High Rock Canyon, "A strip of grass underfoot ... a strip of sky above." I quote from the old book I have in my hands. It was printed for Congress about 150 years ago after John C. Fremont explored the High Rock area. It was 1843 and '44 when he, Kit Carson, the group - and yes always the little cannon which proved its worth in the Oregon Klamath area when it scared off the hostile Indians over there.
We were tracing their trail for an article my husband was writing. It was winter for the half-starved men but spring for us in 1936. In the narrow canyon, a pair of golden eagles were nesting high on the red-brown walls of High Rock. Along the small creek there were strange plants that later a botanist told my husband (at a faculty meeting) that the plants were found nowhere else.
Next day we climbed the dark mountain where Fremont saw what he thought were Indian fires. It was the steam from the hot springs at what is now Gerlach. On the top of our mountain, a powerful buckskin horse with black tail and mane stamped his hoof at me. His mares were behind him so we hiked down as soon as we got pictures which verified that the description in Fremont's diary matched the terrain where we stood.
Through the years and on his summer breaks from teaching at the university, we explored the area because not only Fremont, but the Applegate and Lassen trails came through there - mostly the 49ers headed for California after Marshall (in 1848) found gold out from Sutter's Mill (now Sacramento).
One summer on our way to High Rock Lake, there were about eight people camped at one of the few springs. Two of their young boys were destroying the water hole by riding two motorcycles into the water source. Above them were some thirsty wild mares. When we approached the adults and protested, one person said, "No one says the kids can't do it." They were right as there was no control to stop them.
At the cave where the early travelers of 1849 had left messages and their signatures, I heard a noise and inside was a man cutting out one of the inscriptions. When I asked him what he thought he was doing, he said, "I want it for my garden."
I could go on and on with the different destructions that we have seen. We took in a group of prominent people from the Reno area hoping they would help us save this historic place. Next we tried to get the National Park interested by getting some of their people in there, but the area was more than they could handle. Later, my husband in his Jeep led a group of BLM men who had ever seen that region that was in their charge.
Now at the age of almost 89, I wish for our children that they too get to be at High Rock Lake at night to hear the coyote calling to his mate. May the offspring of my buckskin horse have his water holes, may the strange plant still bloom in the little stream flowing through the high cliffs that reach the sky; and most of all, may the signature of those early pioneers of our nation still be in High Rock Cave.
This piece of land can be the Black Rock High Rock National Conservation area which will finally give it the protection it needs so our children can enjoy it.