2014-05-06 WA/OR/NV/AZ/UT/ID Part 2/5
Day 6/Sunday/June 1:
What we thought was a road that not often used was actually on the way to a local fishing hole or reservoir. Before 7:00 am, 4 trucks drove by to do some Sunday fishing. It was a clear sunny morning so we broke camp early to beat whatever traffic is on I 80 from Winnemucca to Battle Mountain. I 80 usually has a lot of truckers as its route is across the country. Just last April we traveled the opposite distance returning home.
Traffic on 140 was light but increased as we turned south on 95 toward Winnemucca. Once on I 80, a well-engineered freeway, travel was smooth and fast at 75mph. We passed semis and a few RVs. A stop at the Valmy rest stop, dating from the CCC era, broke up the journey. Everything inside the restrooms was cold: steel toilets, water and hand driers. There was a sign proclaiming I 80 the Dwight D. Eisenhower Highway honoring the author of our nation’s interstate system.
We fueled up in Battle Mountain then turned south on 305. We turned up a road just to see where it went. A huge mining company had taken over most of the hills to the north: Phoenix Mines. The road was closed at the mine, but you could drive on eventually ending up on Highway 50 near Middlegate to the Southwest.
Reaching the end of 305 at Highway 50, we turned east toward Austin, a town from the mining days of old. It is a mix of old store fronts and a few tourist shops plus at least 4 churches. We went up a dirt road to The Tower built by a mining magnate from the 1860s. It was built using native stone by local craftsmen based on a tower the owner saw in Italy. The family used it one June and July then lost interest.
We continued east on 50 or “The Loneliest Road In America”. Out of Austin, the road climbs and descends as it winds through the mountains. There were a few straight stretches then we arrived at the BLM’s Hickison Petroglyph Recreation Area to view the rock etchings and camp for the night. There was only one other site occupied and remained that way the rest of the evening. The amenities were vault toilets, garbage cans and picnic tables, some with slatted sun shades, all for free.
There seemed to be some interesting light and clouds to the east but nothing exciting happened that would warrant pressing the shutter. As I waited, in vain, a few vehicles drove by on 50 nearing dusk. For a lonely road, there was more traffic than you would assume.
Tomorrow, we will walk the short Petroglyph loop (.3 miles) to see what the ancient culture left behind. More sandwiches and time for bed.
Day 7/Monday/June 2:
The short Petroglyph loop was long on history. There were many panels along the trail that were done in the Central a Great Basin curvilinear style. That is, incised lines into the stone rather than dots. There were several references to the sun, one with a narrow pointing to the direction of the sunrise. Some were puzzling but one was clear as it showed a arrow with feathers, drawn simplistically with lines. One large boulder displayed rock art that differed from the other panels although still curvilinear. Surprisingly there was little modern graffiti. Someone from the Simpson Expedition left his initials from 1858.
We drove east on 50 stopping at a promising gravel pit. We have found a few of these roadside rock piles productive. Today we found two somewhat large agates and some agatized jasper. It was beginning to get hot and the wind was very dehydrating so we drove on to find the back road to the almost ghost town of Belmont. On the way, we would detour to the Miniature Grand Canyon which I saw on the Benchmark Atlas and read a blog entry about. Why not visit a mini one and a grand one on the same trip?
The Monitor Valley road was a well graded gravel road with soft shoulders. It was shown as the Belmont Road in the Benchmark Atlas but the sign read Monitor Valley Rd. We stopped at another gravel pit for lunch but the hot wind kept that visit short. It was there that we encountered the first of two vehicles we saw all day.
We passed the geographical center of Nevada according to the atlas but there was no marker to indicate otherwise. The only markers were for federal roads or ranches. North of the Monitor Ranch we saw two horses saddled up and tied to a rail in a corral. We felt badly for them as it was dusty due to the many dust devils but we soon saw the second vehicle, a truck with a stock trailer coming to their rescue. At the turnoff to avoid passing through the ranch we saw a sign saying “Bye, bye BLM” with a bother indicating a meeting. Hmmm, Sagebrush Rebellion.
