Rides with Friends #4: Perseids Meteor Shower Campout

Friends of Black Rock High Rock host an annual Perseids Meteor Shower Campout. Become a member, join the fun! Photo Sheena B

Like the Black Rock Rendezvous day ride this trip was not stand alone. Last year for Perseids I decided to ride into the Friends of Black Rock High Rock’s Perseids Meteor Camp rather than drive. Why not, I am the bike guy. Also, driving a vehicle on the playa with your bike hanging off the back just hammers it with playa dust. So, ride out to camp on the playa instead. It is hot on the playa in mid-August, I wasn’t expecting a big turn-out but I promised an unforgettable paella dinner. I guess I shouldn’t underestimate the lure of paella on the playa.

Riding north along the west shore of the Black Rock Playa. The big spaces inspire big ideas. Photo Mark Y

Seven bikepackers joined me for the ride from 12 mile access to camp, about 6.5 miles. Two campers biked from camp to 12 mile then rode with us to camp. So we were 10 riders along the west shore of the playa, riding to the cove occupied by the Friends of Black Rock High Rock Meteor Camp. I find it curious that littoral terms, shore and cove, are used to describe the desert. But why not, it was once a great lake and even an inland sea.

Gathering in the shade makes for great story telling Photo Michael M

We were greeted in camp by FBRHR staffers Karleena and Olivia, who invited us into camp, encouraged us to share the shade structure, and offered cold water, chips-n-salsa, peanuts, watermelon, and great conversation with fellow Perseids Campers. Was this a mirage? A hallucination plus food? It was hot and this is what you could expect from Friends of Black Rock High Rock, generous hospitality. While there was the possibility of riding more we were pretty content to stay in the shade. Lizard life!

Noah mesmerized by paella in the desert Photo Courtney G
I used this paella feed as my main selling feature of the trip. It’s no joke! Join me next year! Photo Sheena B

While we were riding in two groups left camp. One, lead by FBRHR, was off to do site stewardship at Black Rock Hot Springs. The other, lead by Trails West, was off for an interpretive expedition to visit portions of the Applegate Emigrant Trail. Along with star gazing, scorpion hunting, a paella dinner, and Dangerous Margaritas this was a packed event with something for everyone.

As the sun dips low on the horizon hungry campers gather in the long shadows Photo Sheena B
Bike Parking

Its a dry heat. So we sat in the shade, drank lots of water. But the group was feeling it. Jerry Snyder and Kris Vagner showed up in the early evening for the main event, paella! Admittedly, Jerry told me it is an easy dish. Most cultures have some version of this meal where rice or some other starch is used to stretch limited portions of protein and vegetables. “It is mostly prep.” But it is a beautiful show! The two purpose built paella pans and propane burners produced a feast of traditional and vegetarian paella. A feast for our eyes as well as our bellies. Thirds were had!

Dangerous Margaritas were had Photo Sheena B
The pink moment across the desert to King Lear Peak Photo Michael M

As the sun went down the next event began, Dangerous Margaritas! Will Rogers hosted the cocktail hour at his Airstream. Sadly I was having a caffeine withdrawal headache that I did not manage smarter. My mistake, my loss. Noah and Marc did confirm that the margaritas were indeed strong, and could impair bike riding.

As soon as it was dark I popped up for star gazing, astro-photography, scorpion hunting, and a night ride. I am still messing around with my phone camera to take starry photos. The night was less than ideal, as the sun set, the near full moon rose. But the pictures turned out great and the process is fun! Next I took my blacklight headlamp to look for scorpions. Last time I did this the temps were cool and no critters were found. Tonight was totally different. You couldn’t miss them. The handful I observed were 1-3 inches long and close to where we camped, Noah, Courtney and I were camped under tarps, Michael and Jaime cowboy camped. No one had a too-close-encounter with a scorpion. Tent vs Tarp, I brought a tarp thinking the ventilation would be more comfortable. I bought my tent to keep critters out and for its freestanding qualities. I think tarp is still the way to go in the desert.

It is DARK on the playa, but Noah was guided by the moon Photo Courtney G

I had popped back into my tarp and quilt thinking the night’s events were over. Then I heard, “Let’s ride to the moon!” These margarita inspired voices were pedaling away as I quickly pulled on my sandals. I couldn’t see them ahead of me but I knew which way they were going. I rode for three miles toward the east. Little did I know 1 mile across the playa they had turned north. I clicked on my light from time to time but never saw them. Did I see a mouse at the edge of the light cone? Riding by moon light or artificial light on the playa is fantastic.

Moonlight or Daylight? Our phones’ cameras catch great images Photo Sheena B

I returned to my tarp and quilt just as the other riders rolled into camp. They got 10 miles in, rode up to Mormon Dan Rock. They took some killer night photos. Between the moonlight and what our phone cameras can capture you can get great results. Now time to sleep, to dream of scorpions.

This is how you do coffee on the playa! Photo Michael M

Sunrise on the playa is always remarkable. The low, warm light casts long shadows on the endless playa surface. The surface has such variable textures. We were camped in a swirling wash featuring dips and cracks. Portions of the playa are polished smooth. On top there can be micro-dunes, playa serpents, that can jolt you to attention if you think you are riding on a smooth surface. Parts of the playa are a hard durable surface while others are soft and crunchy, or soft like cake flower. Chances are you will encounter a wide diversity over just a few miles.

Headed to the Quinn River terminus. The early morning light plays on the texture of the playa and colors of the Calico Hills.

After coffee, the plan was to ride to the Quinn River terminus. I joke when I say, Nevada, where water goes to die. But that is the idea of our Great Basin. Check out River Runner to follow the fate of rainwater that lands in Nevada. With the exception of some water in the very north or south of our state, water flows to inland features. The water that floods the Black Rock Desert can flow out of the mountains surrounding the playa, or make up to a 200 mile journey from the Jordan Valley in Oregon through the mighty Quinn River. We caught the Quinn at a moment where it was advancing on the playa.

At first the Quinn was a dry crinkly grassy depression. I wasn’t sure how far this would last. But just up ahead I saw water. In past years there were still puddles at this end of the Quinn. But not this time. The water was creeping forward, filling the dry cracks in the clay as it advanced. As it did the waters edge appeared effervescent as bubbles rose to the surface. Just ahead of the water were escaping arthropods, spiders, crickets, beetles and scorpions. One scorpion we followed had captured a meal and was carrying it in its mouthparts, breakfast to-go.

After hundreds of miles through southern Oregon and northern Nevada the Quinn flowed to us

This fascinated us for a good 40 minutes. The chats we had about Tamarisk removal and control reminded me that Courtney and Noah have a rich background in conservation biology from their time in Arizona and beyond. I look forward to getting their perspectives and learning from them on future trips. We speculated that the water was coming from thunderstorm activity along the Quinn. What a journey!

Highlights from this trip; definitely the Quinn River and Playa Paella were top hits with the group. Photography and scorpions were a personal favorite. And of course it comes down to riding with friends. I enjoy my solo trips but the dynamics in a group, especially this group, has its own super power. There are two more Rides with Friends this season, #5 Around Little High Rock Wilderness, October 1-2 and #6 Through Fly Canyon, October 29-30. September is Adventure Cycling’s Ride Your Park, I am hosting Middlegate to Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park, September 23-24. Then I will be planning next year’s calendar. See you out there!

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