I first heard of this ride moving to Reno in early 2000. It was considered a popular training ride by cross country racers but I never knew exactly where the route began. It wasn’t until years later that I noticed the trailhead signs off Eastlake Blvd. in Washoe City pointing out Jumbo Grade. Eureka, I have found it! Riding past several times on my road bike I knew I would have to return on my Fargo.
Being this route is off 395 between Reno and Carson City it could be an excellent side trip to Virginia City on a grander tour. Or a route within Reno – Virginia City – Dayton – Carson City tour itinerary. On its own it is an excellent day trip and exploration of a historically famous backroad in Northern Nevada.
The area is managed for OHV use by the BLM. The trailhead is equipped with loading ramps, drop toilets and an informative kiosk featuring the historical importance of the area, natural history, and maps of the area. Unfortunately this information is not available on the BLM website. Two major routes, Jumbo and Ophir Grades crisscross the Virginia Range, historically they linked the isolated Virginia City riches to Carson City and Tahoe. The kiosk indicated a mere 8.5 miles to Virginia City. When its not the miles, its the elevation. When its not the elevation, its the terrain. Nevada offers it all.
Climbing Jumbo early on wound its way next to a vernal creek that occasionally chose the grade as its creek bed. Being late winter there were slabs of frozen creek to cross but as this was a mild winter season the frozen patches were minimal. Other sections of the jeep trail were rocky, steep, and or loose but otherwise very rideable. While there were structures at various times during pioneering history nothing remains other than map markers indicating the Jumbo site of ghost towns past. The only other fellow travelers this day were a couple in a Jeep and a small party on ATV’s. Everyone was enjoying the area.
Jumbo Grade was fairly easy to follow until it crosses Ophir Grade at a “4-way plus” intersection of jeep roads above Gold Hill. At this point I turned south onto Ophir Grade instead of continuing north on Jumbo. My original intention was to ride to Virginia City and return to Reno via Old Toll Rd. but I hadn’t studied the route carefully enough and picked an alternative that led me along the ridge above Washoe Lake. This route was rugged and scenic with a couple of hike-a-bike sections. I rode past a few rock climbing bouldering areas that I had heard of but never visited. My route ended on a singletrack that wound down to Washoe Lake State Park. An alternative from the ridge would have dropped into the north side of Carson City.
Ophir Rd. originates at the north end of Eastlake Blvd so I returned to this area with my riding partner, Dean Magnuson, to explore this area on our fat bikes. There are times in Nevada when the wide foot print tires are preferable and Dean is a whole-hearted believer! We explored a couple of alternate routes off Ophir into some remote feeling juniper filled canyons. Eventually we were turned back by a jeep road cut across a steep side slope full of sticky mud on our way toward Mts. Bullion and Davidson. On our way we were most surprised to encounter a sand dune area adding to the diversity of terrain out our backdoor. The riches of northern Nevada can be found in its biological, geological, and historical diversity. I hope you can get out there too.