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.


A sunset selfie

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Over the car sunset shot

Special thanks to Chris Carnel for inspiring this trip.


Get to the beach! Photo by Chris Carnel


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


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


From the pullout the southern Nightingale Mtns


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.

Tungsten mine relic

The remains of the mill from my previous trip


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.


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.


Looking across Winnamucca Lake playa to Lake Range


Massive wooden mining relics


Stay out, Stay alive!


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.


Our climb on 4×4 track up the canyon


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.


Looking back at our climb


Starting to Hike-a-Bike


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.


View of Pyramid Lake


Rugged Terrain


Topping out above our efforts, Winnemucca Lake playa

borrowed time

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.


Aspens in full fall colors

aspen grove, Pine Nut Mtns

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.

First Third of Jungo Rd, Gerlach to Lava Beds Creek

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I really appreciate the signage, Old Razorback Mtn

I thought this ride might give some insight to a hundred miles on a gravel bike. I still can’t comprehend how people are racing 100-250 miles on a such terrain. I let Brandon Anderson know I was interested in a longer ride and Jungo Road would provide a quality out-and-back ride with unlimited mileage (90 miles to Winnemucca, therefore unlimited mileage for a day ride). I first rode a bit of Jungo during a staff retreat and have had it on my to-do list ever since.

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Quality but rough road at times, looking west Pahsupp Mtn

Jungo starts off the pavement just a couple of miles south of Gerlach, NV. Gerlach is famously the home of the Black Rock Desert, an ancient lake bed or playa that has seen numerous land speed records and now hosts the Burning Man art and music festival. I can also recommend Bruno’s Country Club (bar and diner) as well as Planet X Pottery as great businesses to check out in the area. Gerlach is also the gateway to numerous recreational public lands such as High Rock Canyon and Soldier Meadows to the north.

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Across the playa to Black Rock Point

The road follows the south eastern edge of the playa. You start between the Selenite and Granite Ranges. The air was clear and crisp and now with the sun much lower in the sky the eroded mountains had so much more contrast. The Frog Pond and Trego hot springs are worth checking out even if you don’t take a soak. You pass Old Razorback and Dry Mountains. Between the mountains are the Kumiva Valley and lava beds. There are roads to explore to the south as well. The heavy winter took its toll on the local roads but land managers have done a great job to mitigate the damage.

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My eyes keep going back to the Black Rock Desert. I love seeing the dust storms on the playa. My eyes scan across to the Calico Hills and Black Rock Point. One ride I have on my list is to ride down the middle of the playa and camp under the huge dark sky.

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I seek out these route markers with quotes from the early travelers


From our turn around point, Jackson and Kama Mtns,  Allied Nevada-Hycroft Mine

Brandon and I made it out to a prominent basalt feature about 30 miles down the road. We had been fighting a headwind so our progress was not as impressive as we anticipated. We could see Sulfur and the Allied Nevada-Hycroft Mine in the distance. This became our turn around point for a 60 mile gravel tour. We are still a far cry from a 100 mile ride but it will come soon.


From my first trip on Jungo Rd, Staff Retreat 2014

Return to Fort Churchill; Ride Report


Arrested decay, from the barracks across the parade grounds

I was looking for an “easier” ride, dirt roads, proximity, and views to share with Brandon Anderson when we were not up to driving out into the desert for a full day’s ride. Fort Churchill Road from Dayton to Fort Churchill State Park seemed like a winner. I had been to this area  on several rides, by myself, with Raymond Eliot, and Dean Magnuson. It is an easy drive south from Reno to Carson City/Dayton opening up great opportunities in the Carson Range, Pine Nut Mountains, and Carson River Valley. The views along the Carson River, options for additional exploration and the unique historic state park make this dirt road a great outing.

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Brandon checking out the barracks

The road surface like so many routes in northern Nevada had taken its toll from our record wet winter. Although this road is well maintained, the road work left behind softer than ideal conditions as it has been a long dry summer. But the conditions were firm enough for our 700x40c tires. The fall colors, dry grasses, blooming rabbitbrush, fiery cottonwood trees, were just coming on along the river bottom.

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Historic stagecoach stop, worth returning to get an inside look

We had a light lunch at the park and spent some time in the museum. We continued through the arrested decay of the fort’s grounds before following the Nature Trail along the river to the historic Buckland’s Station stagecoach stop. The Nature Trail had become a bit of a sandbox from the flooding of the Carson River. Mountain bikes or even plus/fat tires would have been best suited for that section.

I highly recommend this ride for its quality backroads, concentration of fall colors, unique geology/geography, and historical significance. Brandon Anderson agreed.

Ride Report; Between Smoke Creek Desert and Pole Creek Wilderness Study Area

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At home in the northern Nevada desert

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This classic abandoned car with the playa in the background was a priceless set for this photo

The three inch wide tires on my Salsa Fargo glided over the sand as if I were on a hard packed trail. It’s likely there was only an inch layer of sand blown over the hard packed dirt road but a few weeks prior the conditions forced us to turn around when we explored this same road on our gravel bikes with only 40 mm wide tires. I returned to the Smoke Creek Desert to explore the roads that loop around the southern and eastern borders with the Terraced Hills and Fox Range.

