Bike Your Park 2022: Swim with the Ichthyosaurs in a Sea of Sagebrush

Do they look tortured? Photo Jaime C

“Yessss! My new favorite form of torture,” reported Jaime Chapman (@dready_pineapple), owner of Reno’s Pineapple Pedicabs. This isn’t the first time (nor probably the last) I have been accused of of torturing my friends. I also have the reputation of being a liar on topics of, “how much further?”, “how much climbing is there?”, and “how technical is the terrain?” These questions just beg a mischievous lie.

Trevor and I riding to Lodi Valley Photo Corby C

I have a great history of riding in this area. Bike Your Park 2018 was a solo trip down the Gabbs Highway then over the Paradise Range at Green Springs to Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park. While I could have spent the night in the park I filled up on water, and climbed Ione Valley to Buffalo Pass. I got into Middlegate at dark, had a burger and beer. Then slept in the Middlegate parking lot. A great marathon trip. I returned to take the cut-off to Broken Hills and Quartz Mines and repeated the loop via Burnt Cabin and Buffalo Summits. From Middlegate I rode west to Fairview Peak then south past the earthquake faults, and eventually looped back via Bell Mountain to Gabbs Highway. In June 2021 Shay, Christine and I did an overnight through Ione Valley past Berlin-Ichthyosaur to Grantsville Canyon then looped through the Shoshone Mountains to Ione and back. There are more! I plan rides in the area just for the post-ride experience at Middlegate Bar and Grill. Check out this Collection of rides out of Middlegate into the Desatoya, Paradise, Shoshone, and Clan Alpine ranges.

The Shoshone Mountains reach skyward between 9 and 10 thousand feet

I have been looking forward to leading a group ride in this area for a while. It is a complete package. There is mining, ranching, and stagecoach history. The natural history, flora, fauna, geology, meteorology, geography, and night skies are second to none. The Shoshone Mountains reaching skyward above 10,000′ are a great reminder we ride on the stolen lands of the Northern Paiute – Western Shoshone First People. We were only miles from the Yomba Indian Reservation in the Reese River Valley. This area definitely deserves a repeat visit. So here we are, Adventure Cycling‘s Bike Your Park Day 2022!

Chalk Mountain

I met Marc Pfister at the base of Chalk Mountain between Dixie and Stingaree Valleys. This rock fin rises out of pillowy chalk dust to the north of Fairview Peak. The area is seismically active and known for its earthquake faults. This area is also on my list of places to ride. The night sky was spectacular, I could see the Milky Way from horizon to horizon. Sunrise on Fairview and Chalk Mtn was equally inspiring.

Trevor and Jaime packed and ready to roll Photo Marc P

We met Sheena, Trevor, Jaime, Meg, Corby, Shay and Christine at Middlegate between 9 and 10. Christine and Shay opted to start at the dirt turn-off for the Broken Hills. This route modification is a better choice but I had it stuck in my head to start and finish at Middlegate. Rolling out from Middlegate, Marc wasn’t feeling quite right so he turned back. Starting the dirt portion of the ride we were a group of 8.

Road and wash merged into one, leaving coarse deep sand

There had been reports of thunderstorm induced washouts in the area. The State Park had posted using caution on the freshly grated but rough roads. The Gabbs Highway had evidence of debris removal. But the dirt portion of our ride started where road and wash intersected. I felt bad for those on narrower tires. But we all made it through.

A life well lived? How did it go, Matt? Photo Jaime C

First stop was the grave of Matt Costello, 1866-1926. Grave sites and grave yards always inspire questions.

Next was Broken Hills Mine. It boasts a 600′ vertical shaft. The headframe and gaping holes in the ground were the main attractions.

A small “tin can grave yard” of historical trash Photo Shay D
The headframe at San Rafael Mine

From there we visited Quartz Mountain and San Rafael Mine. Quartz Mtn Site sported a small “tin can graveyard.” Historical trash answers questions about tastes, brands and packaging past. Always a curiosity.

