Lander County is located in central Nevada, about three hours east of Reno. These 5,500 square miles are home to beautiful mountain ranges, a large stretch of the Reese River, and 5,887 individuals (DETR, 2017). Lander is one of the original 11 counties in Nevada, and since 1979, Battle Mountain has served as the county seat. Much of Lander sits well above sea level at around 5000-6000 ft, but the peaks of Bunker Hill reach as high as 11,500 ft. Lander County communities are tied heavily to mining, ranching, and their abundance of outdoor opportunities.
Lander, after its founding, came to be known as Nevada’s “mother of counties,” since three other counties went on to be formed from its lands: Elko, Eureka, and White Pine. Lander itself formed in 1862 as a result of a mining boom along the Reese River. Battle Mountain, has been a part of Lander since 1869, with a rich history as a settlement also thriving off the nearby railroad and booming mines. Before that, the surrounding Battle Mountain area was a boundary between the Newe (Shoshone ancestors) and the Northern Paiutes, and in 1917, the Newe colony received official recognition for their lands.
The Lander County Convention and Tourism Authority (LCCTA) relays a concise, yet detailed history of Lander that is organized into the histories of Battle Mountain, Austin, and Kingston. There are some half a dozen ghost towns and abandoned mining camps surrounding Battle Mountain, from Tenabo to Bunker Hill. Here, both silver and gold ore were found in abundance, and some of these ghost towns mined these minerals up into the early 1920s. Into today, there’s always something to do in Battle Mountain: car shows, the Basque festival, and historic and community events. There is a wonderful little article on Battle Mountain being called the “Armpit of America,” written by Howard Hickson in his collection Howard Hickson’s Histories. In the article, he defends Battle Mountain against Washington Post writer Gene Weingarten’s infamous claim of the town’s “lack of character and charm, its pathetic assemblage of ghastly buildings and nasty people.” Weingarten even went on to declaim the town’s location “in the midst of harsh and uninviting wilderness.” Battle Mountain’s response was to embrace the nickname, from placing billboards along Interstate 80 with the armpit tagline, to getting corporate sponsor Old Spice to help the branding. This response, writes Hickson, exemplified the adaptable pride of western communities who do not give up.
Austin, Nevada, whose history is also relayed concisely by the LCCTA, was also home to successful mining endeavors. The town was the major supply center for early mining camps, prior to the railroad built in the 1860s. In reaction to the railroad rerouting its services, the town organized the Austin and Reese River Transportation Company to raise funds for a toll road. And although the toll road ran for only about a dozen years, its creation saved Austin from becoming a ghost town. Today, the Austin Historical Society preserves the town’s artifacts, and Stokes Castle stands as one of the state’s most memorable landmarks. Kingston, down south, was formed at the base of Kingston Canyon. Since its formation it has remained a small town in a beautiful area. Today, the annual Kingston Firefighter events celebrate the old-time family picnic gathering by bringing the community together.
Landscape and Climate
Slightly less sunny and dry than some neighboring counties, Lander still sees on average 227 sunny days per year. While the U.S. average of snowfall is 28 inches, Lander sees 30 inches per year. Much of the county’s precipitation comes in the form of snow, as Lander on average sees only 9 inches of rain each year. Summer highs in July can be found in the 90s, while the average winter lows in January reach below 20 degrees. Over 90% of lands fall into the shrubland and grassland categories. These lands are characterized by large open areas with few trees and areas dominated by shrubs, herbs, and other geophytes; both are considered warm and dry (National Geographic, 2020).
Much of the 181-mile-long Reese River can be found running through Lander, from Austin in the south to up near Battle Mountain in the North. A large portion of the Reese flows between the Toiyabe Range and the Shoshone Mountains. These mountain ranges span nearly 185 miles, with many of these falling within Lander.
Community and Events
Lander County boasts a number of outdoor recreation opportunities for residents and tourists alike. From the many mountain bike trails near Battle Mountain and Austin, to the hot springs and Hickison Petroglyphs in Kingston. For ATV and UTV riders, the Shoshone Off-Highway Vehicle Trails System is Nevada’s first professionally designed trail system (Recreation, n.d). Sportsmen will also find many opportunities to hunt everything from Mule Deer and Bighorn Sheep, to sage grouse and rabbits.
In November, one may attend the large Chukar tournament, which brings hunters in from around the country to participate. For cultural events, there is the Basque Festival each January, which celebrates the culture of Northern Spain. Austin is home to the Prospectors Dream Wine Walk, which is a wine tour that takes place every September. Travelers through Lander that need a quick break near Kingston, NV, can stop by Zach’s Lucky Spur Saloon which was named the “Best Bar in The Middle of Nowhere” by Men’s Magazine (Community, n.d).
In addition to seasonal and annual events that attract citizens and tourists, Lander County is involved as a community. To take from a month’s span in Lander 2020: the Nevada FFA (Nevada Agricultural Education) advisors presents to the school board; a school board trustee donates to Battle Mountain schools; the Goodies with Grands event is hosted, celebrating grandparents and their children; and a second annual coffee and donuts event raises nearly $3,000 to help local kids in Lander County. All throughout the county there is daily activity, whether it be through the hub of the school district, fire department, Sherriff’s office, County Commission, or the other organizations that help bring Lander together.