October 17&18 Water crossing make the best photos. Water crossings with a tandem make even better photos, and… When writing a story be sure to make it about the people.
I got a lot of great advice for my blog on this trip. I seek it out everywhere I can. On this trip I was surrounded by such talented folks; Jim Scripps, Rick Gunn, Stacey Wittek, Carlo Luri, Shay Daylami, and Marc Pfister and Caille Gash on their tandem. That made us a merry band of eight, or as I like to say the Guardians of High Rock Canyon!
We came together as a experiment to see what it would be like to host a bike tour within the Black Rock Desert High Rock Canyon Emigrant Trails National Conservation Area. The name needs a standard abbreviation, for here I will call it the NCA (though it is only one of several National Conservation Areas). Stacey is the Executive Director of Friends of Black Rock High Rock (FBRHR, but I will refer to them as Friends) and is looking at expanding the recreational opportunities beyond OHV use in the NCA. I had heard her name in context of bike touring in the NCA so we finally met over pizza and beer and invited as many interested stakeholders to these dinners. We kicked around a couple of routes before deciding on High Rock Canyon for its beauty and historical significance as a portion of the Applegate Emigrant Trail.
I focused my riding in and around the NCA in 2019 and shared a bigger version of this route through Ride with GPS’s Route Ambassador Program. The route climbs High Rock Canyon from bottom to Steven’s Camp before returning to our start via High Rock Canyon Rd and County Road 34. Most of us camped at the start of the ride, a few stayed in Gerlach, and Jody Dallas catered the beer all the way from Reno in a day’s drive out to Steven’s Camp. There is a commitment to getting out for this tour, Reno to Gerlach is just under a 2 hour drive, another hour to the start of the ride, and another hour to Steven’s Camp.
This route allows for follow vehicles if they are competent 4×4’ers but Stacey’s husband and huge volunteer for Friends, Johnathan Hurt, provided SAG via our return route to Steven’s Camp. The SAG was a fantastic option, people could ride fully loaded or only carry what they needed for the day. It also demonstrates the range of trips possible from fully loaded/ self supported to fully catered.
We rolled through sweeping ranch land to the mouth of Little High Rock canyon. It was snack and story time at the Little High Rock Hilton. Stacey has stories, contemporary to historical, for every stop on route! With more time Little High Rock Canyon would make a fantastic day hike. Then we were on to High Rock Canyon.
Here there is a Y in the road, the left arm (north west) was our arm into the canyon and the right arm (north east) would take you to Fly Canyon, the Pot Holes, and Soldier Meadows. Both are great options but we were set on High Rock Canyon and Steven’s Camp. We entered a wide canyon with a central arroyo and dense sagebrush and willows. Rick Gunn, our fearless photographer, shot ahead on his gravel bike and disappeared. As the canyon narrowed there was Rick, he scrambled up a loose rocky perch to shoot photos of us coming through. Showing restraint he only had us ride past one more time.
Then we came to these stone columns I have dubbed the Guardians of High Rock Canyon. Not only is this a phenomenal geological spot, but this is home to Post Office Caves and emigrant petroglyphs. Stacey’s story telling included the emigrant dead are buried under the wagon tracks. We are traveling on hallowed ground in so many ways. There is no discounting the importance and sacredness of the area to those who first walked, hunted, lived, and died in these canyons 10-15 thousand years ago. It is impossible to look up at these stone cliffs without reverence.
And them came water crossings. I recommended sandals because there was no avoiding wet feet on this trip. The water was much lower than when I scouted the route in 2019, but it was still over hub and bottom bracket deep in spots. But we all made it without incident. I was concerned someone might go for an accidental swim. But only Rick Gunn went for several intentional spring-dips. I did not know this about the man, but that’s his thing!
Passing through Yellow Rock Canyon we stopped for lunch at High Rock Garage. We were in awe of the geology at this particular spot. We could have used a geologist more than once to answer some questions. In paying heed to this, if I were leading another group through High Rock Canyon I would want to add geological stories to my repertoire of anthropological. From the Geology of the Great Basin (Fiero) High Rock Canyon was cut by water moving through fissures in an uplifted plateau. As to the specific rocks were were seeing, that will take a little more research.
And then the canyon opens up as we approach Steven’s Camp. After one more opportunity for wet shoes we arrive to be greeted by Johnathan and Jody, Johnathan drove SAG and Jody out for the sights and overnight. Luckily for us, as Stevens Camp is first come first serve, Jody and Johnathan were first. Another group of travelers set up not far away at the mouth of Upper High Rock Canyon. There is plenty of room to pitch a tent in this area.
Post ride beers were had (thanks to Jody and Johnathan!), Rick took another swim, tents were pitched and a wonderful dinner was prepared. Lets talk about dinner! Rick sent ahead the fixings for chicken tacos with homemade hot sauce. What a treat! Stacey and Johnathan made a fantastic jambalaya to feed the hungriest bike riders! Perfect comfort food. Everyone contributed to snacks, good conversation, and laughs. It was a time to reflect on the time on the trail we just spent together.
Post-dinner activities could include black light scorpion-hunting, none were found, star gazing, for the more poetic, glow-in-the dark bocce ball, too energetic, and night photography, techy fun! For the more energetic a nocturnal wildlife walk might be fun, but so was getting into the tent for the next day’s adventure.
Good morning, Steven’s Camp! Rise with the sun, a hot cup of coffee, and Stacey pulls another rabbit out of her hat, two delicious breakfast quiches! What a treat! I don’t remember what I brought for breakfast, but I remember the quiche! We were in no great hurry to get on the road. The return trip was a little further in mileage and elevation gains but infinitely easier in technical terrain. We were out of the canyon, riding across the plateau and its rolling seas of sage.
We started with a quick visit to Upper High Rock Canyon. This rocky little canyon is choked with trees and brush as High Rock Creek pours forth from a springhead only 2 miles away. From there we followed the original wagon trail to the junction with High Rock Road. We were on our way back to the start.
High Rock Canyon Rd crosses the elevated and tilted plateau of “Eocene-early Miocene volcanic flows” (30’ish million year old rocks), I gleaned from Roadside Geology of Nevada (DeCourten and Biggar). Though I could be totally off. Within this rolling landscape your are constantly between canyons. Within the NCA you are in wilderness so to explore cross country you need to be on foot or horseback. But after 9 miles you leave the NCA and all terrain is respectfully open.
At mile 14.5 you arrive on County Road 34, a beautifully maintained gravel road. While there was a mix of rolling climbs there was the long anticipated 7 mile downhill from the pass at Heart Mountain to Cottonwood Creek. We could see the Granite Range, entrance to Little High Rock Canyon, and the Calico Hills. Our last stop before the cars was the Lund Petrified Forest. While there are great examples of petrified wood right off the road a short hike will take you to much more.
When we got to the cars we were greeted by one last surprise, Jody left us the cooler of beer, chips, and salsa! We were well provisioned! After a quick clean up, packing, sharing of snacks and impressions of the trip we hopped in our cars with our shared experience in our rear view mirrors. Some rendezvoused in Gerlach at the Friends’ visitor center to pick up their sagged items but I expect we will all ride together again.