At the edge of Reno, Nevada

Just outside suburban Reno, Nevada there are trails that wind up into the surrounding hills. This lonely pine stands rugged and defiant against the weather on the edge of the city.

Wanderlust and ‘the next hill’

Ever since childhood, when I spent a lot of time walking the South Downs in England, on reaching one peak I seldom viewed the next without wishing I was on it. Time after time I found myself wandering further and further, driven by the need to be ‘on the next hill’. My travels have taken me all across Europe on foot, on trains, and by bike. To Malta, Egypt, Israel and Cypress, the US and Canada. Step by step, pedal by pedal. Last April my wife, son and I took a three-day railroad trip from Washington DC to Reno via Chicago to visit family, and once again found myself standing on one hill looking to the next. From here you can see the dusty, stony trails weaving their way across the rugged landscape, cluttered with rocks and peppered with low brush and wildflowers. In April the weather was warm and pleasant, the skies clear and blue but this region can get fiercely hot and bitterly cold. At the edge of suburban Reno, there are numerous trails that head up into the surrounding hills and mountains. At the start of this particular trail stands a defiant and weathered pine tree that characterizes both the beauty and the bleakness of the landscape in which Reno was built.

The origins of Reno, Nevada

Reno exists for three reasons: gold, the Truckee River and gambling. The gold and the river seeded the first settlements in this otherwise unforgiving environment. The gambling came later as the growing populace looked for something to do between prospecting for gold and silver. This then developed into a new revenue stream for the city, bringing in the tourists from far and wide. The Truckee River snakes through the desert creating a narrow ribbon of semi-arable land and supply of freshwater. More than this though, the Truckee presented a natural barrier to the flow of people and mining equipment into the valley. In 1860, when Charles Fuller constructed a log bridge across the river (at today’s Virginia Street) he created a focal point for transportation through the area. Charging a fee to prospectors traveling to Virginia City he also provided a place to rest, purchase a meal, and exchange information with other prospectors.

Lake’s Crossing

In 1861 Fuller’s bridge was sold to Myron Lake, who within a year had lost the bridge to a huge flood that swamped the Truckee. Lake rebuilt the bridge in 1682 and managed to get a year’s exclusive rights to Lake’s Crossing. No one else was allowed to create a set up like Lakes within a mile of the bridge. After purchasing Fuller’s bridge Myron Lake continued to buy up land in the area. With money from the bridge tolls he also built a gristmill, livery stable, and kiln. Despite this Lake was to wait six years before his venture really paid off.

The Railroad arrives in Reno

As with many of the interior cities of America, it was the railroad that was to really establish Reno as a city. Lake was a shrewd businessman and he made land agreements with Charles Crocker of the Central Pacific Railroad (CPRR). When the CPRR reached Nevada from Sacramento in 1868 Lake had ensured that his crossing was included in its path by deeding part of his land to the railroad. In turn, the CPRR promised to build a depot at Lake’s crossing. Just six weeks before the first train steamed into Lake’s Crossing the board of the CPRR decided to name the settlement around Lake’s Bridge after U.S. Army Major General Jesse Lee Reno, a Union hero of the Civil War. So on May 9, 1868, the city of Reno was established along the banks of the Truckee River.

At the edge of the city

This aging pine stands as a marker between the rapidly growing city and what was. Looking this way from the tree you see the desert, the hills and the landscape as it has been for hundreds of years, looking behind the camera you get a panoramic view of the sprawling city of Reno, covering the valley floor and growing out into the hills. So shortly after taking this photo, with the whole living history of Reno behind me, I was about halfway up the hill in the distance. There’s always another hill to climb!

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