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The little-known Shoshone Mountains in west central Nevada begin our list at the tenth spot. This chain is the westernmost of the many central Nevada "caterpillar" ranges that encompass the great wide open between US 50 and US 6 with this range taking up a great swath of Nye and Lander Counties. The Shoshones are among the driest of the high ranges - receiving only 15 inches or less of precipitation in an average year. Its highest point, North Shoshone Peak scrapes the sky at 10,312 feet, just north of the town of Ione, the only community within the mountain range. This wild range is crossed by only two primitive roads, Union Canyon from Berlin and County Route 21 from Ione.
The Shoshones are best known for giving up the world's largest-known skeletal remains of the Ichthyosaur that were excavated in 1974. So, how do you know if you're entering the Shoshones? Just look at a map and find those three points of interest: Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park, Carroll Summit along the "Old Lincoln Highway" (SR 722), and the town of Gabbs. Once you have them connect these dots by drawing a broad triangle. The Shoshones make up the middle of that triangle.
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Here's a range that stands alone ... literally, and one that barely earns a higher spot at Number 9. The mighty Stillwater Range, located in western Nevada is shared by Churchill and Pershing Counties by a south-southwest to north-northeast running ridge that runs for approximately 70 miles! The "Stillwaters" are a formidable barrier that separates the Carson Sink and the fertile Lahontan Valley (on the west) from Dixie Valley (on the east).
The highest point in the Stillwater Range is Job Peak (8,790 feet) with two other significant peaks above 8,000 feet. Don't let these low elevations fool you! The "Stills" are a mostly a dry range, but they manage to wring out enough annual precipitation to form three perennial streams with dozens more seasonal west-side flowing streams that drain into the lush Stillwater Refuge. On its north end, the range meets an uneventful end as it molds into the East Range, just north of Dixie Valley. Of course, the enormous 600-foot Sand Mountain can be found on the southern end of the range in between Four Mile Flat and Sand Springs Pass.
When in the Lahontan Valley or the city of Fallon, look to the east. The Stillwaters are likely to be the only range in the area that will be laced with a topping of snow.
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At 71 miles long, this mighty mountain range is known more for its height rather than its length. Regardless, these mountains are nothing to scoff at. The Toquima Range dominates the Nye County skyline with a small extension into Lander County, overshadowed only by their western neighbor, the Toiyabe Range.
The Toquima Range is known for its enormous high central section of subalpine tundra surrounding the three summits of Mount Jefferson, reaching its maximum elevation at the mountain's south summit at 11,949 feet (third highest summit in the state.) As such, this section was given protection under wilderness status, the Alta Toquima Wilderness, in 1984. Though mostly dry, the Toquimas hold more than enough snow to host six perennial streams with several other less-pronounced seasonal creeks, the most prominent of them being Mosquito, Barley, and Cottonwood Creeks.
So, as far as our maze of central Nevada ranges go, how does one determine the Toquimas from the Toiyabes, the Pancakes, the Hot Creeks, and the Monitors? Simple. Look to both ends of the range: Hickison Summit and US 50 at its north end and Salsberry Pass and US 6 on its south end. In the Big Smoky Valley, you are enclosed between the two massive mountain walls. Always know that the Toiyabes form the valley's western wall on the west and the Toquimas on the east. If you find yourself in the towns of Round Mountain, Manhattan, or Belmont, you've also found yourself in the Toquima Range. Access into the range has become easier over the years to account for their steadily increasing popularity. Trailheads can be found at each of the three creeks, including one specific trailhead to Mt. Jefferson itself from the east.
Santa Rosa Range
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Are you aching for a lesser-known mountain range? How about verdant fields of wildflowers, lush groves of aspen, and maybe some icy streams to soak those achy hiking soles? The lovely Santa Rosa Range might be for you. Here's a range that's quite discernable on a map yet relatively unknown to most Nevadans. This beautiful range extends for approximately 75 miles north from Winnemucca Mountain to their immediate end at the Oregon state line near McDermitt and for commuters on US 95 the Santa Rosas provide a pleasant backdrop for that long trip! The Santa Rosas crest at Granite Peak (9,732 feet) in its southern section where it and the rest of its heavily eroded terrain remains protected as the Santa Rosa-Paradise Peak Wilderness Area.
