Overnight; Pony Express, Carson Sink Station to Wildcat Freight Station

Mitch Ison rode from Fallon to Carson City at the end of March and shot some inspiring photos. I had ridden from Buckland Station to Sand Mountain in April of 2020, so I thought there could be a great overnight opportunity lurking in those hills. Should you take on Jan Bennett’s route from St Joseph, Missouri to Sacramento, California you will have a life changing sum of overnights for sure. So I plucked a short section between to create a local overnight, S24O, or day trip to promote through BurritoPackingNV, our local Facebook bikepacking group. You put it out there, then you wait at the trailhead/meeting point to see who shows up.

My Meriwether long-tail fat bike makes bikepacking in the desert a breeze

Of course there is always an “unforeseen.” I got a message from Mitch, there was construction on US 95 blocking our meeting point. So I went to the Department of Transportation’s website… no mention of it. Google Maps indicated the traffic slow down around our meeting spot, just as Mitch said. I called NDOT, no problem according to their dispatch in that area. But US 95 will be closed to the south the Monday after our ride. Phew, I planned to go out early and scout the best meeting spot.

Our first XP carsonite, photo Carlo

Lennart, Lily the dog, and I drove out together on a freshly paved stretch of US 95 with very little traffic. We found an alternate pullout as a berm of paving debris blocked my intended pull out. In the end this pullout better suited the ride than my first assumption. Mitch, Christine, Marc and Caille, and Carlo and Jim all showed up! It’s a party! Jim and Carlo were in for the day, the rest of us planned on camping at Wildcat Freight Station.

Prime real estate for a lucky bird, Photo Carlo

Thankfully the traffic on US 95 was very light, our start had us jogging north before crossing to the west. We crossed the alluvium at the base the Desert Mountains crossing ruts littered with fresh water bivalves. This was the result of the flooding of the desert in 2017 to manage the volume of water in the Carson River Basin after a record snowpack in the Sierras. Nevada, where water goes to die.

Photo Carlo
Photo Marc

We made our way to our first Pony Express carsonite then onto the the Carson Sink Station Monument. The monument has two markers, one put up by the Trails West organization, the other by the National Trails System. Other than these two markers your senses are taking in the alkali flats of Lahontan Valley, and the ring of mountains, Dead Camel, Desert, White Throne, and Bunejug, that encloses the valley to the south. The only other eye catcher was a lone tree along the irrigation canal that was prime real estate for a large bird that took off from its nest as we approached.

Christine, Lennart, Caille, Marc, and Mitch at Carson Sink Station, Photo Carlo
The early pioneers did not sell this route with their journal entries! Photo Marc
The alkali alluvium created a wild landscape but frustrating to travel through

Now we headed east, back over US 95, and followed the Pony Express route along a fence-line between the White Throne Mountains and Carson Lake. I knew this was going to be tricky with loaded bikes. It was one thing to suffer through it on my own, but to ask others is a whole other thing. But we did together. We scouted routes through the deeply eroded alkali alluvium and helped each other where needed. Finally we came to the road that I knew was there. The relief was palpable. And it is snack time!

Lily finds Mitch to be a generous trail partner
Lily working the gang at snack time, Marc and Caille are always good for a bite

The road is a fun, rock strewn, roller coaster of a route, with great views in all directions. As this was a short route it wasn’t long til we arrived at the rock wall ruins of the Wildcat Freight Station. As it was only 2 in the afternoon it gave everyone plenty of time to explore the cliffs above our camp and the Bass Flat further out on the Pony Express Route. The time also allowed for greater socializing and time to rest and relax. Our noisiest camp-mates were a nesting pair of Kestrels that proved to be quite entertaining.

Tufa formations on the cliffs are an indication of Nevada’s watery past
Limited shade at Wildcat Freight Station
Wildcat Freight Station ruins, Photo Marc

That evening we had dinner, watched the fading twilight, the sunset’s glow on Bass Flat, then turned in for the night. Lily and I slept under the stars. It was a great night, once the moon set the Milky Way was visible. There are the lights of Fallon to contend with but otherwise there is very little light pollution. Most of Nevada, with the exception of our few major cities, has very dark skies.

Sunset from Wildcat Scarp, Bass Flat, and Bunejug Mountains
Messing around with night sky photography
Waking up after a starry night

Mitch and I were the first to get up. Visiting him we discussed the future of bikepacking in our area and the roll of BurritopackingNV. This Facebook group is approaching 200 members from across Nevada and Northern California. Mitch has done a great job sharing bikepacking news from across the web and members have shared inspiration of their own journeys. As a forum there has be an open sharing of information. This trip represents the 8th monthly trip promoted through the group. So what is next? These were some ideas discussed: 1. Improve representation through southern Nevada, 2. Encourage younger riders, 3. Expand our outings to longer trips, and 4. Improve our outreach by having a website that can go beyond our presence on Facebook. We talked about some of the challenges for new bikepackers; 1. Access to gear, 2. Camping skills, 3. Navigation and trip planning. So if we put this together we could have a membership drive and collect location data for our members, maybe everyone could have a pin on a map. I have a few contacts around the state and would encourage them to expand our group from their local pool of adventure riders. We need to have trips outside our local boundaries. Next I will reach out to mountain bike families and plan a family oriented trip. Then we can pool our resources of extra bags and gear that can be loaned out. I envision a cataloged gear list with owner’s contact information. I want to offer pre-trip “packing parties”and collaborate with local bike shops to have informal seminars on bicycle repair, trip planning, and bike setup. Ultimately we could promote a Nevada based event, like Trans-Nevada, but maybe in the north south direction. While we have been using a Facebook Group for outreach a designated website along with expanded social media platforms could only bolster our membership and participation. And we discussed this as the sun rose on the White Throne Mountains of northern Nevada. The best meeting ever!

The ride back to the vehicles shows up as Pony Express Route on the STRAVA terrain map. But never the less the road was easy to follow and navigated through dark cinder strewn landscapes as well as light alkali alluvium. This is the route I will use in future rides in the area. We packed up and made our way to the closest burrito.

Mitch demonstrating why fat tires are the best in the desert
Caille finding the best line through this steep dip
Caille and Marc rolling along Carson Lake, Nevada’s newest Wildlife Management Area

Looking ahead I would like to poke around the White Throne Mountains, check out a couple of springs that are highlighted on the USGS topos. Getting around the US Naval Reserve, I would like to connect to Rawhide Flats and other rides I have done in the area. Beyond what I have ridden of the Pony Express I would like to follow the Overland Stage Route/Pony Express from Middlegate to Simpson Park Mountains. Every outing inspires the next, and the next.

Lily of the Desert

We returned to Fallon to seek a burrito lunch. Mendoza’s Carniceria Taqueria filled us up! We took our provisions to the gazebo at Laura Mills Park and had a wonderful lunch. See you on the next outing!

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