I envision four major routes showcasing The Black Rock Desert – High Rock Canyon Emigrant Trails National Conservation Area. First is the gravel County Road 34. The road is paved out of Gerlach but turns to dirt to the north at Hualapai Flat. Then it is about 60 miles to Vya. The road runs along the west boarder of the NCA with views of the Calico Mountain, Little High Rock Canyon, and High Rock Canyon Wildernesses. I made one loop off Co Rd 34 with Pete Rissler from Lund Petrified Forest between Little High Rock Canyon and High Rock Canyon Wildernesses. More to come. Second is Jungo Rd, the gravel road from Gerlach to Winnemucca via Sulphur. At Sulphur a gravel road heads north between the Black Rock Desert and Jackson Mountains Wildernesses. The third is Soldier Meadows Rd. Just north of Gerlach, past several access points to the Black Rock playa, is the gravel road turn off into the middle of the NCA. The road runs north for 50 miles past the Calico Mountains and High Rock Lake Wildernesses. The fourth route follows the Applegate-Nobles historic emigrant trails from Rye Patch Reservoir to Vya. This route is the crown jewel of rides in the NCA.
My plan was to spend a very long day on Co Rd 34 to Vya and back. At this point I had ridden about 25 miles of this road and characterized it as an excellent candidate for a long gravel ride. I took off at sunrise, temperatures in the low teens, and enjoyed the changing colors as I climbed into Leadville Canyon. I was pleased to see so much water in Leadville Creek, noting it as a filterable water source for future rides. Speaking of water, I was surprised just how quickly my water bottle froze in these conditions. Luckily it was a sunny day so I knew I could get my bottles to defrost. Next cold outing I will keep my bottles under a jacket in a string back pack.
After a short climb I was on packed snow and ice. Maybe with changes in exposure and once the canyon opens up the snow will clear. After the first hour I had little confidence in the road conditions. While I have had rides with significant snowy hike-a-bikes that really wasn’t my plan for today. Only 12.5 miles into the ride I turned around. I didn’t feel too defeated, I had plenty of options at lower, flatter elevations to ride. road may have been fine with plus to fat width tires. My gravel bike with 700×40 tires was just not cutting it.
I was super curious as to the conditions on the playa. The general wisdom is once the playa is wet stay off! All winter I had looked out on the playa, saw its surface glistening in the sun, reflecting moonlight, starlight, creeks forming in depressions, and blue pools reflecting the blue sky. So, how wet is it? I drove down to the 12 mile access point and walked out onto dry clay.
There are designated or well traveled routes on the playa that have created permanent depressions in the ancient lake bed. They have collected water and froze. Up to their edge the clay seemed dry. The textures on the playa were like nothing I had ever seen. Nature as artist never ceases to amaze me. While the underlying geochemistry would be a fascinating story I was in awe of the magic of the Black Rock Desert. I followed the west arm of the playa 20 miles between the Calico Hills and the Black Rock Range befor exiting onto Soldier Meadows Rd.
I continued north on Soldier Meadows Rd for 10 miles. I passed the turn-off for Jackass Flat (the boundary between Calico Mountain and High Rock Lake Wildernesses), Wheeler and Wagner private properties, before turning back on Soldier Meadows Rd.
Most of the return trip was a review for me. In my mind Soldier Meadows Rd is flat. In reality it is rolling and punchy with varying conditions. My thoughts kept coming back to how difficult it was to get into a groove that could just eat up the miles. This is a mental game I need to work on as my rides get longer. The KHS Grit 440 was a fantastic choice for the day’s adventure. This was another full day of riding in Vittoria’s Arctic winter mtb shoe. The temperatures were consistently bellow freezing, I stepped through ice into ankle deep water, and yet my feet were comfortable all day.