Ride Report; Carson Sink’s Dunes

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“If you survive…” Such confidence inspiring words

“If you make it I will ride down and you can take my picture. For perspective,” Pete let me know. If I survived? What were the range of outcomes riding down the face of the dune? Ripping success, a slow stilted descent, tumbling down the sand face, and somewhere in the mix was not surviving. Then Pete wouldn’t feel obligated to follow my line. We rode down several faces that day and while there was a moment of hesitation with each attempt they were all fun! Pete Rissler, who I rode with around the Little High Rock Canyon Wilderness, invited me out on another adventure.

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My view inspired just a twinge of doubt

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Pete Rissler following my line

The Carson Sink’s Dunes are located in the Carson Sink between the Fallon and Stillwater National Wildlife Refuges. We rode from Battleground Point east about 5 miles. There are about the same distance of lesser dunes continuing east. Dunes and dry alkali flats give the rider the ultimate freedom to pick and choose their route. It is most similar to the experience on slick rock where you choose your lines. The dune surface seemed well packed under my 4.8 inch wide tires. It was the same for Pete with his 4 inch tires under him. Pete pointed out the two types of sand, a coarser more firmly packed sand and a finer looser packed silt. Sometimes there were invisible patches of the two and you could feel your bike going fast and slow. We came across a third distinct sand that was very coarse black pebbles, it mostly added color and texture to the dunes.

The dunes can test your bike riding skills unlike any other terrain. Just plodding through the sand with wide tires will test your power output. Next you can test your climbing abilities by choosing grades and length of sandy climbs. Steering take a bit getting used to if you try to weave your way up a grade or carve S turns down a slope. Rocketing down a face is much slower than you expect, brakes are a whole new tool. But with some speed you can find sand lips to catch some air off of. Between the sights and the riding the dunes are very entertaining.

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Pete’s Salsa Mukluk, The Stillwater Range and Botulism Bay in the background

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Botulism Bay from Battleground Point

Between the dunes were alkali flats, or playas. Some were hard packed dry clay beds, while others were soft and white with salt. We crossed one playa that was much harder pedaling than the dunes. Pete wanted to see the playas flooded up to the edge of the dunes. That would be a sight. There was some water in the sink that gave us an idea what that might look like.

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Water in the Carson Sink restricted some routes from dune to dune

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Tough existence for plants and animals on the Carson Sink’s Dunes

The dunes make for a great day’s outing. The BikeCarson gang have an excellent write-up with outstanding blue-sky photography. Travel by bike in this area the, Stillwater National Wildlife Refuge Complex, is fantastic. It can be linked to the Stillwater Range, Lovelock, Dixie Valley, and beyond. Pete and I had lunch at the Pizza Barn, Fallon’s oldest pizza parlor.

Pete Rissler has a lifetime of field experience in northern and central Nevada from his time growing up as a local and a career as a wildlife biologist. Every outing is a chance for me to learn so much natural history. On this trip, fish bones that were regurgitated by pelicans were of interest. Depending on where the pelicans were feeding, such as Pyramid Lake, the remains would be particular or even contain a tag from a biologist. Pelican  Island is a dune to the west of Battle Ground Point we plan on visiting – there is always a next trip!

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Live to ride another day

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My Surly Ice Cream Truck

I normally have front and rear racks and cargo cages on the fork of my extra-small Surly Ice Cream Truck. But these accessories can make transporting fat bikes challenging. Pete drove us out to the Carson Sink with our bikes on a Kuat NV rack so I was glad I removed these items. The velcro Two Fish water bottle cage, small Deuter frame bag, Skinz top tube bag, and Apidura handlebar food pouches were handy accesories but I also carried a small pack with extra gloves, outer layers, and water blader. With a little better organization I could have forgone the day pack.  In anticipation of a icy snowy winter I have the ICT shod with studded Vee Snowshoe XL tires. I left them on for this trip to take advantage of their width. The fat bike makes a great touring bike for the northern Nevada outback. Surly’s philosophy of Omniterra, Fatties Fit Fine, and 4130 Chromoly Steel Tubing make for versatile touring bikes.

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Day Trip; Through the Pine Grove Hills

Pine Grove Hills

Gorgeous forest

Most of what I write about are short half day outings. These are exploratory routes that I imagine can be linked together or expanded upon to suite anyone’s needs. I plan them  in particular areas but occasionally stumble across “lines on the map.” These write-up get filed under “Ride Reports.” To me these are the most basic bike tour. The next level of outing is the day trip. The planning and organization is somewhere between a half day trip and an overnighter. Day trips tend to be solo as it can be hard to convince a riding partner to commit to a full-day-plus in the car and on the bike.

Dawn on Sweet Water Range, Nye Canyon

Leaving the car for a great day’s adventure

The canyons off the Sweetwater Rd, NV 338, have intrigued me after using this highway as an alternative to US 395, between Topaz Lake and Bridgeport, CA.  I have camped and fished along Desert Creek in the Wellington Hills on the west side of the highway. Now I know I must link these two areas in a bigger trip.

