Reno to Virginia City via Back Roads

If you live in, or are just visiting Reno, a trip to Virginia City is a must. Virginia City is one of the oldest towns in Nevada. It was at the center of gold and silver mining and the rich Comstock Lode in the late 1800s. At its height 23,000 people lived in Virginia City. Today the population is about 1000. Although it is a tourist town it still feels like the old west and is a fun place to visit. If you take the main roads it is probably no more than an hour from Reno. But in the words of Doc Brown in the movie Back to the Future –  “Roads? Where we’re going we don’t need roads.” My husband, Duke and I really enjoy exploring by taking old dirt roads.

Today Duke and I went with some friend and took the Jumbo Grade Trail and the Ophir Grade Trail to Virginia City. We came home on the Old Geiger Grade Toll Road. All of these roads are rough dirt roads and I think four wheel drive and high clearance are definitely necessary to drive on them. We had a great time. Ed, our leader, and his wife had done the trip before using the book Nevada Trails – Western Region as a guide.

We left the paved roads about 4 miles south of highway 395 near New Washoe City. You can see where we left the pavement and the road we started up on in this picture.


In this next picture I am looking west across Washoe Valley. You can see the remains of a giant landslide described in an article titled Catastrophic rockfalls and rock slides in the Sierra Nevada, USA by Gerald F. Wieczorek

“At about noon on May 30, 1983, a large complex rock and soil slide detached from the southeast face of Slide Mountain, Nevada…… Subsequently, along the northeastern margin of the rockslump zone, a rapidly moving rockfall avalanche of large boulders and a debris avalanche of gravelly sand initiated and entered the northern end of Upper Price Lake, a small reservoir….Price Lake, displaced most of the lake water, which overtopped and breached a low dam. The water then breached the dam of Lower Price Lake and sent a torrent down the gorge of Ophir Creek. In the steep canyon the rapidly moving water picked up fine and coarse rocky debris. Emerging from the canyon 6 km downstream, the debris flow spread out and deposited over the alluvial fan of Ophir Creek in the Washoe Valley, destroying and damaging houses, causing one fatality, and covering old U.S. Highway 395.”


Further along the road we had a wonderful view of Carson City, Nevada’s capital.


Here are a couple more pictures of us and the road. It was a cool, overcast, beautiful day.



After lots of rocks, ruts, and stops for pictures we eventually got to Virginia City. 


Virginia City has a very large Catholic Church. Some guys were in a basket at the end of a very tall cherry picker repairing the steeple. It is not a job I would want to do!


We had a barbecue lunch at Virginia City Jerky and Smokehouse. My spicy pulled pork had a wonderful smoky flavor and was some of the best I have ever eaten.


After leaving Virginia City we headed down on the old Geiger Grade toll road. The Online Nevada Encyclopedia describes the road:

opened completely in 1863 with several toll
stations. Its sharp descent, including hairpin turns and steep slopes,
made it impractical for heavy loads, but it was a popular route for
stagecoaches. Because drivers had to slow in some places, these became
favorite locations for robberies."

Even now it is a very steep and in places very narrow road. It is hard to imagine driving a stagecoach up that road or for that matter riding in one.

Here is a slide show of a few more of the pictures I took on the trip today.

Exploring the back roads of Middle and Eastern Nevada

Duke and I just got back from 8 days and 1500 miles exploring central and eastern Nevada. We never drove on a paved road when we could drive on a dirt road. We had a grand adventure. Nevada is a stunningly beautiful and interesting state and we had it pretty much to ourselves. We would drive for hours and not see another vehicle.

Day 1 – Reno to Berlin Ichthyosaur State Park

Day one was mainly on paved roads heading east on interstate 80 and then highway 50 (which is billed as the loneliest road in the world) through Fallon. We stopped at Grimes Point Archaeological site to see the petroglyphs painted on the rocks by Native Americans sometime between 5000 BC and 1500 AD.


The first night we camped at Berlin Ichthyosaur State Park, a very interesting park. Berlin is a mining ghost town with lots of old buildings and mine equipment to look at.

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In the same park not far from Berlin we saw  the fossil remains of ichthyosaurs. Fossils of forty of these ancient marine reptiles have been excavated at this site.

Day 2 – Berlin Ichthyosaur State Park to Ely, Nevada

We were cozy in our tent but we woke up to snow on the ground. In spite of the fact that we had a nice blazing fire my fingers were frozen by the time we had eaten breakfast and packed up .

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Following the dotted and fine red lines in our Benchmark Nevada Road and Recreation Atlas we headed generally east. We saw the Round Mountain Gold Mine and Hadley the biggest company town in Nevada. In this picture of a woman and a girl roping a calf you can see the gold mine in the background.


We stop fairly frequently to stretch and look around. Duke always likes to look for interesting rocks. You can see him collecting in this picture.
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We drove through the town of Manhattan and eventually got to Belmont. Belmont is now pretty much a ghost town but the old court house built in 1878 before the town was abandoned is a state historic site.

