Overnight; Carlin-Elko Loop, Nevada’s Basque Country

Early start on Greenhorn Cutoff Road Photo Shay Daylami

This trip has been on my radar for years now. I want to ride where the Nevada’s Basque sheepherders took their flocks. Similarly I want to ride where ranchers drove their cattle. I also want to do a series of rides where I ride through small town Nevada during their home grown festival. Bringing this together I planned a trip centered on Elko’s National Basque Festival. I visited Elko weeks prior, camped in Lamoille Canyon, fished Lamoille Creek, and poured over maps of the area to plan a loop through ranch land that would dip into Elko for the festival over the weekend of July 3 and 4. My starting point would be Greenhorn Cutoff Rd along Susie Creek out of Carlin, NV.

Shay taking a look at a healthy Susie Creek

So many uncertainties/obstacles were stacked against this trip. The weather; the West is experiencing a heat wave amidst a drought, with the possibility of thunderstorms, dry lightning, and fierce headwinds. But there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad planning. Water resupply; Susie Creek, Camp Creek, Swales Creek, and Dorsey Reservoir all looked like potential water sources. And I always carry an abundance of water. Private Land/Locked Gates; while much of the land along the route is BLM, there are private ranches and the checker-board lands of BLM and private designation. Without pre-riding the route there is no way to know if access is permitted. With this understanding I reached out to a few “flexible” ride partners and got one commitment from Shay Daylami.

So many shades of green

I planned a route along Susie Creek with a variety of creek crossings, crossing NV-225 (Mountain City Highway), and into the Adobe Range before dropping into Elko. From Elko back to the starting point the route followed a pipeline road and portions of the California Emigrant Trail. By the numbers it was an 82 mile route with 6,900′ of climbing split evenly over two days. It sounds very doable. To manage the heat we will get very early starts and end before the heat of the day. We drove out Friday night to the start of the route so we could camp and be prepared for an early start.

The sun was our enemy as sagebrush doesn’t offer much shade

It was a cooler than expected night. The thunderstorms did a good job of replacing the super heated air with cool. I had planned on riding in shorts but made a last minute switch to pants I could easily roll up. Saturday morning we were off at first light. Riding in such unfamiliar an area was super exciting! My first impressions were this area is far more intriguing than the views I got when looking at the satellite maps. This is a pretty common pitfall to think the landscape will be boring, like judging a book by its cover. We delighted in the a pleasant surprise.

These rancher’s roads were barely traveled. It felt like a true backroads adventure Photo Shay D

We took a detour to Susie Creek and it was a beautiful little stream. There were lush grasses growing along its banks and happy cows to eat them. These creeks that feed into the Humboldt River make this Nevada ranch land. Back on the road we were riding through juniper trees and tall sagebrush. We passed rock out croppings with raptors, possibly Golden Eagles. There were a variety of animal tracks in the road but eventually all tracks dissapeared except for ours. This was turning out to be a great Nevada backroads trip.

We appreciate access to public lands through private property

We passed through a lot of gates. Luckily we had access. While Nevada is graced with so much public land a private ranch that denies access to public lands on either side can really alter route planning. Crossing NV-225 the road from the USGS maps turned out to be blocked by a corral busy with ranchers, so I found Dorsey Reservoir Rd on my Garmin that T’ed into our route nicely. When technology works, it is amazing!

Fattest Horny Toad ever! Photo Shay D
Making friends along the way
This raven may not be too pleased we are close to his house

At this point we were approaching mid-day. You can really feel the heat mounting. We were climbing into the Adobe Range and you know at some point you could pushing yourself too far in the heat. It was an interesting observation rolling my sleeves down on my shirt was cooler than having them up. I picked an open spot along the road to camp. It was a wind swept ridge that in most cases wouldn’t be ideal for camp. But as the temperatures rose the wind was our only salvation.

Our campsite above Dorsey Creek, Adobe Range
3 am start to breaking camp

This was my first trip planning on multiple days of extreme heat. We spent from noon on Saturday until 3 am Sunday under our tarp tents. Shay described it as a feverish sleep coming in and out of delirium. It was unlike anything I had ever done but exactly how I would do it again. We broke camp and got back on trail by headlamp. This was a first for Shay.