Nye Canyon, traverse to Sand Canyon

Not very good advertising

I picked Nye Canyon “off the map” as it was a prominent line on the map that seemed to branch into many options to explore. My choices are often just this haphazard. The drive was about 90 miles south of Reno so I left early enough to arrive at the canyon as the day was breaking. The conditions were great. I appreciated the signage both in the names of the canyons and the forest service road carsonites. I picked a route that went through an impressive pine grove. I must be in the right place. I climbed into the snow bellow Bald Mountain. I was close to the wilderness boundary and the end of the road when I turned around because of the deep soft snow. I could look into the Pine Grove Flat valley to the east, it looked warm and inviting. The jagged peaks of the Sweetwater Range were enchanting.

Looking back at Nye Canyon

Great conditions at sunrise

Always choices, Pine Grove Hills

Following Nye Canyon route to Bald Mtn

Sweetwater Range from Pingrove Hills

Climbing to Bald Mtn looking at the Sweetwater Range

Bald Mtn, Pine Grove Hills

This is getting interesting

Bald Mtn, Edge of Wokova Wilderness

Turn around point, 8,800′

Bald Mtn Trail, Pine Grove Hills

Descending to warmer terrain

Sweet Peak Trail, Bald Mtn

A bit muddy here, Pine Grove Hills

Lake beds, Pine Grove Hills

Junction of Bald Mtn Trail and Sweet Pk Trail

I back tracked to the main trail fork. I climbed Dead Ox Canyon. It was sandy but passable with wider than average tires. As I was climbing the dry and sandy road I turned a corner to find the road a sheet of ice. The water of Dead Ox Spring had frozen solid across the trail at this one cold spot on the mountain.

Last of the ice age, Pine Grove Hills

The road turned to ice

Surprise icy road

From dry/damp sand to this… Dead Ox Canyon, Pine Grove Hills

At the saddle bellow Pine Grove Summit I was faced with crossroads. Again by chance and picking a prominently marked route I descended into the ghost town of Rockland.  Rockland Canyon dropped precipitously to the valley bellow. I had some reservations in that I did look forward to climbing back up the canyon if this proved to be the best route back to my vehicle. These doubts are common when exploring a new area.

Descent into Rockland

Very steep and a long way down to the valley bellow

Rockland mining structure

Fixer upper, Rockland mines

Colapsed Rockland

Closed mines for your safety, Rockland

Welcome to OZ, Rockland, Pingrove Hills

Hard rock mining

Once in Pine Grove Flat I felt overcome with “explorers fever”. Like the mountaineers desire to reach the summit at all cost, I started looking around the Cambridge Hills roads knowing they were separating me from the Walker River and beyond. But I have to reel in my ambitions to plan my crossing the Pine Grove Hills to get back to my vehicle. I started my loop to the north but found myself questioning if I had the return climb left in my legs. In all reality I did. But I decided to stay low and loop around the hills following the most prominent roads.

Rancher's heaven

I was distracted to ride off in every direction

Pine Grove Flats looking north

I was so tempted to see what was on the edges of the map

Potential renturn route through Pine Grove site

A bit intimidated by the elevation to return back over the “hills”

Range land, Pine Grove Flats

Such potential to ride

I passed the road that climbs to the ghost town of Pine Grove. But I was intimidated by the steep mountain walls. I worked my way to the north and was pleased to see signage with mileage to Scotts and Mickey Canyons. These are areas to explore on a future trip. I was a little disappointed  assuming I would have to finish my ride on the highway. I climbed one road hoping it might connect me to a network of roads through the hills but it petered out to a game trail I was unable to follow. But eventually I was able to turn onto Hudson-Aurora Rd. which brought me most of the way back to the car on dirt.

Mickey Canyon, Pine Grove Hills

I super appreciate signs in the wilderness

Route to the north of Pine Grove Hills

I chose the longer flatter route home

Choices near the end of the ride, Pine Grove Hills

Route decision time, late in the ride

Sonora Emigrant Trail Marker, Pine Grove Hills

I love finding these

Looking East, Pine Grove Hills

Heavy skies

Popular OHV, Mickey Canyon, Pine Grove Hills

Reminded me of Death Valley

End of the road, Pine Grove Hills

I was hoping for a road into the hills to link up with Nye Canyon. Maybe if I were a deer.

I finished at twilight and and felt very accomplished by the day’s journey. I looked at what I carried with me and thought I need to cut it by 1/2. I wore a typical cycling kit plus knee warmers. I carried and wore when necessary a windshirt (Sherpa Shirt by Marmot), a waterproof shell (Alterra Jacket by Belwether), a windbreaker (Hoodini by Patagonia), a wind vest, appropriate head gear and several pair of gloves by varying weights. I have a fairly comprehensive first aid kit, bike repair kit, as well as 4.5 L of water.  I really need to optimize what I carry.

