Exhibits: The Lands: National Landscape Conservation System
National Conservation Areas
National Conservation Areas (NCAs) are designated by Congress to conserve, protect, enhance, and manage public land areas for the benefit and enjoyment of present and future generations. NCAs feature exceptional natural, recreational, cultural, wildlife, aquatic, archeological, paleontological, historical, educational, and/or scientific resources.
Black Rock Desert- High Rock Canyon - Emigrant Trails National Conservation Area
After the long journey from Missouri over the Continental Divide, the homesteaders who sought a new life in California faced the hardest part of their journey. From Salt Lake City, they must cross through the Great Basin desert of Utah and Nevada, a land of rugged mountains and wide valleys-- both largely without water for people or livestock. With the prospect of gold or merely a better life luring them on, thousands made this dangerous and difficult passage, and their footprints are carved deep in the desert.
As the decades passed, much of this trail has been erased, but there is one stretch of desert where the route remains much as it was 150 years ago-- where the trail cut over a huge playa ( a dried lakebed), and through the canyons carved in the soft stone of the surrounding hills. The lack of development or subsequent human traffic has preserved not only the trail and artifacts from that era, but also the landscape the settlers saw.
In December 2000, President Clinton signed legislation creating the 797,100- acre Black Rock Desert-High Rock Canyon Emigrant Trails National Conservation Area. The NCA protects about 120 miles of emigrant trails, from Rye Patch Reservoir north through the Black Rock Desert and Mud Meadows, and then west through Fly Canyon and High Rock Canyon, ending near Vya, Nevada. Visitors tracking the past can find wagon ruts, historic inscriptions, and the same wild and empty landscape the emigrants deplored as they traveled to their new homes. The National Conservation Area also includes a portion of the 1843-1844 John Charles Fremont exploration route, the site of the death of Peter Lassen, early military facilities, and examples of early homesteading and mining.
The NCA is more than historic trails. The Black Rock Desert Playa, a remnant of ancient Lake Lahontan, covers a large portion of the conservation area. The NCA, which includes ten wilderness areas, also contains a broad representation of Great Basin land forms and plant and animal species, including golden eagles and other birds of prey, sage grouse, mule deer, pronghorn antelope, bighorn sheep, free roaming horses and burros, threatened fish and sensitive plants. The archaeological, paleontological, and geographical resources of the Black Rock-High Rock region include numerous prehistoric and historic Native American sites, wooly mammoth sites, some of the largest natural potholes of North America, and a remnant dry Pelistocene lakebed (the playa) where the curvature of the Earth may be observed.
The National Conservation Area was created to preserve this landscape as the emigrants saw it, but also to protect the many current uses of these lands. The playa is known as the proving grounds for the land speed record, and is popular for many types of recreation, including dirt sailing and the annual Burning Man festival. Grazing has been a traditional use of these lands for over a century, and will be permitted to continue according to the BLM's grazing management plan. Existing mining leases will also be permitted to continue operation, although no new leases will be granted. Motorized access will also continue to be allowed in on existing roads and trails in all non-wilderness areas.
Winnemucca Field Office
Bureau of Land Management
5100 East Winnemucca Blvd.
Winnemucca, NV 89445
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