Day 8/Monday/October 13:
We awoke to another sunny day and drove north on Highway 89 toward Lassen Volcanic National Park. Lake Almanor was again on our route so we stopped on the south side of the lake near a boat launch, day use area and campgrounds. The lake was low but evidently high enough for the California Department of Fish and Game to plant 6,000 trout. They were chauffeured from the Crystal Lake Fish Hatchery near the town of Burney. We watched the fish wiggling and flashing their way to freedom from the two pipes.
Continuing east on 89 to its meet with 36 where it became 36/89 would bring us toward Lassen. Just past Morgan Summit (5750) we turned north onto Lassen Park Road through a heavily forested area. Along the way we were delayed by some road construction but it seems it is an ongoing activity in the rush to complete projects before inclement weather.
Our plans were to spend the night at either campground in Lassen. But, we were not that impressed with the park, at least not impressed to remain longer than a drive through. Because we have a dog, we are not able to hike the many trails that are available to park visitors. We are fine with that and, at times, either of us hikes the shorter trails while the other wanders the parking lot with Toller. also, it was sunny so I believe it would be more photogenic on a stormy day or if there was fresh snow. We stopped at several viewpoints, including one to have lunch where the wind blew strongly.
Once through the park, we turned north on 44/89 toward the Pit River campground off Highway 299, where we had stayed several years before. On the way there, we stopped at the Subway Cave off 44. But, the path to the cave or tube looked too much like rattlesnake country so we just admired the large pine trees in the parking lot.
Returning to Highway 89 we drove north toward Highway 299. Just for a change of pace, we turned onto the Cassel Fall River Road, a meandering narrow two lane county road eventually ending up in Fall River Mills and 299. Turning west onto 299, we soon arrived at the road leading to the Pit River campground. A USFS campground, the price for a night’s stay was $4 with our Senior Pass.
We were the only ones there besides some day use picnickers and the camp host. We picked a spot, set up and I wandered with my camera gear to the boat launch on the Pit River to see if the light was adequate to photograph the two mini waterfalls that, split by a wooded islet, emptied into the stiller waters in front of me. Our previous visit was later in the year so the fall color hadn’t peaked. The light was dull and the color even duller, so I packed up, walked and fed Toller, fixed supper and went to bed.
Day 9/Tuesday/October 14:
The light improved in the morning so I was there at the boat launch to shoot some frames with slow shutter speeds for the cotton candy effect and some to catch the sputter of the water as it poured over the rocks. But, there was neither the color nor the fog like the previous time. You take what you get and enjoy being in a special place.
Pit River Powerhouse #1, an impressive Art Deco structure, was just a short drive away through a private guest ranch (yes, you can drive through despite private property postings). We spoke with several workers who said it was really cold in this area in the winter. The facility was fenced and gated so we couldn’t tour it so I just snapped a few iPhone shots through the chain link fence. It was spare, austere and had those long multi-paned windows.
About five miles west on 299 and five miles north on 89, is beautiful Burney Falls. A fisher at Pit River told us we could come in the back way and walk along the trail to the lower view of the falls which can also be accessed by going to McArthur-Burney State Park and walking down below the upper overview. We drove down a road and parked in a small parking lot. I noticed a sign that gave directions and distance for the local trails plus the Pacific Trail. As I walked down to the bridge that crossed Burney Creek, I wasn’t really sure which direction to head (directionally dysfunctional) and didn’t want to encounter a bear alone (no dogs allowed on trail so Tony remained behind the sign), so we drove to the entrance of the park.
We walked the short distance to the upper viewpoint and I shot a few frames as the falls dropped 129 feet, but the best images are photographed along the paved walk down to the bottom. All along the way, there are compositions using a wide angle for the entire falls and a telephoto to capture the details. We had visited here last April when the Spring greens were vibrant and lush. This time, I wanted to shoot the Fall color. After about an hour or so, probably the “or so”, we ate lunch in the parking lot. There are trees in this park that I am unfamiliar with. We also saw them in the surrounding forest. I have included a photo of one titled “Mystery Tree”.
