Winter Tour III; Luning to Sand Mountain

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Waking up on Day 2, soon on the road from Rawhide mine to Sand Mountain

Who better to take advice from than @koldcoyote on Instagram.

 koldcoyote, You ever pack out of Luning via jackrabbit road? Connects to Fallon. Really cool area.

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Rabbit Springs Rd winds through the Gabbs Valley Range

I took this suggestion and ran with it. I found the road on Google Maps, planned a route through Rawhide, with an excursion to Rawhide Hot Springs, and on to Sand Mountain. I traced out several routes on Garmin’s route planner and put it out there to several friends to see if anyone was interested in joining me. Unfortunately the Reno cold-crud-bug got to Jake Francis the day before the trip. This would be my last trip until next fall as work picks up its pace in April.

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Over Rhyolite Pass into Gabbs Valley

I left Reno for Luning in the wee hours of the morning with 5 inches of fresh snow on my car, again. While doubt creeps in, is this a bad sign? My experience so far has been getting out of Reno gets one away from most of the snow. Luning is just 30 minutes past Hawthorn on US 95. I arrived there in cold temperatures but in bright warming sunshine. GPS navigation took me to Rabbit Springs Rd off NV 361. Rabbit Springs Rd connects Soda Springs Valley to Gabbs Valley but is a much slower route for those who work in Gabbs Valley than taking NV 361 to Rawhide Rd. I kept these basic connections in mind just in case I needed to make an emergency departure from my planned trip.

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A bright sunrise in Luning got me started

The start was so warm and sunny I quickly changed into shorts and short sleeves. The initial climb was through a beautiful canyon to Rhyolite Pass below Mt Ferguson in the Gabbs Valley Range. The range is rich in springs making the area ripe for ranching, farming and mining. The resulting roads, diverse geology, and wildlife make it a prime area to explore by bike. The geothermal potential in Gabbs Valley attracted a geothermal plant as well hot spring developers.

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A warm initial climb on Rabbit Spring Rd

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My first time over Rhyolite Pass

I turned off Rabbit Springs Rd to Rawhide Rd. I passed the geothermal plant and followed a road to the gated entrance to a large farm. I tried finding a route from the farm’s perimeter but after an hour or so in the untracked desert I back-tracked on Rawhide Rd. The change in perspective made a road visible to me that I had missed otherwise. Change your direction, change your perspective, discover missed opportunities. More than one of life’s little metaphors pop up on these long rides. The road took me along the geothermal plant’s fence line and around the Black Hills and Fissure Ridge to the Monte Cristo Mountains. The colors and shapes in these geological formations had me captivated. I was formulating plans for future trips in this area when I decided to turn down a minor road toward the playa.

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Gabbs Valley, a home to many uses

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Fissure Ridge

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Black Hills to Fissure Ridge

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Black Hills, Fissure Ridge, Monte Cristo Mountains, all under a darkening sky


Gabbs Valley

By chance alone, this road brought me to the Rawhide Hot Spring. I had done a little research on the springs but the account I read was not very flattering. I am guessing there were once some buildings in the area for either ranching or the geothermal plant. At this point only rubble remains. It would be great if someone could do a cleanup of the area. But the hot water comes to the surface here! There is a plastic tub for soaking and if this were a destination I would enjoy a beer with a view of sunset on the Monte Cristo Mountains. Unfortunately this was not my destination, nor did I pack any beer, but I did some poking around before continuing on.

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An unassuming road to the Rawhide Hot Springs

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The mother

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Several man made ponds

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For your soaking pleasure

As I looped around the playa I entered the dune system on the north side. I was wishing I had 4-5 inch wide tires for this. This quickly became a hike-a-bike section. But if you are walking enjoy the view the slower travel has to offer. Eventually I was rolling again, on a pipe line road to the Rawhide mining district.

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Looping around the east side of the playa

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Gabbs Valley has a significant low dune system

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Still life in the desert

Soon my forward progress was grinding to a halt as I was climbing in a headwind. The weather was looking a bit sever so I decided to look for a place to camp. There wasn’t much protection from the wind so I set up on the edge of a wash as the snow started to fall. What a day this day had to offer, mixed pinon pine forests, spectacular geology, geothermal active playas, sand dunes, sunny short sleeve weather, stormy snow showers, and historic mining areas that are still very active. All packed into a day of bike riding! Nevada is magical.

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NV 839 past the Nevada Scheelite Mine below Big Kasock Mtn

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Looking back on Gabbs Valley Range

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Looking back to the dunes and hot springs

Day 2


Good Morning, Gabbs Valley!

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I picked this wash on the edge of the Rawhide mine for my camp

I woke to a frozen landscape. My morning included melting my drinking water from the snow and ice collected on my tarp tent. I figured I had plenty of fuel so I might as well make the most of this opportunity. Fortunately the snow fall was light and it did not keep me from moving forward. The new day’s weather was brilliant. The storm had lifted but the moisture left behind fog in the valleys. Fog is not common in the desert. I saw my first rainbow in the fog, a “fogbow”?

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Working my way north along the Sand Springs Range

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Trying to capture the “fogbow”

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Moving along the “fogbow”, meteorological photography escapes me

As I climbed past the Rawhide mine I was treated to a ghostly group of antelope. Approximately seven pronghorn crossed the road ahead of me, ghostly in the fog and snow. I always stop to watch these majestic beasts. Other than a few small birds I didn’t see much else for wildlife on this trip.

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Nevada fog settles into the Rawhide Flats

I was a little unsure of my route north and a little disoriented by the fog. Often you can navigate visually in this wide-open landscape. I picked a pipe-line road that headed north. It was hard work as it cut across the numerous washes of the Sand Springs Range.

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I was happy to see the fog clear

It eventually crossed the well maintained rancher’s road that took me through Four Mile Canyon to Four Mile Flat. The ranch road was dotted with dozens of watering troughs. The water was a little green but could save a thirsty bike traveler. I am always intrigued by the life of the high desert rancher. I am sure they would be the first to tell me not to over-romanticize the profession. But the old wooden corrals and chutes and lone windmills make great photos of the iconic West.

