Pony Express National Historic Trail
The Pony Express holds a special place in the imagination and folklore of America. The "Pony" lasted only 19 months, from April 1860 to November 1861, but it quickly became a legend. At a time before there were airplanes, telephones, railroads or even a telegraph, the Pony carried the mail 2,000 miles in just 12 days in the summer and 14 days in the winter. As the Civil War loomed, it provided the Union with a vital link to its far-flung Western territories, including the silver mines of the Comstock and the gold fields of California.
Racing against time, the Pony had to overcome vast distances, hostile Indians and a harsh climate. But it could not overcome progress. When the transcontinental telegraph was completed on October 24, 1861, messages could be sent from coast to coast in just minutes. The Pony was doomed and it died only twenty-seven days later.
When we think of the Pony Express we tend to think of the riders, lone figures on horseback galloping from station to station. They are the romantic vision that keeps the legend alive. Yet they never could have done it without the stationmasters and attendants. These men were lonely, bored, and often in danger. Living conditions were bad at every station, but some were worse than others. Sir Richard Burton, British scholar and explorer, visited Sand Springs Station on October 17, 1860, and described it in his diary this way:
"The water near this vile hole was thick and stale with sulphury salts; it blistered even the hands. The station house was no unfit object in such a scene, roofless and chairless, filthy and squalid, with a smoky fire in one corner, and a table in the center of an impure floor, the walls open to every wind and the interior full of dust."
Cold Springs Station
The best preserved Pony Express station, the Cold Springs Station, can be found south of Highway 50 and Nevada State Historical Marker No. 83. There is a one mile hiking trail to the site that begins at the BLM interpretive kiosk and bathroom on the south side of the highway. Usage of the Cold Springs Pony Express Station began in the spring of 1860. The original station consisted of only two rooms. Late spring and early summer of 1860 was a period of conflict with the Paiute and this station was attacked several times. In the summer of 1860 the station was fortified and rooms were added on. As you can see, newer rooms feature gun ports for defense.
Both the Rock Creek Stage Station and the Rock Creek Telegraph Station northeast of this site, along Highway 50, were built by the end of 1861 which put the Pony Express station out of business. The station was excavated by the University of Nevada, Reno in 1976. During excavations they found bones, bottles, nails, ceramics, cans, ammunition, and clothing. Since excavation the ruin walls have been stabilized and the BLM has added interpretive signs.
This site is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and belongs to all citizens of the United States. The use of metal detectors and the collection of artifacts is prohibited by law. Please stay on designated roads and trails and as always, a reminder: if you pack it in, pack it out.
Sand Springs Station
At the base of Sand Mountain, the Sand Springs Pony Express Station lay covered by sand for over a hundred years, undisturbed until 1976. It was rediscovered by a team of Archaeologists, then excavated and stabilized in 1977. An interpretive sign has been placed in each room within the station to explain its function. You are invited to explore this National Register listed site at your own pace, but please, leave only footprints and take only photographs.
In 1860, the Pony Express trail was just a scratch on the surface of the Great Basin. Much of Nevada is still wild, untamed country but as the state has grown, non-native plants have invaded many of the areas where mining, ranching and recreational activities occur. At Sand Mountain uncontrolled Off-Highway-Vehicle use in the past has destroyed much of the vegetation. Some animals which used to be common, such as the kit fox, now are seldom seen.
The Sand Springs Desert Study Area is a fenced 40 acre tract that preserves a remnant of the land the way it was during the days of the Pony Express. There is a one-half mile self-guided interpretive loop trail that winds through the study area and the Pony Express Station. Along this trail you will find signs providing information on the wildlife, plants, geology, and history of the Sand Mountain area. If you are very quiet as you tour the area you might be lucky enough to see some of the current residents.
The Sand Springs Pony Express Station and the Desert Study Area are preserved for your use and enjoyment. Desert vegetation is very fragile though and the walls of the Pony Express Station can be easily damaged if people climb or walk on them. Please treat this area with respect so it can last for future generations use. Stay on the trail. Straying off of it destroys vegetation and may disturb a resting scorpion or snake.
To learn more about the Mystery of the Pony Express, visit the History Mystery page, or request your own copy of the History Mystery Examiner.
The photo on the right is of a member of the Pony Express Association-Nevada Division, riding in front of the Sands Springs Station and Sand Mountain, during the 150th anniversary re-ride. The Pony Express Association conducts an annual reenactment ride on the trail every June. Visit their website http://xphomestation.com/ to find out more information.