Kevin Standlee (kevin_standlee) wrote,
Kevin Standlee

Road Trip: Our Nearest State Park

Lisa and I did a short trip today south of Fernley and Silver Springs to Fort Churchill State Park, which is the closest of Nevada's 23 state parks to us. (It's about 23 mi/38 km south of Fernley on US 95 Alternate.) This park preserves the ruins of a US Army post established in 1861 to protect early settlers and abandoned only nine years later. The post was along the line of the Pony Express and the first transcontinental US telegraph line.

After lunch at the Black Bear Diner, we set off for Fort Churchill. After depositing our $5 day-use fee (includes $2 Nevada resident discount), we spent the next couple of hours wandering around the park and taking the short (1 km) trail through the adobe ruins.

Fort Churchill Model
The visitor center includes a diorama of what the fort probably looked like at its peak, along with a 36-star flag, the design that would have flown over the fort after Nevada's admission to the Union in 1864.

Caisson Not Rolling Along
travelswithkuma perches on board a restored caisson in the visitor center.

Fort Churchill
From the visitor center, a long view of the adobe ruins. These are in fact partially restored as part of a Civilian Conservation Corps project in the 1930s that built the visitor center (which is itself patterned after the original post commander's office). Today the ruins are in an state of "arrested decay."

Fort Churchill Officers Quarters
There were six officers-quarters buildings on the north side of the parade ground.

Fort Churchill Barracks
Barracks were on the west side, where soldiers had the luxury of a single bunk to themselves, rather than having to double up as was common on other posts.

Fort Churchill Parade Ground
On those rare occasions when there were more than the post's allotted 300 men, tent camps were set up to the south of the parade ground, around where I was standing when I took this shot looking back up into what was once the cleared and leveled central parade ground. If you look closely at this photo, you may see a couple of jackrabbits that were running through when I snapped it.

Fort Churchill Hospital
The hospital was rated for 20 men, with a surgeon (unusual for a post of this size) and matron assigned to it.

Secure Stores
Storehouses, including the secure stores where they kept the liquor, were on the east side of the parade ground, where the picket on the guardhouse could keep an eye on them. The post commandant's office is just beyond in this picture.

Railroad from Hazen
Union Pacific's Mina Subdivision runs through the park, separating the post from the area near the river where there is a picnic area and access to the Carson Ranches (an extension of the park along the Carson River). This railroad runs from a junction with the UP (ex-Southern Pacific, former Central Pacific) mainline at Hazen, about ten miles east of Fernley. It was originally built by SP to bypass the Virginia & Truckee Railroad to a connection with the Carson & Colorado at Churchill in order to use the C&C to reach Tonopah during that city's early-20th-century gold boom. SP bought the C&C (which ran from a V&T connection at Mound House, east of Carson City) and standard-gauged it to Tonopah Junction. From Tonopah for a short time one could change for trains to Las Vegas. The remaining narrow-gauge C&C continued from Tonopah Junction down to Benton, Laws, and through the Owens Valley to Keeler, where it petered out before reaching its goal of the Colorado River. (Our trip to the Laws Railroad Museum was to visit the tiny remnant of the C&C preserved there.) Today the railroad runs to a dead-end connection with the US military railroad at the Hawthorne Naval Weapons Station, and no longer even runs as far as Mina, the town for which it is named. UP freights still serve the line around around once a week as far as we can tell. You can tell there's been recent traffic by the shiny rails.

The full package of photos is in my Fort Churchill album on Flickr.

We found this an interesting visit, and we'll come back, but only when the weather is like it was today. It's awfully spring-like, which is a bad thing for the drought, but good for walking with only a light jacket. This post must have been really awful much of the year: blisteringly hot and dusty in the summer and bitingly cold in the winter. The hospital description talks of the ward being filled with cases of pneumonia, with measles and smallpox thrown in for good measure. However, when the weather is pleasant like this, it makes for a nice walk.

We enjoyed this bit of Nevada history, and expect to return on a nice spring day packing a lunch and exploring the rest of the trails in the complex.
Tags: fernley, history, nevada

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