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Water in the desert thanks to the ranchers who fill the troughs by truck

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At the top of Fourmile Canyon

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Nevada ranching

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Fourmile Canyon descent to Fourmile Flat between Cocoon Mtns and Sand Springs Range

The descent into Four Mile Canyon was exciting! I was close to Sand Mountain and US 50. I had crossed some significant north-south distance this season. My plan for my time at Sand Mountain was to dry out my tent and sleeping quilt. Although I spent significant time shaking out ice from both I knew I was still carrying significant water in each. Fortunately in Nevada things will dry in minutes given the chance.

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Fourmile Cyn

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Nevada rocks!

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Cow camp, Salt Wells Basin

My visit to Sand Mountain was great. Although it is a strict fee-required area hikers and cyclist are welcome to visit for a couple of hours for free. I chatted with the ranger for a minute and then ran into him again at the Pony Express interpretive trail. He was interested in my riding but also enlightened me to the trails and routes used by dual sport motorcycles. A few minutes of searching on the web opened my eyes to a whole other group of like-minded folks.

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Sand Mountain, home to the “singing” dunes

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My turn around point

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Ready to roll after a much needed drying out

While I had enjoyed a nice break in the weather the next storm was mounting above Fourmile Canyon for my return trip. But the weather was just a threat. I followed the well groomed roads back to the Rawhide Mine. I stopped at the clearest water trough to top off one of my water bottles. Not bad. I passed the mine up-close and personal. My thoughts were, the Earth is shaped by wind, water, forces from below, and by Man. I understand the importance of mining but we all need to be aware of its effect on the landscape.

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A partly cloudy day on the bike, return to Fourmile Canyon

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A much less snowy return

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Rawhide Mine, this photo doesn’t quite capture the change in landscape

I returned to Rabbit Springs Rd via Poleline/I’dano Rds. It is great when maps can give so many names to the same line through the desert. My route gave me great views of the Gabbs Valley. It is a beautiful area shared by ranchers, farmers, miners, geothermal plant workers, and outdoor enthusiasts. It is definitely not empty.

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My return to a stormy Gabbs Valley

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Passing the western edge of Gabbs Valley


Looking back on the landscape I had become familiar with

I climbed as far as I was willing up Rabbit Springs Road. I waited until the last last of the sun’s rays disappeared behind  the Gabbs Valley Range to set up camp in the best weather to date! I had a great night I only heard the occasional coyote.

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I had some doubts as to what Rhyolite Pass had in store for me

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Day’s last rays between the clods and Chukar Ridge, Gabbs Valley Range

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Sunset across from camp

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Sunset on Gabbs Valley from camp

Day 3

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Looking back to Gabbs Valley from a snow dusted Rhyolite Pass

The next morning I was up early for a final push to Rhyolite Pass then a quick descent to the car. I made a stop at the roads namesake, Rabbit Springs. The map shows abundant springs through the Gabbs Valley Range making this area valuable to all. This is a fantastic route with plenty of areas to explore in all directions.

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Rabbit Spring, one of so many springs in the area


Associated corral with Rabbit Spring

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Crossing Rhyolite Pass until the next time

What I rode, what I wore, what I carried:

On this trip I opted for my Transition TransAm hardtail 29’r. I have replaced the Fox suspension fork with the Salsa tandem fork. Utilizing the Transition TransAm like this is a textbook example of using the bike you have as your bikepacking rig. The TranAm rips as a trail bike! I love the way it rides. I am equally excited to ride this bike when it is loaded with bags. I wonder what the guys at Transition would think of their bike being used as a bikepacking rig. I swapped the riser bars for a set of Surly Moloko bars which work great with the Salsa Exp Serries Cradle and dry bag. The front triangle in the small frame size doesn’t leave much room for a frame bag nor does the frame come loaded with braze-ons  but I was able to carry what I needed on the fork legs out fitted with the Salsa Anything Cages and 7L stuff sacks by ElmWood, using the Two-Fish velcro cages on the down tube, Revelate Mountain Feedbags and Salsa Exp Series Toptube bag rounded out my cockpit. The Revelate Pika seatbag carried my camp clothes first aid and bike repair kits. I rolled on hand built wheels with Atomlab SL hoops shod with Vittoria (GEAX) Goma tires.

I layered my clothing for this trip as I would for any winter ride; base layer for moisture management, light insulation layer for warmth, wind barrier, then carry a waterproof layer. I think a wind vest is a very important layer to get in the habit of wearing. I carry a dry insulating layer for my “camp clothes”. I always carry several pairs of gloves.

My shelter consisted of the Dana Designs/Garuda Nuk-Tuk tarp tent, inflatable sleeping pad, sleeping bag liner, and Sierra Designs down quilt. I slept in my camp clothes including my hooded down jacket. I was comfortable well below the comfort rating of my quilt.

My meals evolve with each trip. The snacks on the bike consist of a mixture of trail mix, fruit, nuts, chocolate, with small pieces of dried fruit bars and beef jerky. For dinner I tried to my liking chicken-n-rice gruel in addition to my corn tortilla quesadillas. Breakfast also featured the gruel in addition to the granola bars and instant coffee and hot cocoa.

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Much of this trip was below freezing, puffy eyed with eye lashes frozen, my morning face, Cheers!

Sand Springs Pony Express Depot Interpretive trail. I will get back to spend more time reading about this pioneering route.

