Nevada High Country
June 25 - July 2
By: Marian Johns
As you may know Nevada is basin and range country. High valleys and mountains march across central Nevada in a north –south orientation from the Utah border to the Sierras. The valleys in this central region are generally about 6,000 ft. elevation and the mountains frequently have 10,000 ft. peaks – or higher. Consequently, the temperatures on our trip were generally mild, even though was late June. There were only a few times when I was uncomfortably warm – usually when I was standing in the direct sun. On the other hand, it can become quite chilly after the sun sets and I had to put on my jacket.
Neal and I enjoyed the company of 9 other participants on this trip – Allan Wicker, Mal Roode, Sue and Bob Jaussaud, Glenn Shaw, Nelson Miller, Mignon Slentz, Alan Hodes, and Ana Romero – but not all at the same time.
We met Allan Wicker in Big Pine Friday afternoon and then continued over Westgard Pass on Hwy. 168, through Big Springs Valley, over Gilbert Pass and ended the day down on Cottonwood Creek located near the bottom of the White Mts. It’s just a short drive from Hwy. 168 to a beautiful campsite on the creek. Some other folks from Big Springs College left shortly after our arrival; then we had the place to ourselves. Just before dark, we witnessed a glorious, flaming sunset.
Saturday morning, Allan, Neal and I headed up Fish Lake Valley. Then, instead of taking the fast route to Tonopah, we chose the roundabout way past the hot spring at the north end of the Valley. It has changed since we were there last; a swimming pool ladder has been added and the ponds are now surrounded by lush reeds.
On the way over the Silver Peak Range, I was reminded how scenic this route is; I hadn’t remembered so many colorful hills and formations. We stopped to inspect an old rock cabin; it too has changed. It appears someone is looking after the place now because two little cottonwoods and an orchard of about eight or so small apple trees have been planted out front. On the other side of this range, we drove through the bedraggled-looking community of Silver Peak. From its name, you’d think it was near the top of the mountains, but actually it’s located near the bottom.
In Tonopah, we cruised through town looking for Desert Explorer-type vehicles since that is where we were supposed to meet Bob, Sue, Glenn and Mal who had just been on MOE’s earlier Nevada trip the previous week. Soon, we heard someone on the CB calling us. Sure enough, it was our additional travelers who were up at the Tonopah Historic Mining Museum. We joined them there and then, after filling our gas tanks, we all took off for Cottonwood Creek at the south end of the Toiyabe Range (a different Cottonwood Creek from the White Mt. one). Even using our GPS’s, the drive was a rather helter-skelter venture. Eventually, we passed by the old San Antonio Ranch which Glenn said was rather famous in those parts because of its historical significance. So, of course, we had to have a look. It has been abandoned, and although interesting, it was also a sad reminder of how ephemeral our dreams can be.
Continuing on, we at last found Cottonwood Creek and there, within the canyon we also saw the remains of an old airplane crash which Neal and I had first seen in 1997. Mal is so full of energy and enthusiasm – before we knew it he was scrambling up the hillside to inspect the remnants. Farther up the canyon, the two-track we were following made a sharp hair-pin turn up the side of the canyon and disintegrated into a narrow, hair-raising, boulder-filled, 4x4 trail; Sue decide it was time to walk up – while Bob drove. After a look-see, Mal feared his already ailing camper and truck would probably suffer some damage if he continued up this grade, so he chose to backtrack on an easier route and met us later at the (free) Peavine campground, also located at the south end of the Toiyabe Range. Mal, Glenn, Bob and Sue had already camped once at Peavine during the MOE trip and knew right where the best spot was. As luck would have it, the exact same spot was still available.
The next morning - Sunday, on our way down Peavine Canyon we spied a gregarious group of vultures sitting on fence posts and warming themselves in the morning sunshine, plus we were also delighted to see a doe and two fawns that went bounding down the road and then off into the sage brush.
When we reached Hwy. 376, we turned north up the Big Smoky Valley and made a short side trip to Hadley, the Round Mountain Mine’s company town to do a little grocery shopping and to top off our tanks. The Round Mountain gold mine has been in operation for more than a century. Beginning in 1906, it is still a working mine today. One hundred years later, in 2006, the mine reached a milestone – having produced a total of 10 million ounces of gold.
