Tales of cursed canyons and cannibalistic giants might deter most people from exploring a wilderness area far out of the way with an extremely isolated little town named Jarbidge, but not myself. This little town lies on the Nevada side of the Nevada-Idaho border about 100 miles north of Elko, go to Wells on Interstate 80 head up past Jackpot and into Idaho on Highway 93 and back down again into Nevada and over a dam and past Dave creek.
|Photo: Sign to Jarbidge past the dam|
I went there much like the original prospectors did looking for gold but I learned there is a lot more to Jarbidge than meets the eyes. With any journey you start with the beginning, and for Jarbidge that means its namesake; Tsawhawbitts (pronounced “tuh-saw-haw-bits”) meaning "monster that lurks in the canyon" or "weird beastly creature" According to Shoshone legend a giant would roam the canyon looking for unlucky souls to devour. This occurred until one day a group of warriors chased the giant into a cave and sealed it closed with boulders, this was not without a fight as the giant hurled rocks back, scooping rocks out of the ground and some out of the walls themselves.
Regardless of your belief in the legend, it is undeniable that humans have been in the area for 14,000 years beginning with Native Americans, Archaeological evidence of bison and big horn sheep bones found in archeological sites confirm this. Remember, archeological sites should not be disturbed; take only pictures leave only foot prints.
When settlers came to visit the area in the mid 1800’s for sheep and cattle herding and later prospecting they did not have the best of luck. Disaster after disaster and fight after fight led people back to the cursed canyon story of Tsawhawbitts guarding his resting place. In the years of 1906- 1908 the Ogden district office made Nevada’s first protected forest to avoid a range war between Nevada cattle ranchers and Idaho sheep herders. The wilderness consists of, around 113,167 acres, including expansions in 1958, 1964, and 1989. This is also Nevada’s first designated wilderness areas and there is a lot to do and see here.
Luck somewhat changed for the settlers when one of them by the name of David Bourne discovered pay dirt gold in 1909 and a boom was on. Bourne was also where the name Jarbidge came from, after mishearing and mispronouncing Tsawhawbitts. The town boomed and was even in consideration for the seat of Elko county at one point. This little hidden gem is an outdoorsman’s dream town, a small hotel/diner, a brook filled with trout, mountains with elk, deer, and birds of all kinds. Even gold for the modern prospector and a cursed legend for the superstitious. And a giant shovel for that has a history all its own.
Photo: The giant shovel from the Jarbidge shovel brigade constructed after the successful protest of Elko county gov’t to help with the road conditions.The hiking trails, camping, and gold panning is just awesome by themselves. Even if I only got a small dusting of gold, the feeling of being followed, and one sleepless night from a roar of unknown origins after a rockslide, I still had a blast. When I asked one of the locals about the roar, the old man just laughed and said “That’s just the old giant telling everyone that he’s still here, and that also reminds us to give thanks to the earth for what we have.” I left that day after giving thanks to the earth and to Tsawhawbitts for leaving me alive to tell the tale. As I was leaving the canyon I looked back and could swear I saw his outline looking over his curses and lost gold, his canyon, or more appropriately his resting place.
Keep exploring, take only pictures and leave only footprints.
P.S. Give thanks and watch out for giants!