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I’m a nerd, aka a sucker for every interpretive trail

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The Collared Zebra-Tailed lizard is my favorite, though I stop for all wildlife

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Adaptation! I love being a guest in the desert

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Architecture in the desert

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Reclaimed by the desert

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These markers are my favorite finds. The original bloggers

Winter Tour II: Lida Junction-Beatty Loop

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From Lida Junction airstrip, looking across Lida Valley to Slate Ridge

While my ride from Tonapah to Lida Junction was eye-opening, fantastic, and successful I was a little disappointed I hadn’t ridden all the way to Beatty and back. I definitely underestimated the weather, forgot to bring the supplies to keep my electronics charged, on that note I was over reliant on electronic navigation, so mistakes were made and learned from. My outings are always bracketed by firm commitments at home so I couldn’t plan on taking another day. Not a problem! The next week I returned to the airstrip at Lida Junction to continue my trip south.

Day 1

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Climbing onto Slate Ridge, the varied geology made for dynamic scenery

I planned a route into the Tokop Mining District then along the east side of the Amargosa Range into Death Valley NP and onto Rhyolite and Beatty before looping back. The goals remain the same, to follow historic railroad grades or alternate roads to establish a north-south Nevada route. Maybe I should have paid more attention to the elevation profile of the plan, ha! Luckily climbing never upsets me.

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Mining roads and power line roads give plenty of opportunities to explore, looking through Slate Ridge to Amargosa Range, Grapevine Mtns

As an experiment I changed my wheelset on the Surly Ice Cream Truck from the 26×4 to 29×3. I instantly felt the bike was more lively, lighter feeling. At the end of the airstrip the road crossed a soft sandy section of playa. The tires bogged down a bit but I kept rolling without having to air down or hike-a-bike. For most adventure touring conditions I think a low profile “plus” wheelset is ideal.

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No water here, but I could tuck out of the wind behind the water tank. The 29+ wheel setup on the Ice Cream Truck was great

I didn’t do excessive research into the route through the Tokop mining district. I chose a route that kept me out of sight and sound from the traffic on US 95. I left my discoveries up to serendipity. Riding the shoulder of Slate Ridge I was entertained by the geology I have come to expect in a mining district; exposed craggy formations of brightly colored rock. It is still a novelty to be touring in the Land of Burros and Joshua Trees. It appeared the Joshua trees had already bloomed. Even though my route was pre-planned and downloaded into my Garmin there were opportunities to get off course. If you have the flexibility in schedule along with food/water provisions these opportunities should be explored.

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Looking down on Hell’s Gate

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Mixed pinon/juniper/Joshua Tree forest on Hanging Mesa/Gold Mountain


The Earth yawned and a pack rat made its home

My favorite section was climbing to the radio towers at Tokop. I was above a canyon section called Hell’s Gate and the route through the canyon looked awesome! The route shows up on Google Maps as Cat Trail. The route looked well suited to fatter tires and a little slower going. The road I was on was steep but in good condition. Even with the headwind I was pleased with my progress. Past Hell’s Gate was a fun descent to Oriental Mine.

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This sign was a funny surprise

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Art in the desert, its got you covered

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You got time for this

A major tourist attraction in this area is the Hard Luck Mine Castle. I rode past deciding not to take pictures as the sun was dipping directly behind the castle. But even the road through Hard Luck was entertaining. Stubborn boulders in the roadway were painted red. Funny hand painted signs entertained me as I passed. I stopped at a small art installation to take some pictures, I couldn’t resist.

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Sunset from the tent on the edge of Sarcobatus Flat

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Last rays of the day as the sun dips behind the Grapevine Mountains Wilderness Study Area

I skirted the Bonnie Claire Flat to Bonnie Claire Road along the Grapevine Mountains, the north end of the Amargosa Range. I made the switch to the old railroad grade where the road dipped down to Sarcobatus Flat. My impression was the playa was slowly reclaiming the raised railroad grade. Much of the grade was covered in soft pillowy salt deposits. Travel was slow and as the novelty wore off I was wishing I was back on the road. The sun was dipping behind the mountains so I made camp at the end of a very rewarding day.

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The pillowy playa on the edge of Sarcobatus Flat

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The wind died down sometime in the night

Day 2

The plan for day two was to follow the roads and railroad grades into Death Valley NP, visit Rhyolite and Beatty then start to loop back on alternate routes when available. The wind was a little less intense than day one but adverse conditions were still a concern. The wind had been coming out of the the south so I was looking forward to a well deserved tailwind on the return. (There is no “deserve” in touring)

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Sunrise in the direction of my day’s goal

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Rough roads parallel the area’s intermittent railroad grades

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Inside the National Park the roads saw much less traffic

The road I was on was rough, since it is outside the NP it sees much more traffic. Conditions improved considerably  once I was in the park. Everything appeared much less disturbed. Once I passed through a saddle in the Bullfrog Hills I could see the Amargosa Desert and the Funeral Mountains of the Amargosa Range. My next stop was the entrance to Rhyolite, a popular stop for tourists on their way to Death Valley NP. I decide to explore it on my return. I followed the highway into Beatty to the Death Valley Nut and Candy emporium, as well as Jedidiah’s Jerky and Gourmet Snacks. I fueled up on trail mix, jerky, and drinks. I was tempted by the homemade ice cream but if I kept it up I may not get back on the road.

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Saddle in Bullfrog Hills, descent to Rhyolite and Amargosa Desert

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A recommendable stop on the way to Beatty

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Arrested decay like Fort Churchill State Park

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Bottle House

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NV 374 into Beatty

My route in and out of Beatty was on NV 374, but near its summit there was an old grade that wound its way into Rhyolite. I took that route on my return. Rhyolite has some great historic buildings to check out, as well as the Goldwell Open Air Museum on the way out of the park. I wish I felt I had more time to spend but I wanted to get as close to Bonnie Claire to camp. I followed the railroad grade as closely as I could through the Bullfrog Hills to the edge of the National Park. The grade is a highly recommended route. It has been used by jeeps and as a result they have created “go-arounds” in cases where the bridges are out or the grades are washed out. In a couple of places where the grades are carved out of a hillside boulders have rolled onto the grade, there are go-arounds but bikes can pass. The engineering feat, planning and building of these railroads is awesome to me.

