April 30-May 1, 2022 I picked this loop from a ride I did in 2019, “What is this The Lava Beds I see on maps?” I saw some roads around and through the area. A plan was born! I had some familiarity with the area, I had ridden back-and-forth on Jungo Rd, accessed the playa at Jungo Hot Springs, memorized a few landmarks, the Selenite Range, Old Razorback, Pahsupp Mountain, and Kumiva Valley. This represents just enough familiarity with an area to get lost in a whole new area, The Lava Beds. Surely this is where the monsters sleep.
My very long day trip through The Lava Beds was a smashing success. It started in the dark, I watched the sunrise on Kumiva Valley, looked in awe at the Seven Troughs Range, rode through some amazing rock formations, exited back on Jungo Rd as the sun set on Pahsupp Mountain. Over three years my memory of this 85 mile loop could be boiled down to just a few points. All those memories came back with so many new ones from this trip.
The Rides with Friends is a new program with Friends of Black Rock High Rock (Friends) in an attempt to bring new users, in this case bicycle adventure tourists, to the Black Rock Desert – High Rock Canyon Emigrant Trails National Conservation Area (NCA). The routes are curated from my experiences in Black Rock Country to highlight what the NCA has to offer. Up until recent bicycle touring in the NCA has been highly over looked. But with the advent of modern bikepacking equipment and popularity of this style of bike touring the NCA is an untouched gem only 100 miles from Reno, best known for solitude and wildness.
Naturally the ride must start with a meet and greet at the Friends of Black Rock High Rock’s (Friends) Visitors Center. Stacey Wittek, Friends’ Executive Director, and Karleena Hitchcock, Friends’ Programs and Administrative Director, met us with coffee and snacks. Then the tales of murder, mayhem, mystery, and mischief started to flow! But this is what you can expect at the visitors center, snacks, laughs, and tales to enhance your experience as you visit one of the greatest wild places on Earth! If I think of the Visitors Center as the heart of Friends, then Stacey and Karleena are the heartbeat of the organization.
From the Visitors Center we made a short caravan to the start, the intersection of Jungo Rd and Ten Mile Rd (old SR 48 on USGS topo). We were a group of 10, Corby, Shay, Marc, Nick, Courtney, Noah, Carlo, Jim, and Blake. This was my first overnight with Jim and Blake, I had one trip with Noah and Courtney, and the rest were veterans of my lies and torturous routes. They say I like to torture my friends, maybe?
We headed south along Kumiva Valley with the Selenite Range on our right, and Dry Mountain on our left. One goal of these trips is to point out adjacent rides and routes. Other than Jim everyone had done trips in Black Rock Country with me before so I placed where we were within their bigger cognitive map. I had been given the heads-up that the Mormon Crickets (for disambiguation’s sake they are a katydid not a cricket) were as thick as thieves. And they were. I can’t believe I didn’t get a photo! As we worked our way south we passed many water troughs that are being maintained for livestock by water truck. One of my first landmarks was Twin Buttes Well which in the past had a windmill and large concrete water troughs. The windmill is gone, in its place was a water truck.
From here we turned east. Graced with tailwind and slight downhill spirits were on high! The Blue Wing Mountains were now on our right. Shay’s “White Whale” was not too far away. Juniper Pass is a perfect hour-glass shaped notch between the Sahwave and Blue Wing Mountains. They have made multiple attempts to ride through the notch but without a doubt they will get there. Directly to the east is Porter Spring and settlement, one of our stops on the Seven Troughs Loop. After regrouping we turned north in Granite Springs Valley. We passed roads into The Lava Beds at Rattlesnake, Hanna, Dead Horse, and Tarantula Springs, before climbing to camp at Sheep Head Spring. It was a sandy climb with a head wind. Can I paint a rosier picture? At one point I turned onto a ridgeline and there it was, Elephant Head Rock. No rock ever looked more like an elephant’s head. It was in view all the way into camp.
Sheep Head Spring had a flowing spring into a water trough. That was my hope. It made for a popular hangout for local cattle, but tonight it was ours. To the north east we looked out to the Kama Mountains in the direction of Rabbithole Spring. It was a stormy sky catching the sunset in indescribable ways. We watched wave clouds (lenticular) and thunderhead clouds (cumulus) develop and morph in the last rays of the day. Would we get an electrical storm tonight?
Tarps, tents, and me in my bivy were our homes for the night. It was warm and windy as we turned in for the night. But everyone who woke in the middle of the night to nature’s call was in for a surprise. After 10 pm there was light rain. After 11 pm it snowed. At 6000′ we were right on the edge of the snow level. The snow fell for hours, wet and heavy. We woke to a winter wonderland. This trip was having us travel through 3-4 seasons in less than 36 hours.
We packed up under the watchful eye of the resident bull. I’m sure all the cows were happy to have us roll out so they could reclaim their water trough. The next 7 miles were a roller coaster of a ride through granitic rocks of every size and shape. The vistas were breathtaking and the 1,200′ drop was so fun to ride that we hardly took pictures of this segment! We climbed back into The Lava Beds, past the turnoff for Lava Beds Camp and Bishop Rock, before descending along Lava Beds Creek to Jungo Rd.
Jungo Rd was our last regrouping spot before the last 12.5 miles to our vehicles. We passed Pahssup Mtn, Trego Hot Springs and Frog Pond. Arriving at the cars everyone got a high-five for a great ride! Blake pointed out, every time we stopped the wind died down, but every time we got on our bikes the wind was full force. We love Nevada!
By the numbers, The Lava Beds Loop is 85 miles with 4,100′ of climbing. We camped at mile 46.5. Day 1 had 3,300′ of climbing. Marc posed the idea of it being a 3 day trip, Camp 1 at Porter Springs, Camp 2 at Lava Beds Camp. Spend more time poking around The Lava Beds on Day 2. I like this idea, and would recommend this approach to anyone who has 3 days for the ride.
Noah and Courtney were on Salsa Rangefinders with custom frame bags by Nuclear Sunrise. They had asked for two compartments and extra girth. They highly recommend both custom features. I imagine we will see more Rangefinder and Timberjacks in the near future. When I asked Noah about any changes he might seek, he thought trying bars with more sweep and rise might be a nice upgrade.
Another popular item was Blake’s Katadyn BeFree .6 L water filter soft bottle. I have since ordered one as a small backup to my larger Platypus GravityWorks filter.
The last stop of the trip was a post-ride meal at Bruno’s in Gerlach. My go-to is a burger and Picon. With ten hungry riders we at and drank our way around the menu. Mark and Nick had a hot tip for pre-ride grub; the Fernley Falafel! Specifically the Gourmet Deli at 76, 605 E Main St in Fernley. Who knew? I am planning a ride out of Fernley just to try this place out!
A note about The Lava Beds geology. In more than one description I saw mention that The Lava Beds were a misnomer. The prominent granite formations could be misleading if you were expecting basalt columns and lava flows found in other ranges. I came across a USGS website that indicated rock type, lava. So I then consulted geologist and Nevada rock story teller, Doug Hartzell. He explained there are two things present, lava and granitic rocks. Doug rarely says granite, explaining that most rocks we call granite are not. I appreciate his accuracy. He went on, the granitic rocks are very old. The lava is much newer, in geologic terms it is still cooling. He said he was out with Paiute elders who told a creation story of a loud explosion and a great black bird swooping down. He thinks they may have been explaining some of the geologic events that formed this area from the perspective of the First People. Thanks Doug, I always appreciate a good story.