Trevor brought his own shade Photo Trevor C

Leaving Quartz Mtn the heat was on! While the air temperatures were mild the direct sun was intense. The air was still. We rounded the north edge of the Lodi Hills and mining district before dropping into Lodi Valley. We climbed out of Lodi Valley between Porter Station and Burnt Cabin Summit. This is one of the few roads through the Paradise Range. By the summit some of us were hurting. Personally, the cramping in my legs was real. My mistake was only carrying water. Sports drink works well on days I am sweating more. Cramping and fatigue was the general sentiment. I decided with 20 miles to go to camp we should skip the extra milage and climbing necessary to visit Phonolite, Ione, and Knickerbocker Canyon. There is always next visit.

Regroup for lunch, Porters Station and Burnt Cabin Summit ahead Photo Shay D
Corby and Meg leave Paradise behind Photo Corby C

Burnt Cabin Summit drops into the south end of Smith Creek Valley which leads to Ione Valley. This sea of sagebrush is primarily used for ranching. Although we didn’t see any North America Speed Goat (pronghorn, Antilocapra americana) we saw coyotes, crows, other small birds, lizards, and insects. Pronghorn are a common site, I bet we just missed them.

We arrived at camp as the sun was setting. Jeff Rosenfield of Wildwood Expedition/Wildwood Open Lands Foundation (@wildwoodexpedition) greeted us and invited us to share his campsite. The campground was full. While Nevada State Parks has “No Turn Away” policy, Jeff showed us a great ridge behind his campsite that we called home for the night. The No Turn Away policy is brilliant,

…to promote Nevada as a bicycle touring destination and positively impact the small towns and shops along the state’s rural highways. Bicycle tourists tend to spend significantly more money than other cross-country tourists because they spend more time enjoying the areas they visit and require more services.

Nevada Division of State Parks
Ghostly dinner prep Photo Shay D
Pinyons and Stars

After ghost stories in Wildwood Camp, we retired to an amazingly star filled night. Corby spent quality time getting great astro-photography. I used a tripod and phone mount to take advantage of my Pixel 5a phone’s remarkable camera. The auto astro-photography settings take a 4 minute time lapse, compress it into a 2 second video, then compile a still photo from that. The results are fun!

Everyone had a comfortable night. The temperatures were mild. A breeze came up a couple of times during the night. It felt like cooler air was moving down West Union Canyon, out of the Shoshones, into Ione Valley. We woke to very clear air. The views popped!

Are riders a little slow to get going after a hard day? Probably, it’s only human nature. Muscles were a little sore and stiff, rear ends a little tender. It would have been great to spend a day in camp. The site of Berlin can be explored over miles of interpretive trails. But we had 50 miles ahead with unknowable adventure. Packed and ready, we said our good-byes to our Wildwood campmates. Sheena guided us on the foot/bike path to the Ichthyosaur swimming hole.

Peeping Toms!
The Ichthyosaur Fossilarium

It is only appropriate in a state best known for its rocks, that our state fossil is protected by a Quonset hut style enclosure, akin to many rural community pools. It really is a beautiful spot. Another attraction to sticking around for a day would be to go on a tour of the “fossilarium”. This is my second visit and relegated to looking at the fossils through the observatory windows. We took our riders-n-rigs photos with the toothy aquatic lizard. The Ichthy has the best smile.

The mill at Berlin Photo Jaime C
Yorick keeps Shay safe and entertained, he pops up every trip

We rolled out of the park with brief stops at the buildings that make up Berlin’s main attraction. The great Ione Valley spread out below us. My memory was incomplete, I thought the road, NV SR 844, was dirt until the Green Springs Summit, but it was paved from the bottom of Ione Valley to its junction with Gabbs Valley Road, NV SR 361. The smooth surface was welcomed by the group.

