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Interstate 80 between Elko and Carlin, Nevada, follows the valley of the Humboldt River. The Humboldt drains a 17,000 square mile basin along its 275 mile course, located entirely within the State of Nevada. While barely a trickle of water in late summer, spring floods may swell the river well over its banks. The average annual discharge is 256,000 acre-feet, although this varies from 25,000 acre-feet to 635,000 acre-feet annually. The Humboldt River played an important part in the history of the American West during the early years of westward settlement.

In 1928, Peter Skene Ogden led a party of Hudson’s Bay Company trappers south from Idaho, following the Humboldt to the present location of Winnemucca. Ogden trapped there briefly, returning to Utah for the winter. The following spring, he returned to follow the Humboldt to the marshes west beyond the Stillwater Range, where the Humboldt spreads and disappears into the desert sand.

For ten years, British and American trappers worked the river, then called Mary’s River. By 1838, the beaver were largely trapped out, the market for beaver felt hats was waning, and the American west was about to change. Three years later, the first party of immigrants to California, on the advice of mountain men, followed the Humboldt west from near its source to the Humboldt Sink, then crossed the Forty-Mile Desert to reach the Carson River and the Sierra Nevada.

In 1845, John C. Fremont began his explorations and publicized the desert country and the Humboldt Trail.

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