Bike Travel Weekend; Ride to the Dark Skies

I have been participating in Adventure Cycling Association’s Bike Travel Weekend the past few years. As a member sourced touring event it is a great kick off to cycling touring season. This year I wanted to do something big! I picked a loop that had been on my to-do list since 2018. I wanted to loop around the western half of the Black Rock Desert – High Rock Canyon Emigrant Trails National Conservation Area. I imagined this as going north on Soldier Meadows Road, traversing west on State Route 8a to Vaya, then looping back to the start on Co. Rd. 34. I was familiar with the first 45’ish miles, and the last 50’ish miles, but the rest of the route would be totally new. By the numbers the loop is 180 miles with 7,100′ of climbing. My plan was to evenly split the route in two by mileage. Maybe someday I will learn to take elevation into account.

The trip started by car camping at the start, the south end of Soldier Meadows Rd., where the dirt begins after turning off Co. Rd. 34 north of Gerlach. It rained that night, and the wind blew. Northern Nevada had an unsettled weather pattern for weeks where the weekends were stormy and mid-week was calm. The forecast was mixed but hopeful. The winds were variable, south west west, the temps were mild in the 60’s. Go-No Go? This was a go. Rolling out just after daybreak, there was little wind to deal with, the dust was knocked down by the rain, and the scattered clouds offered a break from the sun. The miles passed quickly to Mud Meadow Reservoir.

Looking south over Soldier Meadows Ranch

At the reservoir I tried my new squeeze filter. It worked as it should. I was 40 miles in and topped off my water with a liter. In 5 miles I was riding on new to me roads. I passed Soldier Meadows Ranch before getting on a jeep road on the edge of North Black Rock Range Wilderness. From there I entered the Summit Lake Paiute Tribe Reservation. Beyond Mud Meadow Reservoir, water sources around the Ranch are shared with cows, and from the best I could figure one is not welcomed to collect water on the Reservation. Not a problem as long as you plan for it. Prior to the trip I wrote down the mile marker for each noted spring on the topo map. I anticipated water troughs for livestock along the route.

The flowers along the route were impressive. I feel as if the weather patterns in late May, early June have prolonged the flower season. We have heard so much about drought, low snow pack/precipitation, and fire season it is a relief to see the flowers, bees and butterflies, and hear the birds. On several stops I could sit still and hear the chukar. Through Summit Lake a group of 5 pronghorn, American Speed-goats, ran along side me before crossing right in front of me. We were eye to eye. These close encounters with such beautiful animals are inspiring. I watched a few groups of spirited feral horses along the route as well.

Summit Lake Indian Reservation

Beyond Summit Lake I skirted the southern boarder of the Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge. This is the furthest north I have been in this part of the state. I will spend more time in the Sheldon, I was even tempted to turn north and just keep going! But I do need to research how the area is managed and I read particular rules for camping. But there were a whole lot of roads to explore before reaching Massacre Rim Wilderness Study Area.

Welcome to Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge

There were wet meadow springs as well as water crossings. I passed a few outbuilds as well.

I camped along County Road 8a. I had considered camping at Coyote Spring Camp, but access seemed restricted by private property so I just tossed down my bivy sack and sleeping bag for the night. It rained lightly during the night and the wind persisted. I woke to cloudy skies and a headwind. At least I was dry, for now. Then it started to rain. It wasn’t heavy, the temperature was moderate, I was fine. I was crossing a sea of sage, dotted with windmills, and land features rising from the earth like giant waves.

I passed the turn-off for Steven’s Camp. This was a potential exit/short-cut if I decided I needed an alternative return. Steven’s Camp also has access to water and shelter. Plus, Friends of Black Rock High Rock in conjunction with the Bureau of Land Management were doing a volunteer site stewardship clean-up for National Trails Day. I knew I could get breakfast there if I needed. But I passed that turn-off with the feeling, there goes my life boat! My next turn-off was for Massacre Ranch. The BLM has a nice interpretive site with information about the dark skies here. Massacre Ranch is on my list of places to visit.

Beyond there I turned onto County Road 34 just south of Vaya. To the west is Hays Canyon Range and again the landscape had a different feel to it. From the Black Rock Desert, to Summit Lake, to Sheldon NWR, to here, the landscapes felt distinct. I can’t put my finger on it, so it really was a feeling. The road through Long Valley was new to me, full of bird song and flowers. Once I made it to Antelope Valley I was on a familiar section of road, and I could anticipate the next 50 miles of travel.

The notch is top of Little High Rock Canyon

I had a couple of real nice chats with the Friends of Black Rock High Rock/BLM crews as they were returning from Steven’s Camp. They along with a crew of volunteers had spent the weekend doing a thorough clean-up at this incredible resource. I chatted with a camper on his quad with his dog. They were off to retrieve a dropped ball from the day before. The man had been meeting his friends out here for decades to camp and roam on their ATV’s. But other than a few vehicles it was pretty quiet on the road. Just me and the wind.

Across Hualapai Flat

As I approached my vehicle I was treated to spectacular dust storms across Hualapai Flats and the Black Rock Desert. I haven’t been stuck in one of those events yet. But with enough time out here I am sure my day will come.

Above 12-Mile, Black Rock Desert

This was a great full two day trip. This was the most time and first overnight I had spent on my Manzanita gravel bike. The frame and fork are custom built by Nick Jensen of Manzanita Cycles. The bike is super comfortable and stable. It is setup to carry 4 standard water bottles on the frame and 2 large bottles on the fork blades. Nick indulged me with all the braze-ons I requested. The bags are custom made by Dave Wilson at Nuclear Sunrise Stitchworks. The custom frame bag fits around my two water bottles as only custom can. The bags on the fork blades and down tube are custom as well and can generously fit a 1.5 L Nalgene if necessary. These bags are most similar to Wing Tanks and Fuselage bags. I have Giant Silos, bolt-on Titan Tank bag, and Superfortress harness in the cockpit. The Superfortress works perfectly with the segmented fork. The seat bag is a Little Boy. Together this setup will take me on any gravelpacking adventure.

Next year I plan on hosting this ride as a 3 day, 2 night adventure. The route will include Massacre Ranch, Steven’s Camp, and High Rock Canyon on the return. The route is here on Ride with GPS. See you next year, but hopefully sooner!

2 thoughts on “Bike Travel Weekend; Ride to the Dark Skies

  1. What a fantastic ride. Even though there was some untested parts of this ride you seem very well equipped and knowledgeable. Bikes and equipment have come a long way since that first BMX bike you have 40 years ago! Thanks for sharing your adventures!!

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