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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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