Overnight; Seven Troughs Range and Ghost Town Odyssey

KC Mares leading the charge, first bikepacking trip, veteran adventurer

“So, why bikepacking?” KC asked me with his GoPro focused on my mug as we blasted down a smooth dirt road on day 2 of this trip. If I had been thinking quick enough I may have tried to be clever, I like to burn up tires, or I take getting lost seriously. But my interview-mind took over and I answered, “It is the best way to enjoy what Nevada has to offer. You could hike it, but that takes too long, you could drive it but that is too fast.” My moment to be profound was lost. Yes, life at bike speed is the right speed. I couldn’t imagine exploring Nevada’s backroads any other way.

Doug Artman, route designer, experienced bikepacker, he packs a lot on his bike

This route was inspired by an overland tour done by Doug Artman in 2009. He was inspired by Stanley W. Paher’s Nevada Ghost Towns and Mining Camps. I had ridden to the start of this route from Toulon, I had come very close to the northern point of the route when I biked to Rabbithole Springs, and I touched the southwest corner of this loop when I biked through the Lava Beds. This loop around the Seven Troughs Range was the perfect bubble to tie together so many routes.

Tunnel Camp stamp mill, Christine Anderson, first time bikepacker, long time adventurer

This ride has an incredible concentration of ghost towns and mining camps. We visited Vernon, Tunnel Camp, Mazuma, Seven Troughs, Farrell, and Placerites. Tunnel Camp is by far the most preserved while the others require much more imagination. The range has been thoroughly prospected so each canyon has its old mines to explore. The camps have rich stories of thriving camp life as well as tragic events such as flooding, not only of the mines but of a torrent so large it washed a large steel safe through the mouth of the canyon at Mazuma. Hard to imagine in such a dry climate.

Imagine the town site of Seven Troughs tucked into this hillside

Cattle and sheep ranching have replaced mining and it seems the wild burros, horses, and antelope have benefited. This ride had the largest groups of burros and antelope I have encountered but not much else. Song birds, birds of prey, the omni-present ravens and other desert dwellers were conspicuously absent. We were visited by a coyote in the middle of the night that had a distinct bark. To personify his objections I don’t think he was pleased we were camped on his ridge. We saw a few tourists at Tunnel Camp, a couple of OHV users, and we chatted with a rancher who treated seeing mountain bikers as a carnival spectacle. It is nice to be distinct, even an oddity. But otherwise we had the desert to ourselves.

Nick Jensen, KC Mares, Doug Artman climbing the soft and disappearing two track
Christine Anderson, bundled up against the early morning cold
Shay Daylami tempting fate in a Seven Troughs tunnel

I promoted the trip through our local bikepacking group and brought together a completely new posse of burrito packers. Doug Artman and I had camped together and corresponded but never biked together. Shay Daylami is a co-worker and we did an overnight in September together. Christine Anderson and I have been friends since 2009 and had done some climbing together and socializing within Reno’s cycling community. KC Mares and I have known each other through Reno’s mountain bike community but we camped together during the Friend’s of Black Rock High Rock Perseid Meteor Shower Campout. Nick Jensen and I met through social media. He is Manzanita Cycles, and builds his bikes only a block from my house. I took pictures of the bees in his landscaping without knowing it was his yard. Small world connections are the best.

Lunch break, day one, top of Rocky Canyon

Although I knew everyone in the group the six of us had never traveled together before. A group of six is a nice sized group. The pacing is varied. You can chat in two’s and three’s. And you can spend time solo. Looking over the day’s progress we regrouped about every 20 minutes. Longer breaks were built in to visiting the ghost towns, Tunnel Camp, Seven Troughs, and Placerites. We also took an extended lunch at the top of Rocky Canyon. As I plan future group outings I need to keep this flow in mind.

Giant concrete mortars, arrastras, piqued my interest

Day 1: Meet at Vernon, ruins of an old block jail. Doug camped here, and Shay and I arrived just as sunrise touched the Seven Troughs Range. Nick, Christine, and KC followed, we bagged up and rolled on to Tunnel Camp. We hiked and biked around the site. The buildings and foundations are from the 20’s and 30’s and give you the most to explore.

Christine rolling down from Seven Troughs

The next stop was Mazuma at the mouth of Seven Troughs Canyon. This town site was fully developed with lodging, restaurants, and saloons. We rode past the cemetery and steel safe, all that remain from the devastating flood of 1912. Continuing up the canyon we rode to Seven Troughs. This site is an exercise in imagination. All the buildings are gone but you can see where the canyon was dug to make them fit. Doug even has a ghost story about this ghost town. I cannot do it justice, but lets say an overactive imagination can be be set off by the family dog to create a very good story.

Some of those dots are pronghorn antelope

From Seven Troughs we continued to Farrell site. This will be on the list of canyons to return to; Stonehouse Canyon, Wild Horse Canyon, Burnt Canyon, American Flat Canyon, Wildcat Canyon, and Egbert Canyon would make a great day trip. But we had our day’s climb ahead of us, Rocky Canyon. We were getting our fill of wild burros and antelope before we were treated to a herd of antelope crossing right in front of us. We were looking eye-to-eye! It is a memory not soon to be forgotten.