Shay masters the night

Winding through the Adobe Range had its unique qualities. It was very green. There were hanging valleys that held moisture creating great pasture. There was no evidence of mining, just grazing. Steep canyons had springs, aspens, and great rock outcroppings. I felt so lucky to stumble across this route and spied a variety of other roads that would be just a serendipitous.

A disappearing road with grass-up-the-middle

We rolled into Elko, another first for me. My rides never take me into town. While the plan was to go to the Festival, in my mind it was also a safety net should we need any sort of resupply. I was thinking about a Coke and Snickers but never acted on the impulse.

Above Elko at the highest elevation on route, 7,000′ and change. Should I be worried about the T-storms, or just in awe of the light?
Elko Euzkaldunak (Basque Speakers) Clubhouse
How to make paella for a village
First Place loaf of Sheepherders Bread fetched $800 in auction for the Elko Arinak Dancers

We were greeted at the Festival in Basque until they figured out we were not Basque. But at the Festival everyone is Basque for the day! After a quick clean-up at a garden hose we were offered a delicious chorizo on a bun. Then it was belly up to the World’s Strongest Bar – made of concrete and rebar. People were starting to arrive, there was a Catholic Mass, Sheepheder’s Bread Contest and Auction, and lunch on schedule for Day 2 of the Festival. We hung around until lunch, passed it up for one more round at the bar then got back on our bikes.

Exit Interstate 80 – Yes, please! Carlin Canyon was a welcomed break Photo Shay D

We altered the return route. It was getting late, there was a significant headwind, thunderstorms on the horizon, and we still had 20+ miles to go. We opted for Interstate 80. Just out of Elko construction cones gave us a protected lane and shoulder. We stopped at the entrance to the California Trail Interpretive Center for a little reading time and a break from the big rigs passing us on the Interstate. It was difficult to confirm if our dirt route parallel to the Interstate was even there. This is where time to recon the route would be good, but none of the rest of the trip was scouted either.

An impassible Carlin Canyon inspired the Greenhorn Cutoff

At Carlin Canyon the Interstate goes through a narrow tunnel closed to bicycles. We were treated to a closed alternate road along the Humboldt River – it was fantastic! At one point we could have taken a dirt cutoff to our original route. Our legs balked at the climb.

A potential exit to Carlin Canyon require about 700′ of additional climbing, we chose the low road.

We continued to our Carlin exit then out to our vehicle. I was in awe at the shades of green in the sea of sagebrush. By the numbers we covered 85 miles with 5,200′ of climbing, day one was 36 miles and day 2 was 49 miles. The elevation gain was near evenly split between the two days though day 2 was far more punchy and had more descending The trip was not particularly strenuous but we were done riding in sight of the car.

Back to the start of our adventure, still in awe of the shades of green

3 thoughts on “Overnight; Carlin-Elko Loop, Nevada’s Basque Country

  1. What a great trip. One of my best friends lives in Moab, UT, and has kept me informed on the heat you guys are experiencing. I hope your daily highs weren’t in the 112 degree range like Utah.
    I love small town ethnic festivals. We have one in north Texas in the town of Muenster, which is mostly German. My wife’s grandfather came to America from the Basque region of Spain, so it was interesting to see this gathering of descendants in this part of Nevada.

    Nice pics. Love to see a healthy and thriving “horny toad,” a slightly endangered species (actually not a toad, but a lizard).

    Wonderful trip. Thanks for sharing.

    1. It really was a special trip. Our highs were in the low 100’s but we were under tarps by then. I could feel the heat radiating off the surface of the tarp, kinda wild! We seem to have pretty healthy populations of horny toads, they are a common sight. A favorite memory was seeing dozens upon dozens of juveniles on a ride. They were like desert clowns in their awkward stumbling around. I always appreciate your comments!

  2. Pingback: The Year of the Overnight; 2021 Pedaling with Friends – Bikepacking Northern Nevada

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s