Basque Summit shows many signs of recent use, but not much information about its past.


Approaching Basque Summit along Topia Creek at the end of a long Nevada summer day.

When I am not being a Basque books editor, one of my favorite activities is exploring little known and out-of-the-way places in the great state of Nevada that we call home. On one of these recent trips, to the Desatoya Mountains west of Fallon in central Nevada, I was browsing the Nevada Gazetteer when I stumbled across a familiar place name: Basque Summit. Curiosity being what it is, I decided that we had to visit this place. We set up our camp in a little meadow well below the summit and walked up the road toward the summit in the growing shadows of an early summer Nevada evening, surrounded by sagebrush and juniper covered peaks away. The road we were on had once followed the Pony Express Trail as it made its way across almost innumerable Nevada mountain ranges arranged running north and south like an armada amassing to sail north to the pole.

We arrived at the summit at sunset, surrounded by juniper-covered hills and with a stock pen and loading chute. A typical Nevada place, more inclined toward production than toward tourism. I wondered why it had been called Basque Summit. Due to sheepherders, certainly, but why the generic Basque, instead of the name of someone specific? Was this the only place where Basques congregated in these mountains? Was it the only place where sheep were allowed? Was the name a sign of conflict, or of peaceful relations between neighbors? Or something else altogether?

When I returned to the office I tried to learn something more about this place, but, again like so many places in Nevada and the West in general, its name refused to give up much about its history and so much is left to the imagination. The only information of any kind I could find was in Joxe Mallea-Olaetxe’s Speaking through the Aspens where he writes:

The headwaters of Edwards Creek and Topia Canyon in the Desatoya Range are known as “Basque Summit,” which suggests intense sheepherding activities in the past. Lack of aspens is the chief reason little carved evidence of sheepherders remains. The groves now standing are in poor shape because of canker, drought, or other causes, taking a severe toll on the arborglyphs. In both mountain ranges [referencing the Desatoyas and the neighboring Clan Alpine Mountains] most dates begin in the 1920s and multiply in the following decade.

Not much information to go on, but he does also write, very interestingly,

Traversing Basque Summit from north to south, a side jeep road takes you to Billy Canyon. Here the trees are hemmed in by mountains and have survived the wind, which explains the older carved dates. One of the oldest carvings anywhere is here, dated 1872, but it is not totally clear.

So, while I may not have learned much about Basque Summit, I have found more fodder for further explorations!