What I carried, Pine Grove Hills

Three jackets and a vest, time for critical thinking.

2017 Freewheeling to the End, 2018 Shifting Gears!

Rugged canyons to explore, Dead Camel Mtns

Rugged canyons to explore, Dead Camel Mtns

Without this blog I would be riding about the desert just as I have been for the last three years but this outlet has made it all the richer. Looking back a year ago I was reflecting on the crisis of loosing our public lands, especially the protection of our wilderness. So one goal of mine was to focus on our wilderness and wilderness study areas and showcase them on my rides. My wilderness area focus for 2017 will always be an underlying theme for this blog. Nevada spoils the outdoor enthusiast with its abundance of public lands.

Between Wildernesses

High Rock Cyn and Little High Rock Cyn Wildernesses

I have enjoyed being a part of the outdoor blogging community. A few writers seem to be away from their keyboards. I hope this is temporary as I do miss their adventures. I have “met” so many writers this year and I am grateful for their insight and influence on Bikepacking Norther Nevada. I am excited for their shared stories in 2018.

Strange parking job, Hunter Lake Rd

As it gets steeper things get stranger

The “who I have ridden with” of 2017 was richer than ever! I organized a few rides from the end of 2016 to the beginning 2017 with my shop coworkers for the days we were closed in the winter. Mike Pickering brought his kids, Moses and Enola on a fair number of these adventures which really added to the fun. I invited Tracy Marche, Jake and Gillie Francis on a crazy frozen road ride out of Middlegate, NV. Our time warming in the bar was the best. Of course there were adventures with Dean Magnuson, but unfortunately he has moved to the Portland, OR area with the promise of it being temporary. Of course there were rides and even a S24O with Raymond Eliot. Wildlife biologist and longtime friend, Pete Risler, took me on an adventure to Little High Rock Canyon Wilderness. My mountain bike and road riding partner over the last 5 years, Brandon Anderson, decided he wanted to get into the desert riding game. During the last three months of ’17 we logged some incredible miles and explored some new areas. I organized a ride with local photographer/artist Chris Carnel. My newest riding partner is Brandi Withers, a new to northern Nevada cyclist. She is getting an eye-full and ear-full about the northern Nevada landscape. I feel the community of backroad explorers is growing and social media is getting us connected. The next step is getting connected on the road. I am excited for new collaborations in 2018.

Post ride food, drink and cheer!

Jake and Gillie finding feeling in their toes

Mike checks in with Enola

Mike and Enola, pilot and co-pilot communication

Bikepacking mentoring

Moses assisted by Dean’s firm arm and kind words

Carnel Arrives, MGL Mines

Chris Carnel arrives in early afternoon shadows

Winter ruts and rocks

Raymond Eliot follows my questionable line

Pete in the saddle

Pete Rissler coming up Smokey Canyon from the bottom of Little High Rock Canyon

The weather this year definitely impacted my riding. 2017 was the wettest and snowiest on record followed by the record hottest, smashing the record number of days over 90 degrees. Smoke from fires near and far added to the difficulty to ride. The impact also was seen in the terrain. Erosion and flooding was severe in most places I rode. The scars from fire season are heart wrenching as our wildlands are so slow to recover. My hat comes off to the land managers who have worked so hard to mitigate the damage we saw this year.

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Heavy winter closed this forest road.

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A little snow fall to obscure the rut and roots

In reviewing my rides of the year on Garmin I could see the weather’s impact on the total number of rides. But in review I would say there was quality over quantity. There were a few outings not included in this space because there were outside the scope of Bikepacking Northern Nevada. I took a family vacation to the Grand Canyon. While staying in Williams, AZ I explored a couple of dirt roads in the Kaibab National Forest. I felt that area was ripe for bikepacking and exploration. Brandon Anderson and I did a three day road riding odyssey using Silver Creek Campground off Hwy 4 near Markleeville, CA as a base camp. Again my thoughts lead to the possibilities for bikepacking with a gravel bike to take advantage of paved and unpaved roads through the less popular parts of the Sierra.

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Brandon Anderson recovering from a long hot day on Monitor Pass

Some of the highlighted routes for 2017 were:

  • Brunswick Canyon, Pine Nut Mountains
  • Pah Rah Range North
  • Little High Rock Canyon
  • Winnamucca Lake Loop
  • Sunrise Pass Loop, Pine Nut Mountains
  • Soldier Meadows Rd
  • Pine Grove Loop, Pine Grove Hills
  • Dry Valley Rim WSA

In looking at the big picture I need to start driving further to fill the the empty spots on the map. I need to explore the roads around Yerington to Walker Lake. As the crow flies, a sweeping arc from 50-100 miles from Reno would give me more than enough opportunities to fill 2018. Nevada towns such as Winnemucca, Battle Mountain and Austin, NV are great half-way-across the state destinations for starting rides. I am excited!