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The BLM posted these signs on the edge of the Pole Creek WSA

An early goal for 2017 was to bike around as many Wilderness Study Areas as I could. I learned a bit about WSA’s after riding around Kumiva Peak and noticing Mt Limbo WSA. My understanding is WSA’s are roadless tracts of land over 5000 acres in size with the attributes of wilderness. Land mangers, such as the Forest Service or the Bureau of Land Management, suggest these areas for consideration by Congress to become protected wilderness. During this period they are managed similarly to wilderness. “Non-Impairment” to “naturalness” and opportunities for solitude and unconfined recreation are key bits of language in the guidelines for WSA management.

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Looking out to the Smoke Creek Desert

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Broad area of erosion below the Fox Range

One of the major attributes of wilderness that I seek on my rides is solitude. The Smoke Creek Desert is surrounded by WSA’s. On this trip I rode along the Pole Creek WSA to the southern edge of the Fox Range WSA. The solitude was refreshing. I rolled along sagebrush and expanding playa with no other disturbance. The dune system and immenseness of the Smoke Creek Desert gave the area a coastal feel. Further along the eroded clay substrate pocked with black basalt rock gave the area a not-of-this-world feel. The remains of our wettest winter on record were washed out roads and in some spots treacherous ruts across the roads.

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Smokey skies dimmed but not dulled the vistas


Sea of sagebrush

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Entrance to the Fox Range

The Fox Range is enticing but only a few roads give access from its western slope. I rode to the entrance of Wild Horse Canyon but I will have to return to explore it further. Mullen’s Canyon is just to the south and also deserves exploration.

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One of several hot springs

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Find your beauty

Sulfur springs dot the Smoke Creek Desert. There are two noted on the maps around southern edge of the playa. They provide a significant source of water year round. The spike in biodiversity is notable from microbes, plants, insects, and wildlife. To many the marshy habitat may not immediately seem beautiful but I encourage all to seek wonder in these spots. I was intrigued by the numerous dragonflies in paired nuptial flight.

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The hope of water was not fulfilled

The out-and-back route started and ended at this dry water trough. In past trips I hoped it would be a source I could recommend to fill water bottles. But it will also be a starting point for exploring the Dry Valley Rim WSA. My next plan to ride this area will be to ride south from the north end of Smoke Creek Desert at Godeys Gap.

Ride Report; Loop Around Winnemucca Lake

This roadside marker off SR 447 was very informative.

“It is a matter of how much you will be pushing your bike,” I paraphrase (misquote) Casey Clark during a discussion of “optimal” (read mythological) tire size and gearing. The gist of the conversation was it’s not a matter of if you will be pushing your bike, but when and for how long. Nevada’s varied terrain makes it challenging to have “the bike” for desert travel.

Thee KHS Grit 440 was needs a bath and some TLC

For this ride I chose my “gravel bike”, 2017 KHS Grit 440. The bike is near stock, bagged out with a Revelate Designs kit, new Vittoria Adventure Trail 700 X 38c tires, and Ritchey VentureMax Bars and Look S-Track pedals. This has proven to be a very capable and comfortable setup.

I have been looking at this loop route for years. I went through the mapping exercise in 2016 and estimated the ride to be 63 miles with 2000′ of climbing. About that time I talked Dean Magnuson into a trip just to “explore” the area. I didn’t think the entire loop matched our style of riding. We had a great ride, climbed Coyote Canyon, got some great pictures and video. Six months later I did a ride around Kumiva and Purgatory Peaks that returned on the north side of Winnemucca Lake. A couple months later I took my co-workers on an outing to an abandoned tungsten mine on the east side of the lake. This rich area is about an hour from Reno so no wonder I keep returning.

The start/end of the loop looking to Black Warrior Peak, Truckee Range

My riding partner, Brandon Anderson, at the last minute was not able to make this ride but I decided to go for a solo outing. While my riding partners are incredibly valuable I love solo trips. On solo trips I get to focus on my pace, route, objectives, internal conversations, and motivation. I enjoy the mental aspect of decision making, and risk evaluation without worrying about my companions’ experience. This ride was exactly that, I committed to the loop and was determined to mash my pedals back to the car because once the ride is over there is family waiting for me back home.

From the southern end of playa, Purgatory Peak, Selenite Range

While my past rides included some less than ideal route choices I had a clear plan on how to get to the tungsten mine, past Coyote Canyon, on fast dirt roads. Beyond that I was just hoping the road conditions would be in my favor. I was keeping track of my progress, miles in a given hour, hours per 10 miles, etc. I was a bit worried that I was not keeping my first hour’s pace. Doubt crept in. The last leg of the trip was on paved road. Hope returned!

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The norther third of the playa, the Lake and Selenite Ranges are separated by Poito Valley

The winter’s record precipitation had taken its toll on the road. Some of the washes were 5-20 feet below the road bed. I was surprised to find someone had rerouted the roads upstream to a passable route. I didn’t think this road was important enough to warrant the effort. I am guessing the area either is valuable to off-roaders and/or miners. I appreciate their efforts.

