward overflow from Lake Russell. This record can be deduced from the ages of deposits that were incised by paleodrainages carrying lake discharge and subsequently plugged by volcanic flows.  

Mud Spring Canyon is dry but for one small spring. The flat-floored, steep-walled canyon is 300–400 m wide and 40 m deep for much of its length but narrows quickly above a point 3 km up-canyon from the western end of flow. The modern drainage area above the spring is 75 km 2, disproportionately small compared to the size of the valley. Much larger discharge is necessary to explain the size of Mud Spring Canyon than could be generated from the modern basin, even during pluvial periods. (From: Reheis et al. 2002)

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Type

Mountain Ranges/Basins

Site Name

Sawtooth Ridge (backside of Yosemite)

Directions

Located near the small town of Bridgeport on Highway 395. It is accessed from the trailhead at Twin Lakes.

Description

The Sawtooth Ridge is along the boundary between Yosemite National Park and the Hoover Wilderness. This beautiful high Sierra backcountry can be easily accessed. The ridge is a beautiful display of glacial alpine sculpture including arêtes, cols, horns, hanging valleys, rock basins, and cirques. 

This area has long been known for its good rock climbing, breathtaking knife-edge ridges, and spectacular spires. This area is known for several classic alpine rock climbing routes. The tallest peak in the area is Matterhorn Peak (12,264 ft.). There are several excellent routes the can be climbed in order to reach the top of this peak. The Sawtooth Ridge also hosts some of the Sierra's most spectacular skiing. You can ski through the heart of the Sawtooths in one long spring day. Nearly everyone coming to ski the Sawtooths ascends towards Matterhorn Peak via the Horse Creek trail. Popular routes to the peak include the East Couloir just left of the summit massif, the hourglass-shaped slope left of that known as Skiers Dream, and the easier but less direct Horse Creek Pass route.

Image(s)

Photo of the Sawooth Albion Mountains - Click on the image to enlarge.
 

Type

Glacial Activity

Site Name

Lamoille Canyon

Directions

Twenty miles east of Elko, Nevada.

Description

The Ruby Mountains of northeastern Nevada are among the state’s wettest and most lush mountain ranges. Lamoille Canyon, in the heart of the range, offers some of the most spectacular views found in the Rubies. Sometimes referred to as the "Yosemite of Nevada," the canyon was heavily carved by glacial activity. A four-stop self guided auto tour with geology interpretive exhibits leads visitors past meadows full of wildflowers, abundant wildlife, waterfalls, and avalanche chutes. The Lamoille Canyon Road winds around the base of 11,249-foot Ruby Dome and climbs through the glacier-carved canyon. At the end of the 13.5-mile paved road, at the 8,800-foot level, is a parking area and trailheads, for long and short hikes.

Image(s)

Photo of Lamoille Canyon - Click on the image to enlarge.
 

Type

Scenic Byways/Areas

Site Name

Angel Lake Scenic Byway

Directions

From Wells take State Route 231, Angel Lake Road.

Description

The byway, sometimes called the “highway to heaven” because it rises several thousand feet to Angel Lake, winds upward through sagebrush and piñon pine, mountain mahogany, quaking aspen and limber pine. Angel Lake is a tarn tucked into a glacial cirque high in the East Humboldt range. The East Humboldt Range is an impressive north-south trending Great Basin mountain range with glaciated alpine topography. It is capped by a jagged alpine ridgeline and lower down, by impressive subalpine areas. The core of the range is composed of metamorphic and igneous rocks. These include gneiss, gneisses granite, migmatites, quartzose schist, and calc-silicate rocks. Evidence of glaciation is seen in the cirques, domes, aretes, and hanging valleys that are common along the crest, as well as in the abundant moraines along the base of the range.

Image

Photo of Angel Lake - click on the image to enlarge.
 

Type

Fossils/Tracks

Site Name

Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Monument

Directions

This monument is located 23 miles east of Gabbs on Highway 884.

Description

Today Nevada lies almost entirely within the Great Basin, an area between the Rocky and Sierra Nevada Mountain ranges filled with smaller mountain systems. During the Late Triassic, Nevada was located within a large basin, which was filled with a vast system of shallow seas and lakes. Populating these seas were cephalopods, nautiloids, fish, and several intriguing and mysterious ichthyosaurs. One particular ichthyosaur, the 225 million year old Shonisaurus popularis, has been designated the official state fossil.

The ichthyosaurs were a group of Mesozoic marine reptiles, somewhat dolphin-like in their appearance, which generally possessed streamlined bodies, powerful tails, thin jaws, and four basic flippers. The first ichthyosaurs known are relatively small, and come from the Early Triassic. Over time, this lineage gets much larger, as is evident by the massive Shonisaurus. Measuring in at 50 feet and 20-35 tons, Shonisaurus is one of the largest ichthyosaurs known. Coupled with its brute size, Shonisaurus also possessed an advanced fish-like tail, long and powerful fins, and a strong, deep skeleton.