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Hope to see you riding in 2018

One plan for 2018 will be to host a Rendezvous for bikepackers, fat bikers, gravel grinders, and anyone interested in exploring Nevada’s backroads by bike. The venue will be BLM’s Dry Valley Off-Highway Vehicle Area. The trails in that area are along the Dry Valley Rim Wilderness Area and the Smoke Creek Desert. Participants will be encouraged to spend the night or just come out and explore for the day. While the planning is in its infancy I am shooting for the first weekend in April, 6-8.

Dog Valley Days; What do they mean to you?

Another peek at Dog Valley

A feeling of Peavine Peak wrapping around Dog Valley

Geographic names become funny as you study maps, talk to locals, then confuse them in your own mind. Dog Valley is one of many examples I have encountered in my travels in northern Nevada. When I here people “rode Dog Valley” I first make certain assumptions then I am eager to find out more. I have written about Dog Valley rides here( and here) but always with the same hesitation, Dog Valley is in California, and always use the same justification, it is one of the most popular areas for a wide variety of recreational opportunities in all four seasons for Reno locals. My Dog Valley write-up has been the most viewed post of 2017. But what is Dog Valley?

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Dog Valley Meadow December 2017

Dog Valley, CA

Dog Valley Meadow November 2014

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Dog Valley Meadow September 2017

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Dog Valley Meadow August 2017

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The Meadow at ground level

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Great information kiosk

Off Bridge Street (where it turns into Hill Lane) in Verdi, NV just above the one lane bridge over the Truckee River and the tiny bridge over Dog Creek is Dog Valley Rd. But it is also known as Henness Pass Rd and there are even road signs that indicate so. Occasionally I hear it miss referred to as “Hennessey Pass.” But if you want cognac it is strictly bring your own. After a mile the pavement ends and you climb for a couple miles and 1000′ in elevation into the Toiyabe National Forest. From “Summit One” you have several choices, the most popular being to descend to the Dog Valley proper or continue on Henness Pass Rd to “Summit Two” and on to Stampede Reservoir. Alternatively you can climb on Sunrise Creek Rd into the Verdi Range, around Beacon Peak above Sunrise Creek and descend to Summit Two. Your efforts are rewarded with great views of the Truckee River going past Verdi to Reno.

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Crystal Peak Cemetery off Dog Valley Rd in Verdi, NV

...adventure begins

The Pavement Ends, adventure begins

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Brandi Withers at Summit One

Summit 2 Henness Pas Rd.

Raymond Eliot at Summit 2

I recommend descending to Dog Valley. The road along the east side of the meadow takes you past an information kiosk that lets you know what you are looking at and its environmental significance. In my minds eye the valley expands north and descends into Long Valley. But the truth is quite different. The north end of the valley tips up into a forested volcanic terrain at Mitchell Canyon. The near solitude in the forest was only interrupted by a party out gathering wood. Otherwise the bird chatter was remarkable. If Dog Valley is not known to birders it should be. While I am not a birder I would love to spend some time with the initiated to start my own Dog Valley species list. The naturalist will be at home in Dog Valley.

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All good choices from Summit One

Descending Long Valley Rd

Descending from Summit One to Dog Valley Meadow

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Aspen canopy before fall color change

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Far too many road choices to be explored in a day

 

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Looping around on Long Valley Rd

The terrain changes one more time as the road steeply descends to Long Valley with views of the Cold Springs community. You will quickly descend on sandy U-shaped jeep road beds to the Long Valley Rd junction with Dog Valley Rd. This area has a group  campsite occupied by a group of OHV users. Continuing the loop on Dog Valley Rd has opportunities to hang out creek side, climb through aspen groves, and explore roads off the main loop. You will loop around to the turn-off for Crystal Mine.

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Views from the north end of Dog Valley

Dog Creek

Great spots to stop along Dog Creek

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Tahoe skies

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Famed Crystal Mine, you are driving/standing/walking/riding on a mountain of quartz

Bellow Babbitt Peak is a mountain of quartz crystal. Here you are allowed to remove a bucket of crystal treasures. Have at it! People have collected fantastic rocks here. It is common in this area to be traveling on road beds of quartz crystal. Rock hounding abounds! Crystal Mine and Crystal Peak are often confused. I ran into a party on the road below Crystal Peak looking for the mine. They were miles away.

Crystal Pk

Crystal Peak Knob

Looking north to Haskell Pk

Great decomposed granite descent coming up.

Leaving Crystal Mine you will pass Lookout Campground. There is a great double track behind the campground to explore. You can finish the loop back to Summit One but I like climbing road 009 to Summit Two. Beyond Summit Two it can be a quick descent to Stampede Reservoir.  Stampede Reservoir is only 22 miles by bike from downtown Reno. Alternatively Forest Service Road 72 south from Summit Two’s 5-way junction will take you above Hoke Valley and Stampede Reservoir.

