Finding traces of Nevada’s first people at Hickison Summit
Sometimes it can be worthwhile to revisit a place where you’ve been to before. That was the case when I recently stopped at the Hickison Summit area off U.S. 50, about 20 miles east of Austin.
I’d been to the Hickison Summit Bureau of Land Management rest area on several previous occasions. But on this particular visit, I was able to spend a little more time at the site, and discovered that I had only seen a portion of what is there.
The site is about a mile off the highway via a graded dirt road. At first glance, it appears to be little more than a couple of picnic tables tucked into a forest of bushy piñon trees in a canyon.
However, if you walk along the marked interpretive trail, you quickly find that this is a site rich with ancient petroglyphs, which are prehistoric rock carvings.
On my earlier stops, I had seen a handful of the stone etchings along a sandstone cliff directly southwest of the parking lot. This time, I studied the rock walls more closely and discovered dozens more horseshoe-shaped carvings as well as various squiggles, circles and patterns etched into the stone.
While the exact meaning of these carvings isn’t known, many archaeologists believe that the Hickison Summit glyphs represented fertility. Additionally, in some places, the symbols seem to suggest the seasons and elements, particularly the sun.
The trail leads to the opposite side of the canyon where, if you look up closely at the walls, you can find additional rock symbols carved high in the stone.
During my previous visits, I had also not noticed that there are petroglyphs carved into several large stone boulders near the picnic area.
These include writing that resembles some kind of multiple-legged creature, as well as intricate grid-style patterns.
In addition to the rock art, the Hickison Summit site in the Simpson Park Mountains also features exceptional scenery (perhaps that’s what really attracted those early people who carved the petroglyphs).
A short trail leads to the top of a rise behind the canyon and a scenic overview spot that offers a great view of the surrounding area.
Indeed, the rugged, picturesque cliffs and thick piñon grove, at about 6,500 feet elevation, make this a cool, shaded place to relax before tackling the rest of Highway 50, the “Loneliest Road in America.”
The site also includes restrooms and a half-dozen day-use picnic tables.
For those wanting to camp (in the warmer months), check out the Bob Scott Campground about 15 miles west of Hickison Summit on Highway 50 (10 miles east of Austin). This Forest Service area includes 15 campsites in piñons, picnic tables and drinking water. There is a fee for overnight camping.
n Richard Moreno is the author of “Backyard Travels in Northern Nevada” and “The Roadside History of Nevada.”