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Heavy skies welcomed me back to Death Valley NP

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Common site along historic railroad grades, 4×4 users have established go-arounds, Grapevine Mountains

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Impressive engineering along the railroad grades

The wind had started to die down and I felt cheated out of my tailwind. It was still stormy all around me. Then the wind reversed, I had a headwind again, and the skies ahead of me were dark and ominous. My plan was to keep riding for a couple more hours. But I quickly decided I better find a place to camp sooner rather than later. The density of shrubs and rocks made finding a footprint for the tarp tent a little challenging. My first attempt to pitch the tent ended in me holding the flapping tarp in one hand as the stakes were whipped out of the ground by the wind. My solution was to put the largest rocks I could find over the buried stakes and line the windward side of the tent with rocks. This worked, just in time for the snow to blow in.

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Sunny here, stormy there

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The wind changed direction, the weather ahead came my way

My night was comfortable. But I wasn’t sure what I would be waking up to, so I planned an early start. With fresh snow, were my three inch wide tires going to give me enough flotation? Would 4 or 5 inch tires be necessary?

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Getting up in the middle of the night

Day 3

Fortunately the couple inches of wind blown snow were fine and the wind was calm. If anything it seemed the road was a bit smoother.

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Sunrise on the road

At Bonnie Claire I divided my route between the frozen Scotty’s Junction Rd and the water diversion berms along the road until I connected with the railroad grade. The railroad connected Beatty/Rhyolite to Goldfield via the Sarcobatus Flat playa to Stonewall Pass. I rode the snow covered grade until it disappeared from my detection completely. From there I made my way to a jeep road that put me onto US 95. While I could see the old railroad grade I decided to follow the highway shoulder back to Lida Junction.


Making my way to Bonnie Claire

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Water diversion berms provided an alternative to the frozen Scotty’s Junction Rd

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Rancher’s gate to railroad grade near Stonewall Pass, Stone Wall Mountain

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A break in the historic railroad grade

I passed a group of RV travelers close to where I was parked. I think my frozen bike and balaclava were a bit of a spectacle based on their response.

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Not unexpected after hours on melting snow

What I rode, what I wore, what I carried

I rode the Surly Ice Cream Truck with a 29 plus wheelset shod with Vittoria Bomboloni (front) and Cannoli (rear) tires. I highly recommend the “plus” size format for adventure touring and Vittoria has plus tires for 27.5 and 29. I replaced the stock “comfort” saddle with a Fizik Arione and was very happy. Otherwise I used the same bag/cage set-up as my previous tour.thumbnail (11)

I wore Bellweather Windfront tights, a Louis Garneau base layer, a Smartwool  wind stopper baselayer, and Patagonia Hoodini. My hands were protected by light weight gloves and Bar Mitts. I used old Pear Izumi neoprene shoecovers that are awesome but seem to be discontinued.

I carried the same items as my last tour. I had a dry camp/tent clothing layer including my Louis Garneau down jacket. I carried the Bellweather Aqua-No Alterra Jacket and balaclava for the worst of weather. With hindsight I should have brought or substituted my tights for water-proof pants for the worst of weather. I carried the Goal Zero Nomad 7 solar panel to keep my electronics charged.

My menu did not change substantially. I brought packages of corn tortilla quesadillas for dinners. They match the diameter of the fork stuff sack. I added beef jerky to my trail mix bike snacks and resupplied at Death Valley Nut and Candy emporium.

The route

I would be hard pressed to recommend one route over the other between Lida Junction and Bonnie Claire. The route through Slate Ridge, Tokop and Hard Luck mining areas was fantastic. The ride along the historic railroad grades was equally an adventure. I will have to return to try a “strict” railroad grade attempt.

From Bonnie Claire to Beatty I recommend the railroad grades over the adjacent roads. There are some sections of “phantom” grades and grades that are being reclaimed by the playa that require using the adjacent roads but otherwise the grades are inspirational.

I feel like the railroad grades from Tonapah to Beatty make a good bikepacking route.


Winter Tour I: Tonapah-Goldfield Loop


David Spicer pointing out the terrain through the Bullfrog Hills to Death Valley NP, Beatty, NV

A plan in the making

The name of this blog might need to change to reflect the riding I have done this winter. I have ventured too far south. It started by visiting Spicer Ranch just outside of Beatty, NV and learning about the plans of rancher/conservationist/trail builder, David Spicer. My plan was to camp at the Spicer Ranch trailhead, complete with climate controlled rest rooms/showers as well as other amenities, and ride the miles of singletrack on and adjacent to the property. While I was given a personal tour of the Oasis Valley singletrack I learned about “conservation through recreation” which can not only revitalize critical habitat but can simultaneously revitalize the economies of rural Nevada towns like Beatty, NV (politicians and land managers take note). Spicer inspired me to explore the historic railroad beds that linked key mining districts in the area. He further enticed me by noting the rails went into Death Valley NP and pointed out mountain ranges with mixed pinon/spruce forests. So the plan was born, I would follow and evaluate the railroad beds from Tonapah to Beatty, with the goal of establishing a quality north-south Nevada bikepacking route. As a loose plan came together I knew I better act on it.

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Leaving Tonapah with a good coating of snow off Knapp Ave to Paymaster Cyn Rd

An ominous start

The next week I was up in the middle of the night, packed and driving out of Reno with 3 inches of snow on my car. Most of our snow storms come in from the west and rarely penetrate deeply into the state. Or the “atmospheric rivers” paint a slash of precipitation across the state from SW to NE. With this in mind I hoped for better weather as I headed SE. The weather along Alt 95 and 95 was milder but not snow-free. I parked off Knapp Ave and pedaled into the snow. I connected with Paymaster Cyn Rd, passed the railroad bed, then made my way to Powerline Rd. With hindsight I would stay on Paymaster Cyn Rd, loop around the General Thomas Hills, then continue to Alkali.