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Decent signage approaching Summit Two from Stampede Reservoir

Road 72 has shown it vulnerability to the elements after this winter’s record precipitation. But the places you will go! You can climb to Verdi Peak, descend to Boca Rest campground, East Boca Canyon and Hoke Valley. I always have an eye out for spots to grab a S24O (Sub-24 hr Overnight camping) opportunity and there are several off FS-72.

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A small creek crossing on FS-72

Inviting rock groto

Warm light gives a false sense of security before a long ride home at dusk

Forest through the trees

Above Stampede Reservoir

It is no wonder Dog Valley means so much to so many northern Nevadans. I saw families out for day hikes with small children. I have been passed by numerous 4×4/OHV enthusiasts. I have seen wood collectors, rock hounds, hunters, and Christmas tree cutters. I have passed hikers, snowshoers, and cross country skiers. My friend Jake Francis has done multiple S24O’s in Dog Valley, often during the most unlikely of seasons. My friends Jude Mayne and Cary Shales will take Henness Pass Rd to Smithneck Rd to continue on to Loyalton in the Sierra Valley. This is an outstanding gravel grind. My friends Greg Burge and Will Lumpkin have fly fished the creeks that flow through and around the valley. Other groups have biked and drove to the campgrounds for a quick overnight. I have taken friends and family to Dog Valley for delightful picnics and poking around for crystal treasures.

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Emigrant Trail Marker

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Horseback and covered wagon travelers

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A quick dip in Stampede Reservoir

Whatever your Dog Valley is I encourage you to get out there. If you don’t know Dog Valley go find that secret spot to make it yours.

Ride Report; Along the Calico Mtns Wilderness

Getting Closer, Calico Hills

The places Soldier Meadows Rd can take you, Calico Hills

Old Razorback Mtn

Later in the day, sunburst over Old Razorback Mtn

My first experience on Soldier Meadows Rd was our Reno Bike Project staff retreat in 2015. We drove out in the dark, set up camp, but woke up in a surreal landscape. Ever since that trip I have been tracing Soldier Meadows Rd in satellite view on my computer wanting to get back there. But I must say the images I had in my head based on what I saw on the computer screen had me less than enthused to spend hours grinding out that road. But it is such a significant route in the area I had to go!

Across the Black Rock, Old Razorback Mtn

A wet playa between us and Old Razorback Mtn

Mini-Playa

Mini-playa dwarfed by Granite Range and Black Rock Desert

Raymond Eliot and I made the drive through Gerlach and north on SR 34 to the Soldier Meadows turn-off. When the pavement ends the adventure begins. Raymond and I have many adventures chronicled here, the biggest being our trip along Smoke Creek Desert. Choosing a riding partner has as much to do with compatibility on the ride as with the 4+ hours in the car and deciding which bar to stop at after the ride (although on this trip Bruno’s Country Club was the only choice).

Ray Eliot and Mormon Dan Pk

Ray Eliot and Mormon Dan Pk

Riddled with caves and pockets

It would be fun to see if these caves are home to bats leaving at dusk

Rolling out was far more eye-opening than I had imagined. We were above Hualapai Flat and Fly Ranch as well as a wet Black Rock Desert. Ahead of us were the Calico Hills behind us the Granite Range. The road was in excellent condition. Although we were on mountain bikes, gravel bikes would have been great. The vastness of the landscape is apparent as distant features advance very slowly. It was great recognizing familiar features across the playa such as the Selenite Range, Old Razorback Mountain, and Black Rock Point.

Climbing on the north edge of wilderness

Good roads, will continue this route at some date

Turn around, Calico Hills

Get off and explore by foot

We turned off the road to climb up to Jackass Flats. This was our turn-around distance for the day. Twenty-five miles in, 25 miles out, reasonable days journey. There were so many side options to explore. While we were on the edge of wilderness defined as roadless tracts there were the occasional roads that brought you into the wilderness and then at that point you could explore on foot. There were options to cross the playa to Black Rock Point and now that is on the “must-do” list. I will get back here to loop the Calico Mtns Wilderness at some point.

Designated Route

To Fly Ranch from Soldier Meadows Rd

Ray Eliot, Soldier Meadows Rd

Rider is life size, Nevada wilderness is bigger than life size

On our drive back we stopped in at our familiar watering hole, Bruno’s Country Club. After Bruno’s passing the bar had been remodeled. I am not a big fan of change but the Picon Punch was just as refreshing.

Ride Report; Simpson Rd and Dead Camel Mtns

Sandy choices, Lahontan Reservoir

Is there a choice here, gravel bikes are not keen on sand

When storms hit northern California and western Nevada it is often a game of watching the storm tracks and making the best educated guess as where to ride. Just the day before Brandon Anderson and I rode out of Quincy, CA in a cold windy rainstorm. Chalk that up to adverse conditions training. For today’s ride we started looking as far east as Middlegate but decided to take a chance on the Lahontan Reservoir area. Simpson Rd has always been on my list of rides. It is best known as the Pony Express Route.