It's the west side that demands the most attention. The steep western face of the Santa Rosas form an almost impenetrable barrier from the Quinn River Valley and only a few, very steep canyons allow intrepid hikers to sneak their way in. This massive wall is the great contributor to the range's well-watered interior, backing up clouds and forcing precip out of east flowing Pacific storms. Take a drive up the range's only through route, the unpaved Hinkey Summit Road into a world of green forests, aspen glens, and eye-popping wildflower fields. In comparison, the drier eastern side of the range is a ranching district centralized around Paradise Valley and drained by the Little Humboldt River, a tributary of the Humboldt near the Owyhee Desert. What a difference a few miles make!
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The Rubies stand-alone in the Great Basin so for them to take our Number 6 spot is a true honor. Although they aren't even close in "longest" status the Rubies hold their own special superlative that no other range can compete. We'll get to that in a minute. Geographically, the Ruby Mountains run south-southwest for approximately 79 miles yet attain a width of 11 miles. The high point of the range is Ruby Dome (11,387 feet), but the ranges contains a dozen more peaks exceeding 10,000 feet.
The "Rubies" take their name after early explorers, of whom found garnets along Lamoille Creek and unknowingly mistook them for rubies. What separates these mountains from virtually every other range in Nevada boils down to one word: water. What's ironic is their centralized location in the dead center of the Great Basin, a location that allows them to collect over 300 inches of precip every year. Instead of lofty sagebrush bajadas and typical PJ Woodland, the Rubies showcase montane forests, U-shaped canyons, glacial moraines, hanging valleys, and steeply carved granite mountains, spires, icy cirques, and mountain tarns more typical of the Rockies than the Great Basin. Truly, the Rubies look the least like any other Great Basin range earning them the nickname "The Sierra Nevada of the Great Basin." All of these features can be seen inside the giant U-shaped Lamoille Canyon along the scenic 12-mile Lamoille Canyon Road.
Geologically the Rubies are the perfect example of an "island mountain." With the exception of their northern neighbor (the East Humboldt Range) the Ruby Mountains are completely bounded by valleys on all sides -- the lush Ruby Valley on the east and the Huntington and Lamoille Valleys on the west. Unfortunately, this also prevents public access into the range on virtually all sides with access mostly limited to inside Lamoille Canyon and a handful of trailheads. From here, a network of excellent hiking and backpacking trails welcome visitors from all around the state, including the Ruby Crest National Scenic Trail, a 33-mile long trek along the spine of the range.
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The modest Monitor Range splits our list but at 86 miles long this range brings nothing to scoff! The Monitors comprise one of the many central Nevada "caterpillar" ranges that span central Nevada. And yes, they're dry as well, but still manage to wring out enough yearly precip to host three perennial stream, the largest being Pine Creek at the central core of the range. It is here that the range's highest point can be found at Table Mountain (10,886 feet) in its very own Wilderness Area. This range might not be the longest, but it is certainly one of the most remote in the entire state.
The Monitor Range resides half in Nye County and half in Eureka County - roughly bounded by US 50 at its north end and US 6 at its south end. When in doubt bring along an atlas and start yourself in Gabbs and count the number of ranges heading east, this one being the fifth from the Shoshone Mountains. Access is no easy feat, but the best direct access is generally done from the Monitor Valley on the west notably Wallace Canyon or the western ridge of Table Mountain or the trailhead at Pine Creek from the east. From either side you'll find signed mileage to its remote trailheads which are relatively well-maintained by the Forest Service. Its remote location in Nevada makes it one of the more wilder ranges in the state and finding solitude here often happens the moment you step out of your rig.