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Powerline Rd across Big Wash to Alkali, NV Paymaster Ridge at horizon

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Local art, power substation at Alkali, NV

Touring in the land of burros and Joshua Trees

Out of Alkali I followed a powerline service road along the Montezuma Mtns into Goldfield. As I was on a solo trip my companions were the mountain ranges, Joshua Trees, wild burros, and pronghorn antelope. I learned one trick from the burros, use the arroyos to escape the wind. Luckily for now the wind was either a tailwind or crosswind.

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Indian Springs Cyn, Flat top Mtn, Montezuma Range

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Good dirt roads to Goldfield

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A gem of bicycling infrastructure

Goldfield, on the rail

As I entered Goldfield I was greeted by a park with a designated bike trail that passed several historic points of interest. Bicycle riding, velo-tourism is on the map in rural Nevada. Now it is a matter of promoting it, getting it connected to other historic areas, and tracking visitors by bicycle. My overall impression of Goldfield was this was an area ripe for exploration by bike. I wonder what could be a multi-day itinerary centered in Goldfield. This will be a future project for sure.

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A section of major railroad construction

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Typical state of historic railroad grade, but always adjacent access

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Typical sandy road next to railroad grade

I made my way through Goldfield on the highway. I was thankful for the slow speed limit. I was intrigued by the tourist attractions on the main street but I was focused on making my way south through the main mining district on the east side of town. I turned off on the Tonapah-Tidewater railroad grade at the end of E Ramsey Ave. It was a fantastic ride through the Chispa Hills to Stonewall Flat. The quality of riding on the old grade was fantastic. Occasionally it was broken by washes through the hills but there was always an adjacent route. I was making great time with the strong tailwind and gentle down grade. I was getting concerned on how the return trip might go. I decided to try reversing my direction. I went from 17 mph to less than 5 mph. There is no telling how long the wind will last, how it might change in intensity or direction. I may be rethinking this tour.

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Through the Goldfield and Chispa Hills to Stonewall Flat, all weather in view

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Riding in view of Stonewall Mountain, 7945′, past Stonewall Flat to Lida Valley was breath taking. All around me I could see dust storms, snow showers, and bright sunlight. Riding on the elevated grade at one point I passed over an intact wooden culvert. Two big healthy looking coyotes shot out. Beautiful animals. Between riding the railroad grades and adjacent desert roads this is a worthwhile route. There was an abundance of other roads to explore as well.

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An unexpected water supply

From Stonewall Flat my original route had me zig-zagging across Lida Valley and into the Gold Hills. I deviated from my original route and crossed Lida Valley to the east toward the highway. I came across a rancher’s well that appeared to be a reliable source of water. The highway is completely fenced off from the adjacent land to keep livestock and wildlife out of traffic. This also makes it challenging for the bike tourist. I crossed a cattle guard on this established road and continued south on the service road (buried fiber optic cable) adjacent to the highway. I came across a gated road to the east, so I took it. My hope was to find a rock outcropping or some shelter from the wind to make camp.

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A road to the edge of Nellis Air Force Range

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Looking to get out of the wind for the night

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Possible shelter in those rocks

I knew I was getting close to Nellis Air Force Range but there were no signs that I was entering a sensitive area. I was pleased to see a group of pronghorns who kept a safe distance but repeatedly zig-zagged the road ahead of me. Such a beautiful sight. I was intrigued by the road but I knew I needed to make camp, the sun was low, and the temperatures were getting lower. With hindsight I know the railroad bed is just ahead crossing the road and the road continues to the edge of the Air Force Range.

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Stonewall Mtn

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Burros make good neighbors

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Sunset’s glow on Stonewall Mtn

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The day’s last rays from the tent

I found a rock outcropping but the wind seemed to make its way around. There was a burro and a few pronghorn just outside of camp. The burro serenaded me in the night. It is good to make friends with your neighbors. There is such relief to get into the tent and be out of the wind. The temperatures were bitter cold on any exposed skin but I had a comfortable night.

Day two: decision making, return to Goldfield and Tonapah 


Good morning

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The next morning I had an internal debate on what to do. Option one; make a bee-line to Spicer Ranch along 95 and turn-around or, option two; cut the tour short and make a bee-line for Goldfield and Tonapah, with the idea that it might take two days to get back to the car. The weather was unsettled so I chose the latter. I followed the service road along the highway keeping my eyes peeled for alternate roads. The fence line was a formidable barrier. I descended into Goldfield and stopped off at the Dinky Diner for a great bacon, egg, and biscuit breakfast. I fueled up, replenished my water, and headed out to the railroad grades between Alkali and Tonapah.

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Roads and mines to explore off the highway

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I followed the the highway back to Goldfield

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Leaving Goldfield I was intrigued by the mines and dirt roads in the immediate area. The highest concentration of mines is to the east in the Goldfield Hills. To the west is the Montezuma Range, Clayton Ridge, and the Silver Peak Range. The town of Gemfield also seemed to be beckoning/advertising to tourists off the highway. I plan on spending some quality time in this area.

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Silver Peak Rd to Alkali

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Back on the railroad grade

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Across Big Wash at Klondike, Montezuma Range and Paymaster Ridge

I picked up the railroad grade at the Klondike Site and rode it until it crossed the Paymaster Cyn Road. This was the road I was parked off of but my memory did not include this long return climb. The snow was gone and the day was slightly warmer.

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Return climb into Tonapah, Paymaster Cyn Rd

What I rode, what I carried

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My Surly Ice Cream Truck was outfilled with the Surly Nate 26×4.0 tires. The bike carried 3L of water, 1.5L under the down tube and 1.5L on the fork. The other fork leg carried a 7L stuff sack with food, cup, spoon, knife, stove and fuel. The tiny frame bag carried a flat repair supplies and a spare pair of gloves. My seat bag contained my first-aide kit and dry/warm clothes. My handlebar bag contained my down quilt, sleeping pad, and tarp tent. Attached to my handle bar bag was my Spot GPS messenger. I had two feed bags on my bars with camera and phone in one and snacks in the other. My top tube bag contained a small towel, spare battery, headlamp, mini-tool, and sunscreen. I don’t have a pack weight. While the bike was heavy to lift it felt fine to ride.