180 deg of Simpson Rd, Pony Express

180 deg of Simpson Rd, Pony Express

I traced a couple of loops in the area and went with a quote shaped bubble into the Dead Camel Mountains. We were super impressed with the condition of the roads. Much of the route was carved out of the ancient lake bed, hard and buffed smooth like fresh tarmac. Much of the road bed was bellow the surrounding land. I can only imagine what a mud bog Simpson Rd could present. After about 11 miles of tailwind assisted cruising we headed north into the hills.

Mini playa

Mini playa between Dead Camel Mtn and Desert Range

Flowery Range, north of Lahontan Res

Flowery Range, north of Lahontan Res

We passed a couple of mini-playas. The road surface changed between clay, rock and sand. Luckily the roads never made us wish we were on anything other than our gravel bikes. We did encounter the occasional pitch that was too steep to ride. But we were always rewarded by views of rugged canyons and mountain ranges across broad flats.

Rugged canyons to explore, Dead Camel Mtns

Rugged canyons to explore, Dead Camel Mtns

Across to Fallon

Across to Fallon

The Nipple

The Nipple, Dead Camel Mtns

With views of Lahontan Reservoir we descended a very sandy track to the ancient lake bed. Luckily this was the descent. The sandy track had us surfing our bikes through the soft stuff. There would have been no way to climb this track with 700x40c tires. The ride back to our start was spent in the reflection of a high quality day. By the numbers the day’s temperatures were in the upper 30’s to lower 40’s, breezy, damp, but improving through the day.

Scouting out a route, above Lahontan Res

Scouting out a route, above Lahontan Res

Exit, Dead Camel Mtns

Exit, Dead Camel Mtns

When I return to the area I would like to see how far I can stay on the Pony Express Route. To cover the distance I think plus sized tires would be in order. There is too much variety in the desert roads to rely on anything narrower. I would like to explore the Desert Mountains as well as the White Throne Mountains. This is just my first ride in the area.

Sunset on Carson River

Glowing Cottonwoods on Carson River

I highly recommend Bike Carson’s write-ups for more information on this area.

A Day in the Desert with Chris Carnel

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Giant tumbleweeds at the beach. Carnel standing far left

I met Chris on a mountain bike street/stunt road trip with Jim Severt. We road urban terrain in Sacramento, CA before traveling into the California Central Valley to find and ride a full pipe Jim knew about. It feels like that was a lifetime ago. Since then I have known Chris on the fringe between the action sports community, photography, art, and community bike shop. In recent conversations I asked Chris if he had interests in landscape photography. He said, yes. I said, I have some landscape in mind. A plan was born.

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Sand, scrub, tufa

We met on the southwest edge of Winnemucca Lake, combined gear into my vehicle and drove to some dunes I had spotted on my last ride in the area. The plan was to drive out as far as the MGL tungsten mines, ride a bit, then work our way back, stopping to explore and photograph at will. This was going to be a very different type of trip for me. The emphasis was on close-up exploring as opposed as covering a given distance by bike.

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Wind shaped desert

The dune system around Winnemucca Lake is far more extensive than I imagined. When I think of dunes my mind’s eye sees a shifting freestanding mountain of sand. These dune were mostly obscured by scrubby plants. But what an ecosystem they support is evident in the delicate tracks in the fine sand and honeycomb of burrows I collapsed while hiking along the game trails. I am no dune expert but I imagine these dunes are an extension of the dunes found along NV 447, the south east shore of Pyramid Lake, and continue to wrap along the base of the Nightingale Mtns to the northern edge of Winnemucca Lk.

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Delicate prints in the sand, last night’s party in the desert

We spent some time inspecting the tufa covered rocks. I was impressed by the range of textures in a single rock. Chris too noted that these were some of the most impressive eaxamples of tufa he had seen.

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So much texture in one small space, tufa

We continued on to the mines and passed a 4×4 club that was getting a natural history lecture from their leader. At the mines we met another group of friends in jeeps who were headed up the roads above the mines. We got on our bikes in the opposite direction to check out a well and continue on to the playa.

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Remains of a well on the edge of Winnemucca Lk, Lake Range across the playa

The well was the least preserved relic of the mine. My only guess is water trucks were filled at this point to transport water to the mines and/or mill. This is pure speculation.

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A damp but rideable playa with salt blooms

The playa definitely has its own qualities in comparison to my experience with the Black Rock Desert. The surface varied between dry and damp. Even the dry portions were considerably  soft. Much of the surface was damp and slate grey. We rode a couple miles on the playa. Like on the Black Rock it is a strange feeling to ride without a sense on moving in relation to your distant surroundings. It is a difficult feeling to put into words.

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Riding north, Purgatory Peak, Selenite Range in center

After our excursion on the playa we headed up canyon to the mines. Even though I was in the canyon only a week prior it had a different look in the afternoon light versus morning. We ventured a couple feet into the abandoned mine just to get some flash photos. The jeep explorers were on some roads above us, getting stuck, getting un-stuck, as jeepers do.