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Here's a range that even lifelong Nevadans have never heard of and those who have heard about it often lock it away in their mind and rarely remember to pay it visit. The sinuous Pancake Range is located in east-central Nevada beginning at the far southwest corner of White Pine County where it runs erratically southwest into Nye County like a wild "S." Despite their ambiguity the Pancakes in all of their glory boast a length of approximately 90 miles! This chain of mountains covers quite a bit of central Nevada ground spanning west-southwest from its north end with Newark Valley to just north of Railroad Valley and the Lunar Crater Volcanic Field. They reach a maximum elevation of 9,240 feet at Portuguese Mountain just over the Nye County line.
If you don't know your Nevada geography telling the difference between the Pancakes and its neighboring ranges is almost impossible except for the fact that this range resides far north than its other neighbors. In its southern section, its flat-topped peaks even begin to look like Pancakes, a likely source for its name. If you're headed east on US 50 the Pancakes are the first range you'll summit upon entering White Pine County. This is easy to remember. Although it might seem lofty in appearance this range is far from a walk in the park as evident by US 50's very steep mountain pass on Little Pancake Summit. Not only is it surprisingly rugged and laced with dozens of limestone canyons, the range is blanketed heavily with some of the densest Pinion forests in the Great Basin. In fact, many hunters make it a local tradition to visit the Pancakes because it is so primitive and densely wooded. The woodlands make perfect refuge for Rocky Mountain Elk, Mule Deer, Mountain Lions, and a summer range for Pronghorn.
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The handsome Egan Range and its line of lofty peaks sets the stage for our top 3 longest mountain ranges in Nevada. Named after the Egan Family of the 1890s, the Egans run south for 108 miles from the town of Cherry Creek extending into the northern part of Lincoln County where it quietly melts away into the remote Cave Valley. This range is bounded on the east by the massive Steptoe Valley and the even longer Schell Creek Range. To the west are the White River Valley and the very scenic White Pine Range.
Start in Ely and take a drive on US 93 and you'll see that the Egan Range rises steadily to the south. In fact, Ely is the low point of the range dropping to a meager 6,213 feet - very low by Nevada standards. It's this southern section of the range that attracts the most attention though, specifically the high ridge of Ward Mountain, the highest point in the range at 10,936 feet. Ward Mountain is a unique peak in Nevada because of its alpine crest that extends over 3 miles! The Egans are greatly overshadowed by the much higher and well-watered Schell Creeks, but it is quickly finding attention from outdoorsmen - mainly hunters who find plenty of game in the more remote Egans. The only paved roads over the range are US 6 and US 50 (both in Ely), meaning the remainder of this wild place is completely roadless and accessed by short side canyons, primitive dirt roads on both sides of the range, and the unpaved Shingle Pass Road on its extreme south end. In fact, many parts of the range have yet to be discovered and those portions that have were hastily given "wilderness" protection. These surprising ecosystems boast aspen glens, alpine tundra, watered canyons, limestone caves, and lofty ridges. On your next visit to Ely, I'll bet you'll never look at them the same again.
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Of all the great ranges in central Nevada none is probably better known than the elegant Toiyabe Range. The Toiyabes "begin" just north of Tonopah (northwestern Nye County) from a lofty set of hills and and run a complete straight line path of 120 miles to just north of Tonopah (Nye County). These mountains are both a geographic indicator and an iconic symbol of Nevada all at the same time -- a snowy island of mountains that rise vertically above a sagebrush sea. Find any postcard of central Nevada and there's a good chance the Toiyabes will be the signature feature.
From whatever side you're on be it the Reese River Valley on the west or the Big Smoky Valley on the east the Toiyabes dominate the skyline! What makes them so intriguing isn't so much for these reasons but for its abundance of ecosystems, all of which can be found less than four air miles from the arid valley floor ... a true geological oddity in the Great Basin! By comparison, it takes about seven miles for full transition from valley floor to the alpine crest of other Nevada ranges. The blueprints for the Toiyabe Range were determined about 10,000 years ago during the Pleistocene epoch. Although dry by mountain range standards and clearly within the Sierra Nevada rain shadow, geologically the Toiyabes are still too arid to support many forests except for aspens and a few scattered species of pine. Unlike the other ranges in central Nevada the climate in the Toiyabes was also extremely cold and snowy enough to develop alpine glaciers in several places with cirques, moraines, and other glacial features that can be found today on the rockiest slopes and summits. What we have today is a chain of mountains that bears over 35 perennial streams including two major rivers, isolated stands of bristlecone pine, alpine scree, and four peaks exceeding 11,000 feet. The range's highest point at Arc Dome (11,788 feet) is a perfect example of this - a solid mass of rock and ice above the surrounding desert valleys.
