Ride Report; San Juan Creek and Cottonwood Canyon

San Juan Creek encroaches on San Juan Rd 

For my first major ride in the Toiyabe Range I proposed to Patrick Smith we either ride from the north trailhead to descend at Washington Creek or continue on to San Juan Creek as logical exit points for the Toiyabe Crest Trail. We chose the earlier descent which worked out well for our loop from Big Creek to Kingston Creek, then to Washington Creek via the TCT, with a return through the Reese River Valley. Later I returned to ride the TCT as a loop to the east side of the range. I imagined the most accessible chunk of the TCT would be a loop including Washington and San Juan Creeks and the TCT. So a plan was born.

A ride worth doing

I have yet to be satisfied with a route planner that create a route through Nevada’s wild terrain. Even in manual modes STRAVA and Garmin Connect have a difficult time creating a route. I was able to make an acceptable approximation of a route on STRAVA that estimated a 24 mile loop with 3,200′ of climbing. While the mileage is probably a close approximation the elevation is a gross underestimate. But that is understood. I need spend time with other resources to find the best for route planning in Nevada.

I picked a “wide spot in the road”, the confluence of several forest service roads at the opening of Cottonwood Canyon. Forest Service Road 016 would take me through San Juan Campground along Cottonwood and San Juan Creeks. I was impressed that San Juan Campground was a series of spaced out campsites with picnic tables rather than closely packed sites. Not too surprisingly the actual roads I found did not match much of what I researched on maps. Such is the value of tires on the ground experience.

The confluence of Cottonwood and San Juan Creeks and USFS Road 016

My guess is this area is most heavily used by ranchers and backcountry hunters. I tried to follow the newest truck and moto tracks. But there were many options to explore and I only had time to pursue one. When it ended at a pack trail I followed it. This turned into a long steep hike-a-bike that eventually took me to a saddle with few options.

A tributary to San Juan Creek with a bit of a pack trail to follow
The steep terrain around this canyon was exquisite

From the saddle I hiked to two vantage points to look for trails leading away- nothing. I consulted my Garmin, but it had nothing more to offer. There have been times when I have moved forward convincing myself the road or trail is only a mile or so ahead. But in this terrain, trying to hike with a bike, such a folly can be quite costly. So I made the rare choice of turning back.

As a hike-a-bike this was a folly
The strangest signs pop up in the strangest of places

I wasn’t going to have time to ride my intended loop. That may not have been possible even under the best of conditions without planning a much longer day. So I got back to the cross roads, picked another road to explore and made the most of the day.

Crossroads offering days of exploring in Cottonwood Canyon

I had been itching to get out. I needed this “Nevada therapy”. What I got was an exhausting workout. The ride portions were great. The hike-a-bikes through 30-40+% grades and thick brush were all I could do. My upper body was more sore than my lower. Seeing the frozen creeks, aspens with their dark post-fall leaves, and not another soul was just what I needed. The vistas of the Toiyabe Range, Reese River Valley, and Shoshone Mountains were inspiring. On the drive in I saw a small group of antelope, on the ride I saw a few ground squirrels and a single magpie. I heard a few other birds but I was mostly impressed by the still silence. 

The next trip is always in the works. I drove new-to-me roads to get to Cottonwood Canyon. Just past Middlegate on US 50 I took Carrol Summit Rd, SR722, through the Desatoya Mountains to Smith Creek Valley. This is a paved road in excellent condition that I can highly recommend for its scenic value. Off SR 722, I took Elkhorn Rd, through the Shoshone Mountains to Reese Rive Road. Now I was on high quality gravel roads. While the plus-style mountain bike makes an excellent Nevada explorer this route, combined with my Berlin-Ichthyosaur ride would be an excellent gravel bike tour. The rides on my mind for now are to circle the Toiyabe Range and poke into each canyon as they come up. I am sure during the course of these trips there will be trips into the Shoshone Mountains and Toquima Range. I hope to see you out there.    

Falconer Cycles Custom B+

This was the first trip on my new Falconer B+. I worked with Cameron Falconer to get a small adventure touring frame and fork without suspension correction and with everything I wanted. Cameron put it together in an elegant package according to his philosophy of a bicycle as a tool that is super fun to ride. The tubing choice in the frame and fork are elegantly thin, the welds are artistically fine. The bike climbs and descends with confidence and is snappy and playful in the corners. More to come on how this bike shakes out.

2 thoughts on “Ride Report; San Juan Creek and Cottonwood Canyon

  1. Sébastien P.

    I was curious about the “Salt Ground No” sign. My first thought was something to do with mining. What I found out was that it has to do with placement of salt to draw grazing cattle away from water features and overgrazed land. “No” in this case is short for number and the Forest Service would paint in the number of the Salt Gound on the sign.

  2. Great Read. I love the simplicity and driving force behind Falconer Cycles. You’ve got yourself a beautiful ride. I look forward to seeing how the bike pans out. Sometimes, the rides we plan, just don’t go as planned. Have you tried the app Gaia?.. I’ve been using it to map new rides.. Fantastic Blog!

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