At the next turnoff, we turned east toward the hills: Potts Ranch and Antelope Valley in hopes of finding the Miniature Grand Canyon. I had vague directions, a Topo map app on the iPad Mini and the a Benchmark Atlas for Nevada. We soon found ourselves on 373 after a confusing array of roads going every which direction.
We were now heading for Dobbin Summit at 8657′ in the Monitor Range. Our surrounding changed from mostly sagebrush to juniper and pine with some sagebrush. There was a hunting campground in one of the few open areas. The road twisted through the trees and suddenly we were at a huge gap in the rocks. Dobbin Creek, a small creek carved a fairly deep canyon through the rocks to Antelope Valley. We pulled into a turnout as the road had been one lane since turning off past Potts Ranch (which appeared abandoned due to some dilapidated wooden structures but had a corral, fencing and cows).
We discovered a small chunky cactus blooming in bright orange red. The canyon wasn’t very spectacular but was an interesting side trip. The road we were on was in good shape so we decided to continue on into Antelope Valley to take another indirect way into Belmont rather than backtrack to the Monitor Valley Road.
Antelope Valley is narrower and shorter than its neighbor Monitor Valley. The Monitor Range divides the two. At Clear Creek, there was a log home with sod roof, another log building with upright logs and a roof patched with the tops of old 5 gallon metal buckets as at Bodie State Park in California, an old boiler, and a rock structure. The atlas indicates this collection of buildings as Clear Creek Ranch.
Several curves later we were on flat ground with sagebrush dotting the landscape. We saw horses off in the distance, about a half dozen. Further along, there were groups adding up to 3 dozen. I snapped a few shots with my 70-200 mm lens but the wind blew my scent toward them and they scattered. We weren’t sure if they were wild as there was a collection of buildings in the distance snug against the hills. But, they spooked so maybe they were wild.
It was getting late so we wouldn’t make it to Belmont so we began looking for a place to camp. There were quite a few open range cattle with heifers and their calves and big bulls so we didn’t want nighttime visitors. We were again in the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest so maybe the cows wouldn’t venture past the cattle guards. In Box Canyon we came upon a closed gate that only asked that we close it behind us. We saw only a few more cattle after Box Canyon although we had left the forest. Luckily, we found a clearing amongst some pines where others had camped. There were some rabbit droppings, deer prints and what could only be a snake trail across the road.
Out here in the middle of Nevada or any open range area in the west it is difficult to tell who owns what. Nevada has the most federal holdings of any state, mostly military but the USFS and the BLM have a large chunk. We saw quite a few signs indicating that we were either leaving or entering the national forest but many ranches have grazing allotments and what may be BLM or forest lands have cattle guards and fencing. We saw a few no camping signs at the Potts Ranch but no other types like no trespassing or no hunting. We saw no sign of humans other than buildings.
Since it was after 8:00 pm we again ate our sandwiches and hit the sack, well, our sleeping bags. Tomorrow we go to Belmont then head toward Highway 6 and Tonopah for fuel as backcountry traveling eats up the miles and fuel. Then, we plan to explore back roads that leave the highway heading north.
Day 8/Tuesday/June 3:
After we got ready to hit the road, we saw the first people since yesterday morning. A rancher and his (grand)son were moving their cattle up our dirt road probably to Box Canyon where water awaited in big stock tubs. So, we just watched as they expertly kept them on track and keeping this year’s calves with their moms. The young boy, probably about 10 or 12 knew what he was doing.
After they passed by, we headed south looking for the turnoff to McCann Canyon. Interior Nevada does not have street signs. Occasionally, you will see a sign indicating how many miles to whatever canyon or ranch you are seeking with arrows and miles or a USFS road number. But, sometimes they are missing or faded or rotting off to the side.
However, this time we saw a dirt road leading west with a sign for McCann Canyon and other destinations. We followed it to a barbed wire gate, beyond which lay a narrow single lane road which look like it had seen little use. After some debate, we decided to forge ahead just because this was the shortest way to Belmont and we didn’t want to get there in a very round a bout way.
The road shortly improved and we wound through the canyon which had meadows of blue flag iris, several abandoned sheds of stone or logs or more recently of milled pine lumber. There were also fences of local wood where the wire had become loosened from the posts.
