Carson River Canyon: A place of adventure

Couresty Nevada Commission on Tourism

Couresty Nevada Commission on Tourism

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The scenic but under-appreciated Carson River Canyon, extending nearly nine miles from Deer Run Road to the Santa Maria Ranch in Lyon County, has in recent decades become a place for illegal activities, homeless camps and trash dumping, but all that is likely to change in the next few years.

A convergence of efforts - including open space purchases, whitewater rafting and plans to extend the V&T Railroad - may turn the canyon into an extraordinary outdoor recreation/tourist attraction.

"We're starting to gain some momentum with this," said Carson City Parks and Recreation Director Roger Moellendorf during a Wednesday 4-by-4 drive through the canyon. "The aquatic trail is something to really be proud of, and the sheer beauty is incredible. I hope it changes attitudes that it's not OK to dump old cars and trash out here."

Whitewater rafting

With a rafting season expected to extend into July this year, locals may want to see for themselves what Carson City has to offer in terms of outdoor adventure.

The Carson River Aquatic Trail, which winds through the scenic Carson River Canyon, is poised to become a destination for whitewater river enthusiasts.

"Carson City became an official Nevada whitewater rafting and kayaking destination ... when officials cut the ribbon to open the first developed facilities for boaters to put in and take out of the Carson River," said Chris Chrystal, media relations manager for the Nevada Commission on Tourism.

The 9.3-mile stretch of river from Morgan Mill Road River Access Area just west of Deer Run Bridge to the take-out at Lyon County's Santa Maria Ranch features numerous Class II/III rapids appropriate for intermediate to advanced skills for kayakers and rafters.

"We want to help give Carson City a brand and identity," Chrystal said. "This project also gives us a dimension to our quality of life in Carson City, which contributes to our sense of well-being."

Part of the project the commission helped put into effect within the past couple of years was a massive car cleanup operation where National Guard helicopters hauled more than 20 cars out of the river and surrounding area.

Carson City Convention & Visitors Bureau Executive Director Candy Duncan said whitewater rafting will be an asset in marketing the capital city.

"It's one more thing we can add to our menu. There is a lot of enthusiasm out there right now. I always thought that the river was an under-used asset," Duncan said.

The CCCVB will likely need to wait until next year to get the word out nationally.

"We had to have that (Morgan Mill boat) launch before we could announce, and the season is limited because of water flows, so it's a little late for marketing this year, but we're definitely ramping up for early spring next year," she said.

For anyone interested in riding the rapids this year, however, Great Basin Sports offers guided 9.3-mile adventure tours, including equipment and instruction, for $75 per person. It's the only outfitter currently offering raft and kayak tours of the river.

Each raft accommodates six people, including a guide, and the trip takes about three hours.

"Our rafting season usually goes through June, but this year, depending on the snowmelt, we could go through July," owner Pat Fried said.

For those interested in a more leisurely float down the river - but not through the canyon - Fried offers a 3.3-mile Eagle Valley Class I/II Float from Carson River Park to Morgan Mill Park for $40 per person. The trip takes about 1 1⁄2 hours.

"These are interpretive tours where we talk about things like history of the area, birding and history of the Carson River," she said.

For more information or to make reservations, call 450-3446 or e-mail

Open space

Carson City is working with two major landholders in the Carson River Canyon to purchase nearly 900 acres for open space. If the sales go through, the city would own nearly all the land through the canyon.

Open Space Manager Juan Guzman said 405 acres is owned by John Serpa east of Deer Run Road for which the city is in negotiations, and a deal could soon be signed for another 470 acres owned by Don Bently for land that connects to the Serpa property and runs almost to the Lyon County line.

All of the property would require management, something that hasn't escaped the notice of the city.

"These lands will require a great amount of management and we are prepared to do that. We'll need to control fuels, weeds, trash or cars that are dumped. We are fully aware of those responsibilities," Guzman said.

Purchases will be made from Question 1 state funds and Question 18 city funds, both voter-approved quality of life sales tax initiatives.

V&T Railroad

Plans are also afoot to extend the V&T Railroad farther into the Carson River Canyon. The train runs from the depot off of Flint Drive near Mound House to Virginia City, but the tracks head south into the Carson River Canyon.

Proponents hope to eventually take the tracks farther into the canyon along the historic railroad bed to the old mining smelter which provides enough open flat terrain to build what is known as a balloon track turnaround.

Although this will allow a rich scenic experience for train passengers sometime in the future, the old railbed is now used for offroad vehicle traffic, so conflicts could emerge.

Carson City Park Planner Vern Krahn said although some people won't like losing vehicular access to the canyon, others will appreciate getting the area cleaned up.

"The train could curtail car and appliance dumping and other illegal activity. It could force those kinds of people out of here," he said.

Working with Lyon County, the city hopes to build trails for hikers, bicyclists and equestrians.

"We're envisioning a canyon with the aquatic trail running through it and a train steaming along the hills. The selling point is the naturalness - that most of it is untouched by man," Krahn said.

Other uses

Debra Brand of Carson City had driven along the river Wednesday to enjoy the tranquility. She said she does a lot of fishing in the river.

"I like it down here. It's close to home and I like to fish. I catch a variety down here like catfish, bass and trout," she said.

"I would camp, but there are a lot of homeless people out here. It could be very nice though, because it's gorgeous down here. There are eagles and all kinds of wildlife. People don't know what's out here," Brand said.

But Kirk White, also of Carson City, said he'd be unhappy if the train tracks blocked his access to drive through the canyon.

"I'd just as soon you leave it alone if there's no vehicle access," White told Moellendorf as both stopped along the narrow roadway through the canyon heading in opposite directions.

"We really like being able drive up here. We like spending our leisure time doing just this, and I think there's enough room for everybody to have a little bit of what they want," he said.


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