January – February 2020
Reveille Range in southern Nevada showcases an otherworldly landscape.
STORY & PHOTOS BY CHIP CARROON
On my frequent trips between northern and southern Nevada, I have a lot of time to look at the landscape. As I pass close to Area 51, I keep a keen eye out for alien or unusual phenomena.
As some know, Area 51 is a highly classified and restricted U.S. Air Force base that is rumored to be used for the testing of weapon systems and aircraft. However, the secrecy of the base has made it the topic of conspiracy theories and unidentified flying object myths.
IT’S OUT THERE
Sure enough on a recent drive on State Route 375—affectionately called the Extraterrestrial Highway—as I gaze off to the west, there are astonishing vertical-sided pinnacles lined up in a row. “Now that looks like an alien landscape,” I think. I’ve been leery about approaching the strange forms, but on this trip I decide to take a look. There is a simple dirt road leading up the hill to what I surmise is the aliens’ den, and when I arrive at the base of the pinnacles, I am not disappointed.
There lie a number of volcanic structures, each about 500-feet tall with near-vertical sides, composed of erosionally resistant rock (dacite) that somewhat resembles granite. The clue that suggests they are volcanic is the endemic columnar jointing which is a typical feature in near-surface tabular igneous bodies. The jointing forms as the molten rock slowly solidifies and contracts. This whole affair formed quite a while ago in the Miocene as a relatively silica-rich magma intruded outward as a vertical-sided dike from the Pyramid Spring caldera. Over millions of years, the Reveille Range has been uplifted and eroded to reveal the erosional remnants of the dike that are now in the form of our alien landscape.
These lands are part of the South Reveille Wilderness Study Area, a landscape that is so unusual and unique as to be considered for more protective status. Part of the allure is that the very remote location enables many wild animals to call it home. As you climb to the top of one of the pinnacles at sunrise, you may hear coyotes yipping in the distance, hear cliff-dwelling birds nearby, see a group of deer and then pronghorn run by far below, and even possibly see elk and bighorn sheep.
BOLDLY GO WHERE FEW HAVE GONE BEFORE
It is somewhat akin to a fantasyland so you may want to take some pictures. As a professional photographer, I feel quite excited at the prospects. The dramatic and repetitive vertical cliffs are hard to beat. Hiking access to the area is reasonable, but a climb to the top of the mountain ridge to the west takes some time. Only one of the steep-sided pinnacles can be easily climbed, but such a pursuit is well worth the effort. The 360-degree views are spectacular and there are many photographic opportunities. As usual, the weather is the determining factor as to whether you will get some good shots or not. This arid region has clear skies most of the time, but passing weather fronts offer multiple possibilities.
On your next trip across the state, take a walk on the wild side of Area 51, and check out the alien landforms in the Reveille Range of Nye County.