I wore cycling shorts, tights, a long sleeve synthetic base layer, a long sleeve wool base layer, cycling wind vest and the Patagonia Hoodini hooded windbreaker. I wore wool socks, mountain bike shoes, and shoe covers. I brought two pairs of light weight gloves to ride in but I also have BarMitts on my handle bars.

My dry/warm camp clothes included bulky wool socks, silk weight long underwear, nylon pants, synthetic long sleeve base layer, hooded down jacket, hat and gloves. The strategy for the adverse conditions was to set up the tent, get out of the wind, and change clothes. Then under the down quilt for the next 11 hours. The long nights of winter bikepacking can be an endurance in the tent.

I have been asked, what is my sleep system?

In addition to my camp clothes, which I wear to sleep, I start with my emergency blanket as my ground cloth. On top of that is my inflatable sleeping pad. Then I am inside a synthetic sleeping bag liner with my Sierra Designs down quilt on top. When it is very cold I put a cloth over my face. This system keeps me comfortable in temperatures into the teens. I find it is key to warm the extremities first and then everything stays warm.

What was my meal planning?


-Breakfast bars (too crumbly when frozen)

-Juice pouches (surprisingly satisfying)

-Coffee, cocoa, instant, mixed! (hot and brown, I convinced myself this was good)

Lunch/Bike snacks: (I notoriously don’t eat much on the bike)

-Trail mixes, mixed

-Hammer Gel


-Starts with any leftovers from lunch

-Ham and cheese quesadillas, pre-made wrapped in foil


-Cocoa, instant hot brown, with mini-marshmallows (as important as a hand/belly warmer as a beverage, ditto with morning hot drinks)

My meals were meant to provide about 500 calories per. I kept them small to make sure digestion was easy. This diet definitely would require more calories snacking on the bike.

In review and by the numbers

There is always the important step of review and modify what you carried. My Garuda/ Dana Designs Nuk Tuk tent is too big and heavy for most of my needs. But it is what I have and until I have a replacement I will make due. The advantage to its size is I have plenty of protected living space for spreading out, cooking, and sitting up. This luxury is appreciated when wind and snow compress the otherwise 4-person foot print to a 2-person foot print. I have had this tent on innumerable trips over the last 15+ years so it has truly stood the test of time.

My sleep system is great. The inflatable Insul Mat, Ether-Thermo6: Reg sleeping pad by Pacific Outdoor Equipment does its job. While this company had a popular run in the outdoor industry their products have outlived their company. The valve did freeze at one point but that is not a slight on the pad. I use a Jack Wolfskin Pongee sleeping bag liner to keep myself covered even if my sleeping quilt slips away in the night. I also prefer the feel of the fabric over the fabric used in most sleeping bags. It provides a bit of comfort in addition to moisture management while keeping things clean and washable. My sleeping bag is The Backcountry Quilt by Sierra Designs. This 2-season quilt has 800 fill weight DriDown is rated to 38/28. While mine is a few years old it has been updated for 2018 and has a warmer model rated to 28/17.

My meals were fine. Cooking was kept to a minimum. Flavor was good. I was satisfied. Were the hot drinks worth carrying the stove and fuel? Yes. I will always try new meal items on each trip.

My Surly Ice Cream Truck worked well on this trip. The four inch wide tires carried me through the sandy and rocky sections without a hiccup. The choice in tire width comes down to estimating their efficiency “cost”. What is the difference of a 1-2 mph slower average speed vs pushing your bike through  sand for a few hours? Nevada is a wild place to explore. Over a long distance you will encounter all possible terrain.

My route outbound was a great route about 68 miles. My return along the highway was 10 miles shorter and not nearly as interesting. There are numerous opportunities for alternate routes in the area. I would like to explore the length of Paymaster Cyn Rd out of Tonapah as well as E. Railroad Springs Rd south of Goldfield. While the historic railroad grades are usable at times they run close to the highway making them less than ideal. The grades immediately around Tonapah and Goldfield were particularly scenic and recommendable routes.

Ride Report; Hazen, NV and Hot Springs Mountains

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There were many choices leaving the car. If the road goes up, I go up!

How many times have I driven past the iconic Hazen Market? Whatever the number, it is only a fraction of the number of photos of this Alt-Highway 50 (Old Lincoln Highway, Reno Highway) landmark I have seen. It is interesting to railroad buffs (founded in 1903 as a Union Pacific station), history buffs (Nevada’s last lynching, 1905), but I was interested in the Hot Springs Mountains that separated Lahontan Valley and Carson Sink in the south from The Forty Mile Desert in the north.

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Snow was blowing through, but just a dusting. Cattle on hillside

I made the quick drive to Hazen by sunrise to give me the day to explore The Hot Spring Mountains. I had mentally prepared a map around the mountains but was willing to adjust my ride depending on what I came across. I started out in blowing snow with limited visibility. I picked a road that seamed to be looping back far too early in the ride (plus the road was in too good of condition, I wanted a challenge). So I picked an unlikely road to explore. It was primarily a quad trail up a wash. I was prepared for it to be a bust but it kept climbing into the mountain.


Looking back toward Hazen, Little and Black Buttes

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Snow over sand, a bit soft but ridable

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Climbing through the valley

I descended into a snow filled hanging valley. The road was soft sand but mixed with snow it was ridable. As I climbed the far and of the valley I realized the mountains were home to dunes. ATV riders had discovered this too but I was surprised. I assume as water brought sediments into the Carson, Fernley and Humboldt sinks the prevailing winds carried the sand to create these and other dunes in the area. The USGS maps show these dunes so I assume they are well established.

