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Hidden cave, petroglyphs, Pony Express...history around Fallon, Nevada.

Hidden cave, petroglyphs, Pony Express . . . history around Fallon, Nevada

In the now-dry basin of what was once ancient Lake Lahontan, the town of Fallon may seem like the middle of nowhere. But it's less than 2 hours from Lake Tahoe, and it's rich in the area's ancient and recent past.

You approach through ranchland. In town, you can visit the state's fourth-largest museum. Not far from town, you can tour two important archeological sites, Hidden Cave and Grimes Point, and rediscover a bit of Pony Express history.

From South Lake Tahoe, take U.S. 50 and follow signs. From Reno, take I-80 to U.S. 50, then go southeast 27 miles.

Churchill County Museum. In the heart of Fallon, this warehouse-size museum houses thousands of artifacts that record the area's habitation: Indian arrowheads and tools, prospectors' tools and clothing, turn-of-the-century music boxes. It's also your sign-up and starting point for Hidden Cave tours. The mercantile shop sells gifts and books; look for duck decoys ($50 to $75) handmade in traditional designs by Davin George, a Paiute Indian.

The museum is at 1050 S. Maine Street; turn right off U.S. 50 as it passes through town. Hours are 10 to 4 daily except Thursdays, noon to 4 Sundays; admission is free. For more information, telephone (702) 423-3677 during these hours.

Hidden Cave. On the second and fourth Saturday of each month, Bureau of Land Management volunteers lead free 2-hour tours to this surprising site. Tours leave the museum at 10 A.M.; sign up by 9:30 to join. Bring water and mosquito repellent.

Centuries ago, Lake Lahontan covered thousands of square miles (today, Pyramid Lake is the largest remnant of this inland sea); its banks churned against cliffs, forming a handful of mouth-like, tufa-lined caves that nomadic Indians used for shelter and storage between 2,000 and 6,000 years ago.

Hidden Cave--so named because the entrance was obscured until it was accidentally discovered in the 1920s--eventually yielded 2,500 artifacts, many of which are at the museum.

Passing another large chasm, a rocky 1/2-mile trail winds up a slope to a tiny opening you crouch low to get through. Inside, lamps light the yawning cavern and reveal evidence of excavations conducted through the 1970s. Sedimentary deposits have helped geologists date natural events throughout the West; one whitish layer marks the ash of Mount Mazama, a volcano that 6,600 years ago formed Oregon's Crater Lake.

Grimes Point. Just 1 1/2 miles away, at Grimes Point, a 1/4-mile self-guided tour takes you past several dozen Indian petroglyphs. At the trailhead, pick up an informational booklet keyed to eight signed stations on the route.

Pony Express ruins. For about 60 miles east from Fallon, U.S. 50 follows the route of the legendary riders; today you can visit two old stations.

From Grimes Point, the remnants of Sand Springs depot is just 12 miles east, then 1 mile off the freeway (ask at the museum for off-road directions). Cold Spring station, 42 miles farther, has an interpretive ramada and the remains of a telegraph and freight station; a 1 1/2-mile trail takes you to the Pony Express relay, which still seems the lonely outpost it was back in the 1860s.

Photo: What is it? Bizarre squiggle is one of dozens of mysterious petroglyphs at Grimes Point

Photo: Just over an hour's drive from Reno, Fallon has a warehouse-size museum where you can sign up for cave tours. Remnants of Pony Express stations are farther east off U.S. 50

Photo: Halogen lamps light Hidden Cave during ranger's talk; white tags on cave walls mark sediment deposits identified during excavations

Photo: Indian artifacts from Hidden Cave include basket fragments, ornaments; the displays are at county museum in Fallon
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Copyright 1986 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Date:May 1, 1986
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