by Marian Johns
Seems Mr. Jaussaud has stood me up again – but I forgive him because it was for a most important reason. This trip was planned on very short notice (advertised only in the May newsletter) when Bob suggested I lead another trip to Nevada. Unfortunately, major eye problems and surgery precluded the Jaussauds’ participation at the last minute. But six of us – Tim and Alice Cannon, Ann and John Fulton, yours truly and current hubby, Neal – voted to do the trip anyway. Our thoughts were with Bob during our Nevada (and Idaho) escapades, and we sincerely hope that his eye ordeal will be resolved with favorable results.
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Starting in the tiny and quaint burg of Cedarville, California, that lies in the shadow of the snowy Warner Mountains, we journeyed east, out across the sagebrush desert of northwestern Nevada and into High Rock Canyon where California-bound emigrants traveled so many years ago. In one spot it is still possible to see wagon ruts, and we stood in awe and admiration of their feat which was accomplished with none of our modern equipment and conveniences. This spectacular canyon, with its high cliffs and small stream that required many wet crossings, is definitely a 4wd route because of a couple of short but steep and rough scrambles.
As evening approached, we stopped at the Soldier Meadows Ranch and asked if they allowed camping. It’s a working ranch that is also a guest ranch, and they do have a nice spot for tent campers with access to the bathrooms and showers. The ranch is managed by (but not owned by) Mac Hedges. Turns out he is an author – wrote an excellent prize-winning book titled “Last Buckaroo”. It’s out of print, but we found a copy at the Elko Museum a few days later. Mac had us in stitches as he told us brief accounts of going to college, courting his wife, Candi, breaking horses and raising three youngsters, one of whom is still at home. His 16 year old son uses the internet to “attend” classes because great distances make commuting to school impossible. As you can guess, we thoroughly enjoyed our stay.
The next morning, we drove out to the nearby hot springs where John Fulton took a dip while the rest of us, just having had a shower, watched. The rest of the day, we spent exploring the Pine Forest Range. I saw nary a pine tree, but we did see some awesome views from the mountain heights. We ate lunch by a beautiful stream, followed a steep road up to Onion Reservoir, and then continued 18 miles on a well-maintained dirt road around and down the other side. Nightfall found us at another hot springs – Bog Hot Springs, which is actually a hot creek. Several of us had an evening soak.
Somewhere along the way, Neal discovered two of five leaf springs broken in the left-rear set. We figured the next stop had better be an auto shop, so we pointed ourselves toward Winnemucca. Luckily, we found a place that was able to take us immediately - they found a third broken spring - and we were on our way again by noon. But instead of dashing off into the boonies again, we opted for a motel that night there in town and dinner at the old Winnemucca Hotel that serves Basque meals family-style. We had enough steak scraps left over to keep Tessa happy for several days.
From Winnemucca, we drove north to Paradise, another tiny and quaint community. After stopping for photos of old homes, an old store, and a dead gas station with one of those tall, round pumps, we headed on up into and across the beautiful Santa Rosa Mountains. It had rained recently so we proceeded carefully, slipping and sliding along the steep mountain road. The trucks were soon covered with sticky mud. Our destination that evening was the 45 Ranch, located on the South Fork of the Owyhee River in the southwestern-most corner of Idaho. Last year we reached this ranch from the Idaho side, and this year I wanted to try it from the Nevada side. On the way, we found ourselves greeted with a NO TRESPASSING sign at a ranch on the Little Owyhee (dry). There was no way around, so we just ignored the sign and drove on in to the ranch buildings where we found three friendly cowboys. So much for intimidating signs. After chatting for a while, they pointed out the steep two-track up to the canyon rim which subsequently we took. In another 13 miles, we finally descended into the South Fork’s gorge – a remote but beautiful spot. The river was wide and shallow last year in August. This year in May, it was even wider and much deeper. We strapped two of the trucks together (Johns’ and Cannons’) and cautiously ventured out into the fast-moving water. No problem! We made it easily, and the Fultons followed. As we drove the last short stretch to the ranch, we found our way blocked by a family of noisy killdeer that refused to vacate the roadway. As mom and dad scurried along the two-track, they were followed by three tiny chicks that were as cute as bugs’ ears. Needless to say, it was a very slow half-mile trip to the ranch, and when we finally arrived, we found it deserted. Not long ago, it was purchased by the Nature Conservancy. Last year it was occupied, but this year, the yard was full of weeds – no signs of recent occupation. We backtracked the half-mile – killdeer family still in possession of the road - and set up camp along the river.
