This year, 2020 needs no further introduction, Adventure Cycling’s two member-lead events, Bike Travel Weekend and Bike Your Park, were pushed around, pushed together, and in some cases made virtual. I decided to lead a ride despite the Moderate to Unhealthy air quality conditions we had been experiencing in the wake of the West’s worst fire season ever because we all need a break, an escape, an adventure with friends. And it turned out great!
The Dry Valley OHV Area is managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and offers two developed trailheads and designated roads and trails recommended for particular OHV use. I first visited the area in January 2018 and thought it would be a great destination for adventure cyclists of all tire widths (it is interesting how we get defined by a particular bike feature, where the rubber meets the road) because there is such varied terrain right from the trailhead. Each year I told myself I needed to plan an event, a rendezvous to bring together all types of backroad riders from gravel grinding day trippers to fat-packing expedition riders. I also wanted to shed light on this otherwise obscure location. It is in-line to tour from Reno to Pyramid Lake to Dry Valley to Smoke Creek Desert to Gerlach and the Black Rock Desert. But I never heard mention of Dry Valley and adjacent Dry Valley Rim Wilderness Study Area until I started poking around the area.
I decided on this destination in 2019 right after leading a ride through the Walker River Recreation Area, Nevada’s newest State Park. I posted my ride on the Adventure Cycling’s Bike Your Park website as soon as the opportunity was available. I promoted the ride through social media. My job was done but first COVID-19 challenged everything in our daily lives, then the wildfire season had its impact on all outdoor activities. Two weeks before the event I rode in unpleasant wildfire smoke, to recon the route and determine a spot to camp, with a sense of optimism. Two days before the ride we had clear skies and a lot of interest in the ride. On the eve of the ride the smoke came back, Doyle, CA was measuring Moderate to Unhealthy air quality but that was 30-ish miles from the trailhead. I committed to meet anyone willing to take a chance. The wind and smoke forecasts looked promising.
At the trailhead we were a group of four! Mike, Matt, and Shay. One more rider than last year. The skies were a bit hazy but definitely not smokey. We could see a lot of blue and the distant mountain ranges were visible, not so on my last visit. By 10:30 we were on the trail, Mission Wells Road, pedaling north. Spirits were high, and it is too bad not to have sound bites from riders shuffling through riding conversations. I hadn’t really ridden much with anyone in the group, Shay sometimes on my home-bound commute, one gravel outing with Mike, and only a couple of muddy miles with Matt. This is quality time.
Our first stop was a canyon that was labeled “Ruins” on the USGS topo. There were a couple rock wall outlines I assume from early ranchers in the area. We passed the Mission Corrals, a small dry lake bed with an excavated watering hole at one end, and plenty of evidence of ongoing grazing in the area. But the big surprise in the canyon was several panels of petroglyphs. Rock art in Nevada is not rare, just rarely spotted outside of the well publicized areas such as the Lagomarsino Petroglyphs. After a short scramble we were back on our bikes!
The next canyon was labeled “Caves”. I would label it Breccia (conglomerate rock) Stone Giants. The rock formations were peppered with caves, small ones harboring birds nests and some with larger bones at the entrance that made me consider predators larger than birds. These canyons could occupy the curious for hours. Back on our bikes we passed up several canyons with springs and vertical rock walls reaching to the Dry Valley Rim on our way to camp.
By this point we had left the Dry Valley OHV Area and were travelling on the edge of the Dry Valley Rim Widerness Study Area (WSA). What is a WSA? These are tracts of land identified by land managers of a particular minimum size that have the attributes and qualities of wilderness, then become managed as such, without designation as such. Confusing? Public Land Purgatory. We have a lot of it, their management is highly debated, in Washoe County. Although there are no bikes in the wilderness, I love it. There are “cherry stem” roads embedded in the wilderness that get me close by bike and I can walk the rest. The solitude is amazing.
We entered an open patch of ranch land. The road climbed a final steep pitch. As the grade approaches 27% the track requires perfect lines to clean without the inevitable “looking for rocks,” a euphemism for hike-a-bike. From there we found an open ridge with a great view of Dry Valley, Smoke Creek Desert, the Fox, Granite, and Lake Ranges, and the valley rim above us. Nevada’s landscapes are abrupt and densely layered. It packs a punch to the senses.
We were a group of four, so quickly there were four tents pitched. Then we could relax an conversations started to flow. How much bikepacking we were doing, consensus; not enough. How our gear was working out, consensus; just fine. What’s for dinner; no consensus. Shay is stoveless. I like the idea. Plenty of raw foods or dried foods that can be re-hydrated and consumed at ambient temperatures. I need to plan some stoveless trips. Mike and Matt are fans of the dried backpackers food that is reconstituted and eaten from its pouch. They had quite the insight to meals and brands to try or avoid. I always have shied away from these meals until one morning Patrick Smith shared his biscuits and gravy with me and my opinion was changed, this stuff is good, right out of the pouch. Me, I’m a stove user. I like soups for dinner, hot drinks on cold nights and cold mornings and porridge, sweet or savory, for breakfast. Bagel sandwiches and trail mixes are also standbys. I wish I had gummy colas on this trip.
Watching the light change colors and the shadows creep across the desert is a favorite pastime in the desert. Once it was dark we had the night sky to focus on. The waxing moon had already established itself before dark so it wasn’t the best night for stargazing but we still had a view of the Milkyway, prominent constellations and planets, and fly overs by the ever increasing numbers of satellites. Getting up in the middle of the night, the moon had set, and the first thing my eyes focused on was Orion.
We spent a good amount of time checking out the night photo capabilities of our smart phones. Everyone produced some cool shots. Mike produced the best with his Samsung S20. It was fun to geek out.
The next morning I had my first encounter (a bit messy) with an Aeropress. Normally I am instant coffee packer but I figured I would give this a try. My verdict, I am not convinced it was that much better than my instant option. But it was fun and entertaining to those watching me make a mess. And there are so many alternatives to explore. Maybe we need a special edition of “coffee outside” to get some super jittery results! No one’s breakfast was too elaborate so we were packed up and ready to ride in short order.
We followed a pipe line road back to the trailhead. It was a direct but sandy route. It is common to find large sand patches and dunes on the edges of playas. On some trips I seek them out adding diversity to the landscape, other times I seek to avoid them, hike-a-bike may be unavoidable. I think I got as many different reactions to the sand as there were riders, “bring it on, my tires are wide enough”, “ooh, how can I get better at riding through sand?” to “NO MORE SAND!” I was just apologetic and sympathetic.
Arriving at the trailhead I was very pleased to meet Mitch Ison, the founder of a local FaceBook community BurritoPacking NV. He was just behind us, then ahead of us the whole trip! Next time we will sync up for sure!
Nothing but a super successful trip for 2020! In the grand tradition of planning a year in advance next year’s Bike Your Park will be an overnight to the Pine Grove ghost town in the Pine Grove Hills south of Wellington, NV. Practice your ghost stories, they were something Matt kept asking for.