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State’s pioneer history nestled between Carson City and Reno


The signs of an early spring were hard to miss at the Deer Run Ranch Bed and Breakfast in Washoe Valley.

The male great horned owl greeted visitors from his perch high in an Austrian pine, where he kept a constant watch on his mate as she nested in a nearby poplar. They are the perennial guests of Muffy and David Vhay, Deer Run’s proprietors and patron saints.

The diminutive bed and breakfast is attached to the home the Vhays built by hand. Their spring-fed pond attracts a wide variety of wildlife. Mule deer, coyote, and the occasional bobcat are visitors to the ranch.

A pair of nesting Canada geese took up residence on a recent morning, and a pair of mating hawks rode the ridge line’s updraft and spun lazy circles high overhead. At the end of day, mourning doves sang their blue melody.

Dave, an architect by profession but a rancher and builder by calling, spends his days working the family’s 200-acre spread with 60 acres under alfalfa and bunch grass cultivation. He’s a craftsman and a draftsman with calloused hands and a workshop/office that a master mechanic would envy.

When she’s not serving guests omelets and homemade muffins, Muffy is an accomplished potter whose studio reflects her own hands-on artistic sensibilities. Whether creating cups and plates or tending the family garden, her hands are never far from the earth.

It’s when they get together at the end of the day that you truly start to appreciate the couple and their own spiritually soothing nest on the hill overlooking Washoe Lake. Their hands have managed to improve on an already stunning place.

These fine, hard-working people have sunk deep roots into the land and have been rewarded with great abundance and the area’s rugged beauty.

“We try to give guests an experience that tells them what the old Nevada we grew up in was like: warm desert nights, coyotes, beautiful sunsets,” Muffy says. “It was a much quieter, less urban environment in the high desert.”

The snow-capped Sierra Nevada fills the western skyline. The Washoe Valley, home to so much of Nevada’s pioneer history, is framed by the Sierra and nestled between Carson City and Reno. The address is 5540 Eastlake Blvd. (For more information: 775-882-3643.)

“We have ended up being convenient to Virginia City and Tahoe and Reno and Carson, and the desert and the mountains,” Muffy says. “We didn’t plan it that way. It just kind of happened.”

Muffy’s parents, Emily and Jim Greil, purchased the ranch then known as the Quarter Circle JP in 1937 for $2,400 in back taxes. The ranch’s spring once quenched the thirsts of the region’s native Americans. During Prohibition, the ready source of out-of-the-way water was used by moonshiners to distill the local white lightning. As the family retells the story, government agents eventually destroyed the stills and interrupted the water source.

Today, a well and spring supply pure water for the ranch, its garden and fruit orchard with enough left over to fill a small pond that provides an idyllic setting.

As it turns out, owls don’t care to construct their own nests. So David and his daughter set up living quarters for the owls three years ago. With three hatchlings last year and more eggs this season, it must be a happy home.

If there’s a better place to relax and be reminded of what’s so right with this part of Northern Nevada, I’ve not found it.

The local birds can’t help singing about it, either.

John L. Smith is a columnist for the Las Vegas Review-Journal. E-mail him at jsmith@reviewjournal.com or call 702-383-0295.

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