Toquima Range Overnight; West Northumberland Canyon

Shay’s Surly Bridge Club ready for a desert trip

September 18-19, 2021 Sometimes trips don’t go as planned. Yet they turn out fantastic! Even people who weren’t there but saw the pictures say, “Wow, what a great trip!” This isn’t a new phenomena. We have all written about it, read about it or experienced it. The general advice is to go with the flow. Don’t put too much emphasis on a given goal, distance, or destination. It is everything in between that will make it a quality trip. One thing that cannot be overstated is the quality of participants on a trip. For this trip the overwhelming feedback I got was, “What a great group of people!” I do feel lucky that the group of riders we have going on these trips is top notch. Nine of us came together to make this an outstanding trip.

Working together in a headwind; Kurstin, Shay, Corby, Christine and Michael photo Nick Jensen

So, why was I initially bummed about how the trip went? I had some great points of interest to share along a route that could be part of something bigger. I had canyons, passes, caves, hot springs and more to cover. I had vistas, dark skies, and clear air that was obscured by smoke coming in from southern California wildfires. We had headwinds and sand making forward progress slow and difficult. Spirits were low, but were they? The photos tell the story. We had a group photo album with over 200 photos, I picked some of my favorites but I wish I could share more. I hope my words fill in some of the gaps.

Old stone outbuilding, newer concrete aqueduct (Bowman Creek), and modern bikepackers in the Big Smokey Valley photo Marc Pfister
Great stonework! photo Christine Anderson
Skinny Puppy photo Shay Daylami

But man, we saw some cool stuff! Cruising down NV 376 we had great views of the Toiyabe Range and a handful of canyons and creeks to explore such as Birch and Tar Creeks and Spanish and Sheep Canyons. As we turned off the tarmac we got to check out an old stone building before turning onto a road that wasn’t anymore. This happens from time to time. We made our way along a washed-out, over-grown, fence-lined path, guided by GPS and cow paths. We came across a strange metal object, about the size of a kayak or alien space pod. We identified it as a fuel tank from an airplane. Where is the rest of the plane? Doesn’t it need this? The desert keeps its secrets. We came across an old giant tire, set in the ground, splitting the fence line, and held in place by a triangular frame. On the grand scale of things-found-in-the-high-desert not too unusual, it was a full water trough. Corby was not impressed, growing up on a Wyoming ranch he had installed and maintained more than he cared to remember. For me it is a reminder of just how hard ranching in the hot/cold desert must be and how thankful I am to have surface water on trips even if I am sharing with livestock.

What the…?
Water in the desert, thank you Nevada ranchers
Everyone finds a friend!

We tied into a newer road that I assume is the new and improved Northumberland Road (NF-023). Not knowing what was ahead we turned off onto Lower Mine Road. Ahead lies soft sand and riding into a headwind. But I was interested in this route because it skirted a series of springs along the margin of the playa. On my own I want to explore these springs on foot to check out the pop-up flora and fauna. After a hard going 8 miles we tied into NF-345. At this point decisions had to be made. We weren’t going to achieve our mileage goals for the day. The headwind was taking its toll. After a quick consult with our maps it looked like a shift to the north and into West Northumberland Canyon might be the best alternate.

After a long push through sand and headwind we were beat photo Marc Pfister
Across the alkali flat of the Big Smokey Valley to the Toiyabe Range
I considered finding shelter from the wind at the base of this rock fin photo Marc Pfister

With the wind at our backs and the sun dipping low towards the Toiyabes we made our way to the mouth of the canyon. Corby and I scouted ahead for a place to camp. Clear spots to pitch a tent or throw down a ground cloth we not over abundant with the amount of rock and sagebrush. We settled on the wash, as hard as concrete but relatively smooth. Sleeping in a wash, dry arroyo, is typically a no-no, but the skies were clear with no hint of thunderstorms. It proved to be a great place to camp. Our evening meal was interrupted by large flying insects. They turned out to be dragonflies indicating there must be a spring near by. I will keep that in mind as a tip for finding water in the desert.

