2014-04 WA/OR/NV/CA 4/6
Day 13/Saturday/April 19:
I am thinking I really should revised this blog’s title as we will not be traveling further south. We missed our last chance at Bishop for Death Valley. We are finding some fascination places here in Nevada and decided to spend more time exploring these deserted locations.
This morning I was hoping for some alpenglow on the White Mountains to the west, which had snow. I was up early, like 4:00 am for the magic hour before and after sunrise but the wispy clouds didn’t add much drama. The dramatic clouds of yesterday dissipated. At least I could set up my tripod just a few steps up the hill behind our camping spot.
We were just packing up when a couple from near Reno drove by. We chatted about rock hounding and they recommended Rawhide Canyon south of Fallon for malachite. We will have to check it out when we return to Nevada in May.
We drove back to 774 and tried a few 4×4 roads looking for some rocks and vistas. We found a few on both sides that seemed promising. One had the remains of someone’s attempt to capture runoff for a water supply. A rusty barrel was in the ground surrounded by some large rocks. It didn’t look like much came of it. We wandered around finding a few nice rocks, mostly jasper types. The road became narrower and less distinct, so we returned to the highway.
Another road lead on the west side of 774 led to some colorful canyons, badlands and rock formations. No rocks of interest but it was a gorgeous place. Since the sun was high, any photos would be washed out but I shot a few anyway using a combo polarizer. A hummingbird visited us out of nowhere, probably looking for lunch amongst the wildflower smorgasbord.
We drove up another dirt road that paralleled some power lines, probably the access road for their maintenance. We stopped part way up where someone left a fire pit. We looked down into the eroded landscapes we partially explored yesterday. Hoodoos and sculpted cliffs lay below us. I found a few Apache tears lying about on the road. We ate lunch while looking down and across to more colorful mountains. Nevada has 300 mountain ranges making it the most mountainous state in the U. S.
We were going to return to where we were yesterday when we heard motorcycles or ATVs. Peering into the canyon from above, we saw a caravan of 3 motorcycles and one large ATV driving up the wide wash. We decided to go anyway but turned left rather than go straight ahead. The road was rougher, crossing several narrow washes. It lead us to an area of dark and mint green badlands. No rocks of interest and any light, morning or evening would be poor. If you walk up the rough gravel road, these badlands lead your eyes to the White Mountains.
We began to hear gunshots from the party next door, so drove back to the highway and to the road where I saw some lovely pale yellow desert blooms. They were plentiful, scattered amongst a spiny low shrub. There happened to be a large rock formation, actually, a sort of butte, that would be a nice backdrop with the right light and a few photogenic clouds.
Tony wanted to move on, thinking that a wait of over an hour for the sun to low enough to brighten the butte wouldn’t be worth it. But being the less practical but more creative member of the Tilley Traveling Circus, I pleaded my case. Am I glad I won. I was treated to a rainbow (and, a shower), with some puffy cumulus clouds in black, grey and white plus a golden butte shining in the waning rays of the sun before it set. And, yes, I stayed until the sunset faded away.
Returning to 774, we looked for a place to spend the night. Since it was getting dark and Tony was getting grumpy, we left the road for a highway gravel area. The wind picked up, but the rains left us alone. Not a picturesque locale, but it was free and I could see a cluster of colorful badlands nearby.
Again, a quick set up, dinner, walk and to bed. We were all tired from wandering around and the heat. That Bishop water is quickly disappearing.
A note here about snakes. Rattlesnakes. I know they are out here in the desert scrub. I have seen various kinds of lizards, most less than 7″ long. But, no snakes of any kind. Too cold? Too hot? Nothing to eat? I am still careful around rocks and brush and just hoping my luck doesn’t run out.
Day 14/Sunday/April 20:
This Easter morning we explored the colorful badlands/canyons behind where we slept. The road was well-maintained: graded with runoff channels. Rock hounding wasn’t very rewarding but the scenery was magnificent: alkali beds dotted with golden tufts of grass, colorful rock formations, small canyons to walk, evidence of former mining or ranching activities (rusted remains of water tanks, wood stove, barrels, late 1920s truck fenders and hood, porcelain light socket, etc.), views when climbing up the slopes, etc. this is a place we need to return to when the skies aren’t hazy.
We drove out to the intersection of 774 and 6 on the gravel road and headed east on 6 then north on 95. 95 is the connector highway between Reno and Las Vegas. We encountered lots of snowbirds, truckers, and fast cars. We drove through the dying towns of Mina and Luning; the grocery stores were closed, even the Hard Rock Grocery, though open, had a for sale sign. We were curious about it as it was noted in our Benchmark Atlas and a sign on the roadside proclaimed its proximity.
After lunch at the rest area in Luning watching the proprietor of the Trading Post (rocks and cold drinks and a for sale sign) rearranging his rocks, we drove across an alkali dry lake bed and up a rocky steep road for 2.3 miles hoping to find a malachite/azurite site. Unfortunately, the road was closed at 1.7 miles with a Nevada State Department of Mines sign telling us that the the mine was closed due to dangers like rattlesnakes, open mine shafts, falling rocks, etc. we poked around and found some colorful rocks, enjoyed the view across the valley then returned to 95.
Highway 361 heads north just a mile from Luning bringing through the town of Gabbs then to Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park about 20 miles east on 844. The only fuel station in town was closed on Sundays and Easter Sunday of course we had enough fuel to make it to the park, return then fuel up. Gas stations are few and far between in this part of Nevada. After exploring back roads and driving without fueling up since Bishop, we were getting low.
844 was paved until the junction up to the park. As we drove east we could see it perched on the hillside. All around us was an open valley with very healthy green rabbit brush and sage. There were a few scattered buildings on the hillside but nothing else. There was a road to Ione but roads were scarce, too.