Because of the cold we decided to sleep inside.We headed through a beautiful green canyon called Hat Creek Canyon, opening and closing gates as we went and eventually hit pavement at highway 6 and headed in to Ely for the night.

Day 3 – Ely to Great Basin National Park

We stopped a few miles south of Ely at Ward Charcoal Ovens State Historical Park. The rock work in these charcoal ovens is beautiful. They were built in the late 1800's to make charcoal and are 35 feet tall.



In Great Basin National Park we did a hike in the snow up Timber Creek from the Baker Creek Trail head. I lost my GPS last winter after the last snow shoe hike of the year. Very upsetting! When I went to put on my winter boots for our hike guess what I found in my boot? Yep, my GPS! All I could do was laugh.


After our hike we headed to the Hidden Canyon Guest Ranch where we had reservations. It backs up to the park and it turned out to be one my top 5 best bed and breakfasts I have every stayed at. The canyon in which it sits is an oasis of green that you drop down into after you leave the highway and head off across the desert. The lodge and rooms are beautiful and the owners were very welcoming and friendly. They served a great dinner and breakfast. There is a long staircase up to the rim of the canyon behind the lodge. We climbed to the top and savored the view.


 Day 4 Great Basin National Park

On Tuesday we spent the day at Great Basin. A lot of  the snow had melted but the road up Wheeler peak to the 10,000 foot level was closed. We drove into the south end of the park and hiked to Lexington Arch. It was a beautiful day, the views were fantastic and we had the trail to ourselves.



Tuesday night we camped in the Baker Creek Camp ground. It was still cold and we had the campground pretty much to ourselves but the wind was much lower than the first night we camped and our fire was wonderful.

Day 5 Great Basin National Park to Ely, Nevada

On Wednesday we headed back to Ely. There are a lot of very interesting things to do in and around Ely. First we drove through Cave Lake State Park  and up the valley on the Success Summit Loop. In addition to being beautiful this is an area that apparently has a lot of deer and elk. They were all in hiding though because it is hunting season and we saw a lot of hunters. We also saw that the hunters at least in some cases had been successful.

We went to an overlook to see part of the enormous Robinson open pit Copper mine. The scale is indescribable. 



Day 6 – Ely Nevada

Thursday was another day in Ely. There really is a lot to do there. The railway museum is one of the best I have ever seen. Several years ago Kennecott the then owner of the Nevada Northern Railway gave the whole railroad and all it equipment and 32 miles tracks to the state of Nevada. It is now the Nevada Northern Railway National Historic Landmark. We got to wander around the East Ely yard. I'm going to quote the walking tour guide because it gets the experience exactly right.

"It's an operating historical railroad. It's gritty. It's dirty. It smells of coal smoke, creosote and sweat"

It was very cool!!



After exploring the Northern Nevada Railway yard we drove out to the Garnet Fields rockhound area to look for garnet. We had lots of fun collecting rocks that look to us like they might contain garnet. We really have no idea but the guide pamphlet says

"The garnets usually occur as single crystals attached to small cavities known as vugs or vesicles within the rhyolite…. carefully break the rock to see what is inside"

We brought a lot of rocks home and will be doing the breaking maybe tomorrow.

From the Garnet fields we went to the White Pine County Public Museum. I love small county museums. They are full of lots of interesting stuff and are very real and approachable. The White Pine museum has a replica of a fossil cave bear skeleton that was found nearby. It also had a 1940s era washing machine that reminded Duke of what his Mom used when he was little, a toy cattle truck like Duke played with when he was little and even  a coke machine like the one we have in our kitchen.



Day 7 -  Ely to Elko

On Saturday we drove to Elko through the Ruby Lake National Wildlife Refuge and the Ruby Mountains. The drive up Lamoille Canyon into the heart of the Ruby Mountains was stunning. The glacial scenery reminded me of being in the Alps. I love Nevada scenery but this was not like the rest of Nevada. It was a highlight of the trip.



In Elko we ate dinner at one of Elko's Basque dinner houses – Biltoki. It was the best meal of the trip and we had some very good food. The steak was thick juicy, and seared on the outside. the fries were hot and fresh and I'm sure had never been frozen, the vegies, soup and salad were OK and the price was very reasonable.

Day 8 – Elko to Reno (home)

Before leaving Elko we toured the Northeastern Nevada Museum another really interesting local museum. My favorite things to see were the wooden strap on shoes with cattle hooves attached to the bottom used by an old cattle rustler who was eventually caught and jailed. The picture below is me in front of the Ruby Valley Pony Express Cabin in front of the museum.


If you would like to see all the pictures from our trip they are on Flickr here.

I've also made a Google Map of the trip. I'm still learning to use Google maps.

The Crystal Mine and the Top of Peavine Mountain

Last Thursday we went for another back road exploring trip with some friends. We went north form Verdi on Dog Valley Road and then north of of Dog Valley road to a wonderful Forest Service Camp ground called  Lookout Campground  that we will have to camp at some time. The sites were far apart and the setting was beautiful. 


