Nevada State Parks: Part 2 – Berlin-Ichthyosaur
Part 2: The only park in Nevada’s largest county, Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park is deserving of its space.
BY MEGG MUELLER
As the second entry in our year-long series, Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park takes center stage, and not just because it’s the only state park in Nye County, but for the immensely important role it plays in Nevada history.
Established in 1957, the park is a hybrid; part ghost town, part ancient fossil grounds. There’s an old gold mine, too, just for good measure. Located some 30 minutes from the small town of Gabbs, against the base of the Shoshone Mountains, the park requires perhaps a bit more effort to get to, but its offerings are well worth it. The view of the Ione Valley from the park is majestic enough to make the drive, whatever your starting point.
GAGA FOR GOLD
The mining camp developed in 1863 after the discovery of the Union Ledge—a major ore vein. Other towns sprung up, including Union, Ione, and Grantsville, and eventually the area was home to about 250 people. As is often the story, the ore ran dry and since about 1911, the town of Berlin has been deserted.
Nevada State Parks defines Berlin as a town “preserved in a state of arrested decay,” so the buildings that remain are in exceedingly good shape compared to other Nevada ghost towns. The Berlin Mill is the largest and most impressive structure, and while you can’t go inside there’s plenty of ways to view the massive building that once housed a 30-stamp operation. Other structures include homes and various shops.
Walking among the ruins and peering in the cabin windows at the everyday items once used by inhabitants, it’s astounding to see how beautiful the town remains. Ghost towns are often a smattering of structures, a building or two that force you to search your imagination for what life might have been like; at Berlin, you get a sense of what everyday life in the town might have been, even when no one else is around.
Tours of Berlin are self-guided and there are informative plaques at most buildings, so grab your walking shoes and settle in for an immersive experience. Park rangers live onsite and there is a 14-site campground available, along with a day-use and picnicking area.
WE’RE GOING TO NEED A BIGGER BOAT
If the town of Berlin’s peek into Nevada’s early history wasn’t enough, the state park is also home to a collection of giant (up to 50 feet long) reptile fossils. The ichthyosaur (ICK-THEE-oh-sor) lived some 225 million years ago, and these marine reptiles were abundant in the ancient oceans that once covered central Nevada.
In 1928, on the naturally eroded hills above Berlin, a professor discovered ichthyosaur remains, and from 1954 through the 1960s, nearly 40 of the reptiles were found. The collection is the most abundant concentration ever found, and contains some of the largest-known remains. The ichthyosaur was named Nevada’s state fossil in 1977.
The park’s fossil house is built over one of the excavation sites and displays the remains of nine of the reptiles, with backbones, jawbones, skulls, and other parts clearly visible. Tours are available on certain days throughout the year, and if you can’t make one you can view the skeletons through the window and there is information outside the fossil house. Do everything you can to take the tour, however. The guides are a wealth of information about these massive creatures that once swam across our state.
The weather in central Nevada is a mercurial thing, and this 1,500-acre park sits at an elevation that ranges from 6,480 feet to almost 8,000 feet. Winter can be inhospitable, but summer is often the perfect time to visit. Check local road conditions before you head out.
Tour times of the Diana Mine and the fossil house change from season to season, so consult the park website before you go. If you have a group, special tours can be arranged with a park ranger. Pets are OK at this park, but they must be leashed.
The closest gas station and store is in Gabbs—no services are available in Ione—so stock up on any supplies before you head into this hodgepodge park of ancient animals and historic mining towns. You’re going to want to stay awhile.
Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park
State Route 844
Gabbs, NV 89310