Rainbow Canyon Scenic Drive

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Rainbow Canyon
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For Information: For detailed information on this area and a detailed driving tour of Rainbow Canyon Historic Sites check out the PDF brochure titled … Driving and Walking Tours of Lincoln County, Nevada.

06/20/2012 Trip Notes: On the third day of our camping trip to Spring Valley State Park, north of Pioche, NV, we made a daytrip to Kershaw-Ryan State Park and Rainbow Canyon. Click here for more info on Kershaw Ryan. After hiking the trails at Kershaw-Ryan, we spent nearly 3 hours driving through Rainbow Canyon, making several sightseeing stops and short hikes along the way. The Rainbow Canyon Scenic Drive closely follows the main line of the United Pacific Railroad for its entire length. This stretch of the Union Pacific is extremely busy, sometimes averaging one train every twenty minutes or so. There are also numerous railroad tunnels (Figs. 01-03) and deep cuts along the railroad, providing rail fans with excellent train watching and photography opportunities. Tunnel No. 5 in (Fig. 01) was built in 1911 and improved in 1925. One can find the remains of an old tie structure that was a ‘guard station’ dating back to World War II days, when workers were assigned to guard the tunnels along the railroad. This stretch of the Union Pacific is so busy that you will have the opportunity to see several trains (Fig. 04) pass by as you travel this area.
(Fig. 01)
(Fig. 02)
(Fig. 03)
On the hillside to the left of the railroad tunnel in (Fig. 01) there are many darkly stained rocks strewn down the hillside, some of which contain petroglyphs of bighorn sheep, snakes and other unknown abstract symbols as seen in (Figs. 05-07) below.
(Fig. 05)
(Fig. 06)
(Fig. 07)
Next, we stopped to see Etna Cave. To get to this area you must crawl under a low trestle under the railroad tracks, walk several hundred feet up a wash and through a narrow tunnel Fig. 08 & 09) that extends about 200 feet. The tunnel was blasted to divert water from Etna Wash away from the railroad tracks. About 400 feet upstream of the tunnel there are a series of red-orange pictographs (Fig. 10) on the face of a tan cliff.  These were painted by unknown prehistoric artists, using red hematite (an iron oxide pigment). Other colors may have been used, but have long since faded or washed off the cliffs; it is difficult to imagine what some of these designs may have been. The cave opening is halfway up the opposite cliffs. Named the Etna Cave, its excavation in 1935 produced hundreds of artifacts that documented a 5,000-year sequence of prehistoric occupation by different cultural groups.
(Fig. 08)
(Fig. 09)
(Fig. 10)
(Fig. 11)
(Fig. 12)
(Fig. 13)
In addition to the rugged, colorful rocky cliffs that parallel the the entire length of this road (Figs. 11-13) above, It was some of the areas along the river (Figs. 14 & 15) that follows the road that I seemed to enjoy the most. In addition to seeing a variety of birds, lizards, and frogs, cut trees and a dam showed evidence of beavers (Figs. 16 & 17). We even found some cattle (Figs. 18 & 19) taking advantage of the surrounding wetland like areas.
E-P1120845 Stitch
(Fig. 14)
(Fig. 15)
(Fig. 16)
(Fig. 17)
(Fig. 18)
(Fig. 19)
Our final stop was at Elgin, and Bradshaw’s ”End of the Rainbow” Ranch. The Bradshaw Ranch was established in 1880. Its fruit trees supplied the mining camp of Delamar, and then later the railroad workers. Water from the river was also pumped over the mountains to support the mining operations at Delamar. A grandson of the original settler planted a larger orchard in the 1950’s, with 4 varieties of apple trees which ripen in September. Across the tracks Elgin had been a “siding” on the railroad from 1907-1987, with its own small depot and telegraph station. In 1922, a one-room schoolhouse (Fig. 20) was built for the children of railroad and ranch workers in Rainbow Canyon. It was used until 1967, when the last eighth grade student “graduated” and started attending the high school in Panaca. It fell vacant for a number of years, and in 1998, the Bradshaw family renovated the schoolhouse to become a small museum. In 2005, the Nevada Legislature accepted the Bradshaw family’s offer to make this a Nevada State Historic Park. Picnic tables under the old cottonwood tree are available for your picnic.
(Fig. 20)