Lost Again in Nevada
By Neal Johns, 2011
Nevada keeps calling us back, so here we go again. This time it is several ranges of mountains with their many canyons. We are not alone - our dog sitter/handyman and his companion are going with us in a separate vehicle. Said companion has not been into the wilderness before so it will be an "interesting" experience for her. :-) Our rescued Husky Dixie is also coming along.Our first stop was Tonopah, where we bought some gas and visited my mandatory bookstore where we heard that people were finding old bottles in the now-closed old city dump, so off we went to try our luck. A few semi-modern bottles were found and we left the rest to anyone who knew where to dig, and then headed for Pea Vine Canyon to camp for the night. There is always water in the creek there and several nice primitive campsites. The next morning we drove west to Cottonwood Canyon and paused while our friends checked out an old airplane wreck on the side of the mountain. We had seen it years before but do not know anything about it. It was a light plane and survivors were unlikely.
Heading to Ione, we went around the south end of the Toiyabe Range where we saw a herd of about 40 Pronghorn Antelope. Shortly before Ione, we stopped to let our Nevada newcomers see the Berlin Ichthyosaur State Park where the ghost town of Berlin and a 50’ long Ichthyosaur (fish/lizard) fossil is on display. Going a little north, we came to Ione which is starting to revert to its ghost town past due to lack of residents and tourists. Most stores are closed and the antique firetruck parked on the main drag is gone as well as the buffalo we’ve seen there before. We camped in Idlewild Canyon and then headed to Austin for gas. Seems like we spend as much time driving toward gas as we do exploring Nevada; it’s a big, empty place.
In Austin, Marian bought her mandatory gemstone ring and necklace. A few miles southeast of Austin we bathed and washed our hair (well, Marian did, mine has not grown back yet) in Spencer Hot Springs and continued to Toquima Cave which contains dozens of Indian pictographs. Is the posted 0.2 mile hike wrong or is it my old age that made it seem like a half mile? Don’t answer that question. We camped near Turquoise Spring in the boonies again.
After breakfast, we drove to Diana’s Punchbowl to show off another of our favorite Nevada wonders. It is a large raised dome about 70 ft. high made from hot spring deposits. At the top, in the center is a "bowl" which is about 45 ft. in diameter and 20 ft. deep. In the bottom of the bowl is a beautiful blue-green pool of steaming hot water. Some punchbowl! Then over the mountains we went, up E. Northumberland Canyon and down W. Northumberland Canyon. We saw several wild horses going up and eight Bighorn Sheep going down. Whee! Near the summit, we passed by the huge Northumberland Mine which is currently in operation. That evening we camped in Bowman Canyon next to a bubbling creek. The next day, our friends left for home, having seen several animals and natural wonders that were new to them. Somewhere along the road we saw an eagle, some quail, chucker, a gopher snake and a rattler. Marian stopped quickly so I could
get out and carry the gopher snake off the highway so it would not get run over. This was the only critter that did not thrill them; some people! They weren’t too thrilled with the rattlesnake either.
We explored Clipper Gap Canyon where Marian hiked farther up the canyon about a mile by herself. After seeing Mountain Lion tracks, she returned somewhat faster than she went up. Low on gas again, we returned to Austin, had a real meal in a real café, and camped by a real castle! Stokes Castle was built in the late 1800’s by a rich miner for his son. It is now an unoccupied, historic building on the edge of Austin, overlooking the Reese River Valley.
Off old Hwy. 80 on a dirt road, we headed for Lebeau Canyon which contained a creek and a beautiful large meadow with grazing cows. Checked out neighboring Sunnyside Canyon and creek; then we got brave and tried a rugged two track to Idlewild Canyon – where we’d been earlier. As a result of all these narrow two track roads, we now need a new refrigerator access door on our camper. Next, after crossing the Ione Valley, we stumbled onto the ghost town of Ellsworth which has several abandoned houses and a perpetually running water pipe from a nearby spring. Time for gas again, this time we went over Petrified Summit to Hawthorne, then Hwy. 395 and Lee Vining to home. Good to be heading home – and we didn’t even have to eat the dog!