Who knew that Sand Mountain had a raging Halloween weekend party? Our staff retreat plan for this year was to drive out US 50 to Sand Mountain, camp, bike, then continue on to Middlegate, Big Creek Campground, Kingston, and Spencer Hot Springs for more camping and biking. But as we approached Sand Mountain we couldn’t figure out what was the well lit town in the distance. But it was clear the OHV crowd had descended on this popular site for the Halloween weekend. Trucks were in overflow parking all the way back to the highway. I am sure their party was fantastic but we were looking for a slightly different Nevada experience.
Looking at the map I decided we would cross over Sand Springs Pass and follow a dirt road to the north to find a suitable campsite. Nevada was getting more than its normal share of rain from a storm on the west coast so we were hoping for a window of fair weather between the storms. We enjoyed a warm fire, a star filled sky, and fun conversation before retiring to our tents on unusually wet ground.
The next morning we woke to foggy cloudy skies (and the occasional Apache helicopter) and slowly rallied for a ride up a wash in the Stillwater Range. As the Reno Bike Project’s Fearless Seven we were Noah Silverman, Genevieve Parker, Ray Eliot, Ray Hill, Dean Magnuson, Crystal Wang, and Kurstin Graham. We rode up to a eroded box canyon with curious geology. Then we came across a killing field with horse skeletons. At this point our ride split in two with four of us finding a path to a Sand Mountain overlook and the rest returned to camp. A map of the ride is here.
Back at camp we packed up and drove on to Middlegate for lunch. The drive had my neck on a swivel looking for dirt roads crossing the valleys and disappearing into the mountains. One that has earned my pledge to return is Dixie Valley Rd to Elevenmile Canyon into the Stillwater Range. The Middlegate Station served up a satisfying lunch with a healthy side of Nevada’s loneliest highway and pioneering memorabilia. Then it was off to Big Creek Campground just south of Austin.
The Big Creek drainage was occupied by hunting camps until we arrived. I am sure the hunters were thinking, there goes the neighborhood! We occupied the group campsite along the creek and settled in next to a fire and BBQ dinner. The skies cleared to show off the stars but shortly after retiring to our tents the wind came up making it a rough night’s sleep for most. The next morning we woke to wind and heavy skies. This was not the weather we were hoping for our ride to explore the canyons off Big Creek.
We drove through to Kingston in hope the weather would clear up. The forest service road through the Toiyabe Range is worth exploring by bike offering rugged side canyons and numerous quality campsites. The trees had already lost there leaves so to capture the fall colors I think returning in late September or early October would be exquisite. We passed Groves Lake, a reservoir fed by Kingston Creek. I had camped there earlier this summer and was surprised to see it drained.
In Kingston we stopped at Zach’s Lucky Spur Saloon, unfortunately too early to be served. But Zach invited us in to check it out and he shared the local insight for outdoor excursions in the area. We were heading to Spencer Hot Springs to soak, ride and camp. But the “Big Loop” includes Toquima Cave, Potts Hot Springs, and Dianas Punch Bowl Hot Springs. All the more reason to return to the area.
We were warned that the Halloween crowd had also invaded Spencer Hot Springs. But when we got there there were two campers that became one. The weather seems to be taking its toll. We occupied the main tub in the rain for a wonderful soak. But the storm was showing no signs of letting up. Rather than risking a cold wet night in our tents we decided to call the trip on account of weather and make the 200+ mile trip back to Reno.