Pony Express Stations, Part 11: Carson Sink Station

Carson Sink is a playa, or large alkali flat area, in the northeastern portion of the Carson Desert south of Fallon. This was formerly the terminus of the Carson River where the waters of the river simply sank into ground and evaporated. Thousands of years ago, this area was several hundred feet under the waters of ancient Lake Lahontan. The Carson Sink Pony Express station was situated between Hooten Wells to the west and Sand Springs toward the east. The site can be reached off U.S. 95 about 14 miles south of Fallon, then about 1/2 mile west of the highway.

The station was built in March of 1860 by Bolivar Roberts, J.G. Kelly and others. They knew the region was inhabited by hostile Indians, so they built the station as a fort for protection. Since there were no logs or rocks available, they used mud from the shore of the marsh to make adobe bricks. To get the mud to the right consistency to mold the blocks, they tamped the material with their bare feet for a week or more. They reported the mud was impregnated with alkali and carbonate of soda and it burned their feet until they were swollen and resembled hams.

“Pony” Bob Haslam made the longest ride in Pony Express history from Friday’s Station at Lake Tahoe to Smith Creek Station in the Nevada desert and back again. The reason he had to make such a long ride was the unwillingness or absence of other riders to take their turn due to Indian attacks at the start of the Pyramid Lake Indian War. On his return trip during this ride, he passed through Carson Sink Station and made these comments:

“When I arrived at the Sink of the Carson, I had found the station men badly frightened, for they had seen some fifty warriors decked out in their war paint and reconnoitering. There were fifteen white men here, well armed and ready for a fight. The station was built of adobe, and was large enough for the men and ten or fifteen horses, with a fine spring of water within a few feet of it.”

Today very little remains of this once busy station. Faint remains are barely visible of two adobe walls that have melted back into the alkali desert. In 1960, Walt Mulchay found ruins of four or five buildings beside the corral. He reported all of them faced north with three in a small flat just north of some sand dunes and two partially in the dunes.

Although the station site is less than one mile west of U.S. 95, it is difficult to reach with a vehicle other than a four wheel drive and there is a gate that must be opened and closed. There are two Pony Express markers at the site but do not expect to see any ruins. The road is badly rutted and can be muddy in wet weather. It is hardly worth the effort going there, since there is not much of interest left to see.

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About Dennis Cassinelli

Dennis Cassinelli is a Nevada author, historian and outdoorsman. He’s written extensively about American Indian culture and Comstock history. His book, Preserving Traces of the Great Basin Indians, contains up-close photographs and detailed pen-and-ink drawings of American Indian stone artifacts. It also contains a fold-out chronology chart showing projectile points across a 12,000-year time scale. The book is a must-have for every enthusiast of Great Basin archaeology. Dennis’s website is DennisCassinelli.com.