Passage through Lake Range; Three Mile and San Emidio Canyons

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I was unsure of this route from the very beginning. The Lake Range is a prominent mountain range along the east shore of Pyramid Lake and creates the backdrop that most visitors appreciate when they visit this gem of northern Nevada. To the east of the Lake Range is Winnemucca Lake, the Selenite and Nightingale Ranges.  To the west of the Lake Range is Pyramid Lake, San Emidio Desert, and the Fox Range. On my previous visits I scanned the eastern slope of the range along State Route 447 looking for roads into the range. Following up with cross referencing maps it seemed Three Mile Canyon offered a mix of broken double track and a dry wash to a saddle with a similar prospect to descend into the San Emidio Desert.

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So there was the loose plan I presented to Dean Magnuson, who is a great riding partner for many reasons including going along with my uncertain plans. We found the road and started out off the pavement of SR 447 with a view of Winnemucca Lake playa and the Selenite and Nightingale Ranges behind us. We quickly entered the dry wash of Three Mile Canyon and realized the necessity of our fat bikes to ride the sandy, rocky wash. I had considered riding plus sized tires which would have been ok, but probably required a bit of hike-a-bike in the softest sections. There are always trade-offs with tire selection.

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After passing snakes, lizards, and a tarantula we made our way to the top of the canyon and found an overgrown and rutted double track descent to the San Emidio Desert. To the north was a power line which is likely to have a service road through the range as well. Across the desert lies the Fox Range separating the San Emidio and Smoke Creek Deserts. The route we were following seemed to show very little traffic adding to its aesthetic.

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The San Emidio Desert has a small playa to the north but otherwise has sparse vegetation where we rode. There were several choices in all directions which will definitely bring me back to San Emidio.

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We rode south into San Emidio Canyon. It was a gentle climb on dirt road that eventually followed a significant wash fed by San Emidio Spring. We came to a corral and stone walls in the canyon. But as time would allow we picked this as a turn around point.

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Beyond this point it looks as though the double track will climb to a vista point overlooking the north end of Pyramid Lake. This area is on Pyramid Lake Paiute Reservation land so camping does require a permit.

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Our return trip followed our original route in part because of time restraints. As an alternate return we debated riding north to the power line road which offered less climbing but greater mileage. In the end the descent through the winding, sandy, rocky wash of Three Mile Canyon (3.7 miles in length) was a blast! “Dean, this is your kind of ride!”

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Three Mile Canyon is a great connector for off road touring routes going east and west in this part of northern Nevada. This route would connect rides in the Selenite  and Nightingale Ranges with the rides in the Virginia Mountains and Smoke Creek Desert. The San Emidio Desert is an unsung destination for northern Nevada as well. It is home to the San Emidio Geothermal Plant and Empire Farms but its remoteness is its greatest attraction.

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3 thoughts on “Passage through Lake Range; Three Mile and San Emidio Canyons

  1. Considering the amount of difficulty I create for myself when my suburban rides start with the comment, “I was unsure of this route from the very beginning.”, I am amazed that you launch yourself into the unknown in such an unforgiving environment! In fact, my next post on Mongolope has a story of how things can go wrong when my cycle trip starts with the words, “I was unsure of this route from the very beginning.” 😉

    • In planning a ride, I don’t think I have ever studied the maps as closely as I did before this outing. Usually the roads through the desert leave such a scar they are easy to trace with Google Maps and the like. But there doesn’t seem to be much travel through the Lake Range, especially Three Mile Canyon. If you and Mongo can make it down to Reno I would be honored to be you guide.

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