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Dunes inside the mountains

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OHV users definitely know this spot

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Sunlit valley under heavy skies

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Dunes in the mountains, Nevada shows me its potential

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The descent begins

I started a steep sandy descent to the northeast. I was really hoping the road I was following would connect through to the road I was hoping to follow along the Forty Mile Desert. I did not want to hike-a-bike to retrace my ride back to passable roads. As good fortune would have it I was treated to a fun downhill ride over rock and sand to the road I had pictured in my head.

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Still in sand, the Forty Mile Desert and the Truckee Range

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The Forty Mile Desert and Hot Springs Flat

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A quick descent to the road below

My return route had washed out in several places. Jeep users had created go-arounds for the worst wash-outs. I was very pleased to be on this road. I had ridden a parallel route on the other side of the sink and had hoped this road existed. Once I made it back to my vehicle I realized what a great day I had exploring by the seat-of-my-pants. I followed the road I was on until I found a road that looked interesting, and let that lead me to the next. I would like to make the bigger loop around the Hot Springs Mountains and possibly connect to the West Humboldt Range. Not surprising there appears to be miles of minor roads throughout the mountains and a variety of geological formations to explore.

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The past winter had taken its toll on the return road

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A rock race track, pick your winner

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Lava beds, sagebrush, and the Fernley sink. Textures of northern Nevada

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A bit of Nevada cobble

Ride Report; Loop through Selenite Range

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Dean pausing after another steep climb, Kumiva Valley and Bluewing Mtns

It was a reunion of sorts. Dean Magnuson, my long term riding partner of so many adventures chronicled here, had moved away to Portland, OR but was back in Reno for a visit.

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Dean is still smiling

“Dean, I have a ride for us along the ridge of the Selenite Range between Kumiva and Luxor Peaks.”

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Suffering on initial climb, Lake and Fox Ranges, San Emidio Desert in between

He just smiled and agreed to the ride. But he knows from our past history he might be in for long climbs, rough terrain, and adverse conditions. So I decided I better sweeten the deal, “I will bring lunch!” Dean is always agreeable, never needs a bribe, so the plan was I would pick him up in the morning and we would take-off to our mutual destruction, I mean discovery.

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I had forgotten how steep this climb was from the highway, Lake and Fox Ranges

I used a turn-off from the highway I had used in a loop through the Selenites to the south, to Winnemucca Lake. Dean and I had ridden Winnemucca Lake and Three Mile Canyon in this area together. This particular route was inspired by searching on Google Maps for routes to the north.

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Dean suffers with a smile!

Our climb to the ridge line was steeper than I remembered. Pain fades with time, ha! Dean struggled with the climb. His time with his grand kids, while does much for the soul, did little for his cardiovascular system. I must admit I get pleasure out of his suffering. Maybe I shouldn’t admit this. The views along the climb were fantastic. We were up close to the burn sites from our last fire season. We can only hope for quick recovery.

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Looking north through the Selenite Range


The ridge line was rewarding in mixed terrain and stunning views to the east. But the ridge line was taxing so we found a turn off to the east down to Kumiva Valley. We passed a large working ranch and chatted with a group of chukar hunters. I thought they were bird watchers, and they were, just the other kind of bird watchers. We had not seen any birds.

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Dean tells me he is looking for rocks

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Kumiva Valley and Lava Beds

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A steep climb past a boulder field

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Rock climbing/bouldering potential

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Looking for more rocks! White line angling down L to R was a steep snowy descent. 

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Kumiva Pk.

The last climb of the day was moderate and gave way to a long fast downhill back to the car. The route can be shortened or extended to the north. To the south and extreme north the Selenite Range is protected as Wilderness Study Areas. To the north is the Selenite Mtns WSA and to the south is the Mt Limbo WSA. For some this begs the issue of bikes in the wilderness. My personal feelings is the Wilderness Act should stand as it is with regards to bicycles. There is no loss of opportunity for me to explore Nevada’s wild lands. I can bike up to wilderness or wilderness study areas on established roads and if I choose to explore further I can park my bike and do so on foot.

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Great roads on east side of Selenite Range


C Dot Ranch, Cowles Ranch on maps

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Climbing back to ridge through burn area, Betty Creek, alkali flat, and Black Mtn

I have heard from other users in this area that the ridge road is enjoyable all the way to Jungo Rd. I think the road that climbs over the Selenites is a valuable east-west crossroads between Kumiva and Poito Valleys though passage to the south of the Selenite Range is an option to avoid the climb.

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Transition TransAm, bagged-out and ready to tour

Dean borrowed my Surly Instigator for this ride. I wasn’t sure how much snow or sand there would be so I figured the 26×3″ tires would be a good choice. I have recently set up my Transition TransAm for touring. I replaced the suspension fork with the Salsa Cro Moto Grande 29’r fork, swapped out the riser bars for Surly Moloko touring bars, and added bags and cages. I love the way it rides. It has quickly become a favorite.

Here is a short video Dean shot. He has a couple more on his YouTube channel.

Ride Report; Stillwater National Wildlife Refuge and Stillwater Range

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The importance of marsh habitats for migratory birds

Vernal wetlands, marshes, swamps, estuaries, and salt flats can appear (and smell) unappealing to the eye (and nose). But their value to the ecology, biodiversity, and therefore the wildlife biologist, public, and future generations is immeasurable.  Wetlands of all types are the “tropical rain forests” of the temperate landscape. Unfortunately most of us do not have an eye for their value. I would say this is similar for having an eye for the beauty of the desert, the value of a sea of sagebrush. To train that eye I recommend getting out to Fallon, Nevada then venturing on to the Stillwater National Wildlife Refuge.

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One of my favorite “universal” signs

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Fallon and northern Nevada is a major player in the National Wildlife Refuge System

The roads switch from pavement to hard pack clay and gravel. There is a network of roads that guides visitors from pond to pond with frequent pullouts for wildlife viewing. The complex is divided into hunting/ no hunting areas as well as boatable and boat-free areas on the ponds. Maps throughout the park describe these regulations.

