History of Mt. Rose in the Sierra Mountains in Nevada

History of Mt. Rose in the Sierra Mountains in Nevada
History of Mt. Rose in the Sierra Mountains in Nevada (Image: Rick Cooper: Flickr.com)

Mt. Rose is a 10,776-foot peak lying between Reno, Nev., and Lake Tahoe. The Mt. Rose area has served as a key source of lumber and as the site of an important meteorological observatory, and it also lends its name to a popular ski area that lies in its shadow.

Geological Origins

According to the Central Sierra Historical Society, the Sierra Nevada, of which Mt. Rose is part, first began to take shape 250 million years ago. That's when the grinding of tectonic plates beneath the ocean caused the crust of the Pacific plate to melt and form plumes of liquid rock that floated to the water's surface. These plumes joined together and formed a single mass of embedded rock, which began rising 80 million years ago to form the Sierra Nevada.

The 1800s

White explorers first arrived in the area around Mt. Rose in the 1840s. In 1859, prospectors discovered a large deposit of silver ore known as the Comstock Lode at nearby Virginia City, Nev., which set off a 20-year boom period. That boom, and its need for building material (i.e. wood) would have a profound effect on Mt. Rose. Writing in the May 1913 edition of the journal Botanical Gazette, Albert W.C.T. Herre observed that the mountain's flanks were covered with pine and scrub trees.

"During the Comstock boom, this timber was greatly depleted, parts being deforested even up to the timber line," he wrote. Lumbering would continue along Mount Rose's slopes well into the 20th century.

On Jan. 1, 1895, Dr. James Edward Church of the University of Nevada became the first white man to make a winter ascent of Mt. Rose. It would be the first of many winter visits by Church.

Mt. Rose Weather Observatory

On June 29, 1905, Church established one of the nation's first high-altitude meteorological observatories on the summit of Mt. Rose. According to the Nevada Historic Preservation Office, "At the observatory, he carried out his famed snow studies and developed the modern science of snow survey. Dr. Church's Nevada system of snow survey is used throughout the world today to predict seasonal water flow from precipitation stored as snow pack."


The north summit of Mt. Rose is now known as Church Peak, in honor of Church's work at the observatory. As for the name Mt. Rose, its origins are less clear. "Where did Mount Rose get its name?" asks a brochure on the area published by the Washoe County Regional Parks and U.S. Forest Service. "It's not exactly certain --- the name came either from early 1800s settler Jacob H. Rose, who built a lumber mill near Franktown, or Rose Hickman, a friend of Washoe City newspaper editor H.S. Ham."


According to the Web site of the Mt. Rose Ski Tahoe ski area, Reno and Washoe County locals began skiing the peaks next to Mt. Rose in the 1930s in an area where a handful of surface lifts were built. Following World War II, a ski lodge and different ski area named Sky Tavern was built in that same area to accommodate skiers.

The Mount Rose Highway, nicknamed the "Highway to the Sky" and connecting Reno with Lake Tahoe, was improved for winter travel beginning in the early 1950s, providing better access to the mountain's slopes. New trails were cut, including the area known as the Reno Ski Bowl, which served as an alternative site for the 1960 Winter Olympics at neighboring Squaw Valley.

In the early 1960s, the Reno Ski Bowl became the Slide Mountain Ski Area, part of which became the Mt. Rose Ski Area in 1964. Slide Mountain and Mt. Rose Ski Area merged in 1987.

Skiing near Mt. Rose dates to the 1930s. (Dinuraj K: Flickr.com)
Skiing near Mt. Rose dates to the 1930s. (Dinuraj K: Flickr.com)

Protected Wilderness

In 1989, the U.S. Congress created the Mount Rose Wilderness area and added it to the National Wilderness Preservation system. The area now encompasses 31,310 acres --- including Mt. Rose itself.

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