“Is that thunder?”, asked Galen Watson.
“I think it is a jet,” I answered. Rainstorms in the desert can have you on edge. If the clay gets wet you will be stuck in the mud pushing an boat-anchor of a bike along. Or dragging it behind you out of frustration as I have experienced. I put my hand to the ground and rubbed it in the dirt, “See, totally dry.” I might have even convinced myself.
It seems at least half the time I plan a trip the weather gets upended. And yet all around me, at home, on the drive to the meeting location, at all points on the horizon there are rain and snow squalls but on route we are untouched by adverse conditions. Marc calls it my weather Karma. Whatever I did to generate it I best keep it up.
Winnemucca Lake might be a top three visited place for Bikepacking Northern Nevada. I first admired the dry lake and playa between the Lake Range and Nightingale Mountains on trips between Reno and Gerlach. Very quickly I looked for roads over the Nightingale Mountains and to circumnavigate the lake. While the pull-out from NV 447 on the south end of Winnemucca Lake is prime access, there is another at the north end, as well as roads coming in from Nixon and the Kumiva Valley. Dean Magnuson and I have taken many trips in the area. Brandon Anderson an I rode out to the MGL Mines then followed the canyon up and over the Nightigale Mtns to return via Coyote Canyon. The Nightingale Mining District is rich in ghost town mines. I took the shop staff on a winter day trip out to the mine as well. On a photographic outing I took Chris Carnel out to photograph the dunes and tufa formations. The photos in these links really brought back great memories. But this was my first overnight!
The weather definitely impacted attendance. Completely understandable. If I weren’t the lead on this ride I may have talked myself out of it too. But I was packed and ready to go. The drive out 80 was in the rain, not a good omen. I turned north at Fernly and there were major puddles everywhere. I had about 30 miles north yet to go. Arriving at the pull-out it was dry. The skies were heavy, I could see rain falling in the distance, and above 7000′ the mountains were once again snow-capped. I had messaged Stan Lattin in Fallon, he said it was raining there. This storm seemed unavoidable, unless you were riding with me. If you don’t go, you wont know.
After a too-long search for Lily, who wandered off following her nose, we were off at dog-speed. That works out to 4+ miles per hour. Very slow but it gave the three of us plenty of time to chat, and loads of time to look around and take photos of everything. For Marc and Galen this was their first time riding in the area. It had been over a year since I rode here in part because I felt I had seen it all. Not true, I still found roads I hadn’t been down and made observations that weren’t obvious to me. I saw changes in geology along the Nightingale Mountains I hadn’t seen before. I saw flowers I hadn’t seen before. I wondered if the sand here came from the sediments from the Truckee River or blew in from the Black Rock Desert. I wondered if I could find fossils in some of the sedimentary rocks. Our return route had new-to-me sections across the dry lake bed.
On our ride I pointed out places from my past visits. The north end of the Truckee Range has tufa lined caves and mini-box canyons. On the horizon is Black Warrior Peak. Between the Truckee Range and the Nightingale Mountains is Coyote Canyon with a road over to Sage Hen Valley. Along the Nightingales I named two prominent features “The Pyramids.” They are two of my favorite features on route. Next is a cascading rock cliff. It is still a dream to witness a flash flood off those cliffs. Marc cautioned that a drone might offer the safest view. Further along are some large sedimentary deposits where I hope to find a mastodon tusk or something equally cool. Then out of nowhere the remains of the MGL Mines mill pops out of the hillside looking like a set for the next George Lucas film.
It is hard to imagine what the area must have looked like before the metal and machinery was hauled away for scrap. But after seeing enough similarities in these American Mining West Acropolises I should become familiar with the layout of mining operations. The concrete pour foundation and walls were on several levels into the hillside. The USGS topo map indicates wells and points out the mines in the canyon above.
We set up camp. This was a great spot for self-standing tents. The concrete floors provided a great sleeping surface and the dirt proved to be so rocky pounding a tent stake was a true test of the stakes durability. Marc’s tent was self standing with staked vestibules, Galen’s was not, nor my tarp tent. Camp Craft 101: the deadman anchor. With the tent stake through the guy lines stack enough heavy rocks on top to secure the tent. In the case of the ground being too soft to hold the stakes you can bury the deadman anchor to secure the tent. High winds were forecasted and we could see precipitation was imminent so we wanted our tents to be ready. It was a windy rainy night yet we were all comfortable.
Food prep is always a hot topic. I saw Marc had something going. He pimped his ramen with a zip-lock freezer bag of peanut butter, red pepper flakes, ramen seasoning, and a package of chicken. He then cooked and ate it out of the bag. A little forethought greatly enhanced his meal. Marc recommends The Backcountry Foodie. Galen had chicken noodle soup, a personal favorite of mine. But Galen and Marc collaborated to make margaritas! Marc had a flask of tequila and Galen had a packet of Crystal Light Margarita mix. Our bikepacking trips are reaching a new high! See what happens when you bring new people together!
As the first drops of rain fell we dove into our tents. Making sure Lily is comfortable is a big part of tenting with the dog. The day’s mileage was at her physical limit so I wanted her to be rested for the next day’s return. Since February I have been including her on these trips. The trips have been shorter to accommodate her but the trips have had broader appeal and greater attendance at the same time. This has been a major paradigm for me. My trips always had to be longer, on the bike from before sunrise til sunset. Now I look for short slow trips, dense in scenery, and take lots of photos. I am also planning trips to familiar places so I can point out options if people want to get back to explore more.
It was a stormy night. The Nemo Apollo 3, though unfortunately discontinued, did it’s job. It kept us dry and out of the wind. It is a typical single wall, single door, floorless pyramid tent with a twist. Rather than radially symmetrical it is a trapezoid with a vestibule. It requires a little trickier set up than other Megamid style tents. And that is my only criticism, I struggle with getting a consistent “flap-less” setup. I just replaced this tent with a four-seasons version from OneTigris, we shall have plenty of “four seasons testing” come late fall and winter.
Waking-up to significant puddles on the concrete mill foundation was a surprise. But the sand, dirt, and rock all appeared dry. It is a testament to how dry things are here in the west. After a quick bite and a cup of instant coffee we packed and were on the trail. While some are critical of the out and back, Galen pointed out that the views to the south were as if we were on an entirely different route. The Lake and Pah Rah Ranges were spectacular with a fresh layer of snow above 7000′.
At dog-speed we had plenty of time to chat, comparisons between ultra-light backpacking and bike packing, wonders about the changing geology we were riding past, and weather or not we were seeing the remnants of railroad grade or haul road adjacent to the road we were on. Marc took the time to photograph the variety of tufa formations as well as the lichen they were hiding. Past Coyote Canyon we had an option to turn-off into the dunes. I had been on this road years before but couldn’t remember, is it too sandy? It will be miles shorter, but it was really less than a mile shorter. We took it, I knew Lily and I would be fine. About a third of the way through there is an exit to the road but we continued along the lake-shore-past.
Eventually we popped out on our original route close to our vehicles. We covered about 30 miles in two days. We traveled along the north end of the Truckee Range, and southern third of the Nightingale Mountains. We saw snow tipped peaks in the Selenite, Lake and Pah Rah Ranges. The juvenile horny-toad lizards were out, I noticed antelope tracks on the ride back, and noticed a few flowers for the first time. Galen was successful on his first bikepacking trip, I am pretty sure we have a solid convert. And Marc and I can add another trip to our list of trips skirted by adverse conditions. Winnemucca Lake is a great destination for bikepacking, overlanding, wildlife viewing, rockhounding, and hiking. It is very accessible from Reno so see you out there!