Massacre Rim Wilderness Study Area – Washoe County, Nevada - Atlas Obscura

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Massacre Rim Wilderness Study Area

Washoe County, Nevada

An internationally-recognized dark sky sanctuary lies in northern Nevada, near the Oregon line. 


Washoe County, Nevada, is considered “urban” by the U.S. Census Bureau because Reno occupies its southern tip. But it’s a large county, stretching some 170 miles north to the Oregon border, and its northern end is anything but urban. It is as remote and sparsely populated as anywhere in the conterminous 48 states, with the only settlements consisting of a handful of ranches. As might be expected, the absence of artificial light and the clear high desert air make for exceptional stargazing. These conditions have been recognized by the International Dark Sky Sanctuary Association, which recently designated the Massacre Rim Wilderness Study Area an official dark sky sanctuary.

Massacre Rim is a fault block escarpment that rises some 1,200 feet above Long Valley on the northwest. Its highest point is almost 6,800 feet above sea level. (The grim name is said to come from supply caches mistaken for graves by emigrants.) The rim marks the northwestern edge of the dark sky sanctuary, which stretches to the south and east, being bounded partly by graded County Road 8A on the southeast and by the Massacre (dry) Lakes farther west.

Massacre Rim has no vehicle access, with only some rough trails going partway up the relatively gentle southeast side. Astronomical observation points accessible to vehicles are off County Road 8A. Even though Massacre Rim may be difficult to access, the view from it is spectacular and worth a hike while in the area.

Know Before You Go

The observation sites are most conveniently accessed from County Road 8A, where a number of unimproved roads head into the sanctuary. In particular, a junction of an unimproved road that goes north from 8A between West and Middle Massacre Lakes is a convenient reference point.

To reiterate, although County Road 8A should be passable to ordinary passenger cars in dry weather, high clearance and even 4wd are likely to be necessary on the unimproved roads heading into the sanctuary.

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February 16, 2023

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