From there we went to a nearby crystal mine.  Apparently crystals were mined here during World War II for radios. We had fun collecting some beautiful white quartz and a few crystals.


Peavine Mountain is the large mountain on the northwest of Reno. The crystal mine is on the west side of Peavine. From the Crystal Mine we headed around the north side of the mountain and went up the dirt roads to the top of Peavine where there are lots of communication towers and fantastic views.




If you would like to see all the pictures from the trip they are on Flickr here

Lovelock and Lovelock Cave

Duke and I like to explore back roads. Through the Reno Newcomers Club we met another couple who also like to explore back roads. It probably is smart to have two vehicles when you are in the middle of nowhere on rough roads exploring. So last week the four of us took two vehicles and went to Lovelock and Lovelock Caves. The area is described in the Moon Handbooks Nevada Guide. Lovelock is about 90 miles east of Reno on interstate 80 and has a population of about 2000 people. It is the county seat for Pershing County and has a small round court house building. According to the Moon Handbook the court house is one of the only two round court houses in the country. We explored inside and went into the court room. The jury box is in the center of the room and the inside of the dome is painted to look like the sky.


We drove out to see the tufa formations north of town and then had a great lunch at the Cowpoke Cafe. They had homemade pies but we were too full for desert. Next time we stop there I am starting with pie!


The Lovelock cave is 20 miles south of Lovelock. It is a small cave but it has been excavated by archeologists. The cave was inhabited by Indians 4000 years ago when it was on the edge of a lake. The archaeologists found lots of artifacts including the oldest duck decoys ever found. From the cave we looked out over the Humboldt Sink where the Humboldt River ends. Most of Nevada is part of the Great Basin. None of the rivers or water in the Great Basin ever reach the ocean.



If you want to read the sign you can click on the picture.

We took a couple of wrong turns but eventually we found the dirt road heading southwest from the cave and took it to make a big circle back to Interstate 80 and home.

If you would like to see all of my pictures from this trip they are on Flickr here.

Looking for Baby Pronghorn

When Duke and I took our road trip in April we saw lots of baby horses, burros, dear and cows.

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Apparently pronghorn have a longer gestation period than most animals and the babies aren't born until May so we didn't see any baby pronghorn. So earlier this week we decided to take a one day camping trip up to Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge to see if we could see any baby pronghorn.

It was a bit cold and rainy but we still had a lot of fun. It always amazes me how few people we see. We didn't see another sole once we left the blacktop. It is a beautiful area.

Because of all the rain we have had the wild flowers were abundant. We saw literally hundreds of wild horses but only about 20 pronghorn. We did get to see one baby so we can say mission accomplished.

The pronghorn baby pictures didn't come out to good but I really like some of the other pictures. Here are a few of them. You can see the rest on Flickr here.

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American Safari AKA April 2009 Road Trip

Duke and I decided to go on a ten day road trip as soon as tax season was over. We left April 17 and spent 10 days exploring northwestern Nevada and southeastern Oregon.  The area is a combination of mountains and deserts. There are lots of wide open spaces, big sky and very few people.

After we left paved roads on Friday at the town of Nixon east of Reno we didn't see another person until Saturday morning. We saw less than 10 people Saturday and Sunday until we surfaced in southern Oregon Sunday afternoon. We had a wonderful time camping. On BLM land you can camp almost anywhere  you want.

This is our Friday night camp site.


And here is our Saturday night camp site at the north end of the Jackson Mountains Wilderness at the top of the pass. We could see forever.


On Sunday night we had a beautiful spot right by a road surrounded by huge boulders. There were wonderful echoes. Since there were no other people we built our camp fire right in the middle of the road. Duke dug a hole, put the fire in it, and then buried the ashes the next morning. We left no trace!  The steam in the picture is from our camping pressure cooker that Duke used to cook the jambalaya for dinner.


Once we reached Oregon we stayed in hotels and at a field station. We explored the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge and the areas around it.


In the picture below you can see Duke clearing a tree off a forest service road we were exploring. Eventually on this road there was too much snow so we had to turn around.


For our last two day we headed back into Nevada. We spent two nights in a wonderful cabin at the Old Yella Dog Ranch. It was snowing when we arrived but by Sunday when we left the weather was beautiful.

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It struck me that this trip was like a safari within a few miles of home. We saw lots of animals. Hundreds of pronghorn antelope, wild horses, wild burros, coyotes, cattle, and sheep. We also saw an amazing variety of birds. Sandhill crane, Great blue herons, egrets, coots, cinnamon teals, avocet, ducks, chickens, geese, Northern Harrier and Ibis.


The weather really worked with us. It had snowed less than a week before we left so there wasn't much dust and we only had problems with muddy or snowy roads a couple of times. When we were camping the weather was warm and when we had the cozy cabin at the Ranch it was cold. The pictures will give you a better sense of some of our adventures. They are available on Flickr here.


It was a wonderful adventure. We are ready to go again!