We drove through the preserved mining town of Berlin and on to the campground 2 miles away. $17 a night, our first paid site since last Monday at Burney Falls for site 6, level and a pull-through. It was furnished with a fire pit, gazebo, and picnic table. The vault toilet was a few steps away, garbage cans nearby and water pumps which were shut off. We had few neighbors so it was quiet. There was a black tank dumpsite on the way in but the water was shut off.
After setting up the camper, wandering around with Toller, eating dinner, and planning our next day’s route, we went to bed.
Day 15/Monday/April 21:
The sun was shining when we awoke to begin our day. First things first: feed and water Toller. There was a .3 mile interpretive trail we followed to the Ichthyosaur excavation site. The placards detailed the flora and fauna of the area: pack rats, Mormon tea, rabbit brush, small needled pine (can’t remember exact name), etc.
We knew the covered site wasn’t open but there was glass at either end that one could peek through including interpretive numbers. Just as we were leaving to return to our campsite to prepare to leave, Robin, the very friendly and knowledgeable park ranger appeared. He graciously offered to give us a mini tour. At one time, a doctor of paleontology spent five hours waiting for a film crew so he asked every question he could which she graciously answered.
Ichthyosaurs are a marine reptile, a very successful one who lived during three eras, about 150 million years plus. They gave birth to live young and breathed using lungs, cetacean traits. The ones at the pit, Shonisaurus, were about 60 feet long but other genera can range from single digits to 72 feet. These lived off the east coast of Pangea about 215 mya. About 8 or 9 individuals are present at this site but Robin said probably around 100 or so were in the area. We were actually able to touch a real disc of the spine which the staff used as a paperweight.
Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park isn’t just about the bones; it also is the site of a mining operation. Some of the original buildings remain, including the stamp mill. Since it was getting hot and the ranger mentioned that rattlesnakes were found near there at one time, we left to fuel up in Gabbs, about 20 miles west on 844 then 2 miles south on 361.
Ray and Linda, his daughter-in-law, were congenial folks who owned the grocery store, gas station, cafe and motel. Diesel was a reasonable $3.99 a gallon so we filled it up. Gas stations out here are few and far between so if you find yourself on 361 stop by and fill up.
Linda told us that once we teed into highway 50, of America’s Lonliest Road fame, to take 722, the old highway 50 which was more scenic. Just watch for cows, she warned. You won’t find too many other vehicles so it is even more lonely. We found it quite scenic and saw only a handful of cars. We passed a few large ranches.
Soon, we returned to 50 for a short while then turned north on 305 toward Battle Mountain and Interstate 80. Surprisingly, I had a signal for my iPad Mini so found Mill Creek, a federal campsite on Trout Creek. It was about 24 miles south of Battle Mountain and about 4 miles east of 305 on a gravel road. It was a nice campground with vault toilets, a grill and fire pit, picnic table, and a metal pole to hang your lantern (?). Best of all, it was free and we were the sole occupants. The physical structures and amenities were in fine shape but the grasses weren’t mown. No problem for us but some might object. The creek was running and it sang us to sleep as it cut through the campground.
Day 16/Tuesday/April 22:
Our dream campsite was not so perfect: we awoke to the rumble of trucks heading up into the canyon on the same road that lead to our campground. At least they didn’t run all night as they started at 7am. We saw some type of observation tower or communication satellite receiver array which may have been manned or else, like most places in the West, some type of extraction activity.
After the usual morning duties of feeding and watering our faithful pup, moving gear from camper to truck cab, refilling water bottles, ensuring that that the latches were secure after lowering the top and the propane was turned off, we left for Battle Mountain to fuel up and begin our westward wandering on Interstate 80.
As much as I despise interstates, 80 wasn’t too bad. There were not as many semis as I thought there would be and general traffic was light. Soon, we were in Winnemucca to head north on 95. There was some construction which delayed us about 20 minutes but the edit could have been up to a half hour. It was raining lightly and overcast but the drive to our turnoff to 140 was up eventful.
Once on 140, we passed Denio, just a spot on the intersection of 140 and 282 traveling north to Oregon. 140 turned westward here and we began the series of ascents and descents and steep grades, especially near the Doherty Slide summit at 6240 feet. It began to lightly snow but didn’t stick. We passed through Adel, the Plush cutoff and followed Deep Creek. There is a very large ranch along this route with the large logs as an entry gate in several places named Crane Creek Ranch. There is supposed to be a viewing area for some nice falls along Deep Creek but it wasn’t marked and we had some impatient local on our tail.
Eventually we hit 395 and turned south to Lakeview to fuel up at the Shell station and on into town for groceries at Safeway. After finishing up we headed north on 395 toward Summer Lake on 31. There was a cold wind and the sky had some angry clouds. We passed through Paisley which has a serviceable gas station and mechanic but fuel is cheaper up at the dot on the map called Summer Lake.
We stopped along the highway to look for agates and jasper. We found a few, well, actually a pocketful of each. It is fortunate not much traffic is on 31 as we were walking along the shoulders poking in the rocks. A few concerned people wanted to know if we needed help. They were surprised that we were looking for agates.
We were getting chilled and Toller was bored in the truck so we went north to the rest area across from the Summer Lake store and gas station. Highway 31 is the Oregon State Outback Scenic Highway. It is very scenic tucked between the Coglan Buttes and Summer Lake (alkali). The kiosk at the rest stop mentioned that the explorer John Fremont traveled through here. As the highway heads toward 97 in a northeasterly direction, you can visit Fort Rock, where a 9,000 year old fiber moccasin was discovered and Hole in the Ground.
We set up quickly, had supper, and sank into bed. The traffic was non-existent during the night and we slept well. We could hear cows nearby, their lowing a soothing lullaby.