505. Carlin Canyon

Look across the river for the carsonite markers.

Directions from Stop #504 Greenhorn Cutoff to Stop #505 Carlin Canyon

From stop #504, continue eastbound down Chestnut Street for 3 miles. You will drive underneath I-80 and enter Carlin Canyon. Near the entrance of the Canyon on the left is a shade structure with interpretive panels that discuss the significance of Carlin Canyon. Pull into the gravel lot to read more about the site. To see the Trails West “T” marker and more interpretive panels, drive 1 mile deeper into the canyon. On the right side of the road will be a gravel lot, shade structure with panels, and the “T” marker. The road in the canyon is a dead end. You must exit the way you entered it.

Site History

After traveling for a week or more along the dreary and desolate landscapes of the Humboldt River, the emigrants were astonished to find the green canyon with its steep walls and stacks of rocks hanging right over the middle of the canyon. They welcomed the change of scenery if only for a few miles. Gordon C. Cone noted the change in scenery, “The banks rise nearly in perpendicular line to the hight of three, and four hundred feet, and are entirely of solid, and fractured rock. In many places as we passed along this mighty mass seemed to hang over our heads, and threaten to overwhelm us with its ponderous weight.“ In years when the river was high the emigrants were obliged to bypass the canyon and its river crossings. The emigrants were forced to cross the river four times in the narrow canyon. The river crossings were fairly easy and the emigrants did not have much trouble with them.

While in Carlin Canyon make sure and look for the white carsonite markers along the river denoting the path the trail took and where the emigrants crossed the river.

The geography of the canyon has changed since the mid-nineteenth century. The original Transcontinental Railroad curved its way through the canyon. In 1903, the Southern Pacific Railroad began construction on the Carlin Tunnel to straighten the railroad. In 1926, Highway 40 was built over the top of the old railroad grade. Since then one more railroad tunnel has been built and finally the two tunnels I-80 travels through today, bypassing Carlin Canyon altogether.

Like many of the towns along the I-80 corridor, Carlin (1 mile west of the canyon) was created as a stop along the Transcontinental Railroad. In early December 1868 the Central Pacific Railroad (CPR) reached this spot along their route and established the town of Carlin. The town was named after Civil War Captain William Passmore Carlin. Even before the town was designated a small group of Chinese railroad workers occupied the area. In its earliest days Carlin was known as “Chinese Gardens” because so many of the Chinese laborers from the CPR planted vegetable gardens in the area. Many Chinese who had worked on the CPR ended up settling in Carlin and working as laundrymen and cooks. As Carlin became an important railroad maintenance town, many of the Chinese and others moved to the area to work in the machine shops.

Another important industry in Carlin at the turn of the twentieth century was ice harvesting. Before the development of the refrigerated train car, Carlin was the first stop east of Sparks, Nevada for the Southern Pacific Railroad to replenish ice. Armour Meat Co. created an ice pond one mile east of town where the Humboldt River leaves Carlin Canyon. The ice was harvested in the winter and stored in well insulated ice houses through the summer months. When widespread use of refrigerated train cars began this industry slowly faded away.