Soon, we began climbing toward the summit anticipating the steep grades that the atlas pointed out were ahead. Hah! There were grades but they weren’t steep and soon we were descending into Longs Canyon. This was a beautiful canyon reminiscent of Utah. There were sculpted stone outcroppings and hoodoos, colorful rocks and side canyons. This was a canyon we needed to return to for its photographic possibilities. There was a rather prosperous ranch but no one was home. The home was newer and looked more like a summer home. However, there were implements, corrals, tanks, etc. and the requisite cattle.
Arriving at the first paved road since Highway 50 on Sunday morning, we turned right toward Belmont. If it hadn’t been for lovely Longs Canyon, we should have continued south on USFS Road 139. The famous brick courthouse was crumbling while it was being renovated. The stone buildings and homes were partially crumbling as were those of pine. But, the most irritating situation to us was that people were living there amongst the ruins in either derelict RVs or in modern homes. This was a town that boasted 15,000 people at one time. It could have been preserved like Bodie, CA in a state of “arrested decay”. I don’t know the history of how it evolved that way but it was sad and a disappointment.
We turned around after a few images and lunch behind the courthouse to go to Tonopah for fuel, info at BLM and the USFS and drinking water/groceries. Tonopah can’t really decide what defines it: mining, gambling, or new technology. There are carved mountains in town from mining plus the Round Mountain gold mine which is huge and is gated, there are several casinos and a solar array is being built northwest of town which brought in newcomers displeasing the locals. Essentially, due to its location of the junction of highways 6 and 95, it a stopover for fuel or a rest as it is about equidistant between Reno and Las Vegas.
The next problem was a place to stay; the casino and RV parks were out so we selected a gravel pit off of Highway 6 which isn’t as heavily traveled as 95. We arrived too late for some of our errands so it was a quick 4 miles into town.
The gravel pit sheltered us from the hot sun, wind, and the little traffic noise. Even though there is an airport and race track across the highway, it was fairly quiet. I found a milky agate while walking the dog but found no others. It was getting dark so we ate and went to bed.
Day 9/Wednesday/June 4:
Apparently one of us thought we had transitioned to Mountain Time once we were in Nevada. It could have been the navigator as she takes care of logistics and mattered of time, distance and space. This positioned us in town a full hour before anything opened. Okay, so we could use the time to feed, water, groom and walk Toller, wipe down dusty lights and figure out questions and map requests. Grocery list was simple: chips, sour cream, bananas, pop for Tony and fresh fruit for me.
The people who live in Tonopah are pretty nice folks. We discussed rattlesnakes, geology, canyons, politics and Ford Diesel engines. USFS and BLM are next door on 95 and Scolari Market is just a few doors up from them. We came away with some answers, groceries, drinking water (Scoalris has a dispenser in the rear of the store by the chips), and maps. Tony also found some cool agates in the landscaping rocks at the USFS office who said, yes, okay, take a few and here is the number for Harris Gravel.
Karl at Harris Gravel was kind enough to invite us to his new pit and okayed our stay last night in his old one. Back on 6, we drove to the new pit, met Karl and started to find a few rather large agates, some milky and others kind of like clear gristle. After collecting a large zip lock bag, we waved goodbye and headed east on 6 toward our next destinations.
We stopped at the Saulsbury rest stop for lunch and met a photographer from Portland who was on his way home from a quick trip trip to the Grand Circle area. We exchanged POIs and business cards. Here was another person who saw the world in prints and also looked for things by shapes and colors rather than by name (like grocery items).
Traffic was light and the road fairly straight or with gentle curves so at 75 mph we soon were at our next turnoff to Tybo past Warm Springs. Tybo is a firmer mining town way up in the hills north of highway 6 up a dirt road. We passed different wildflowers and some sphaeralcea (orange blooms) and a large white poppy like we saw at Belmont.
Tybo looked like it may arise as there was a line of power poles marching up the mountain to the town. There were some pine lumber cabins, a brick structure still upright and the remnants of mining activity. We saw no one but there were a few “No Trespassing” signs posted so we snapped a few photos then headed to Hot Creek Canyon with a stop at Keystone, another old mining town. Hot Creek Canyon was recommended by a geologist in Tonopah who did his doctoral thesis in the Monitor Range.