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I used this map to guide my visit

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Lots of rules!

I used the main entrance and parking area to stage my loop through the park. The roads are flat. After 35+ miles of exploring the park I had climbed less than 200′. The main roads are very high quality. I would have even felt comfortable on my road bike with 700×25 tires. The less traveled roads in the north end of the park are a little rougher, passable on a road bike but more comfortable on the fatter tires of a gravel/cyclocross/touring bike. My route through the park was mostly haphazard with the idea of returning to explore my last intersection if the roads ahead did not hold my interest. The road ahead always holds my interest, I rarely make it back to passed up roads until my next visit. I worked my way through the center of the park then made a counter clockwise loop to back to my start.

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Insert loud bird cacophony here, Tule Lake, Stillwater Range in background

My first impression was the smell of the ocean. The brackish water marshes on top of the alkali playas smelled like the wetland estuaries of the Pacific coast. Then there was the noise at the intersection of Hunter, Navy Cabin, and Center Roads. Here you are between Lead and Tule Lakes and you hear the birds long before you see them. Later on Center Rd a flock of herons flew over and it was absolutely stunning. These birds are beautiful standing solitary along rivers, borrow ditches, and other wetlands but I was not prepared for the view of a dozen or so flying overhead.

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East County Rd

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To tempting to pass up, Mountain Wells Cyn Rd

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Great roads all day!

After my loop I continued on East County Rd between the refuge and the Stillwater Range. My plan was to make my way into the park at Nutgrass Lake. But I was distracted by a road sign leading me into the Stillwater Range through Mountain Wells Canyon. This road was considerably rougher and gained in elevation. Like so many mountain roads this last year it seemed to spend part of the year as a wash but overall the conditions were fine for a gravel bike. This canyon shows the diversity of geology for the area as well as demonstrates ranching in the area. I had ridden a canyon to the north of Mountain Wells and it too was used by a local rancher. I will definitely return to ride this road through to Dixie Valley.

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A bit of climbing

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Ranching in Nevada

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This old windmill had been replaced by a diesel pump

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Changing geology

On my return I stopped off at the Overlook park on Stillwater Point Reservoir. I am a sucker for interpretive trails, kiosks, and self-guided tours. They all appeal to my inner geek. From the parking area I road through an interpretive trail that gave a timeline for the area. Then I climbed to an elevated viewing deck that had even more information on what biology I could expect to witness. I was very pleased.

Looking at the big picture, the Stillwater National Wildlife Complex can be a stopping point for someone on a big west-east tour of northern Nevada along Highway 50.  Now I am trying to conceptualize a big north-south Nevada tour. I imagine the East County Rd will be a segment from Lovelock to Fallon. Regardless showcasing a wetland in the desert with such importance to world bird populations has its intrinsic value.

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The Stillwaters welcome you

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My KHS Grit 440 with Revelate Bags, the gravel slayer

Ride Report; Loop through Pine Grove Hills

This ride was cold. We made this loop December 4, 2017.

Toiyabe National Forest Rd 22815, Pine Grove Hills

Turn off from Sand Canyon, rugged 4×4 trail through sparse forest

After my first ride in the Pine Grove Hills I had to share this place with a friend. So I got a hold of Brandon Anderson and told him about this great location near the Sweetwater Range and its abundance of canyons to explore and the ghost mining towns and more to check out. Brandon had heard recommendations for the Sweetwater Range so was intrigued my my suggestion.

Sweetwater Mountains

The Sweetwater Mountains across Sweetwater Flat

We arrived at Sand Canyon in bright sunshine but a chilly 26 degrees. Conditions felt comfortable in the sun but the air temperature had a bite to it. We climbed Sand Canyon but then turned off onto a 4-wheel drive trail that climbed to Lobdell Summit. The climb was significant and warmed us up for the time being. The track was rutted in by erosion but bikes were a perfect vehicle in this terrain.

Road and creek took the same path

Sand to rugged path from winter’s snow melt cutting in the road

Rugged climb from Sand Cyn to Scott's Cyn

Rugged climb from Sand Cyn to Scotts Cyn

Near Lobdell Summit, Pine Grove Hills

Named saddle summits make it easy to get bearings in this terrain.

We crossed over from Scotts Canyon to Pine Grove Canyon. At this point we were at 7200′ so the temperatures were still bellow freezing. Shortly we were in the ghost town of Pine Grove. This place is well preserved and a delight to explore after a challenging ride to get there. We explored a few side roads to see if they would provide a short cut to Pine Grove Summit. From the ghost town if you back track down Pine Grove Canyon you will get to Pine Grove Summit. We continue to Pine Grove Flat then climbed to Rockland ghost town. At this point I was riding my past route in reverse. It was getting late, temperatures were dropping and we had a 2200′ descent to the car.

Pine Grove Historical Site

Great history!

Stamp mill

Well preserved Ghost Mining Town

Pine Grove buildings

Interior detail

Pine Grove site

Just your average mining neighborhood

Rock formations of Rockland, Pine Grove Hills

These rocks in varying light are fantastic

Stone Towers over Rockland, Pine Grove Hills

These stand guard over Rockland

There is a connector trail from Nye Canyon to Sand Canyon but I was not sure the quality of trail nor how long it would take to travel. So I suggested we continue down to the highway then finish our ride on the road. It was dark but the route was the only sure thing I could offer a very cold riding partner. We finished our ride, packed up, and made our way to Minden Meat and Deli for our favorite burgers and beer. The car ride discussion was focused on the cold, the risks it posed, what we carried or should have carried to be better prepared. We also talked about the potential the area has once the snow has melted this spring and the burgers we were going to eat.

Once a two story building

Landslides filled in the bottom 1/2 of this Pine Grove building

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.


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.

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.

Roots Rut 1

Heavy winter closed this forest road.


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.


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!


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.