Often viewed as a suburb of Las Vegas that developed in recent decades, Pahrump’s beginnings actually date to the 1880s, when it was first settled by Aaron and Rosie Winters, who earlier had discovered borax on the Death Valley playa near the mouth of Furnace Creek Wash.
The newly-wealthy Winters purchased a large ranch in the Pahrump Valley and planted grapes — even making wine, some of which was sold in local saloons. Sadly, the Winters success was short-lived as Rosie died shortly after they bought the ranch and Aaron lost the property due to unpaid taxes. It’s said he became a hermit and lived out his days prospecting in the nearby hills.
Prior to the Winters arrival, the area was home to the Southern Paiute people. In fact, the name, Pahrump, is believed to be derived from the Paiute word, “Pah-Rimpi” or “water rock,” because there were several abundant natural springs in the valley.
The Chief Tecopa Cemetery in Pahrump is the final resting place for many of the valley’s pioneers including Chief Tecopa, a leader of the Southern Paiute, who is believed to have lived from about 1815 to 1906.
An historical marker at the cemetery notes that Chief Tecopa was known as a peacemaker because after initially fighting with vigor to save his people’s land and traditional way of life (he fought against Kit Carson and John C. Fremont), he helped his people learn to live in harmony with the whites. Photos of Tecopa depict an elegantly dressed man who usually wore a bright red band suit with gold braid and a silk top hat.
By the 1890s, the valley was home to a handful of large ranches, many of which raised cattle as well as grew alfalfa and cotton. A post office opened in 1891 at the Manse Ranch to serve the entire Pahrump Valley.
Modern Pahrump didn’t begin to develop until the 1970s. Part of the reason for the slow evolution of the community is that State Route 160, which links Pahrump to Las Vegas, wasn’t paved until 1954. The Pahrump Valley didn’t receive electrical power until 1963 and the area had no telephone service, except for a radio transmitter phone in a phone booth next to a market, until the mid-60s.
In the 1970s, however, Pahrump began to boom as a result of real estate development spurred by retirees, snowbirds, escapees from California, and Las Vegas commuters who wanted a bit of elbow room.
The 65-mile drive from Las Vegas to Pahrump takes travelers along a portion of the historic Old Spanish Trail. The journey crosses the southern end of the Spring Mountain Range, which includes 11,918-foot Mount Charleston, the highest point in Southern Nevada.
In recent years, Pahrump, which now boasts nearly 40,000 people, has retained much of its rural flavor while gaining many of the amenities found in larger communities such as a medical clinic, health club, and an airstrip.
Golfers can enjoy Pahrump’s two top-notch golf courses including Mountain Falls Golf Club, and Lakeview Executive Golf Course. The beautifully manicured links skirt scenic ponds and streams teeming with bird life.
The community also is home to two wineries, the Mediterranean-style Pahrump Valley Winery, which opened in 1990, and the Sanders Family Winery, which was started a decade later.
Both are the brainchildren of Jack Sanders, a personable former Pahrump casino executive, and wine aficionado, who thought the region enjoyed a climate similar to the Temecula area in Southern California.
He opened the Pahrump Valley Winery, later sold it to Bill and Gretchen Loken, who expanded the facility and added an RV park, and then returned to the wine business with Sanders Family Winery.
Visitors to both can enjoy regular tours of the state-of-the-art wineries, followed by tastings. Additionally, both offer well-stocked gift shops while the Pahrump Valley Winery boasts an award-winning gourmet restaurant for lunch and dinner.
For information about Pahrump, go to www.visitpahrump.com.
Rich Moreno writes about the places and people that make Nevada unique.