Rolling Stones of Pahranagat Valley
July 18, 2013
RIn the late 19th century, remote Pahranagat Valley in eastern Nevada had a brief brush with fame.
Most people aren’t familiar with the valley, located about 75 miles northeast of Las Vegas on U.S. 93, but in 1867 legendary Virginia City journalist William Wright, who used the pen name, Dan De Quille, made it famous in one of his most outrageous tall tales.
In a story that appeared in the Territorial Enterprise, he wrote of meeting a man from the Pahranagat Valley who showed him a half dozen pebbles that were almost perfectly round. The man said that the rocks were “rolling stones,” which, when spread out, would gravitate together “like a bunch of eggs in a nest.”
De Quille described how the man would set the stones on a floor or table in a circle and the rocks would begin moving toward each other. He speculated that the stones probably rolled together because they were made of lodestone or magnetic iron ore.
After the story appeared in the Enterprise, it was picked up by newspapers all over the country and generated a flood of letters from people curious about the marvelous rolling stones. De Quille reported that P.T. Barnum wrote him to offer $10,000 if the rocks could be coaxed into performing under a circus tent.
In 1879, De Quille finally tired of having to repeat the story and wrote a short article in the Enterprise that exposed his duplicity. Many, however, refused to believe his retraction and thought he was lying in order to keep the rocks for himself.
The Pahranagat area also figured prominently in one of the most hair-raising adventures ever experienced by a Nevada governor.
In March 1866, Nevada’s first governor, Henry Blasdel, decided to travel to eastern Nevada to organize settlers in the area to support the creation of a new county.
The Governor had received promising reports about the mining potential in the Pahranagat Valley and was interested in seeing the region, which was part of the Utah Territory but had been proposed for inclusion into Nevada.
Additionally, Blasdel sought to establish a direct route to the area from western Nevada.
The journey proved arduous; with the scarcity of water being the biggest challenge. Blasdel’s party decided to head south from Carson City to Silver Peak (near Tonopah) and continued south into Death Valley.
As the group entered Death Valley, it lost contact with Carson City. No one would hear from Blasdel or his party for more than a month. The Sacramento Bee reported that the expedition had failed and its members had most likely perished.
In late May, news reached Carson City that the group had straggled into Pahranagat. A newspaper reporter traveling with the Governor later wrote that the only things that members of the expedition had to eat had been a few doves and lizards that wandered into camp. He added, however, that cooked lizards were “equal to any frogs that were ever roasted.”
After returning to Carson City by way of an already-established but longer northern route, Blasdel acknowledged that his venture had not been successful because there weren’t enough people in Pahranagat to form a county.
He also said that he would not recommend his short cut to Pahranagat because the trip was far too difficult.
In 1866, Pahranagat became part of the newly created Lincoln County, with Crystal Springs, which is 15 miles north of the Pahranagat Valley, named the county seat. A year later, the seat was moved to Hiko, located five miles north of Crystal Springs, and, in 1871, to Pioche.
These days, the Pahranagat Valley, which is a long, narrow crevice intersected by the Upper and Lower Pahranagat Lakes, is a quiet, sparsely populated place that is home to more birds than people. The two scenic lakes that stretch through its center are part of the Pahranagat National Wildlife Refuge, making the region a true, natural oasis — and the backdrop for some pretty good stories.
Richard Moreno has a passion for Nevada, its towns and people.