After lunch we dropped down to Placerites

Lunch was a nice break at the top of Rocky Canyon. The group was still getting to know each other. We had been together for 20 miles and and about 4 hours. A bikepacking trip can be an intense way to bring people together for the first time. It is fun watching the social experiment unfold. At the same time being the organizer of a group ride I know I go through a range of emotions or anxieties worry that everyone is having a good time and the trip is going well. I had nothing to worry about, plus I told everyone Doug was in charge and responsible for their good time.

Dredge pits held water from Rabbithole Springs and Cow Creek used in the rockers to separate gold from gravel

Next stop was Placerites, founded by Mahogany Jack, where gold was recovered from the gravel deposits between here and Rabithole Springs. All that remains are the dredge pit reservoirs and mounds of sifted gravel. At some point around 1930 it supported a store and speakeasy. Leaving Placerites we had about 7 miles to camp. Our turn-off was easily missed, another road indicated on the USGS topo that is being reclaimed by sage and rabbitbrush.

Almost still enough not to be noticed
And then it was gone!

This road was slow going, a soft two-track with “grass up the middle”. It was slightly uphill at the end of our day just to add to insult. At one point I stopped to look back at the group. As I put my foot down a Jackrabbit shot out a couple of feet to my side and froze. I took the time to be up close and personal with wildlife. The creature was still long enough for me to take a couple of photos before it scampered off into the desert. Shortly after we were on a good road to camp.

Final rays of the day above Judges Springs

Approaching Judges Springs I started scanning for a spot to camp. I foolishly tried to pedal across the meadow to what looked like a dry flat area. Like horses approaching a barn I blundered into saturated ground and soaked my shoes at the end of the day. Huge mistake. We found higher ground and made camp. Half of us were in tents, half in bivies. A variety of soups and mashed potatoes were consumed. I had instant potato soup and salami and cheese on a bagel. A great combo.

Waking up to a frosty morning

We were serenaded that night by a coyote that sounded upset we were camped on their hunting ground. It was the characteristic long string of yelps followed by a couple of yips like it was trying to get the last say in an argument. It was a funny observation that we all talked about over our morning hot drinks.

The Black Rock Desert was just beyond view

My meadow crossing folly resulted in shoes and socks frozen solid. I decided to wear my camp moccasins for the beginning of the ride. I couldn’t bear putting those shoes on. Luckily the Merrell Hut Moc were great to ride in! We were off to close the loop on our route. We were on good quality rolling roads hugging the northwest shoulder of the Seven Troughs Range.

Climbing to the ranch house we saw from lunch

We got onto the road through the middle of the valley. As a group we worked together and made great time covering miles of dirt road until we picked a lunch site at a major crossroads. Across the valley we could see a ranch house that marked our significant climb over the range to our starting point.

The ranch house turned out to be a collection of cabins, Porter Springs

Arriving at the ranch house it proved to be another ghost town, Porter Springs. This site was developed by the BLM providing a drop toilet, interpretive kiosk and signs, picnic tables, as well as a fenced in area that welcomed camping. We saw a wild burro watching us from a safe distance, I figured they were the mayor of Porter Springs.

The views from our climb

From there our climb started. The moderate grade gave way to some really steep pitches. But with the elevation came the views. I could trace my rides to the south from Ragged Top Rd. I could follow the roads that go around the Sahwave and Blue Wing Mountains and the road through Kumiva Valley. This loop around Seven Troughs stitched together so many past rides. Everyone felt a sense of accomplishment at the summit and enjoyed the views as the sun dipped to the west.

Christine crossing the Seven Troughs Range

As for the descent, how fast do you let it rip? Cameron Falconer advised me once, “Keep it at 80%. You can always recover from 80%.” I keep that in mind when I am out on a ride. We descended just under 30 mph, which was fast, fun, and exciting, but within that 80% threshold. It wasn’t long until we were regrouping at our cars.

Tunnel Camp looks over Sage Valley

KC had popcicles for us, yum! There is something a bit anticlimactic packing up after a trip. It is so tempting to say, “Anyone up for another lap?” But there is always next month.

Links to our route are here on Ride with GPS: Day 1 Vernon to Judges Springs via Sage Valley, Day 2 Judges Springs to Vernon via Granite Springs Valley.

5 thoughts on “Overnight; Seven Troughs Range and Ghost Town Odyssey

  1. This is my kind of bikepacking trip…lots of interesting ruins to explore, great desert views, and some wildlife…all with a good group of capable non-whiners.
    You didn’t mention water on this trip…did you have to carry all your water, or was there any water at Porter Springs?
    Really enjoyed this one. Very jealous.

  2. Sebastien Poule

    Inspiring story. I haven’t yet done a tour where I carry my own stuff but that’s going to change.

    On a side note, Kurstin: do you know this blog/blogger? I thought it would interest you since you both overlap territories.

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