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Carnel’s arrival

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Just inside

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Carnel emerges, like a bear in the spring

After the mines we started our trip back to the highway. I wanted to stop and explore the “pyramids” and especially the waterfall between them. We hiked between them to get these shots.

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Some perspective of the “bathtub” walls

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Scale is always hard to represent in this landscape

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Looking south from the floor of the wash created by the waterfall

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These two tiers must be exciting in a flash flood

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From the middle tier

Our day in the desert was complete with sunset’s glow on the Nightingale Mountains. This trip was unique in the combination of biking, hiking and driving. Time was spent up close and personal with the landscape. Although I am not a backpacker I was thinking how awesome it would be to walk through this area.

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A sunset selfie

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Over the car sunset shot

Special thanks to Chris Carnel for inspiring this trip.

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Get to the beach! Photo by Chris Carnel

 

Ride Report; A Route Through the West Shoulder of Dogskin Mountain

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This panorama is slightly distorted from getting blown by the wind, above Bedell Flat

The forecast was for windy conditions increasing in severity by the afternoon. I wish the weather payed closer attention to the forecast! My original goal for this ride was to climb through the Seven Lakes Mountains to the west of Bedell Flat. While there are still roads into the Dogskin Mountains to be explored this proposed route I considered to be my last major route in this area to be ridden. The area is a favorite place to take people. Antelope Valley Road and Winnemucca Ranch Road  turn to dirt only 30 minutes out of Reno/Sparks. Bedell Flat is, well, flat, occasionally sandy, and has the potential to get washed out. Dry Valley has a collection of roads that wind through the pygmy forest of junipers and dip through seasonally dry creek beds. Combined with the views, wildlife, and solitude this area has something for everyone.

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Bedell Flat in the light, under a stormy sky

Brandon Anderson and I took off across the Flat between Fred’s Mountain, Sand Hills and Dogskin Mtn. Above the Rancho Haven neighborhood, we climbed a steep hill giving us a view of the routes around us. We decided the roads through Seven Lakes were better suited to mountain bikes. To north there was a road I hadn’t ridden so we chose that. Did I mention the wind? The sustained winds that were forecast for the afternoon showed up early.

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Sand Hills OHV recreation area

The road into the Dogskin Mtn was fantastic! It got us out of the wind. It provided a sustained pitch that was about at my max climbing ability for the gearing and traction of my KHS Grit 440. Occasionally the roads got a little to chunky to ride. The variety of geology in the canyons kept us visually motivated. We eventually topped out on the route with a stunning view of Winnemucca Valley, Tule Peak, the Virginia Mountains, and our abrupt descent to Winnemucca Ranch. There were a couple of choices at forks in the road that made us curious if there wasn’t an alternative approach to this route.

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Early in our climb out of Dry Valley

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We were swallowed up by the canyon

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Final pitch to the saddle summit of our route

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First look at Virginia Mtns

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Tule Peak, Virginia Mtns

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Looking down our descent

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First complete washout in our route

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An extreme washout that would test any rock crawling jeep

The descent had taken its toll from the wet winter. A couple of times the road completely disappeared in a debris field/creek but we were able to continue after a short hike downstream. From Winnemucca Ranch road we saw a huge boulder field low on the Dogskin that must of come from a major slide.

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A groomed sandy climb to Moon Rocks

Links to my past rides in this area:

Around Freds Mountain with Raymond Eliot

Camping with bikes in Dry Valley

Exploring Dry Valley Creek with Billy Vicks

State Line Peak and a Loop Around Dogskin Mtn on Snow

Ride Report; Behind the MGL mines, a loop through the Nightingale Mtns

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From the pullout the southern Nightingale Mtns

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Northern Nightingale Mountains

I have a love affair with playas. We have several major dry lake beds in northern Nevada and numerous minor ones. They are the desert’s seas and oceans. They can be explored and charted finding springs, ghost towns/mines, unique weather, and unique geology along their shores. Winnemucca Lake playa has captivated me as I whizzed past it from either the driver’s or passenger’s position in a car to and from the Black Rock Desert. The Nightingale Mountains in the glow of sunset were magical. With its close proximity to Reno and quality terrain to ride I have made it a destination for solo and group adventures.

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The remains of the mill from my previous trip

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On a group ride we visited the abandoned tungsten mine on the east side of the playa. The reaction from my fellow tourists was this relic seemed best for a movie set for something out of this world. I agree that much of Nevada seems out of this world. Behind the mine is a canyon with a dry stream wash complete with a 4X4 road. My plan was to return on a mountain bike to explore the canyon.

My research on the area led me to The Fly Syndicate blog (and here) with outstanding photos and description of the area. A more technical report of the mine can be found at Western Mining History. When trying to trace a route through the Selenite Mountains I could only be hopeful that the roads went through because there was no obvious route.