Only two routes cross the Toiyabes: US 50 at Austin Summit and the unpaved Kingston Canyon Road just below Bunker Hill. This means the rest of this massive range is completely roadless. As a result, the Toiyabes have been given even more attention by the federal government in 2005 with the establishment of Nevada's largest Wilderness Area, the Arc Dome Wilderness Unit in addition to the Toiyabe Crest National Scenic Trail, a 66-mile long trail that rides the southern spine of the range. It's no wonder then these hills are quickly becoming a popular backpacking destination ... one of the last untamed mountain ranges of its kind in the lower 48 states.
Before we reveal our Number 1, let's take a few moments to honor the few mountain ranges that fell just short of the list!
(c) Northern Nevada Photography
Snake Range 60 miles
Highest Point: Wheeler Peak (13,063')
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(c) Ralph Maughan
Cherry Creek Range 50 miles
Highest Point: Cherry Creek Peak (10,542')
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(c) Great Basin Ute
Goshute Mountains 47 miles
Highest Point: Goshute Peak (9,610')
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South Schell Peak from Timber Creek
Schell Creek Range
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Nevada brochures might be over-clogged with images of Wheeler Peak and the Snake Range, Lake Tahoe and the Carson Range, or the intense fall beauty of the Ruby Mountains. Perhaps they've never heard of the Schell Creek Range, or maybe, they just haven't found their way here ... yet. For many people unfamiliar with the ranges of Nevada, this one might come as a surprise, but make no mistake -- the majestic, and often overlooked Schell Creeks win the spot for the longest mountain range in Nevada!
Known by the locals as the "Schells," this range stretches for approximately 132 miles in an almost perfect north-south arrangement. "North-South" indeed. This chain comprises two major groups of peaks and are commonly viewed as two separate ranges, the North Schells and the South Schells. The southern section is the lower of the two, rising from a tiny point in Lincoln County then undulates quickly to the summit of Mt. Grafton (10,990 feet) (Lincoln County high point) where it drops quickly to a line of lower summits, eventually reaching its lowest point its only road crossing -- 7,723-foot Connors Pass (US 6/50/93). After Connors, the range rises considerably to its most popular section at Cave Lake State Park and the scenic Success Summit Loop. It is here the Schells reach their apex of three simultaneous peaks ... South Schell Peak (11,785'), Taft Peak (11,734') and North Schell Peak (11,883'), the official high point of the range. From here, the range makes a very slow descent to lower elevations, dropping to Schellbourne Pass at 7,984 feet, Becky Peak (10,008'), before meeting its ends at the floor of Steptoe Valley near Lages Station.
The Schell Creeks boast not only length, but substance as well! Its abundance of high peaks collects its fair share of precipitation, making it one of the wettest ranges in the Great Basin. Twenty two perennial streams flow both west and east of the range with dozens of side canyons providing moderate to challenging access into the range's higher reaches. The best trailheads can be found on the west within the Duck Creek Basin, a sub-valley of the Schell Creeks, notably Berry Creek, Timber Creek, and the unpaved Success Summit Loop. From the more remote Spring Valley side, Cleve Creek, Kalamazoo Creek, and McCoy Creek provide even more challenging access into the rugged eastern slopes. It's likely in time this massive mountain range will be discovered by young and old Nevadans alike, but for now, those who do know about it, whisper quietly. They may not graze the covers soon, but the Schells represent wild Nevada is every possible way.
To this range, we salute you!
Author: Paul Sebesta
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