The Center for Land Use Interpretation Newsletter

Nevada’s Dixie Valley


692Like a historic fountain commemorating the valley's ranching past, water spews out a faucet continuously, near a foreign military tank, forming a marsh at a ranch site in the Dixie Valley. CLUI photo

THE DIXIE VALLEY IS A remote part of northern Nevada that is a rare example of a simulated hostile nation on American soil, open to the public. Military equipment, both functional and not, is scattered among the ruins of old homesteads and ranches, a landscape that represents an integrated air defense system comprised of 37 real or simulated radars, the defenses of a generic hostile land.

It is part of a network of training ranges used primarily by the Navy, that includes five closed and fenced ranges totaling over 80,000 acres (Bravo 16, 17, 19, 20, and the Wilson Electronic Combat Range), under a military airspace of over 6 million acres. Unlike these closed ranges, however, the Dixie Valley is still accessible to the public, though it is so remote few make the journey.

The Valley is more than fifty miles from the nearest town, and that town is Fallon, home of the Fallon Naval Air Station, with the Navy’s Top Gun pilot school, and one of the busiest military aviation training bases in the country. Fallon has been using ranges in the area since the 1940s, including Bravo 20, photographed and described by the photographer Richard Misrach and his wife Myriam in the 1980s, who proposed turning the blasted range into a National Park of bombing, in their book Bravo 20. When the Navy’s use of Bravo 20 was up for Congressional review in 1999, Misrach made one more heroic, quixotic, and failed attempt to get his proposal seriously considered. Instead, the Navy has increased its use of Bravo 20, and the four other ranges around Fallon, and has been authorized to expand their terrestrial holdings in the area by over 100,000 acres.

693Some of the buildings left to be used as visual targets, make for a mise en scene that resembles the surrealist renderings of Dali and de Chirico. CLUI photo

Some of this acreage is made up of piece-meal purchases of land in the Dixie Valley. Starting in the 1980s, the Navy was making so many sonic booms and low supersonic flights over the Dixie Valley that the residents of the small community of around 100 people protested, and finally brought national attention to their plight. Stories appeared in the Wall Street Journal, and locals went on the national television news (PBS). Eventually though, they gave up, selling their ranches and farms to the Navy, if they were lucky, for what most people now say was far less than the land was worth. The Navy began burning down the homesteads it bought, replacing them with Soviet radar and military equipment to simulate an enemy landscape.

Because their use of this range includes electronic warfare and training, without the use of live bombs, the Navy has been able to construct a new type of range, with a few dozen fenced off “islands” containing critical infrastructure such as live radar and other clusters of hardware. The rest of the land, somewhere around 85,000 acres of it, designated as “Category B” type, is open for mining, grazing, and transit by the public, making for an open air gallery of active warfare props within a simulated enemy landscape (used, in the Navy’s words, for “integrated Combat Search and Rescue, Close Air Support training, visual cueing, integrated ground forces support, and the installation of Electronic Warfare and tracking systems.”)

Today the Dixie Valley is quite a sight. No one lives here, yet the land is irrigated. The valley has such good groundwater that spigots coming out of the ground are left to flow continuously creating accidental marshlands. The Navy hasn’t bothered posting most of its ranches, so they just sit there, enigmatically empty. Burned homestead sites are marked by a cluster of damaged trees that once shaded the house. Outbuildings, farm equipment and old vehicles spared from destruction are spray painted with the letters “TCT” designating that they should remain for visual target and prop purposes.

It is unlikely that Misrach's Bravo 20 park plan will be realized any time soon. But at least we have the nearby Dixie Valley, the nation's only Drive-Thru Electronic Warfare Park. 

694Like a yard sale from hell, an area on the edge of town contains the burned contents of some of the homes in the Dixie Valley. CLUI photo