Tour Around Nevada: Fallon
November – December 2016
With hearts of gold, this Top Gun town flies to the finish.
BY MEGG MUELLER
The final winner of our 2016 Tour Around Nevada contest shouldn’t be all it is today. Plopped into the arid land that was once home to ancient Lake Lahontan and part of the Forty-Mile Desert that ended the dreams of many pioneers, Fallon became the oasis of Nevada for one reason: somebody moved the Carson River’s water.
That someone was President Theodore Roosevelt when he signed the Reclamation Act of 1902. The Newlands Project— one of the Reclamation Act’s first projects—began construction in 1903, and it diverted the waters of the Carson River (and some from the Truckee River) to irrigate
57,000 acres of farmland. Fast forward 113 years, and the verdant Fallon area has more than proved it was worth the effort.
JIM’S TOWN GETS A MAKEOVER
In 1896, a post office was established in the ranch house of Mike and Eliza Fallon. Set between the towns of Stillwater and St. Claire, Jim’s Town—as it was known by the American Indians of the area—was little more than a pit stop along an otherwise empty landscape.
Once the water began to flow, however, things changed quickly. The Fallon’s sold their ranch, which was divided into parcels to create the town to be renamed in their honor. As it began to grow, the county seat was moved from Stillwater to Fallon and the town incorporated in 1908.
Farming and ranching flourished in the newly lush land, and continues to this day, earning Fallon the well-deserved nickname of The Oasis of Nevada. From alfalfa, dairy cows and steers to its famous Hearts of Gold cantaloupes, Fallon is continuing to put its resources to the fullest use and in some unexpected ways.
TAKING FLIGHT IN NEW DIRECTIONS
Nevada’s only estate winery and distillery—Frey Ranch and Churchill Vineyards—is producing 100 percent Nevada wine and spirits from a working ranch in Fallon. Owned by a 5th-generation Nevada farmer, Frey Ranch is on the forefront of diversifying the crops grown in Fallon to be even more water savvy, and making tasty, award-winning beverages in the process.
Growing grapes and grains in the high desert is just one of the ways Fallon continues to evolve due to its unique geography. Built in 1942, the airfield at Naval Air Station (NAS) Fallon has served as a training facility since its inception thanks to the area’s perfectly empty wide-open spaces. In 1996 it became the premier air-to-air and air-to-ground training facility when the Naval Fighter Weapons School (TOPGUN) was transferred to the base. The Navy is Fallon’s largest employer, and is a major part of the community. According to Jane Moon, Director of Tourism and Special Events for the City of Fallon, the people and community are the area’s greatest assets. Jane’s father was stationed at NAS Fallon, and they loved the community so much they stayed permanently. The ability to raise Jane and her brother in a family-oriented community was the main reason her parents chose Fallon, and it’s a sentiment Jane now echoes with her own children.
“We wanted to be able to work and live and to give back to a community that had given so much to us,” Jane says of the decision she and her husband—her high school sweetheart—made when they moved back home after a stint in Las Vegas.
“We have just about anything we need in this community,” she continues. “We’re in this great niche where it’s so quiet and there are so many different venues for things to do.”
The vast landscape of the Lahontan Valley amid the Stillwater Mountain Range holds many unexpected secrets, such as Soda Lake, Grimes Point, Hidden Cave, Sand Mountain, and the Stillwater Wildlife Refuge.
The Stillwater Wildlife Refuge covers more than 80,000 acres of the valley, and is home to more than 280 species of birds, not to mention coyotes, antelope, and other wildlife, and is an oasis for birders and nature lovers. About 25 miles east of town is Sand Mountain Recreation Area. Covering almost 4,800 acres, this two-mile long, 600-foot-high dune is popular among ATV enthusiasts, hikers, sandboarders, and anyone not afraid to get sand in their shoes.
Soda Lake is a volcanic crater that filled with the overflow water from the Newland’s Project. It has such an extremely high alkali content that a soda mill—submerged beneath its waters—is remarkably preserved.
Grimes Point and Hidden Cave—located just east of town—reveal the archeological story of the area’s American Indians. The petroglyphs at Grimes Point are a historical textbook that offers an easy self-guided tour among the rock art, while nearby Hidden Cave—formed some 21,000 years ago—is an underground peek at how the American Indians used this formation to store food and implements. The starting point for Hidden Cave is the Churchill County Museum and Archives, where free tours begin.
The museum is one of the area’s hidden gems, with exhibitions and events that tell the story of Churchill County and its earliest inhabitants. Visitors should also take a drive down Maine Street, so named for the home state of one of Fallon’s founders, Warren W. Williams.
“Maine Street has been renovated to match the time when Fallon was in its heyday,” Jane says. “We have wonderful shops, places to eat, and a welcoming fountain.”
She explains the water in the fountain is often dyed to match a signature event; when the Fallon Greenwave high school teams have sporting events the water is often green. It’s just an example of how the community supports one another, and how they enjoy celebrating the abundance of life in The Oasis of Nevada.