From Hadley, we turned north past the huge mine to the east and then took a dirt road up Jefferson Canyon which had been the short-lived site of silver mining efforts between 1866 and 1881.
Jefferson Canyon has been the site of a more recent newsworthy event. Back in 1983 the road up the canyon washed out. The US Forest Service, in whose jurisdiction the canyon lies, refused to repair the road – as the US Forest Service and other governmental agencies sometimes do because it relieves them of the cost and effort of managing these now-inaccessible areas. Then, in 1994, a Nye County Commissioner, Richard Carver took the initiative – and a county bulldozer and opened the Jefferson Canyon Road in defiance of the Forest Service. (Carver even made the cover of Time Magazine.) Legal suits followed; Nye County lost – nevertheless, the road has remained open since then and thanks to Mr. Carver, we were able to drive up the canyon where we had a fine time prowling around the crumbling structures of this interesting place.
On up the Big Smokey Valley that afternoon, we took a side road up to the mouth of Belcher Canyon because it appeared to have an interesting-looking, narrow defile as it exited the mountains (Toiyabe Range). Unfortunately, that was a bust; the road ended perhaps an eighth of a mile from our destination, and there we found impenetrable brush that prevented even hiking the last short distance. So, the mouth of Belcher Canyon remains a mystery.
The next two canyons to the north, however, have easy access via good two-tracks. South and North Twin Rivers both have lovely creeks that emerge from narrow canyons just a ¼ mile or so apart. These two canyons are so narrow that roads do not penetrate far. We spent some time there just enjoying the water and pleasant scenery.
Farther along Hwy. 376, on our way to Austin, the Jaussauds stopped because of leaking tire. After plugging it (just a temporary fix), they limped on into Austin where they fortunately found a tire repair shop that happened to be open even though it was late Sunday afternoon. Unfortunately, the tire couldn’t be salvaged, but….the shop owner just happened to have a used tire exactly the right size. How’s that for luck – all for $30.00. Bob was so grateful he threw in an extra $5.
That evening, we all opted for a restaurant dinner at the International Café there in Austin. We enjoyed our meals and then drove out to inspect the old Stokes Castle that has a dramatic view of the Reese River Valley below. From there, we headed for camp at the Big Creek campground about 12 miles south of Austin on the west side of the Toiyabe Range. Neal somehow found a super steep, nail-biting “shortcut” from the Castle down to the road to Big Creek that had most of us wide-eyed and holding our breaths. Lucky for him, we all made it down safely.
As you can see dear readers, it would take far too many pages to write a trip report for all 12 days in such detail – as the above two days. But I can summarize the rest of our trip briefly by saying there is much to do and see in this part of Nevada, and you usually have the place to yourself. There are so many dirt roads and 4x4 trails to explore; we just barely scratched the surface. There are high alpine mountain passes with wonderful views, camps by lovely mountains streams, hot springs, museums, old abandoned ranches, old abandoned mines and ghost towns to explore and even some that still have a few residents. We saw wild horses, antelope (pronghorn) and deer. We ate out in restaurants several times and “motel-ed” it once in Ely.
Sadly, we had to say good-bye to Allan and Mal about the time we drove up into the Roberts Creek Mts. However, a couple of days later we added four new travelers in Ely – Alan Hodes, Mignon Slentz, Nelson Miller and Ana Romero; we met at the Northern Nevada Railroad Museum.
One last tidbit….Near the end of the trip as we were crossing the Monitor Range, Neal and I began hearing a suspicious noise and suspected it was coming from the drive shaft. With the Jaussauds kindly trailing behind in case it gave out completely, we drove cautiously all the way to Tonopah. Thank you Bob and Sue! At the NAPA auto parts store we ordered a new part and were told it would be delivered the next morning. Sure enough, the part arrived about 9:00 a.m. But, wouldn’t you know – Murphy’s Law was alive and well. The part they received was for a Dodge, not a Toyota Tacoma! Rather than wait another day, we had the rear drive shaft removed and drove all the way home in front-wheel drive.
I would like also like to thank the Jaussauds for being our assistants and acting as the sweep for almost the entire trip. And since we were on dirt roads most of the time, you know what that means – dust! In fact, thank you everyone – you all had to eat dust, but there were no serious complaints. And thank you everyone for being such good sports – for “playing it by ear” and “going with the flow” when plans changed almost daily.