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. Like the riders, these men were lonely and often in danger. There was little excitement in their lives and boredom was constant. 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."
Although every Pony Express employee had to swear "...that I will drink no intoxicating liquors...", the most common items found during excavation of the station were fragments of liquor bottles. Even solemn oaths were hard to keep when faced with constant loneliness, boredom and isolation.
Covered by sand for over a hundred years, Sand Springs Station lay 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 Historic Site at your own pace, but please, leave only footprints and take only photographs.
Sand Springs Desert Study Area
In 1860, the Pony Express trail was just a scratch on the surface of the Great Basin desert. 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. Here 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-guiding interpretive loop trail that winds through the study area and past the Pony Express Station. Along this trail you will find more than a dozen signs which provide information on the wildlife, plants, history and geology 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 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 them with respect.
Stay on the trail. Straying off of it destroys vegetation and may disturb a resting scorpion or snake.
This is a National Historic Site and belongs to all citizens of the United States. The use of metal detectors and the collection of artifacts is prohibited.
The area around Sand Springs has been closed to motor vehicles. This will protect the vegetation in the area and allow disturbed sites to recover. It also gives visitors the chance to better experience the natural setting of the Pony Express Station. Please respect this closure and stay on designated roads. And as always, a reminder, "If you pack it in, pack it out".