The size and advanced affinities of Shonisaurus have helped paleontologists rewrite the thinking on Late Triassic ichthyosaurs. However, equally impressive as the anatomy of this massive beast is the story of its discovery. The storied history of Shonisaurus began in 1928, when miners in the Shoshone Mountain town of Berlin noticed several strange skeletons eroding from a sandstone cliff. Many of the more ambitious miners explored the site themselves, collecting unusual looking bones and displaying them in their homes. Some even used the heavy vertebrae of this odd creature as dinner plates! Soon the site was brought to the attention of scientists, who determined that 37 ichthyosaur individuals died and were preserved near Berlin. However, it was not until some 30 years later that Charles Camp and Sam Welles of the University of California launched a full-scale excavation. After an intense study of the site, Camp concluded that the ichthyosaurs, which he named Shonisaurus popularis, were marooned by a receding tide on a bay mudflat, and much like beached whales, slowly died. In recent years, this theory has come under much scrutiny, and many scientists now believe that the Shonisaurus individuals simply died, fell to the sea bottom, and were buried.

In addition to studying the fossils, Camp also urged that the site be preserved. His dreams were made reality in 1955, when the site was officially designed Ichthyosaur Paleontological State Monument. The mining claims of Berlin were later purchased in 1970, and the park was renamed Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park. Seven years later, the legislature of Nevada declared Shonisaurus popularis the official state fossil. Today, this massive, powerful, and storied ichthyosaur is considered a vital link to understanding the ecology of Triassic seas.

Image(s)

Photo of the area of the state monument - Click on the image to enlarge.Photo of a fossil at the Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park - Click on the image to enlarge.
 

Type

Scenic Byways/Areas

Site Name

Mt. Rose Scenic Byway

Directions

South of Reno, State Rt. 431 climbs up Mt. Rose Summit to the 8,911-foot pass, the highest in the state, then descends into the Lake Tahoe Basin, affording a magnificent first look at America’s greatest alpine lake.

Description

The dark rocks of Mt. Rose contrast with the lighter color granodiorite that makes up most of the Sierra Nevada. That is because Mt. Rose is a volcano that was active 2 to 22 million years ago. Typical volcanic deposits are present including dark andesite rocks and lahars or mudflows. (From: Orndorff et al. 2001)

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Type

Mass Wasting

Site Name

Slide Mountain

Directions

This strenuous six-mile hike can be attempted from either the Davis Creek or the Ophir Creek sides. One trailhead is at Davis Creek Regional Park off Highway 395 in Washoe Valley. The other trailhead is six miles away at the west end of Tahoe Meadows along Highway 431. Taking the trail from Davis Creek can lead you to Rock Lake or past the remains of Upper and Lower Price Lake (destroyed by a landslide) and on to Tahoe Meadows. If you prefer a downhill hike, arrange to leave a vehicle at Davis Creek Regional Park and have someone drop you off at the upper trailhead.

Description

The Ophir Creek Trail includes two small but scenic lakes, a beautiful, 2-mile-long subalpine meadow, tumbling Ophir Creek, and the evidence of a major geological catastrophe. In the spring of 1983, the entire flank of appropriately named Slide Mountain, saturated with meltwater from the thawing winter snows, broke loose and plunged into the canyon of Ophir Creek and partially filled Upper Price Lake with rock debris.

Image

This image is not set to enlarge.

Photo of Slide Mountain.
 

Type

Scenic Byways/Areas

Site Name

Mt. Charleston Scenic Byway

Directions

About an hour’s drive west from Las Vegas, the Mt. Charleston Scenic Byway ( Lee Canyon Road or State Rt. 158) is located in the Spring Mountains National Recreation Area.

Description

This Byway accesses the east side of the Spring Mountains and trailheads to 11,918-foot Mount Charleston, the tallest point in Southern Nevada. The Spring Mountains are an Island Mountain range isolated from other ranges in the Great Basin. Formed by extensional forces, a large displacement along a fault on the east side causes rock strata to dip towards the west.

Many consider an ascent of Charleston Peak as the ultimate experience in the Spring Mountains. The well-engineered and well-maintained 20-mile Mt. Charleston National Recreation Trail, divided into the North Loop and South Loop trails, provides an excellent route to the summit, which towers over the surrounding terrain by as much as 10,000 feet, offering extraordinary views across southern Nevada, southeastern California, and northwestern Arizona. If not for the insidious pollution from the ever-expanding tentacles of Las Vegas, 300-mile vistas would be commonplace.

Despite the arid nature of southern Nevada, the Mt. Charleston National Recreation Trail passes above the pinyon-juniper woodland through a healthy montane forest composed of white firs, ponderosa pines, and aspens. Above the montane forest, hikers ramble through limber pines on the way to a vigorous bristlecone-pine forest at the higher elevations, the largest concentration of bristlecones in the state. On the upper slopes of Charleston Peak, summiteers pass above timberline into an alpine-like zone, where only ground-hugging plants can survive the arid, windy conditions. The vegetation within the Spring Mountains is unique, as the range contains nearly forty endemic species, the highest number of any range in the entire Great Basin.

Abundant rain and snow on the Spring Mountains recharges the porous limestone that makes up the mountain range. This ground water then recharges the surrounding valley fill aquifers. In fact, the Spring Mountains are the only source of ground water recharge to the Las Vegas and Pahrump valley aquifers for use by the ever-expanding populations.

Image(s)

Photo of the Mt. Charleston Scenic Byway - Click on the image to enlarge.

 



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Key Contacts

Geology

Joe Gurrieri
Regional Geologist