60 miles roundtrip
Carson Valley has an important place in the history of Nevada, and has always been one of Nevada’s special places.
Intersected by the Emigrant Trail—the route that many early pioneers used
to travel to California—the lush, green valley was among the first places
settled in the state of Nevada. In the 1850s, a correspondent for a San Francisco newspaper
was so taken by the valley’s fertile grasslands—which were ideal
for grazing horses and cattle—that he described it as a “paradise
for quadrapeds (horses).”
The first permanent settlement in the valley was Genoa, which was founded
by Mormon traders in 1851. Additionally, a handful of other, mostly forgotten,
hamlets sprouted along the valley’s western edge, in the shadow of the
Sierra Nevada range. These communities, with names like Mottsville, Sheridan,
Fairview and Centerville, catered to travelers.
But while these town names are largely gone, it’s still possible to
retrace the route along the valley’s west side and, despite recent development,
catch glimpses of the region that carried such appeal for the pioneers.
When visiting Nevada, the best place to start the journey is at the intersection of U.S. 395 and
State Route 206 (Jack’s Valley Road), located about 5 miles south of Carson
City. The road initially runs west toward the mountains, through a largely residential
A few miles along, the road gradually turns south, passing by beautiful pasturelands
that bump up against the mountains including John Ascuaga’s Nugget Ranch.
To the left you can see the broad valley as it spreads out into the distance.
The road passes newer developments on the outskirts of Genoa, but in many
places the old Carson Valley peeks through. For instance, a few miles before
Genoa, hidden in tall trees below the road, is the historic Adams House. Built
in the early 1860s, the two-story, white-pillared brick structure was once a
hotel for travelers. Today, it is a private residence still owned by members
of the pioneering Adams family.
The road continues through picturesque Genoa, a community filled with historic
homes and buildings, and passes David Walley’s Hot Springs Resort. Here,
the area loses a bit of its built-up character, offering views of open grasslands
and beautiful mountain peaks.
Farther south, the road, now called Foothill Road, passes Van Sickle Station,
site of what was once the largest hotel on the trail. Built by Henry Van Sickle
in 1857, over the years it served as a trading post, freight station, Pony Express
station and stagecoach stop. Several of the original buildings remain standing.
One of the more colorful early Nevada stories involves Henry Van Sickle. According
to some accounts, one of Nevada’s earliest outlaws was a man named Sam
Brown. Apparently, in the early 1860s, Brown, who is believed to have killed
more than a half dozen men, attended a friend’s trial in Genoa hoping to
intimidate the jury. At the door, however, he was told he could only enter the
courtroom if he relinquished his weapons.
He rode off, arriving in a foul mood at Henry Van Sickle’s ranch, which
also served as an inn. According to some stories, he then fired his gun, for
no apparent reason, at Van Sickle, who was standing on his porch, then chased
Van Sickle through the house. Unable to catch the rancher, Brown rode off to
Carson City. Van Sickle, in turn, grabbed his shotgun and followed Brown. He
caught up with the outlaw and, after trading several shots and a lengthy chase,
killed Brown. Van Sickle, who was later found to have acted in self-defense,
is said to have told Brown just before shooting him, “I got you and I kills
A little farther up the road is the site of old Kingsbury Grade road (an historic
marker notes the spot). While earlier called the Georgetown Trail and Dagget
Pass Trail, it became known as Kingsbury Grade in honor of one of the builders
of an 1860 wagon road that crossed the Sierra range here. A mile farther is modern-day
Six miles south of Genoa is a sign noting the former location of Mottsville.
The settlement was named for Hiram Mott, an early Carson Valley rancher. The
Mott family was prominent in early Nevada history. Hiram Mott’s daughter-in-law,
Eliza, was one of the first non-Indian women to settle in the state. The Mottsville
Cemetery, which is still there, was among the state’s first cemeteries,
having been established in 1857.
A few miles farther south is the former site of Sheridan (another historic
marker notes the site). Founded as a general store for travelers in 1855 by Moses
Job (namesake for nearby Job’s Peak, the tall mountain to the west), within
a few years a town grew up on the site.
For a brief time, Sheridan was the largest community in Carson Valley, but
by the late 1890s it had begun to decline. Today, only a handful of original
structures can still be found hidden amongst newer houses.
From here, the road passes a handful of small farms and plenty of open land.
It’s pretty country that speaks of the kind of place most of the Carson
Valley was once. About 30 miles from where the journey began, the road turns
east and ends at State Route 88. From here, you can go north to U.S. 395 at Minden
and return to Carson City or head south to Markleeville, California.
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