The Calico Hills and Calico Mountains caught my eye from my first visits to Frog Pond and Trego Hotsprings (off Jungo Rd). From these spots I could watch the dust storms whip across the Black Rock Desert with the colorful geology of the Calico Hills as a back drop. The colors are so striking that the hills became the first feature I knew by name on the horizon.
My first encounter, upclose and personal, I had with them was a gravel ride with Raymond Eliot on Soldier Meadows Rd. While I have only ridden about 25 miles of this road it represents the north-south backbone of gravel roads for the Black Rock-High Rock Lake Emigrant Trail Nation Conservation Area (NCA) as well as a gateway to the Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge. On our ride I got see notable spots such as Mormon Dan Peak and Canyon as well as get a feel for the permitted roads that act like fingers into the Calico Mountains Wilderness.
One such road traverses the Calico Mountains from Jackass Flat to Donnelly Flat. Ray and I climbed the first bit of this road but used this as that day’s turn around point. In planning the the loop around the Calico Mountains Wilderness I planned a 70+ mile ride on primarily dirt roads between 4000′ and 7000′ in elevation containing 5000′ of climbing. Now lets add snow above 6000′ feet. I am not sure why I thought this was such a great idea!
I left Reno in the wee hours in the morning to arrive at the start of Soldier Meadows Rd by 5:30 am. I was cruising along a familiar road by dawn’s first light by 6, sunrise was not until after 7. It wasn’t til after 9 am that the sun’s rays were really felt. But one could not ask for better weather.
I checked off all the familiar spots on from my time here with Ray. There were the side roads that I would like to follow, Mormon Dan’s peak and canyon to explore on foot, along with the Petrified Canyon, various springs all in the Calico Mountains. Then there are an equal number of routes down to the Black Rock Desert, to be explored when dry. As it was the playa was already glistening with surface water.
Once I started up the road into Jackass Flat I was in new territory. I came across a small private parcel. It was fenced private property consisting of a primitive home, a few out buildings, and a corral. I have a romantic notion of owning a piece of Nevada like this. The views, the isolation, proximity to incredible riding. But how do you pick just one? We are so fortunate to have so much accessible public land in Nevada there isn’t the need to stake a personal claim.
It wasn’t much further that I crossed the snow line. The 2.8″ tires of the Falconer B+ handle firm snow well. But there was still plenty of hike-a-bike in my day. The route had two major climbs, and while the descent between the two would normally be a break in the day the snow conditions changing from packed, to soft, to crust, to deep drifts – it kept me working.
The second climb started after crossing Donnelly Creek. By this time I knew my day was going slowly but in my mind the second half of this ride was downhill so I should make great time. Yet I looked for exits, roads that were not on my maps, to the east down to Soldier Meadows Rd. A bail out, plan B, or what have you is always a good idea. But I didn’t see any. So forward it was, riding when I could, hiking when I had to.
Accessing the ridge was spectacular. There were some side roads for future exploration and the geology was stunning. There are definitely opportunities for backcountry rock climbing and bouldering. I will be curious to see if the 7000′ elevation is enough to give relief in the warmer months. The crest was wind blown with waves of snow banks across the road. This gave way to the descent through the Sheep Buttes to Barley Rd.
My time to make-up time was gone. The sun was setting, I still had 30 miles to go and the road was snow covered at times and slow. Or it was very rocky and slow. I had to tell myself it just takes patience. Keep moving forward steadily and you will get there. It was unfortunate to miss the scenery for the dark, but I had ridden this area once before with Pete Rissler on the return from our loop around Little High Rock Canyon.
I arrived on SR 34 just below Leadville Canyon. I was relieved to know if I followed the gravel road to paved I would make it to the car. Sure enough, after 15 hours I was back to my vehicle. What is on my windshield? Someone put a dead rabbit under my wiper blades. I wasn’t going to worry about it. Maybe it is some local humor, I can play along. I got loaded up, clothes changed, and vehicle defrosted. Oh, and the rabbit. It wasn’t. It was a grey fur trimmed hat, complete with ear flaps. Was there some Black Rock Mad Hatter leaving warm hats for travelers on a cold winter night? Most likely someone found the hat on the road thought it was mine and tried to return it. A simpler story but not as imaginative.
What a day! I pulled off the planned route and got to see some amazing public lands. While this route can stand alone I think it would be a great route to access High Rock Canyon. Once through Sheep Buttes head north past High Rock Lake and into High Rock Canyon. If you were to only make one pass through the NCA then this will give you the biggest bang for your buck.