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2021 - Trip Reports - High Rock Adventure

High Rock Adventure

by Bob Jaussaud (Joeso)

When we encountered the young people in their extreme Jeeps, it was sort of a perverse pleasure to see the expressions on their faces. They were only beginning to challenge the road through High Rock Canyon that we had just conquered. I’m sure they were wondering how a mature couple like Sue and I had managed it in our stock appearing truck (with a camper on it, no less). Even more impressive were the gals, Vicki and Cindy, following in their Toyota TRD and Mignon in her appropriately rigged 4-Runner. Ron in his 4-Runner and Johnny in his Pathfinder were our capable sweeps as we passed the amazed Jeepsters.

High Rock Canyon is undoubtedly the most scenic and rugged portion of the Applegate Trail that is still passable to vehicles today. It is an area of critical environmental concern located in the Black Rock Desert in the northern Great Basin of Nevada. Euroamericans first traveled through High Rock Canyon in 1843-44 when John C. Fremont led a party searching for the fabled “Buenaventura River” leading to the Pacific Ocean. He was followed in 1846 by Jesse Applegate and Levi Scott, who were searching for a southerly route to Oregon. After the discovery of gold in California, many gold seekers followed the route and it remained a popular emigrant trail through 1860. In 1992, the Applegate Trail became a National Historic Trail. 

High Rock Canyon was the focus of our recent trip with fellow Desert Explorers and relatives, but the journey had many other highlights. Ron led us to a wonderful campsite along Horton Creek high in the Sierras for a perfect start. The next day we hiked to the Crowley Lake Stone Columns. Reminiscent of Moorish temples, these columns evidentially have a volcanic origin. I sure don’t understand it, but scientists from UC Berkley believe that hundreds of thousands of years ago there was a gigantic explosion followed by a snow storm. Their theory is the melted snow seeped into the porous material that was still super-heated and boiled, creating the spaces between the columns.

In Genoa, Nevada we saw the site of the Van Sickle Station and the original 1800’s road up the Kingsbury Grade to LakeTahoe. Then we spent an enjoyable hour or two at the Genoa Bar, self described as “Nevada’s Oldest Thirst Parlor.”

The next two nights, Vicki and Cindy’s brother, Barry, hosted us at his comfortable home in Carson City and we were able to spend a full day exploring around Virginia City. Unfortunately the historic Sutro Tunnel was seriously fenced. Darn! And on the original Ophir Road the Jumbo Grade was just too gnarly, but we did see a herd of wild horses frolicking at a water hole before deciding to turn around.

Leaving Carson City the next day, we visited an amazing private oasis in the Smoke Creek Desert, Planet X Pottery. Then, just above Gerlach we detoured onto Dooby Lane (aka Guru Road) for some unique enlightenment. This is the “Burning Man” area after all.

At the northern extreme of our adventure in the High Rock Desert, we were very fortunate to find the remote Stevens Camp available and “put out the flag” to enjoy a night in the cabin and a beautiful sunset while drinking wine on the veranda. Interestingly, in the 1950’s Stevens Camp was owned by Tennessee Ernie Ford, the singer best know for his rendition of “Sixteen Tons.” He actually built the cabin we were enjoying.

After emerging from High Rock Canyon the next day, we planned to relax at the hot creek in Soldier Meadows but the water was just too bloody hot to enjoy, especially during the heat of the day. So we headed south over a washboard road toward Gabbs Valley to locate the “car frame windmill” and the Poinsettia Mine.

The Poinsettia Mine was truly a highlight. After several miles of remote desert roads, it was breath-taking to pop over the last hill and see it for the first time. Mercury was discovered there in 1929 and a small camp was built. The mine operated until 1944 and Vet Baxter owned it until his death in 1973. Then the Boy Scout Troop of Hawthorne, Nevada took over care of the property and are responsible for its current state of preservation.

Fortunately Johnny located the good road for us and we were able to continue south over Rabbit Pass. It was a step back in time to visit the very original line cabin at Gillis Camp, not far from the road’s summit. Resuming our journey south, we detoured a bit to walk through the Candelaria Cemetery. Our arrival at Dyer,Nevada later that afternoon was in the nick of time, as by then we were only running on fumes. After procuring some much needed gas, we camped for our last night at Cottonwood Creek and took of its cool waters. ~ Joeso