The wind was beginning to pick up and the rain was sputtering as we drove on 89, 44 and 36 on our way to Susanville to fuel up and buy a few groceries. We stopped along Highway 44 at the Bogard-Lassen Rest Area, a palatial rest stop for such a sparsely populated area; check out the photo below. It was really howling as we arrived in the Safeway parking lot. We weren’t really sure where we would camp for the night. We ultimately wanted to explore the Smoke Creek Desert area then drive along the western shore of Pyramid Lake but knew that driving into arid areas in the rain in the coming dark would be foolish.
Using an iPhone app, I found Ramhorn Spring, a BLM campground north on 395 that we could tuck into for the night then decide which way we would drive in the morning. The campground was populated by hunters who were off looking for mule deer. One who stayed behind said he had a night vision camera that caught a few mountain lions sneaking around behind the boulders we camped next to. Mountain lions which we have behind our home wasn’t bothersome; I was thinking rattlesnakes tucked into the rock pile. We set up as dusk approached, ate supper then went to bed sheltered from the elements.
Day 10/Wednesday/October 15:
The rain intensified during the night and the wind hadn’t slowed down. We decided to skip the Smoke Creek Desert to head for the west side of Pyramid Lake. There were some places that one of the WtW folks suggested we visit but we can return here as it is closer than our New Mexico destination this trip. We drove south down 395, turning east on Wendel Road just past the BLM Wild Horse Adoption Corrals.
As the paved road turned to gravel, it became Sand Pass Road. The rain began breaking off abut the dark storm clouds were ominous. We could see that the sky was become lighter toward the southwest which was our general direction. Just as we were approaching the turnoff to Highway 2 which would bring us along Pyramid Lake, I saw a large rainbow. “Let’s follow that rainbow”, I yelled, thinking that a photograph was in the making with the desert, brooding clouds and a rainbow.
Driving north along the Sand Pass Road, we could see that multi-colored arc over the hills. We drove on until we could see just a short wide band over the alkaline dry lake bed. We were a little late but did bang off a few as I was running down the road. After it disappeared, I looked around to see two square white wood-framed buildings along the RR tracks. They were falling into disrepair, no longer needed. I am not sure what their purpose was, maybe for supplies or living quarters for the crew or maintenance employees. The trains still run. It is named on our Benchmark maps as Sand Pass.
We backtracked to Highway 2 into the Pyramid Lake Paiute Reservation. Along this road is the access to the Fly Geyser, a multi-hued wonder, on private land. No trespassing means that and you need special permission from the landowner. You are also required to obtain permits to even drive off the main road if you are non-Native. We could see the Needle Rocks off in the distance, their jagged points guarding the lake’s shore. The light shining through the clouds played off the beautiful blue of this large lake. The Truckee River feeds the lake, although there is no outlet. It is one of the few remaining lakes that were once a part of ancient Lake Lahontan.
When 2 became 445, gravel turned to pavement. At Sutcliffe, there is a fish hatchery that raises the cui ui, an endangered fish endemic to these waters. In the same area along the shore is an RV park (parking lot type), marina, visitor canter and ranger station. South of Sutcliffe, 445 turns toward Reno and 446 goes to Nixon and 447. There are several tribal parks, lake access points and picnic areas along the western shore but you need to buy a permit at the Paiute Tribal Headquarters in Nixon. On the other side of the lake is Highway 447 from which there is no lake access except for a closed gated gravel road. If you followed that road you would drive by the Great Stone Mother and Basket and The Pyramid which can be seen from 2/445.
At the junction of 446 and 447, we turned south to Wadsworth and Fernley. We bought fuel by the I-80 interchange and headed south on Highways Alt 50 and Alt 95 toward Silver Springs. Past Silver Springs, 50 turns toward Carson City and Alt 95 continues south to Yerington where Alt 95 joins 95 just past Shurz. On 95, traffic is fast as it is the main connector between Reno and Las Vegas. Semi trucks are especially fast and will pass you. The highway is flat, very straight in long stretches but there are very few places to pull off to allow them to pass.
