Moapa Valley History Part 1

Author :This article was written and submitted by Elise McAllister, from Partners in Conservation and Logandale Trails System. Elise will be a regular contributor to this blog and the Moapa Valley History Category.

Moapa Valley actually begins west/northwest of the larger communities of Overton and Logandale, her white clay cliffs nestle the deep aquifer springs that gush forth warm, soothing waters, creating the Muddy River at what is commonly referred to as Warm Springs. Both the valley and the river carve a verdant green swath southeast through the Nevada desert, nipping a corner of the Piute Indian Reservation, flowing through Moapa and Glendale into the Narrows, and spilling forth into the broad valley plain anchored by the present-day towns of Logandale and Overton. The Muddy River and the valley’s elevation slip south and where the Overton Wildlife Management Area meets Lake Mead, so to does the river, completing its short journey, encompassed entirely within the boundaries of Moapa Valley.

The ‘valley’ as locals refer to it, is so much more than a riverbed, though; it is miles of vegetation, both natural and farmed. Blessed with plentiful ground water and a reliable, steady flow in the Muddy, the valley floor is akin to the biblical Garden of Eden, providing life to a diversity and abundance of wildlife unknown to other desert communities.

Once dominated by sprawling fields and pastures, of late Moapa Valley is a haven to many city-weary folks who want to live where you can see dazzling stars by night, hear mourning doves cooing at sunrise, and feel the comfort of belonging to a community where ‘everyone really does know your name’.

But Moapa Valley is so much more than the post-card perfect small town, it is a centerpiece of greenery surrounded by 360 degrees of public land; public land as diverse and abundant as the wildlife, from a shimmering Lake Mead to Valley of Fire State Park’s famous sandstone formations, to the Logandale Trails System filled with sand dunes, gravel washes and more red rocks, to Mormon Mesa, a huge flat-top that is anything but flat when you start exploring—the variety of landscapes, geology, scenery—and the multitude of recreational opportunities around Moapa Valley provide a never-ending buffet of fun, discovery, extreme sports, or blissful relaxation.

Moapa Valley is really the best of both worlds, a fertile valley dotted with idyllic small towns along a meandering desert river and a centralized location from which one can enjoy a variety of outdoor activities in a multitude of settings—water, springs, trails, rocks, sand, washes, 4-wheeling, rock crawling, rolling hills, sand buggies, wilderness mountains, parks, fishing, museums, ATVs, wildlife areas, hundreds of miles of dirt roads, hiking, mountain biking, zip lines, January temperatures in the 60s, over 300 days of sunshine a year, swimming, bird hunting, star gazing, … come add your favorite fun to the list!

Overton is the business heart of Moapa Valley….and always has been. In the early 1880’s, one store existed in the whole of Moapa Valley; families from St. Joseph, Kaolin and other settled locations would hitch up their team to a wagon and go ‘over-to-town’ for supplies. Eventually the pioneers simplified this to Overton, a matter-of-fact way most things were dealt with back then. Not a glamorous name, but definitely functional—in true pioneer spirit.

Overton wasn’t the first community or the biggest in the late 1800s and early 1900s, but the main core of a business community began to form in Overton, especially after St. Thomas was evacuated due to the rising waters of Lake Mead. St. Thomas seemed a natural place to build a town, next to the Muddy River before it joined the Virgin River. With plenty of land and good water, St. Thomas thrived and quickly grew into the center of commerce and civility for a hundred miles.

It was ideally located for shipments of ore, coming from Gold Butte and the Grand Gulch area and those mining operations added to St. Thomas’ prosperity. Meanwhile Overton hung on at the mouth of the huge Overton Wash and slowly preserved as a community, but it wasn’t until Lake Mead and Hoover Dam dictated the death of St. Thomas, that Overton really became the center of Moapa Valley. During the 40s, 50s, 60s, and 70s, Overton was the center of commerce and most social events. Horse races, dances, Independence Day celebrations, parades—all held in Overton as the decades of time flew by.

Overton also benefited from being the gateway community to the Overton Arm of Lake Mead with excellent fishing and un-crowded marinas funneling many people through Moapa Valley during the 80s and 90s. However, with the drought and abrupt dropping of the lake’s levels recently, and the subsequent closing of Overton Beach, the business community in Overton has suffered as of late.

But Overton does what Overton has always done—-preserved. Overton and its residents hang on with a determination and attitude fitting of their pioneer ancestors. Hot summers and tough times are what this community has always known and there is a certain sense of pride, an ability to endure, almost a stubborn streak in the residents of Overton and the community itself. It has earned the right to be the heart and soul of Moapa Valley; an honor and a tribute to perseverance—and don’t think for one moment that Overton will relinquish that trophy.

The Muddy River spills from the Narrows into the broad flat valley, creating fertile, rich soil and some of the best farmland in Moapa Valley; this is Logandale’s claim to fame. Logandale has always been the agricultural epicenter of the valley; although farming is done from one end of the valley to the other, Logandale is the undisputed king of agricultural productivity.

Fragrant fields of green onions in the late winter/early spring followed by succulent crops of tomatoes, giving way to acres and acres of luscious melons in the summer—Logandale produced vegetables that sold from Salt Lake City to LA. Ranchers raised cattle here too, but the ranches were small in size and the cattle business was never as profitable as that of farming.

Vegetable fields gave way to alfalfa in the 60s and 70s, with Logandale growing the vast majority of hay—the area’s hot summers, ample water, and long growing seasons were perfect conditions for alfalfa. In late summer, the heady perfume of alfalfa flowers hung heavy in the night air. Driving through Logandale, with huge fields of alfalfa growing on each side of the main road, the hotter and more humid the air, the more intoxicating became the earthy fragrance of alfalfa. Leaving the valley, one could catch lingering whiffs swirling up from the night breeze, literally miles from the nearest field. The only other smell that can out-compete alfalfa is the smell of creosote after a summer rain; many a local has memories of those evening drives through the perfume-laden air of Logandale.

It is only fitting, then, that the County Fair for Clark County ended up residing in Logandale; no other community or area in all of Clark County could rival Logandale for quality of product or its farmers for knowledge of subject. In the spring, 50,000 plus people flock daily to Logandale to the Clark County Fair; a celebration of not only ranching and farming in general, but a very personal celebration of a way of life in Logandale, one that endures to this day. Although many fields have been sold for housing sub-divisions, the vast majority of working land is still located in Logandale and sons and grandsons farm the same land that their parents and grandparents once farmed. And in the barns at the county fair, those old-time family names are still spoken in reverence, not only for their knowledge and skill, but also for keeping the farming and ranching traditions alive; that means a lot to the folks from Logandale.

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