Somehow, we missed the turnoff to Keystone although the sign laying on the ground indicated it was in the same direction as the canyon. We passed through Hot Creek and Upper Hot Creek Ranches, the latter who had trenched out a large wetland for irrigation. The canyon was a box canyon and actually ended up at the a Box Canyon we passed through on Monday. We passed by a herd of several hundred cattle, all horned and drove through several open gates.
Instead of arriving at the Old Page Place, we drove through a small ranch surrounded by poplars fronting a stream. We felt sorry to drive through someone’s front yard especially since a gate was ahead. We began to turn around when a nice gal appeared to brush aside our apologies. She and her husband lived at the old Dugan Ranch and had for twenty years since they discovered it on a camping trip. They had a green house, a few cows and horses. It really was a lovely spot nestled in this valley surround by poplars.
We returned to the crossroads by the Hot Creek Ranch which would lead to South Sixmile Canyon which we hoped would lead us to some fascinatingly named geology: Jumbled Rock Gulch, The Needles, and Slanted Butte. It was getting late so just before the entrance to the canyon, there was an old corral with a few cleared areas from years of use by or pother campers: Rock fire pits and rusted flattened tin cans.
Darkness revealed one light across Hot Creek Valley on some distant mountain range. There were a few clouds but the stars were brilliant in the pitch black darkness of central Nevada. Toller was restless because of all the smells of cows and jack rabbits. He was still excited about seeing the chukars in the last canyon. Time for bed Toller, it has been a long day.
Day 10/Thursday/June 5:
Waking up again to a bright sunny day, we left early before it became too hot. South Sixmile Canyon appeared to be great candidate for exploration so down a narrow rocky road we went. There were some interesting rock formations but no signs of civilization due to the narrowness. We found a place to turn around as the road was deteriorating beyond what we were comfortable with.
As we drove off USFS Road 812 to USFS Road 804, we were greeted by many cows and their calves along with some large bulls. Cows are very curious so they stopped to watch us drive by. These cows were thinner than the ones who were part of the Hot Creek Ranch herd. Later, we saw some antelope sharing the same grazing area.
I don’t know how we made it through the jumble of roads as few were numbered but we did arrive at Moore’s Station, which is a ranch/private residence. We passed by a large runway and a huge aquaduct. Since we didn’t go to the Project Faultless Nuclear Test Site (warned away by local geologist who said it was still highly radioactive. This could have been part of the support system for the detonation of the first atomic bomb.
Further north was the road to Jumbled Rock Gulch. It looked a scenic canyon but the road was rutted, very rocky and narrow. We couldn’t find any roads for Slanted Buttes and The Needles so we headed back to Highway 6 via the road that follows Moore’s Station Wash.
Once on Highway 6, we turned east toward Lunar Crater National Natural Landmark. We had planned to shoot Easy Chair Crater in the morning, but it was really hot and it was only late morning. So, we backtracked to a shortcut to 375 or the Extraterrestrial Highway called Twin Springs Ranch Road. It was scenic and not a bad gravel road. There was a mono line just before the ranch and the ET Highway.
375 has little traffic like 6 and 50. We passed through Rachel arriving at the junction with Highway 93 to turn south toward a Valley Of Fire State Park. We bought diesel in Ash Springs which sees lots of semi traffic. We passed by the Pahranagat a Lakes then turned east on 168, a shortcut to I15. There is a large scale development at the turn called the Chase at Coyote Springs which has a large green golf course and plated lots with street names and some mechanical support like water treatment facility but no homes. This is in the area where there is a preserve for the endangered Desert Tortoise. Why a huge sprawl like that was allowed near a preserve escapes me. For the tortoise’s sake, I am glad it didn’t grow any more.
I 15 had the usual mix of semis and passenger vehicles and in 2 exits we were on 169 to Valley Of Fire State Park. It had been hot all day and our Fantastic Fan helped some to cool us down. Showers were free so I gladly took advantage. The rock formations all around us glowed as the sun set. A late dinner of sandwiches as usual and we were off to sleep.