There are hundreds of miles of gravel roads and jeep trails around and through the Black Rock Desert – High Rock Canyon Emigrant Trails National Conservation Area (NCA). A bikepacker’s paradise. Gerlach is the pedestal for these adventures and at only 100 easy-driving-miles from Reno is very accessible for a long day trip or weekend get-away. From the south you roll into Gerlach on NV 447, pass Bruno’s Country Club, Bev’s Miners Club, and Friends of Black Rock High Rock, then head out along the Black Rock Desert on Washoe County Road 34. Past several access points to the playa, past Soldier Meadows Rd, onto Hualapai Flat the road turns to dirt. Past the few farms and ranches of this rich vernal wetland you enter some of Nevada’s most remote outback. Get on your bike and slow your roll.
Co Rd 34 is a north west artery to adventure for the Granite Range, Calico Mountain Wilderness, Little High Rock Canyon Wilderness, High Rock Canyon Wilderness, and Wall Canyon Wilderness Study Area. I have ridden on this road as a part of a loop through the Little High Rock Canyon and High Rock Canyon Wildernesses, the Calico Hills, and the Granite Range. I made a feeble attempt to ride the road this winter but was turned around by too much snow for my gravel bike’s narrow tires. I should have had the fat bike. This ride was to makeup for this attempt.
The gravel length of Co Rd 34 is about 64 miles to Vya at the northern edge of the NCA. The road continues another 37 miles to the Oregon border passing the Sheldon National Antelope Refuge. Few 100 mile stretches of road have the potential for adventure as seen here. Most notably over the 40+ miles of road I was out and back on there was no washboard.
Hallelujah! Though I have been told this may change by fall.
I left the car under heavy skies. The weather report was fair, 20% chance for rain, increasing winds out of the south, and a high of about 50 degrees. Maybe not ideal weather, but I can work with that.
Leaving Hualapai Flat I was struck by the volume of chocolaty brown water pumping through the streams. Spring is upon northern Nevada. After a notably big winter the snow pack is melting quickly out of the Granite Range and Calico Mountains. For my entertainment the flooded Red Mountain Creek became a watering hole for dozens of antelope. Climbing Leadville Canyon I had three creek crossings that I cautiously made on the bike. It is always a risk to not dismount and cross bare footed. Although it was fine for this trip maybe it should become rule to avoid wet feet or worse.
Climbing Leadville Canyon was moderate and familiar from descending from the Leadville site. Between this junction and Barley Rd I was riding the road for the first time. Then I was on a stretch of road to the turnoff for Little High Rock reservoir that includes the Lund Petrified Forest that I had ridden with Pete Rissler. Experiencing this country at a bicycle’s pace leaves lasting impressions.
Now I was making new impressions. Every side road left me wondering to wander. I was rolling along between 5300′ and 6300′ in elevation but the grades stayed mostly in the single digits. But even so, after 35 miles my legs were starting to tell me they were not ready for a twelve hour day out here. The weather was on my mind in addition to my physical conditioning. But I decided I would take little pokes at the side roads on the return. The little notches on the return route remind me to explore these side routes by map for future trips.
The peak pass around Hart Mountain still had a snow field on the side of the road. It was remarkable just how good of shape the road was in. The sagebrush landscape was vast, only occasionally broken by bands of rock. Passing the 40 mile mark I made the decision to turn around in the next couple of miles. I was crossing Antelope Flat looking over at Nellie Spring Mountain and taking in the solitude. Ahead I picked the last cattle guard for my turn around point.
While some riders are against the out-and-back ride I find them to be fine in the wild. Even if I am on familiar roads I feel the views are unique. I would have missed the shack on Hart Camp Rd if I were only going out. Long gradual climbs became welcomed descents, quick downhills became brutal climbs. Landmarks I saw in morning light were now in a warm afternoon light. I was particularly pleased to see the notch of the top of Little High Rock Canyon.
The weather was changing. The wind had come up out of the south as predicted by the National Weather Service. At the top of Leadville Canyon I roads through about 15 minutes of rain. I was wearing a light weight Patagonia Houdini but swapped it out for the Nano Puff. The rain did not last but I was comfortable for the last descent to the car.
Leadville Road, Washoe County Rd 34, is a fantastic gravel ride out of Gerlach. I consider it to be the west arm of travel routes through the NCA. It provides access to the Granite Range, Little High Rock Canyon Wilderness, High Rock Canyon Wilderness, Wall Canyon WSA, Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge, and more to the Oregon border. So weather you want hundreds of uninterrupted gravel miles to ride through vast landscapes or access to dozens of roads to explore in northern Nevada this road is for you.
I did this ride on my KHS Grit 440 gravel bike with 700×40 tires. The road was in such great shape I think 32 mm tires and above would be fine for touring. I carried about 3 L of water, snacks, first aide, repair kit, and a light jacket for the day. By the numbers the ride was 86 miles with 5600′ of climbing. The birds always leave me wondering what I saw as my identifications are sophomoric at best. A great day on the bike.
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