A Day in the Desert with Chris Carnel

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Giant tumbleweeds at the beach. Carnel standing far left

I met Chris on a mountain bike street/stunt road trip with Jim Severt. We road urban terrain in Sacramento, CA before traveling into the California Central Valley to find and ride a full pipe Jim knew about. It feels like that was a lifetime ago. Since then I have known Chris on the fringe between the action sports community, photography, art, and community bike shop. In recent conversations I asked Chris if he had interests in landscape photography. He said, yes. I said, I have some landscape in mind. A plan was born.

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Sand, scrub, tufa

We met on the southwest edge of Winnemucca Lake, combined gear into my vehicle and drove to some dunes I had spotted on my last ride in the area. The plan was to drive out as far as the MGL tungsten mines, ride a bit, then work our way back, stopping to explore and photograph at will. This was going to be a very different type of trip for me. The emphasis was on close-up exploring as opposed as covering a given distance by bike.

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Wind shaped desert

The dune system around Winnemucca Lake is far more extensive than I imagined. When I think of dunes my mind’s eye sees a shifting freestanding mountain of sand. These dune were mostly obscured by scrubby plants. But what an ecosystem they support is evident in the delicate tracks in the fine sand and honeycomb of burrows I collapsed while hiking along the game trails. I am no dune expert but I imagine these dunes are an extension of the dunes found along NV 447, the south east shore of Pyramid Lake, and continue to wrap along the base of the Nightingale Mtns to the northern edge of Winnemucca Lk.

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Delicate prints in the sand, last night’s party in the desert

We spent some time inspecting the tufa covered rocks. I was impressed by the range of textures in a single rock. Chris too noted that these were some of the most impressive eaxamples of tufa he had seen.

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So much texture in one small space, tufa

We continued on to the mines and passed a 4×4 club that was getting a natural history lecture from their leader. At the mines we met another group of friends in jeeps who were headed up the roads above the mines. We got on our bikes in the opposite direction to check out a well and continue on to the playa.

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Remains of a well on the edge of Winnemucca Lk, Lake Range across the playa

The well was the least preserved relic of the mine. My only guess is water trucks were filled at this point to transport water to the mines and/or mill. This is pure speculation.

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A damp but rideable playa with salt blooms

The playa definitely has its own qualities in comparison to my experience with the Black Rock Desert. The surface varied between dry and damp. Even the dry portions were considerably  soft. Much of the surface was damp and slate grey. We rode a couple miles on the playa. Like on the Black Rock it is a strange feeling to ride without a sense on moving in relation to your distant surroundings. It is a difficult feeling to put into words.

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Riding north, Purgatory Peak, Selenite Range in center

After our excursion on the playa we headed up canyon to the mines. Even though I was in the canyon only a week prior it had a different look in the afternoon light versus morning. We ventured a couple feet into the abandoned mine just to get some flash photos. The jeep explorers were on some roads above us, getting stuck, getting un-stuck, as jeepers do.

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Carnel’s arrival
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Just inside
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Carnel emerges, like a bear in the spring

After the mines we started our trip back to the highway. I wanted to stop and explore the “pyramids” and especially the waterfall between them. We hiked between them to get these shots.

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Some perspective of the “bathtub” walls
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Scale is always hard to represent in this landscape
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Looking south from the floor of the wash created by the waterfall
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These two tiers must be exciting in a flash flood
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From the middle tier

Our day in the desert was complete with sunset’s glow on the Nightingale Mountains. This trip was unique in the combination of biking, hiking and driving. Time was spent up close and personal with the landscape. Although I am not a backpacker I was thinking how awesome it would be to walk through this area.

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A sunset selfie
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Over the car sunset shot

Special thanks to Chris Carnel for inspiring this trip.

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Get to the beach! Photo by Chris Carnel

 

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