What draws you to the Black Rock Desert? Is it the bizarre landscape of the ancient lake bed swept clean by the powerful forces of the wind, water and sun, challenging your imagination in ways never thought possible? Is it the artist’s pallet found in the light reflected back to you from every surface, stationary and moving, unique from every angle, unique at every hour and every season? Is it the history of the people and the environment, from those who first walked through a very different landscape 10,000 years ago to those early explorers followed by emigrant/settlers who traveled west across our new nation some 200 years ago? Are you chasing your life list of birds, butterflies, reptiles or wild game? Are you chasing pop-cultural icons of film and art found only in this area with the likes of Planet X Pottery, Guru Road, Burning Man and The Winning of Barbara Worth? I encourage you to come visit for any one of these reasons and return to pursue another.
My first visit to the area some twenty years ago was to explore the possibility of riding through the rugged High Rock Canyon. There was a lot of driving, we visited Fly Geyser, drove on the playa, and stopped in at Bruno’s Country Club. It was so new and mind expanding that my first impressions are difficult to sort. After countless trips to the area I am much more focused in quests but keep all the values of the National Conservation Area in view.
Hot springs are a draw in any location and the Black Rock Desert is no exception. My first thoughts when thinking about bikepacking and hot springs is Adventure Cycling’s Idaho Hot Springs Mountain Bike Route. Here in Nevada ground water heated by geothermal activity may bubble to the surface of mined to create surface water for livestock. In some cases these become popular spots to take a soak in a “developed” pool, sometime equipped with a dock, tub, and/or plumbing that allows temperature regulation and opportunities to clean and refill the tubs.
In this route, Hot Springs 2.0, an alternative to my first hot springs route, I wanted to showcase a few spots I had just learned about, Cassidy Mine and the minor playas above Black Rock Point, in a triangular loop that crosses the playa three times connecting Double, Black Rock, and Trego hot springs in a manageable day trip or leisurely overnight. The route starts on the playa at 12 Mile access point off Co Rd 34, just a few miles short of Soldier Meadows Road.
Cassidy Mine and Secondhand Spring were my first destinations. Cassidy Mine was a hot tip I had gotten from Friends of Black Rock High Rock as a spot to explore, a broad flat space for a group camp, and spectacular sunrises and sets from the Black Rock Range to Calico Hills. It is all that and accessible from the playa as well as Soldier Meadows Road. It could easily serve as a base camp for a clover leaf of tours. Secondhand Spring is protected by clumps of healthy vegetation and home to ruins off the designated route. Back on the playa I made a bee-line across to Double hot springs. I cannot get enough of early morning light across the playa.
There is something indescribable about crossing the playa and reaching the far shore. I use these pelagic descriptions but I am always on terra firma. As the route becomes more defined I approach the boundary dunes, crusty crystalline soils and grassy patches characteristic of the diffuse springs in the area. But then there is the spectacle of the double pools and connected river of scalding mineral water. Welcome to Double hot springs on the Applegate Emigrant Trail.
Hot spring activity is not limited to pools and rivulets emptying into the desert. Between Double and Black Rock hot springs are the diffuse hot springs creating lush wetlands. Casey Springs is an example. The habitat stands out between the playa and Black Rock Range.
From here I worked my way south to Black Rock Point. But I had another side trip following another hot tip from Friends of BRHR. There are a couple of hanging micro-playas above the main playa. As a self-diagnosed playa junkie I had to check them out. I climbed to a rocky ridge through a vegetation-less landscape that is too often described as Martian, but at least not of this world. The bare rock is craggy and volcanic looking. The deep reds and browns seem very good at reflecting the sun. From the ridge I dropped into the first playa.
The surface was smooth with fine cracks in it. There was an indelible track from vehicle traffic but in comparison to the track on the main playa it is barely a scratch. I worked my way to the second playa. It contains a rocky island and had a single occupant on its far edge. This is about the most remote location I could imagine camping on the playa.
I dropped back down to the boundary dunes of the playa to continue south. I passed a small party camped in the dunes a ways from Black Rock hot springs. This pool with developed dock is one of the most picturesque. Then it was back on the playa to make a bee-line to Trego hot springs.
Crossing the playa was a guessing game to which texture was going to be the most efficient. Soft, hard, crunchy, tracked or untracked playa was quickly correlated with speeds between 3 and 13 miles per hour. I was also approaching high noon. The heat was noticeably becoming more oppressive by the hour. Then I came to the Quinn River.
How was I going to cross? It wasn’t a particularly wide river, more of a v-notched puddle in my way. I knew I had to be near its end, do I just go around? What if the “end” is a giant mud slick. Taking off my shoes seemed like the easiest approach but stubbornly I followed the water upstream until I found a natural land bridge to cross. At this point the Quinn was just a series of puddles. Once I crossed I located an anticipated track to follow to Trego.
I homed in on the railroad crossing at Trego. There is an elaborate dune system along the south shore of the playa and it is in desperate need in conservation from ATV abuse. I approached a surprisingly desolate hot springs. Trego is probably the most popular hot springs on the playa with easy access from Jungo Rd and available camping. I have enjoyed its warm waters in all four seasons.
Back on the playa it was an easy but hot return to 12 Mile Access and my vehicle. This route came about in looking for a rich and accessible ride for the day tripper to the Black Rock. I invite the artist to come out and refresh their pallet with the colors and textures in the desert. I invite the citizen scientists to come out and expand their natural wonder. I invite everyone to take a large dose of wilderness therapy at the Black Rock, then take the cure back to wherever they reside.
As you do your research about the Black Rock Desert be sure to checkout Friends of BRHR. If the visitors center is open check it out. Ask and I am sure you can get some hot tips to make your visit that much richer. If you like what you see they provide great opportunities for continued stewardship.