A welcomed sign, 8 miles of downhill ahead! Photo Jaime C
This is a million dollar view! No fewer than 6 past-overnight locations can be seen from here Photo Shay D

From the summit it was a 8.4 mile descent, dropping 2,360′. The views were spectacular. You could see across the valley to Gabbs Valley and Sand Springs Ranges. Big Kasock Mtn 7,982′, Buckskin Mtn, and Pilot Cone, mark the Rawhide Mining District. I kept my speed in check to take it all in. Corby recorded 42 mph. I knew it could be fast descent.

A long paved stretch lined with rabbitbrush, perfect setting to plan the next Bike Your Park
The thirst is real! Although not my empty, Pacifico is a favorite brand of cold and yellow. Photo Shay D

The last 29 miles back to Middlegate were hot in the direct sun. I did seek shade when I could find it, sitting at the base of low brush, otherwise there was none. At one point I stopped, took a break with no shade around, it was hot in comparison. I wouldn’t of minded a 3-5 mile per hour head wind. How hot was it? By the numbers, it was probably only in the low to mid-80’s with very low relative humidity. So, how can this be hot? The high desert sun is intense. By no means was this exceptional, we have had trips 10-20 degrees warmer. But for me, 60-70o air temperatures, light breeze, intermittent clouds or pinyon-juniper forest is ideal.

Jaime’s view from the cockpit of her very low flying aircraft. Such a clear day! Photo Jaime C

As we climbed Gabbs Valley Rd my head was on a swivel. I was on the lookout for the haul road to the San Rafael Mine and the roads to the Kaiser Mine. I was keeping an eye on the insects in the rabbitbrush. In the past I saw tarantula hawks in the flowers. This time I saw dragonflies perched on the shrub’s apex. Since dragonflies have obligatory aquatic juvenile stages it made me wonder where the water was. More questions.

This is 1/2 the reason I plan rides in the area Photo Shay D

The final 8 miles to Middlegate, our parked cars, Nevada’s second best burger, and a cold Ichthy were calling. My last wild encounter was a coyote staring at me, staring at it in the middle of the road. Then it turned tail, and took off. I watched it run as far as I could. It wasn’t just getting a safe distance, it was traveling.

Post trip meals are a favorite! Photo Sheena B

Lunch was had. Faces washed. French fries shared. We saw other riders coming from a group ride in the Toiyabe Range to celebrate Kurt Gensheimer’s (@trail_whisperer) work on the Toiyabe Crest Trail. A rider invited us to join the Truckee Bikepacking Collective (@truckeebikepackingcollective). Nice!

By the numbers, 106 miles, a little over 1/2 paved, with 5890′ of climbing. This route was cut short, but includes the mining ghost towns along the route. I will repeat this route, start/end at the turn-off for Quartz Mtn, hit all the mining towns and it should be about 95 miles, and 6500′ of climbing. You can always add more. Planning with maps in Ride with GPS, gathering as much as you can by internet searches and reference materials, will only take you so far. Once you are out there, hey look at that road that parallels the one we are on, where does that road go, and I wonder if I can get to that spot over there, fills the empty space on the edges of your map.

Some cool bikes! Trevor was riding the flat bar, steel Kona Unit X, a bikepacking specific model. Trevor rode that bike like a champ! The bike is equipped with a reliable Shimano workhorse group, and rolls on 29×2.6 wheels. It’s true, 2.6 is the new 3.0, Trevor rode all the loose chunky bits. Sheena was riding the drop bar, aluminum, Salsa Journeyer also equipped with a Shimano workhorse gravel/road/touring group. The Journeyer comes in several build packages, this one, Journeyer Advent 700c, rolls on 700×38. This tire might be a little undersized for some of Nevada’s terrain. Kona and Salsa have great bikes for those looking into adventure touring.

For more inspiration check out Corby Cobb Photography (@corbycobbphoto)

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