Great roads for now along the Nightingale Mountains

My last known marker was the abandoned tungsten mine about 14 miles into the route. Similarly to Coyote Canyon, since I was familiar with this spot I continued past without stopping for photos. But this is one of the great points of interest on the trip. I recommend poking around the remaining foundation and try to imagine what it was like when in operation. I will return to explore the canyon above.

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Blackened mountains remind us of our horrible fire season

The roads became rougher, softer, and slower. I had a view across the playa of the Lake Range and its bold scar from the Tohakum II fire this August. Our dry lighting season left its mark in many of the mountain ranges I visit. At mileage marker 19 the road dropped off into a dune system at the north east corner of the playa. So I walked. With hindsight and the power of GPS mapping I stayed left where I should have stayed right!

I am not a fan of walking but I did enjoy seeing several species of lizards, my favorites include the high speed Zebra-tailed and Horny-toad lizards, that I wouldn’t have from the vantage of my bicycle. The fine sand held evidence of nocturnal creatures I could hope to see on an overnight.  The jack rabbits were nearly as numerous as the lizards (license taken with hyperbole). The party never ends in the desert.

The end of my hike though the dunes

I could see on my GPS I was near a power line road and I was tempted to make a bee-line for it. I evaluated the choice by weighing the uphill, soft sand, and shrub dodging vs staying on the sandy road until it ties into the better road. The piece of evidence I didn’t have was the barbwire fence I would have to negotiate but avoided with a gate by staying on course.

On the power line road I wrapped around the north end of the playa and made my way to SR 447. With about 24 miles to go on paved road it was a relatively simple cruise back to my vehicle. My ride on STRAVA is here.

From the northern end of the playa

I was asked what the route has to offer beyond interesting tuffa formations. There are petroglyphs that have been dated back 10,000 years. Their artists were the first humans to migrate into northern Nevada. That is a lot to offer. The ancient history of water in the area ad well as recent history of water diversion is evident in the landscape you ride through. The geology of Nightingale Mountains, Selenite, and Fox Ranges changes every few miles changing the views as you pedal along. The playa is about 25 miles long by 5 miles wide but as you travel around it those dimensions feel vast. Wild horses, mules, antelope, reptiles, birds, and small mammals abound. While the route was physically demanding the rewards were abundant.

Ride Report: Pyramid Lake to Smoke Creek Desert


The sacred Needles tufa formations, Pyramid Lake

It has been a long hot summer, said everyone in the West. Northern Nevada seemed to set new records of days and consecutive days above 90 and approached the record for triple digit temperatures. While we had our fair share of wild fires we seemed to have been spared the worst of smokey skies. The abrupt switch from cool rainy temps to record high temps quickly turned summer into our “off season” for bike touring. My last day in the desert was June, 12 with a high of 59 and rainy. Four days later it was 97 degrees.

But the desert has been beckoning ever since. My friend Brandon just got a new gravel bike so I was eager to get him out on a favorite road. Nevada State Route 445, Pyramid Lake Rd, ends about 10 miles past the town of Sutcliffe on Pyramid Lake Paiute Reservation. The end of the pavement is really the beginning of our gravel ride on Surprise Valley Rd. Not only is this area a favorite getaway but I was curious to see how the road repairs were progressing from the destruction of our record wet winter.


Suprise Valley Rd, Virginia Mtns in distance

I can confirm the rumors that Surprise Valley is completely driveable though I imagine improvement will still be made to prevent future washouts. Just past the largest washout we ran into Murphy Mack who was scouting a dirt road route from Mt. Shasta, CA to Reno, NV. He too was curious about the condition of Surprise Valley Rd. The combination of rough and chunky repairs and sections of deep washboard roads made the going on 700c x 40 tires a bit challenging but it was great to see Pyramid Lake in all its glory.


Sand Pass, first view of Smoke Creek Desert

My goal for the day’s ride was to explore the primitive roads on the east side of Smoke Creek Desert. While I am aware of sand dune formation on the east side of Nevada’s playas I was not expecting such soft road bed conditions. Brandon and I spent a frustrating half hour traveling 1.6 miles in fine sand. Chances are good that the entire route will not be so slow going. But for what I hope to accomplish I will return on my Fargo with plus sized tires.

On the return we turned off on High Rock Rd that is a route on the east side of Honey Lake to Wendel and Susanville, CA. For our wildlife viewing pleasure we saw a young pair of pronghorn antelope run alongside before crossing our path and disappearing in the distance. As the heat of the day was building, we checked our estimated return time against our remaining water supply and decided to turn back.

The heat was climbing into the 90’s and I was suffering. I finally decided to rest in the shade of a boulder while Brandon completed the ride back to our vehicle and returned to pick me up. The 3 L of water I had packed was not enough for the day’s adventure. I now have new “rules” in place for what level of exertion I can perform at what upper temperatures. In the last 10 days of summer the temperatures have gone from the low 90’s to the high 50’s with the first snow fall on the lower slopes of the Sierra above Reno. I cannot wait to get back into the desert.


Smoke Creek Desert from Surprise Valley Rd