Soon, we arrive at 20 Mile Beach, a free BLM campground on Walker Lake. There were a few campers near the vault toilets but we chose to drive down a sandy road to be closer to the beach. At last, Toller could run and run. I think he knew as we unfastened his harness and detached the leash that he was free to go. We watched him run in circles then flat out sprint. All too soon, it was time for his supper and ours as the light was fading quickly. At the south end of the lake is the Hawthorne Army Depot where there are miles of bunkers storing munitions, I believe. We only hoped that we would not be awakened in the darkness of night by a huge KA-BOOM!
Day 11/Thursday/October 16:
Quiet reigned (no missiles raining down) during the night so we were in one piece in the morning. We were greeted by a superb sunrise over the mountains across the lake. It lasted for some time and spread clear across the eastern sky. Toller was allowed to run again and took full advantage of the opportunity. We broke down our camp quickly and returned to 95 to fuel up in Hawthorne, just a few miles south.
From Hawthorne, one can take Highway 359 through some sparsely populated areas into California arriving at Mono Lake and the eastern entrance to Yosemite. One could also take the Bodie Road, a rough ride to Bodie State park, a genuine ghost town, preserved in a “state of arrested decay” by the California State Parks Department.
But, our destination was exploring some 4×4 roads off of Highway 6 on the way to Tonopah. There isn’t much to see from Hawthorne to where 95 joins Highway 6 at Coaldale and there isn’t much to see there, either. I wanted to see about a gravel road that went from 95 to Mina but some trucker was on our tail so we had to speed on by. These roads aren’t often marked and you are going by so fast that you have passed the entrance by the time you figure out that’s where you want to turn.
95 goes through two towns that are barely hanging on: Luning (population 40) and Mina (population 75). I noticed in a Google search that their populations are in decline. Luning has a rest stop and Mina has the Hard Rock Market (for sale, I think).
At Tonopah Junction, we left busy 95 for Highway 360. This road isn’t as flat and straight but there is some traffic, mainly semis. close to the highway, we saw a pair of burros grazing. I looked at the map and there was a POI for the Marietta Wild Burro Range. We drove down the road until we came to an overlook. We saw a group of four burros about 500 feet off the road, nibbling at the sage brush while over behind the mountains to the north, we could see and hear some major dynamiting happening at a mine among the cluster on the map. They must have become accustomed to the booms because they only looked up occasionally to check us out.
It is probably a good thing we did not find that road off 95 as there are many mines in the area and the road may be off limits. At times, that is the case; we find a road that has ghost towns or interesting geology and it is either closed or the trucks are running to deliver goods or remove the extracted material. Marietta was no longer a ghost town, but had a small settlement there with modern trucks.
Back on 360, we stopped at Belleville, really not much more than a site, as the few buildings were reduced to a pile of stone rubble. It was a community set up to provide water to the Candelaria Mines down the road. It had a population of about 500 people at one time and included a restaurant (we found oyster shells), doctor’s office, telegraph and assay station, livery stable, school, two hotels, restaurants, blacksmith shops and seven saloons. Belleville existed for about twenty years, from 1872 until 1892 when the mines got their own water source nearby. People, since its demise, have been poking through the rubble. We found many items including ceramic beer bottles, bone china, very small shoes, some hardware, rusty pieces of machinery, lots of thick aqua blue, purple, and olive green bottles, etc. All of the china and bottles were broken but we did find a used up but intact bottle of E. G. Lyons Jamaican Ginger.
We journeyed on to Highway 6 picking up 264 which continues south until it splits into 266 (to 95) and 168 (to 395). 264 merges with 773 which is the road we wanted. Off 773, we drove across a wash and continued up to where we camped last April. We wandered around looking for interesting rocks and photography locations. Boundary Peak, Nevada’s highest mountain at 13,140′ was visible from our camp site. The lighting too direct and the sky wasn’t filled with the dramatic storm clouds I like so I shot detail shots of the petrified wood hoodoos.
