“I bet we can name 8 ranges we have ridden through or past on this trip. Sand Springs Range, Cocoon Mountains, Koegel Hills, Terrill Mountains, Gillis Range, Gabbs Valley Range, Fissure Ridge, and Monte Cristo Mountains. Looking far to the horizon we can see the Wassuk Range, Paradise Range, and Shoshone Mountains. I don’t think there are many places in the world you can do this,” I said to Jake on the morning of Day 2.
“You should call it The Ride of 8 Ranges.”
I did a short tour through this area from south to north and back. I returned once to visit the hot springs. Then recently I noticed a dashed line on the USGS topo maps indicating an abandoned railroad grade. The hook was set. I came up with a route skirting present day mines, past historic ghost towns, looping around on an abandoned railroad grade, and returning via hot springs on the edge of medium sized alkali flat or playa. The start of the ride was only a two hour drive from Reno, the daily distances and elevation gains were moderate, so I put it out to the local Facebook group, BurritoPackingNV, as an open ride. I got 3 takers, Marc, Jake, and Alan. The ride was on!
The route dropped into a caldera before we climbed around the Koegel Hills past the present day Rawhide Mine. Unfortunately the modern day mine was built on top of the historic site wiping out any evidence of the town that once was inhabited by 6-8 thousand residents beginning in 1906. About all that remains is the cemetery with a few modest grave markers.
Just before the Rawhide Cemetery we could make out the distinct raised bed of the Rawhide Western Railway Company. Of the several attempts to bring the railroad to the mining district this had been the closest. The grade was complete from Rawhide to the Carson-Colorado Railway (now Southern Pacific) just south of Schurz. But tracks were never laid. Leaving the road for the grade took this ride to the next level of adventure. For miles we could easily follow the grade, then it would disappear in the sandy basin. We eventually opted for a sandy two track, that was only marginally faster, and routed us to a tadpole shaped mud flat.
Jake pointed out native bunch grass as we crossed Rawhide Flats, “This is what the Great Basin is supposed to look like.” He was contrasting this to the cheatgrass mono-culture linked to wildfires and critical habitat loss for sage grouse in the sagebrush-grassland ecosystem. The distinction left me wondering what kept this area from having cheatgrass. This might be a great area to check out native plants come spring and early summer.
Back on good roads we climbed until sunset then descended back into the caldera in the twilight. Fortunately we had a calm night. After meals were prepped and dinners were consumed there was little time spent stargazing before the long night in the tents.
Day 2 started with a brilliant sunrise… and coffee mixed with hot cocoa. Packing up we noticed quite the assortment of rocks in the wash south of the Rawhide Mining District. Alan, when not performing his day job at Custom Ink, and not creating his own graphic novels, is an avid rockhound. He pointed out Chalcedony, which definitely expanded my horizons beyond quartz and all other “interesting rocks”. I enjoy learning from others.
We decided to split our group into two, Jake and Alan rode back to the vehicles on the main road while Marc and I looped around the playa to catch a few sights. First stop was the Ormat Geothermal Plant. The geology of Nevada is such that our crust is stretch thin allowing hot rock and water to mix just below the surface. Nevada has long been a leader in renewable energy as just across from the geothermal plant is the Car Frame Windmill. I would love to hear the story from the designer of this kinetic sculpture/water pump. It is a fantastic work of art.
From there we made our way to the Black Hills and Fissure Ridge. This is an area I would like to poke around for a day. There are old mines and striking changes in rock color. This was my third visit and every time I think, what would this spot look like at sunset? This area is even accessible for a day trip. Our next stop was Rawhide Hot Springs. But looking around I was getting a little concerned about the weather. Heavy skies, wind picking up, and snow squalls on the horizon gave me a sense of urgency. We decided on a bee-line, with the wind at our backs, across the playa. A great route! The dry lake bed has a “crystally”, crusty, textured edge and a hard cracked mud-flat center. I am still waiting to meet the geologist who can explain the nuance of what gives each playa its own fingerprint of textures.
The climb from the playa to the main road and our vehicles was just that, a climb. The slope from the Sand Springs Range to the dry lake bed is a giant wash and even indicated so on the USGS topo map. I would imagine it would be a rockhound’s delight. I have since been in contact with Alan to do a return trip and focus on rocks. I think a day trip, across the playa to Fissure Ridge and back will be a great late spring/early summer trip. January’s overnight is planned as a tour of Seven Troughs Range and ghost towns.