Ride Report: Pyramid Lake to Smoke Creek Desert

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The sacred Needles tufa formations, Pyramid Lake

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

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

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Suprise Valley Rd, Virginia Mtns in distance

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

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Sand Pass, first view of Smoke Creek Desert

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

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

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

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Smoke Creek Desert from Surprise Valley Rd

2 thoughts on “Ride Report: Pyramid Lake to Smoke Creek Desert

  1. Great pictures of a stunning landscape! We too have had to reevaluate what level of exertion we can achieve in high temps (even here in Vancouver, although not as hot as you were experiencing) and/or smokey skies. Just didn’t want to stress my body or lungs that much. It’s great now that the temps have moderated and some serious rain is in the forecast. Will just have to adjust to riding in the cool and damp conditions that have been missing here for so long!

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