This valley between Reno and Carson City is a microcosm of the strikingly rugged and beautiful landscape of the high desert. The Sierra Nevada foothills to the west provide a forest environment. From there the terrain flattens to a broad valley that in wet years has a large lake fed by the melting Sierra snowpack. In times of drought, the lake can dry up completely.
Mormons, drawn by the fertile soil and water for growing crops, settled the area in the early 1850s. The Comstock boom attracted ranchers in the early 1860s. Miners erected mills along the shore of the lake, and for a short time the valley prospered. Newly rich ranchers and miners erected impressive houses to display their success. Washoe City, located near the valley's northern edge, served as the Washoe County seat beginning in 1861. With the completion of the V&T Railroad line in 1869, the milling business shifted south to the Carson River, destroying the main economic basis of Washoe City. The Washoe County government's move to Reno in 1872 and the Comstock's decline beginning in the 1870s killed the town. Only a few stone ruins now remain alongside U.S. 395. By the late 1870s the valley had become home to a few cattle ranchers. Today, however, the growth of Reno and Carson City has encouraged developers to view Washoe Valley as a perfect location for commuters. As ranches are subdivided, houses and lawns are replacing barns and corrals.
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