A Paradise Named Galena
Historic Galena offers year-round recreation in a majestic landscape.
BY JASON LOPEZ
PHOTOGRAPHY BY TOM O’DONNEL
Galena Creek Regional Park is one of Nevada’s small treasures. Nestled among the dense forests of the Sierra Nevada foothills, Galena offers recreation and adventure in a beautiful setting. Beyond the trails, fishing springs, and scenic vistas, Galena offers visitors a glimpse into its little-known pioneer past.
AN UNLUCKY TOWN
In 1860, the site near modern day Galena was purchased as a gold mining property by brothers R.S. and Andrew Hatch. Unfortunately, the ore from their mines turned out to be worthless. Though it contained gold, it also had a high concentration of a lead sulfide known as galena—a mineral that wasn’t too valuable for a 19th century prospector. Luckily for the brothers, nearby Virginia City had struck a silver bonanza, so there was still work for the Galena mills and smelters.
In the early 1860s, the town of Galena was built from the pine trees and stones from the surrounding mountainside. The town had all the familiar bustle of a pioneer village: homes, stores, hotels, stables, a school, a jail, and court of law. There were several churches, 7 saloons, and 11 sawmills powered by the area’s creeks. Along with smelting, timber became a significant industry for the town and provided steady employment for residents.
In its heyday, Galena was a prosperous little town, but as its namesake implied, it also rested on a bed of bad luck. Disaster struck the town three times in its short existence. In 1864, a particularly harsh winter severely hampered the freight of goods to and from Virginia City. Then, two massively destructive fires—one in 1865 and another in 1867—leveled parts of the town. Since there was other work in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, people chose to pack their bags and move on rather than rebuild the young community. The town of Galena faded into history.
A HAVEN FOR RECREATION LOVERS
For outdoor lovers, Galena is a splendid playground that’s hard to beat. If you’ve never set foot in the area, the Galena Creek Visitor Center is a great place to start. Inside, visitors will find a wildlife exhibit dedicated to the Sierra Nevada’s fauna in addition to a neat little gift shop with clothing and other Galena swag. The staff there are very friendly and excited to educate people about the park and host special events including guided hikes and youth exploration activities.
The Galena Creek Regional Park system is made up of three main creeks that flow year-round: Galena, Thomas, and Whites. At Galena Creek proper, there are barbecue grills and picnic sites available for groups of all sizes (if there are no fire restrictions in place). In winter, it’s not uncommon to find people still picnicking and grilling in the snowy landscape. Whites Creek is set up as an equestrian area with ample trailer parking. The connecting trails from Whites and Thomas Creek are popular for mountain biking, hiking, and trail running, and horseback riding. Road access is closed in the winter for Thomas Creek and Whites Creek, while Galena Creek Park is open year-round.
There’s plenty of wildlife about, too. This year, as I was fly-fishing Galena Creek, a black bear walked right past me from about 30 feet away. As the trail signs say: Be Bear Aware. Also, be mountain lion aware, as both large predators inhabit the Mount Rose Wilderness area, which contains the Galena’s trails. There are lots of smaller critters, such as squirrels and chipmunks, and birds galore. Before you visit, make sure to download the ‘Galena Creek Bird Checklist’ from the park’s website before you go birding.
CAST A LINE
Being a fly- fishing enthusiast, I must mention the trout—rainbow trout and eastern brook trout to be exact. The brook trout were stocked in the three creeks from the 1950s to the 1970s, and now all the brookies have essentially become wild trout, while the rainbows are still stocked every spring. And although Galena and its neighboring creeks are small, 12-to-14-inch rainbows are occasionally caught. And that’s no fish tale: I know this from firsthand experience.
You can fish in Galena Creek and Marilyn’s Pond, and you can also fish in both Thomas Creek and Whites Creek, which are located just down the road. Marilyn Pond’s is a great place to take kids as it’s easy to fish and you can catch a lot of trout, though the streams require more skill. Check out the stone building that was once a fish hatchery; it’s now used as an event facility and is popular for weddings.
If fishing isn’t your cup of tea, take a casual afternoon jaunt on a gorgeous mountain path, or go for more strenuous hiking, mountain biking, and even horseback riding. To help you choose a trail—and to find out which trails are open to mountain biking and equestrian adventures—visit the Galena Creek Regional Park Trail Guide.
TAKE A SHOT
For those into photography, Galena in autumn is a paradise for capturing scenic groves of deciduous trees exploding in majesty with their fantastic fall colors. Testament to this are the lovely photos provided for this story by Reno local, and amateur photographer, Tom O’Donnell, who brags that Galena is one of the most beautiful places on earth where you can take in the beauty and smell fresh pine air. Quaking aspen are sprinkled generously throughout the park and are especially magnificent when their leaves turn vibrant shades of yellow and orange.
Winter is no exception to the fun. When Galena fills up with snow, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, sledding, alpine skiing, and snowboarding are all on the menu. In fact, Galena has a bit of skiing history as well.
In 1931, a ski jump was built at Galena, which was a radical source of adrenalin for Reno skiers. The ski jump was used and managed by the University of Nevada Ski Team for many years, and it was even an alternate location for the 1960 Winter Olympic Games. The jump itself is now gone, but you can still see the run where the jump was near the main park entrance left of the Nevada Department of Transportation building.
I started snowboarding in Galena in the mid-1980s, and throughout my 50-something years of life, I have spent many, snowy, winter days snowboarding in Galena on great quality snow for free. But you must earn your turns in Galena; it’s essentially like being in the backcountry. Your legs are the lift.
Simply put, Galena is a paradise. So, what are you waiting for? Get outside and get to Galena.