Day Trip; Through the notch, Juniper Pass, around the Sahwave Mountains

From ArcGIS – USA Topo maps, how could you not be drawn to ride through this feature?

On the map there was this discrete notch between the Sahwave Mountains and the Blue Wing Hills. Never before have I been so captivated by a series of contour lines. But there it was, connecting two dry lake beds, with a road labeled Juniper Pass . I have seen it from the south, from Granite Springs Valley, a little brown line on the horizon. So the need for this ride was born.

Corral with Sahwaves as backdrop
Cheap rent
One of the few vehicles I saw all day, to I-80

The Sahwave Mountains never caught my attention. Juniper Peak is at 7474′ with a ridge line at the north end of the mountains right about 7000′. The mountains are sparsely vegetated with a freckling of junipers. My friend Pete Rissler has suggested there is a fair amount of moto single track in the area and a ridge line road. But Juniper Pass always caught my eye.

Gopher snakes and the usual assortment of lizard abound

I needed a close-to-home outing so I picked a familiar trailhead an easy hour’s drive east of Reno. The Nightingale Hot Springs exit off I-80 refers to the Nightingale Mountains to the north and the Hot Springs Mountains to the south. I have used this dirt road pull out on several rides. The first 16 miles were familiar, I rode north along the Truckee Range until I teed into Sagehen Creek Rd. After 4.5 miles I turned north to follow the east side of the Sahwave Mountains.

Not a ton of flowers
But the blooms are eye catching

The Sahwaves rise unimpressively in the south. But I was entertained by wild flowers and lizards warming in the sun. The Nevada sun should never be underestimated. Exposure is extreme, but luckily the cool morning hours were very comfortable riding in shorts and a light long sleeve base layer. I came across a corral with watering troughs for the local cattle ranchers. Ranching is the primary use for this area.

The biggest washout
A shortcut through the Sahwaves

The jeep road along the base of the Sahwaves was rugged and slow going. As the mountains steepened, rugged canyons appeared and the geology became more impressive. There was a faster road along the playa that I eventually moved to but it was entertaining to be riding at the base of the mountains.

Looking back to Blue Wing Flat and the Trinity Range from Juniper Pass
This could be any mountain pass in the world, Juniper Pass

Soon I was at the turnoff for Juniper Pass. I was not disappointed. The notch was even more impressive in person. The Sahwave shoulder and the Blue Wing Mountains shoulder were separated by a rock scoured gully that could have been in any of the world’s great mountain ranges. Again my thoughts go to what it would be like to see this in a flash flood.

Poking through to Kumiva Valley, Selenite Range
North through Kumiva Valley to Black Rock Desert and beyond

Beyond the Blue Wing Mountains I entered Kumiva Valley with views of the Selenite Range and Nightingale Mountains. I turned south through vast range land before entering the long descent through Sage Hen Valley. I finished my loop around the Sahwave Mountain via Sage Hen Wash before turning south to my vehicle. The route took on a lariat loop shape.

South along the Nightingale Range
Powerline roads offer quick passage

I hadn’t plotted a discrete route to follow for this ride. I relied the maps stored inside my Garmin and my familiarity with the area from past visits plus studying the satellite images from Google. The route worked out just fine. On the east side of the Sahwaves I could have followed a faster road along the Blue Wing playa, but I would have missed the up close views of the craggy canyons. There were a couple of 6-way crossroads that had me choosing carefully and in the back of mind getting “lost” (but not really lost, just off track for a while) was a possibility. One feature of following a saved route on Garmin is having that “crystal ball” of what elevation change is ahead in addition to an exact distance. I get a bit addicted to the technology especially as rides become specifically goal oriented so it was nice to just go for it. I definitely wasn’t going into it blind or not using the Garmin to its fullest extent. I scrolled ahead to see where roads lead and used the pin dropping feature to estimate the distance to the next crossroads. By the numbers this ride was 91 miles with 4000′ of climbing.

Sage Hen Wash

My cognitive map of the area from the Black Rock Desert to I-80 is filling in. It contains a dozen or so mountain ranges with associated valleys ranging is elevation from below 4000′ to above 8200′. There are ghost towns, cow camps, test sites, active mines, and other archaeological sites. Flora and fauna abound for the natural historian in all of us. And accessibility is very high for those who want to get out there. You will be greeted by solitude. You will be welcomed by silence only interrupted by the wind and birds.

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