High Basin Pah Rah Petroglyphs; S24O Local Overnight

The more we use our public lands the more we learn about how they are managed and protected for future generations. The Pah Rah Range is a backwards C-shaped range from the Truckee River in the south to Pyramid Lake in the north. Its proximity to Reno/Sparks and established Public Lands Access points makes it a great destination for day trips and overnights. The range is primarily managed by the BLM but has areas of private residential, agricultural, and mining areas. Low on the east and northeast shoulders the range is managed by the the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe. In researching this area I came across two documents; one from the Nevada Rock Art Foundation that introduced me to the designation of Area of Critical Environmental Concern. Then I found a BLM document describing the Pah Rah High Basin Area of Critical Environmental Concern. NVRockArt.org has been a great resource for learning about Nevada’s petroglyphs and the BLM is Nevada’s largest land manager.

This carsonite is no longer found on the route due to vandalism, I took this photo in 2014.

The Pah Rah High Basin Petroglyph
ACEC (originally called Pah Rah High
Basin (Dry Lakes) Petroglyph District
ACEC) is a 3,881 acre site located north
of Highway 80 East and approximately 6
miles northeast of Sparks, Nevada. The
significance and relevance of this site is
primarily cultural but also includes
historical and scenic values. Evidence
indicating the site was used by Native
Americans for over 3,500 years includes
petroglyphs, rock rings, stone artifacts,
as well as seasonal and residential
camps. This site is culturally significant
to both the Southern Washoe and
Northern Paiute Tribes. The objective
of the ACEC … was to protect
the site from urban expansion,
increased recreational use of OHVs,
theft of artifacts and acts of vandalism.

March, 2013

Carson City District
Resource Management Plan Revision
Areas of Critical
Environmental Concern
Report on the Application of the
Relevance and Importance Criteria

Bikepackers are the newest group to become stewards of the area. Learning as much as we can before entering an area is the first step in that responsible stewardship. Following the 7 Principles of Leave No Trace, or the 7+2 Principles for bikepackers as put forward by Bikepacking.com is a great place to start defining your personal “bikepacking ethic”. In the age of social media and sharing all the wonderful places we visit the idea of ruining a place by sharing it with the world is a distinct possibility. The other possibility is by sharing and educating others on the wonders of a location we can foster long term stewardship for generations to come. Late in 2015 I visited a spectacular site called Incandescent Rocks, and in sharing my post I wrote I had mixed feelings about sharing such a place of rare beauty. This spurred a short discussion on the pros and cons of such that I thought was quite valuable. As a member of our local bikepacking groups and a member of a greater online community I feel obligated to share my ethic in practice than rather than listing my 3 or 7 or 9 elements of bike packing ethics. Do as I do, not as I say. I enjoy learning from others, I have witnessed mid-ride debates on fire appropriateness and off trail travel that have made me question my own once dogmatic approach to these topics.

Provisioning at Fiesta Mexicana

This ride was organized by Matthew Soileau and I couldn’t have been more pleased. It was a perfect S24O! We met after 4 pm at Fiesta Mexicana in Wingfield Springs. Matt had welcomed riders to park and roll-out from his home as well. It was a short trek to the BLM’s Public Lands Access (these are common signs in Reno/Sparks) at Golden Eagle Park. In many ways this is the ideal set-up or use for an S24O; everyone could make full use of their weekend, now that it is daylight savings we had 3 hours til dark, we were close enough to home we could be back to work Monday morning.

The gang’s all here!

Although I had ridden the area many times it had been years since my last visit. It is fascinating (maybe I find it fascinating because I took a course called Cognitive Mapping) how your cognitive map measures up to reality over time. In my mind’s eye or if I had to draw you a map on a cocktail napkin it was a chicken-leg looking route with one steep bit and a few rock formations along the way. And target shooters.

Regrouping above Sparks under clear blue skies

In comparison the route was far more interesting. The trailhead seems to have been widened and cleared out to accommodate much more traffic. Reno is growing, and so is the impact on the first miles of public access at all points. It was especially evident here. I love it that people are out in nature more. I saw several groups of bikers, hikers, and walkers. But maybe the group most noticeable were the target shooters, they enjoy the outdoors in all caps; BANG! BANG! BANG! Luckily the bike can take you away from all user groups with a little route planning and sweat investment. The road rolled along past a few side roads and a few closed roads to the steep bit. The road twisted through rocky washes. The steep bit wasn’t as bad as I remembered, maybe with experience my measure of a steep and rocky climb has changed. We regrouped at the crest of the hill, 10 riders and 1 dog strong.

Riding through the Chocolate Chip Cookie, 2014

From here there was a dip into the first dry lake bed. The terrain inspires imagining what it would be like to ride across a giant chocolate chip cookie. Our two-track path crossed a boulder strewn dry lake bed; the high basin. If I had to play armchair geologist, which I am not, I would guess this was some sort of volcanic crater. Or created by some distant volcanic event. At the same time I would not be surprised if my speculation was completely off because I am really no geologist. Picking a sandy spot in the basin for camp, Marc dropped his BOB trailer and we rode on to the petroglyph site.

Rock art among the tumble weeds

I would never have found the site if it weren’t for Matt’s direction. Yet at the same time the site made sense within the narrative of how some petroglyph sites come to be. Imagine yourself as a hunter in this terrain, you are waiting for game to cross the basin and/or seeking shelter from from the elements, sun, wind, snow, and rain. From this pragmatic perspective this outcrop of rock provided all.

Nick, Lennart, and Carrie admiring the views

The group took its time ooh-ing and ahh-ing over their discoveries as the sun set. Eventually we made our way to our sandy camp, pitched our tents in a dispersed circle, then regrouped for our burrito dinner. As the evening progressed Caille organized a tent-tour because with a group 10 you get to see the diversity bikepacking shelters. Shortly after Lily and I were under our tarp.

Definitely worth another visit
Everyone had their favorite
After Marc refused to share his burrito with Lily she moved onto Shay and Carrie, always working the crowd
Matt pointing out the finer aspects of his tent during the tent tour.

The ride into camp was in beautiful warm conditions. But not surprising we woke up in winter. The sky had clouded over and we could see snow showers all around us. As this was a Sunday to Monday S24O about 1/2 the group had to get home to go to work. But that is the brilliance of the S24O, it is totally possible. I didn’t have any obligations so I took my time, saw everyone out of camp before Lily and I finally rolled out in a light pellet snowfall.

Making a bee-line back to the car Lily and I only had a 3.5 mile ride lasting less than 40 minutes. Overall the trip had been 9.5 miles with the outbound route being longer with the excursion to the petroglyph site and chasing the dog down when she wandered off. These little trips with the dog have been fun even though it takes a little more work. This was a great S24O! While a 10 mile ride with 10 friends is a great afternoon outing, we had dinner, slept under the stars, rode out in a snow storm together, all without breaking the stride of our normal routines.

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