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Impressive examples of tufa

Brandon and I started our loop around the south end of the lake by visiting the prominent tufa formations. But we quickly made our way to Valley Rd and around to Coyote Canyon. I was eager to share this route with a new tourist. I pointed out several box canyons, a formation I call “the Pyramids”, and other roads to explore.

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Looking across Winnamucca Lake playa to Lake Range

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Massive wooden mining relics

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Stay out, Stay alive!

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Great engineering!

We made quick time to the MGL tungsten mill foundation then started up the canyon. We encountered more mining relics but I was most most intrigued by the miniature rail system for the long gone ore carts. It is easy to be tempted to enter an abandoned hard rock mine but “stay out, stay alive” is a good slogan to follow.

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Our climb on 4×4 track up the canyon

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Great example of a desert spring, essential to local wildlife

We followed the 4X4 trail complete with jeep and moto tracks until it ended in a spring. There is always a surprising amount of water in the desert. Or any water is surprising in the desert. The spring was barely flowing but enough to attract animals. You could collect water here if you dug a small pool. Unfortunately we could not find a route from here. My GPS showed some tracks a less than a mile away but a mile through this terrain was going to be difficult.

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Looking back at our climb

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Starting to Hike-a-Bike

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Swallowed by the Nightingale Mountains

We descended to a moto singletrack that looked hopeful. After a long steep hike-a-bike we topped out above the Nightingale Mining District.  I had a good idea of where we were and my plan was to return via Coyote Canyon. I had previously ridden this with Dean Magnuson so I was confident in the route. We had a quick lunch of prosciutto, brie, arugula, fig spread sandwiches before our return to the car.

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View of Pyramid Lake

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Rugged Terrain

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Topping out above our efforts, Winnemucca Lake playa

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This structure is on borrowed time

Exploring the mining relics was a great adventure. Unfortunately the hike-a-bike sections were very difficult. It was very eye-opening to see how Coyote Canyon connects to Kumiva Valley and in my opinion becomes a great off road connector for travel to the Black Rock Desert.

South of Frog Pond Hot Springs

A route north from the east side of Nightingales would arrive here, Black Rock Desert

Sunrise Pass Rd. through the Pine Nut Mountains

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Looking back across the Carson Valley to the Carson Range

Dean Magnuson and I had worked our way south from Dayton via Eldorado Cyn to Sunrise Pass Rd before looping back on Old Como Rd. This was my first experience on Sunrise Pass. Since then I had studied the maps but couldn’t find an obvious loop through the Pine Nuts to the south. It looked as if local knowledge had taken travelers through on roads that were not obvious in satellite view.

I suggested to Brandon Anderson that we check-out Sunrise Pass on our gravel bikes so we could reward ourselves with post-ride refueling at Minden Meat and Deli. I am an advocate of supporting businesses near where we tour to prove our recreation has a positive impact on the communities we visit. I hope small efforts will ensure eco/adventure tourism, including bicycle touring, has a place at the table when Nevada considers which types of recreation to support. I mapped out a potential route using STRAVA and shared this with Brandon. We figured we had an easy day ahead of us.

We parked at the end of Johnson Ln just above the Carson-Minden Airport. The public land access point looked well used. We took off on Sunrise Pass Rd rolling on the sandy track across the Carson Valley. The climb into the Pine Nuts was gentle on a well maintained road. As we climbed into the pygmy forest of juniper and pinon pine the road became less sandy. I recognized the point at which Dean and I tied into Sunrise Pass and the steep section in view of Lyon Pk. We rolled through a hanging valley before our descent to Old Como/Artesia Rd. This became one descent too far.

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Aspens in full fall colors

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Same aspen grove from when Dean and I visited in August 2016

We headed south and my eyes were constantly scanning for roads that turned west back through the Pine Nuts. None of the options looked good. We continued south towards Artesia Lake State Wildlife Management Area, part of the Nevada State Parks system. Once we passed Mason Pass Rd and entered the rural neighborhoods of Smith Valley I knew we were going to be looping around on SR 208 and US 395. Brandon checked his phone, “45 miles back to the car.” As long as the pedals keep turning we got this.

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Headed south between Artesia Lake and eastern slope of Pine Nut Mountains

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Junction of Lower Colony Rd and  SR 208

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West fork of the Walker River

Just south of us are Wellington, Topaz Lake, the Walker River, and plenty of roads to explore. But that will be another trip. This was my first time riding across SR 208 but I had driven it a few times. The head winds made it feel all up hill. Our Return on US 395 went much faster than expected and Brandon found a short cut through the Carson Valley off US 395.

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Antelope Valley from Jack Wright Summit, SR 208

Back at the car we continued our plans to Minden Meat and Deli. Did I mention the 32 beers on tap? The great selection of burgers made with local beef? You will have to check it out for yourself! Our overall impression of the ride was very good. The roads were in great shape and supported travel on gravel bikes (700x40c tire width). My other travels in the area were on my Fargo with 27.5+ tire size. Sections of Old Como and Eldorado Cyn Rds are definitely more ridable with mountain bike tires.