This year I am taking on a project to write a guide for touring The Black Rock Desert – High Rock Canyon Emigrant Trails National Conservation Area (NCA). While it seems to be a no-brainer that this is a hot spot for adventure touring the current BLM literature makes no specific reference to travel by bicycle. For many people I get it, the vast harsh desert seems like an unlikely touring destination. But not for my tribe of adventure cyclists, so let me be your guide.
I have identified four major routes in or along the NCA that can serve as the basis for any number of trips. Out of Gerlach to the North west is Co Rd 34 to Vya. Out of Gerlach to the east is Jungo Rd. Up the middle to the north is Soldier Meadows Rd. And a slash from south east to the north west is the Applegate-Nobles Emigrant Trail.
This ride follows the southern and eastern edge of the NCA on Jungo Rd to the ghost town of Sulphur then turns north on Jackson Creek Ranch Rd. I chose an arbitrary turn around point near the turn off before Red Butte Canyon and Bonita Spring.
It was fantastic to be waking up on the playa! I had actually gotten out of bed hours before, drove the two hours to the Jungo Road intersection with SR 477, but then rode along the playa with the first rays of the day. I chose my KHS Grit 440 gravel bike for the day’s ride. I was expecting hard packed yet rough roads to Sulphur and I wasn’t completely sure of the road conditions for Jackson Ck Ranch Rd. My alternative plan if the roads got too soft to ride would be to continue on Jungo Rd to the Jungo site and beyond. To ride to Winnemucca is still high on my to-do list.
The first 30+ miles of the route was familiar. I first rode from Frog Pond to SR 447 with my co-workers on a staff retreat 5 years ago. Since then I had ridden the 30 miles out and back with Brandon Anderson, and most recently ridden on it to close the loop from the Kumiva Valley through the Lava Beds. But this ride was the furthest out Jungo Rd I had been.
Fourty miles into the ride was the ghost town of Sulphur. All that remains is a building and a roof top on the ground. The interpretive kiosk gives a glimpse back in time to Sulphur’s heyday. Across Jungo Rd is the Hycroft Mine, it tends to dominate the skyline for miles. Don’t let it overly distract you from the Kama and Jackson Mountains. The crossroads at this point can send you in a number of directions.
Turning north on Jackson Creek Ranch Road I just got excited, I had no idea what was ahead. I watched storms whip along the Black Rock Desert. This section was marked designating the Black Rock Desert Wilderness. From the description provided be the Friends of Nevada Wilderness pack rafting the mighty Quinn River in a high water year might be the best way to travel through this gem of desert wildernesses.
I shared the bright green terrain with beautiful healthy reddish brown cows. I passed a few wells and springs. One hot spring had official looking signs that indicated these waters were for livestock and not to be diverted for recreation. While this is understandable it was also a first for me. Seems like with proper engineering the constant trickle could provide water for both.
Based on time and mileage I picked a turn around point. I was short of the Jackson Mountains Wilderness Areas but had been enjoying views of King Lear Peak (8923′) for miles. I think I could entice some of my climbing friends to come out for a multi-sport adventure. King Lear climbs nearly 5,000′ from the desert floor with class 3 and 4 climbing.
This was simply an out and back trip. My Garmin suggested a slightly alternate return trip but I feared the roads might get soft and I wasn’t looking forward to hours of hiking on sandy roads if it could be avoided. As I have said in past posts the return portion of an out and back has completely different views in completely different light. The day’s forecast had a 20% chance of thunder storms. The building thunder heads had me take stock in my storm gear. Patagonia Nano Puff and Houdini jacket, check, I felt confident.
I came across a rattle snake in the road. It was eager to buzz and get away from me. It moved faster than I could get to my camera. For the year I have seen 6 to 1 gopher snakes to rattler. I hate hearing about folks arbitrarily killing snakes on their rides. They deserve our respect and protection.
Back at the car the skies were dark with heavy clouds. A motorist stopped to ask if I was ok. It is nice to know out here people look out for each other. By the numbers I had ridden 116 miles. I had ridden along the NCA, the Selenite Mountains Wilderness Study Area, The Black Rock Desert Wilderness Area, and approached the Jackson Mountains Wilderness Areas. I passed three hot springs. I passed routes south to the Kumiva Valley, Lava Beds and Granite Springs Valley. I rode through the ghost town of Sulphur and intersected with the Nobles and Applegate Emigrant trails. The landscape held the desert playa in stark contrast to the dozen or so named mountains and ranges. For these reasons I consider Jungo Rd to Jackson Creek Ranch Rd a major route for touring the NCA.