The following morning, we made our way back to civilization, crossed back into Nevada and had lunch in a Mountain City restaurant. After gassing up, we turned off into the mountains, first to the east and then to the north, on another dirt road. Brimming creeks, fields of wildflowers and pronghorn antelope abounded. But the highlight of the afternoon was a huge red-tailed hawk nest occupied by three white, fluff-ball youngsters that we watched from a respectful distance through our binoculars. Mama left the nest just after we stopped, but kept a watchful eye on us from nearby. Nightfall found us camped in a lovely streamside spot beneath towering canyon walls near the Idaho border – again.
Our morning route of travel was disrupted by an unexpected locked gate, so we were forced to back track and reconsider our options. The Idaho DeLorme Atlas listed some “Unique Natural Features” that sounded intriguing, all within 50 or 60 miles of the Nevada border. So we made an unplanned detour that day back into Idaho and saw – 1. Bruneau Dunes – includes the largest single-structured dune in North America; 2. Malad River Gorge – cuts through a lava gorge and dumps into the Snake River; 3. Thousand Springs - where many falls “weep” from the Snake River’s canyon walls and cascade into the river; 4. Balanced Rock - a huge, gravity-defying boulder is supported by a tiny, narrow neck; 5. Shoshone Falls – was a disappointment because we came too late in the spring, and it was dry, all of the water being diverted for hydroelectric power and irrigation; 6. Caldron Linn – was the most spectacular sight of the whole day, where the Snake River narrows to a width of 40 ft., and the water thunders and swirls down several falls. We even had time to drive by the Cannons’ old home in Twin Falls.
Late that afternoon, we arrived in Burley where we relaxed in a motel and showered off the dust collected over the past couple of days. Even the three trucks had a bath in a do-it-yourself car wash.
We turned south the next morning, heading for the City of Rocks, a rock climber’s mecca where towering granite rocks have weathered into fantastic shapes.
After much photo taking, we moved on down Junction Valley and off the map, into the unknown. In order to return to Nevada, we found it necessary to cross the northwest corner of Utah, but had failed to bring any maps of that area, since we hadn’t planned on going there. So.........we pointed ourselves in the direction of Nevada and took a dirt two-track west, through an unlocked, and unsigned, gate. Though it was unlocked at the moment, there was a chain and shiny lock hanging at the side, as though someone might have temporarily unlocked it with intentions of returning and relocking it when they left. This was a disconcerting dilemma, but we forged on hoping for the best (no locked gate somewhere on ahead). Turns out we were on the old California Emigrant Trail. We topped out at Granite Pass and continued left on the ridge road that had the most used tracks. On and on we went, taking the most used road whenever there was a choice, still wandering in “unmapped” territory. The uncertainty caused bitten fingernails and rising blood pressures. Eventually, we thought we saw our road (at least we hoped it was ours) far below in an area of old mines. Sure enough, down, down we went, past the mines to the last gate. And like the other, it had a chain and shiny lock – that was unlocked! Never mind the “Keep Out” signs that were on the far side of it; we were not going back!
In honor of our success, and this being our last day together, we pigged out at the truck stop buffet in Wells, Nevada. After saying adios, John, Ann, Tim and Alice drove on to Elko, while Neal and I camped in nearby Angel Creek campground which is on the slopes of the still-snowy northern Ruby Mountains. The campground was nice, with only a few people there; that was the problem, we already missed the great company of the Fultons and Cannons on this scenic trip.