Friday Field Trip: Washoe Valley

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When the fictional Claire Jordan returns home in February of 2000 in Chapter 3 of Us, Now and Then, she drives through Washoe Valley. During the many years I lived in Carson City but attended UNR classes and writers’ groups in Reno, I always relished the drive home through this picturesque valley. Now I-580 skirts some of these places, but I hope my poem, “The Drive Back” conveys some of what Claire felt. Something we share.

Driving home from writers’ group in Reno

always later than I intend,

as we lingered over language and Chardonnay.

Afterward

the long drive back to Carson.

Off the freeway,

through Steamboat,

Pleasant Valley

up the hill past East Lake

and down into Washoe Valley.

The speed limit changes from 50 to 70.

I roll the windows down,

the air changes.

The fragrance of grass, sage, pine–

damp fresh–

lets me know I’m nearly home.

If I lived in Reno, I’d be home by now

But I wouldn’t

smell this,

feel this,

have this

welcome home.

But Washoe Valley, named for the indigenous people who once lived here, has charms besides the view. Here are just three.

Washoe Lake State Park

 

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From their website: “Nestled in a scenic valley where bald eagles soar, Washoe Lake State Park offers breathtaking views of the Sierra Nevada, Carson and Virginia mountain ranges. A popular area for hiking, camping, picnicking, water sports and equestrian activities, the park also hosts a diverse range of birds and waterfowl, such as American white pelicans and Canada geese. Anglers can aim for channel and bullhead catfish, wipers, white bass and Sacramento Perch. Situated between Reno and Carson City, the park is a true treasure for local residents and visitors to enjoy year-round.”

While many programs have been canceled due to COVID-19, check their website for current conditions and services available.

 Davis Creek Regional Park

 

Davis Creek is a great little county park with camping, hiking, and a pond. And easy to get to from either Reno or Carson City if you just want to get away and into the trees.

From their website: “Located 20 miles south of Reno, this year-round recreational destination includes over 200 acres of pine and sage desert nestled against Slide Mountain on the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Outdoor recreational opportunities include a campground with hot showers, scenic picnic areas surrounding a small fishing pond, hiking trails, an equestrian friendly trailhead, two reservable group camping areas, a large reservable group picnic area, an outdoor amphitheater and various interpretive programs. Be prepared for outstanding views of Washoe Lake and Slide Mountain while visiting Davis Creek Regional Park.”

Bowers Mansion

Washoe bowersBowers Mansion is a fine example of the grand houses built by Comstock boom millionaires. Its history and that of Eilley Oram Bowers, a thrice-married farmer’s daughter, immigrant, pioneer, and boardinghouse proprietor who became one of the richest women in the United States, is as colorful as the era. In fact, Eiley’s story sounds like it could have been the inspiration for the “Unsinkable Molly Brown!”

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Sandy and Eilley Bowers

Fulfilling Eilley’s ambitions and her dreams of prestige and respectability, she and her third husband Lemuel Sanford (Sandy) Bowers built and furnished one of the most expensive buildings in the western United States at the time. Designed by J. Neely Johnson, a former Governor of California, the two-story dressed granite stone mansion consisted of 16 rooms and would eventually cost $400,000 to build.

With the collapse of the Nevada mining economy and the death of Sandy in 1868, Eilley fell on hard financial times. She became bankrupt and reinvented herself as a professional fortune-teller in Nevada and California. Worth over $4 million at the height of the Nevada mining boom, Eilley died penniless in a care home in Oakland, California.

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Abandoned for a time, the mansion was operated as a resort until 1946. The building is currently owned and operated by the Washoe County Parks Department. They offer tours of the mansion in summer and autumn.

Does Washoe Valley hold a special place in your heart? What are your favorite places here?

 

 

 

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