NSS 75th Anniversary Convention

Hickison Petroglyph Recreation Area

Right off of Nevada's infamous U.S. Highway 50 lies Hickison Summit Recreation Area. The site, which sits about 6,500 feet above sea level, is positioned on the edge of Monitor Valley in Nevada's Great Basin, at the end of the Toquima Mountain Range. The petroglyphs in this region are scrawled across three large slabs and are evidence of prehistoric hunting and dwelling sites dating back to 10,000 B.C.

Petroglyphs, or rock engravings, are images typically carved into stone surfaces as opposed to pictographs which are merely drawn onto stone surfaces. While they are found world-wide, several petroglyph sites are found in Nevada.

In the general vicinity of Hickison Summit are multiple prehistoric hunting and living sites dating to 10,000 B.C. as well as more recent sites such as mining camps and ranches.

Trails used by mid-19th-century explorers John C. Frémont and James H. Simpson pass through the area as do the routes of the Pony Express and the Overland Stage. At the time of the earliest prehistoric sites, the Great Basin contained large lakes, including Lake Toiyabe and Lake Tonopah in the Big Smoky Valley west of the summit. As the climate became drier, the lakes evaporated, and the former lake-dependent cultures were replaced by hunter-gatherers. When the first European-Americans arrived in about 1850, Western Shoshone people lived in the region.

The Hickison Petroglyphs

Hickison Summit is located around 30 miles southeast of Austin at the northern end of the Toiyabe Range and situated within a pinyon forest. The site is located on the road to the ranch of John Hickerson (also an alternative spelling of the site name) after whom the site was named. This site was interpreted as a hunting locality by Trudy Thomas because the most common motif at the site was thought to represent "hoof prints."

An alternate interpretation identifies the marks as vulviforms (representations of female genitalia), possibly indicating that the site was the location of girls' puberty rituals or the locale for a female cult of affliction centered on reproductive disorders. Similar marks are generally found on soft, white volcanic tuff and are often repeated in large numbers, which may well be an indicator of ritual activity. The non-random distribution is also suggestive of locations being intentionally selected for this specific quality. Perhaps the soft rock was easier for the initiates to carve into as a part of their ritual. There is no historic ethnographic record, however, of girls producing rock art as a part of their puberty ritual, which was primarily focused on instruction by older women on the roles and duties of womanhood.

Historic Period (mid-1800s)

The first European Americans to see this region of the Great Basin were John C. Fremont and his surveying party. In 1845, Fremont and his men passed just south of here, roughly along the route of US Highway 50. Fourteen years later, on May 26, 1859, Captain James Simpson and his party crossed Hickison Summit into Big Smoky Valley on their way west. Simpson had been given the responsibility for finding the shortest route across Nevada. He was successful and his path would be followed by the Pony Express in 1860 and Butterfield's Overland Mail and Stage in 1861.

With the discovery of silver near Austin, Nevada, in 1862, approximately 22 miles west of here, central Nevada was swiftly settled. Although never large producers themselves, the Austin mines proved that precious metals occurred in this part of the West and prospectors quickly made additional discoveries. With the development of mines, the demand for food and draft animals spurred the development of ranches and farms. Soon most Nevada valleys contained farms, ranches and mining camps.

Recreational Opportunities

Audio Tour

Audio compliments of Nevada Commission on Tourism

Hickison Summit has been developed by the Bureau of Land Management for public enjoyment, with a scenic interpretive trail, camping and picnic facilities, and restrooms. The site is open year-round, but may be difficult to access in winter due to snow and mud.

In addition to the self-guided, half-mile hike throughout the site that takes you though multiple petroglyph panels, Hickison Recreation Area includes 16 campsites, a day use picnic area, pit toilets, barbecues and trash facilities. Best yet, the 360-degree view from Hickison Summit is nothing short of remarkable!

Whether you are stopping off the road for a bit of a break on your way to Ely, or if you're looking for a fantastic overnight campsite laden with immersive history, the Hickison Petroglyph Recreation Area would be an attractive option.

Additional Information

Please help preserve Nevada's fragile environments. Park your vehicle or set up camp in established sites. Minimize impacts by practicing Leave No Trace ethics.

This campground offers 16 campsites, a day use area, two vault type toilets, grills, tables, a one-half mile ADA accessible interpretive trail, and trash cans. Small to mid-sized RVs can be accommodated. There is no water. Open year round. No fees. Camping is limited to 14 days. After 14 days, campers must relocate at least 25 miles from their previous site.

Removal, disturbance, or attempting to remove archaeological materials is a felony. Selling, receiving, purchasing, transporting, exchanging or offering to do so is prohibited by law.

Contact the BLM Battle Mountain District Field Office for current weather, road conditions, and hazards.

Topographic Maps

USGS 7.5 Quad Maps:
Cape Horn
Hickison Summit


Elevation: 6,500 ft
State: Nevada
District: Lander County
Coordinates (WGS84): 39.443539, -116.74647
Nearest town: Austin, NV
Distance from the convention: ~2 hours

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