If you’ve never been to Genoa, you might think you were in a quaint New England village. Nestled amongst trees at the foot of the eastern Sierras, this town seems out-of-place in Nevada. But in fact, it is the state’s first permanent settlement. When it was founded, this community wasn’t even in Nevada. The history of Genoa reflects the wild, frenetic pace of westward expansion.
When California received statehood in 1850, the land of the Great Basin became the Utah Territory of the United States. Mormon settlers spread out across the region, to explore and establish communities.
In 1851, brothers John and Enoch Reese arrived in the Carson Valley with 13 wagon-loads of supplies intended for sale to overland travelers en route to the California gold fields. The brothers, along with their Mormon employees, formed the community of Mormon Station. In 1855, Mormon Station was renamed Genoa, in honor of the birthplace of Christopher Columbus.
By the time the Nevada Territory was created, and split-off from Utah in 1861, many of the early Mormon pioneers had already returned to Salt Lake City. However, Genoa had become an important agricultural region, significant enough that it was briefly made the territorial capital. Genoa was the seat of Douglas County for nearly six decades, with the courthouse built in 1865.
Perhaps the most famous character in Genoa’s history is John “Snowshoe” Thompson. From 1865 until 1876, this Norwegian native carried mail, via snowshoes, between Placerville and Genoa. The snowshoes, what we now know as cross-country skis, were commonly used in Norway. He normally made the trip eastward in three days, with a return trip of two days. For his services, Snowshoe Thompson was never paid by the government. Following a bout of appendicitis, we was laid-to-rest in the Genoa Cemetery.
Although a fire claimed much of the town in 1910, what remains has been charming visitors for over a century.
The Genoa Bar is “Nevada’s oldest thirst parlor”. It first opened in 1853, and has been wetting the whistles of visitors ever since. A long list of celebrities have patronized this establishment over the years.
In addition to a handful of shops, eateries and inns, Genoa has some noteworthy museums showcasing the area’s rich history. Mormon Station State Historic Park features a replica of the original trading post, as well as exhibits of local history. The Genoa Courthouse museum features artifacts of the emigrant trails, an exhibit on Snowshoe Thompson, as well as a collection of Native American art and baskets.
With all of its charm, Genoa is a popular location for weddings, reunions and gatherings. The town also plays host to several events throughout the year, the most famous being The Candy Dance. First held in 1919 as a way to raise funds to install electric street lights. A dance was organized, with candy made by area residents to energize and entice couples participating. Over the years, an arts and craft faire was added and the event was extended to two days. These days, this one-of-a-kind extravaganza continues to provide a significant portion of the town’s funding.
Winter in Genoa is a great time for casual wildlife viewing. Numerous raptors, including Red Tail Hawks, Golden and Bald Eagles decend upon the Carson Valley near Genoa in search of food. River Fork Ranch near Genoa is a nature conservancy, open to the public, with plenty of space to spot wildlife.
No visit to Genoa is complete without seeing deer. Mule deer are plentiful and can be seen casually wandering around town. Sometimes it’s easy to wonder if the deer are just people watching.
So whether you’d prefer to tip a frosty pint at a historic saloon, indulge your sweet-tooth, or just watch some wildlife, a trip to Genoa is worthwhile adventure.
Prairie City SVRA
If Santa Claus visits this year and drops off an ATV, dirt bike or a 4-wheel drive, chances are that lucky person will be eager to go play in their new vehicle. Unfortunately, in the Sacramento area, there aren’t many places where you can legally go off-road. Prairie City State Vehicular Recreation Area near Folsom is one popular option to go play in the dirt.
This 836 acre park got its start in 1972, on land leased from Aerojet. Originally named McGills Cycle Park, the site was eventually purchased by Sacramento County in 1975, with the state taking over management in 1988.
The primary focus of the area is for motorcycles and All Terrain Vehicles. There are several trails dedicated for Off Highway Vehicle (OHV) use. Most are for beginning and intermediate skill levels, but there are some advanced trails. Additionally there are practice tracks for ATVs and Motocross riders, and even tracks for kids only.
The park is best-known for the Prairie City Motocross Track, home to the Hangtown Motocross Classic Race. Run in conjunction with the Dirt Diggers North Motorcycle Club, Prairie City MX is considered to be the premier track in Northern California. The facility hosts several AMA sanctioned events throughout the year, attracting top talent from around the world. Outside of racing season, the track is available for practice to riders of all ages and skill-levels.
The park is also home to Prairie City Kart Track, a competition level facility. This site hosts several International Kart Federation races each year. Kart rentals are available. You may be familiar with the go-karts at amusement parks and miniature golf courses, but these souped-up karts are on another level, with some reaching speeds of 60 mph or higher. As such, classes are available. Even though children as young as 5 can participate, the higher performance karts are available for adults of all ages.
Although the majority of the Prairie City SVRA is dedicated to motorcycle and ATV use, the park has an area reserved for 4-wheel-drive vehicles. There are several mud pits available for some down-and-dirty fun. There is also a 4×4 track and an open area.
Northern California is home to several world-famous 4×4 trails such as the Rubicon and Fordyce Creek trails, so it’s fitting that Prairie City has some obstacle courses. These sections are meant to be used by 4×4’s modified for rockcrawling. Compared to stock vehicles, rockcrawlers tend to have larger tires, a lifted frame and flexible suspension. They also have lower range gears and reinforced drive trains, meant to withstand punishment. The obstacle courses at Prairie City are beginning to intermediate skill-level challenges, but they shouldn’t be attempted with a stock vehicle. But for those who’ve done some upgrading, these courses are a good way to test the equipment.
You don’t need a mud-bogger or a rockcrawler to enjoy the 4×4 section. There are plenty of places to test your skills with a stock four-wheel drive. In fact, if four-wheeling isn’t something you do extensively, it’s always a good idea to know what your vehicle is capable of, how it performs and how to control it under certain situations. Prairie City SVRA is a good place to do just that.
Even if you don’t have any off-road capabilities, just watching the activity can be a lot of fun. With several shaded picnic tables, BBQ grills and restrooms throughout the area, you could easily spend an entire day there. But be careful, you just might get bitten by the off-roading bug. If so, next year, you’ll hoping Santa brings you an OHV.
For more information, visit: http://www.ohv.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=1221