The Reese rises in the southern section of the Toiyabe Range, on the flanks of Arc Dome. In its upper reaches, the Reese River is a fast-flowing mountain stream surrounded by relatively lush growth including Aspen groves and cottonwood trees. It then flows north between the Toiyabe Range and the Shoshone Mountains for approximately half its length. The river then passes through a low point in the Shoshone Mountains and continues north between that range and the Fish Creek Mountains. Once it exits the Toiyabe Range it becomes a slow, muddy stream, and its waters are used for irrigation by scattered farms and ranches along its lower reaches. Although considered a tributary of the Humboldt, in most years the Reese dwindles into a chain of shallow pools long before it reaches the main stem. Only during infrequent floods does the Reese contribute water to the Humboldt, entering near Battle Mountain.
The river is named after John Reese, who explored the area in 1854 as part of the expedition of Colonel Edward Steptoe, and who later served as a guide to Captain James H. Simpson's survey of a military road through central Nevada. The mining boomtown of Austin, located in the upper reaches of the Reese River, names its long-lived newspaper the Reese River Reveille.
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