The quiet filled our ears and the millions, no billions, of stars filled our eyes. There is a large ranch or two nearby but we couldn’t see their lights. I love these silent, barren places where there are no distractions except the stark beauty. Listening to the nothing as we watched the sunset is magic. We were the only ones within miles. It is so different from our home where large trees obscure our sky views and the city lights shine too brightly for the next hill over to block completely.
Day 12/Friday/October 17:
This morning I shot more telephoto images of the same subjects as yesterday. The foothills below Boundary Peak had some interesting light so I worked that for awhile. We had breakfast then decided to drive the truck down to the lower area to follow the wash. We stopped to look for rocks and found a pocketful of Apache Tears, some clear, others more opaque. We could hear a group of ORVs close by and soon they revealed themselves coming up the wash. With a wave, they drove up to where we had been.
We drove further on the wash, stopping at a wide area. The wash made a right turn then left. Where the right became a left, the road was blocked by a foot tall rocky upcropping that would challenge our rig. We could see that it had been breached before. We contented ourselves to wander around checking out the petrified wood hoodoos. I wanted to stay longer to explore beyond to see the end of the wash, to see if the end, if there was one, was a box canyon. But Tony had an itch to rockhound for agates near Tonopah.
Once on Highway 6 we drove to Tonopah, stopping only at the now familiar Millers Rest Stop. After fueling up at the Shell, we went directly to our secret location and, darned if we didn’t get skunked. Maybe the light was bad in the late afternoon or maybe we took them all last April. We wandered around a bit, hope fading in tandem with the sun’s rays.
This is as good a place to stay as any, we thought, so we popped the top, made sandwiches and looked at the maps for our next destination. Often, we have a general idea of what we want to see by circling POIs on our well-worn Benchmarks. I also jot down a “general” itinerary on my iPhone. Sometimes, we go by the script, but mostly just allow serendipity and the signs along the way be our guides. Tomorrow was to be one of those days. I wanted to drive to Delamar, a remote ghost town, but that would mean miles of driving. Anticipating the unanticipated, we went to bed.
Day 13/Saturday/October 18:
The light made all the difference: we pocketed (knapsacked?) more than two dozen big’uns (1″ -2.5″D) in about two hours. They differ from the Summer Lake area because they are not as lumpy and are a milky blue color. Our agate lust sated, we headed east on Highway 6, stopping at the Saulsbury Wash Rest Area.
Last April, we had driven south from Highway 50 on the gravel road through Monitor Valley, crossing the Monitor Range over to Antelope Valley then recrossing the Monitors to the Ralston Valley. In Antelope Valley, we saw a large herd of wild horses. Since we didn’t complete our Antelope Valley drive (which segues south into the East/West Stone Cabin Valley), we turned north onto the road through West Stone Cabin Valley to see what we could see. As we drove along the gravel road, we saw a small group on a bluff, two white ones brightly shining in the sun. They watched us as we drove by slowly, looking up then browsing. We passed by a couple of springs, a few more horses then turned around to find a place to camp overnight. We almost drove to the junction where we drove into the lovely McCann and Hunts Canyons last April.
The green oasis of Stone Cabin Ranch was visible during much of our drive, so we turned east toward it knowing that the road would be okay. It is a typical Nevada ranch, complete with corral, stock yard, old rusty trucks, tractors and implements, a few weathered outbuildings and a main house. We then drove south on the road that passes through East Stone Cabin Valley. Suddenly, a band of 3 horses galloped across road ahead of us. They left their hoof prints in the alkaline area that we thought might make a good spot to camp. To the west was a small canyon that they disappeared into. We ate dinner as we watched the sunset. It was another quiet night.
Below are iPhone 5 photographs but the DSLR images can be found HERE