Nick and Michael making their way to Northumberland Canyon photo Marc Pfister
Like the prow of a ship, this rock overlooked our camp
Camping in the dry wash
Hanging out in camp

The night’s temperatures were moderate and we woke to a clear morning. Leaving camp Michael Lessman had a very close encounter with a rattle snake. It was coiled and camouflaged such that it looked like a cow pie! I see so few rattle snakes on my trips that I have a pretty casual attitude towards them, but this close encounter makes me more aware and cautious. Everyone was looking forward to the moderate descent across the valley. I was so happy to have clear skies across to the Toiyabes.

First rays after a mild night
Michael’s morning visitor
Waking up in West Northumberland Canyon photo Marc Pfister

Our route out of the canyon was on the well maintained Northumberland Canyon Road, high speed and mostly downhill. We crossed a power line road that theoretically would take us back to our start, but without knowing the conditions of the road I would want to scout it out on my own before leading my friends into a river of sand. Just before meeting up with the highway we crossed the Freemont Trail. This dashed line feature on the USGS topo maps has caught my attention more than once. It isn’t complete but it seems to indicate a historic route taken by John C Fremont in one of his explorations of the west. We were on the trail for a short time on Day 1. Depending on private land access issues it might be a fun day trip to try to follow. One thing I was pleased to see as I rode along the highway was most roads entering the Big Smokey Valley were open for public access.

Riders and Rigs: Nick Jensen on custom Manzanita
Riders and Rigs: Marc Pfister on custom Pfister
Riders and Rigs: Corby Cobb on Surly Ogre
Riders and Rigs: Christine Anderson on a bike (Santa Cruz Blur, ride what you got!)
Riders and Rigs: Michael Lessman on his Surly Karate Monkey
Riders and Rigs: Shay Daylami on their Surly Bridge Club and they are off!
Riders and Rigs: Carrie Jensen on her custom Manzanita
Riders and Rigs: Kurstin Graham on my Falconer B+ photo Shay Daylami

Once back on the highway we were treated to a paved return to our vehicles. We dropped off Nick and Carrie and though to be fair we should have had a tailwind. The weather doesn’t care, we had a stiff crosswind from the west. I took my time, I made a second mental note of the creeks flowing out of the Toiyabes. I saw a brown ribbon of a road north of US Highway 50 along the Simpson Park Mountains. I started to make a list of reasons to return.

Rolling out of the canyon photo Nick Jensen
Approaching the Toiyabes
Christine, Shay and Carrie waiting for their famous Middlegate burgers

We all regrouped at the start then headed for Middlegate Bar and Grill. This is my favorite middle of nowhere hangout. Great burgers, bar, all wrapped up in a historic stagecoach stop. I go out of my way to have it as a post-ride destination. This trip has been my furthest east along US 50. One goal for 2022 is to fill in the map along US 50 to the Utah border.

Michael and Christine, swapping stories between a couple of dirtbags photo Marc Pfister
Just a favorite shot; Shay, Corby, Nick and Carrie photo Marc Pfister
Me in my kitchen photo Marc Pfister

2 thoughts on “Toquima Range Overnight; West Northumberland Canyon

  1. Epic. Headwinds, fires, sand, snakes, grit in the food…my kind of trip! btw: be careful camping in the shadow of tall hoodoos. I have a favorite where I like to camp to break the winds, down in Big Bend National Park. Sometime this summer one of the hoodoos came crashing down, and huge boulders and debris are now occupying the exact spot where I used to pitch my tent. I would have never in a million years expected one of these things to collapse in my lifetime, but I will NEVER pitch camp near enough to a hoodoo or an high landscape feature, let alone a leaning tree (we have very few of those). Life’s just one big crap shoot.
    Nice trip. It’s not where you go, but who you go with.

    1. Thanks! Picking a campsite is so much more than a smooth spot on the ground for sure. I appreciate the insight, and will keep rocks and trees and snow and wildlife and weather in my mind’s checklist. Seeing pinyon pine cones in the wash without a tree insight reminded me what forces must be in play during a thunderstorm. I will return to follow this canyon over the range. There is an East Northumberland Canyon on the other side. I hope we can ride together someday.

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