Around and through the Monte Cristo Mountains

I first passed through Gabbs Valley when following Rabbit Springs Road in a loop from Luning to Sand Mountain. After that I was hooked on the area. I have been on numerous day trips to the area and have brought friends out for overnights in the area. This 50 mile loop on faint, or non-existent jeep trails reminded me of rides I have done in 360o around this spot. This ride reminded me how much I have missed getting out and committing to a long loop on an unknown route.

The eastern slope of the Monte Cristo Mountains, unfortunately the road is distant before it turns to the Kaiser Mine

How did this become an epicenter for so many rides? Location, location location. The end of the paved portion of NV 839 is about 110 miles from Reno. It is an easy drive through Fallon on Highway 50. It is just far enough east that the wettest of weather that spills over the Sierra doesn’t make it to Fallon and east. Fallon has everything you need, cheaper gas, great post ride burritos, and fun places to stop and ride. For boots on the ground reports on riding conditions hit up Stan Lattin, local mountain bike ambassador for northern Nevada. A little further east is Middlegate Station, one of the best spots for a post ride burger and beer. Because this is an active ranching and mining region there is a network of maintained dirt roads as well as roads time has forgotten. The ghost town mines are great destinations. The Pony Express Trail as well as the Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park are all within a day’s ride. The historic Rawhide Mine, though mostly obliterated by the current mining operation is still worth visiting. The topography of the Monte Cristos is so extreme it naturally becomes a hub with few roads going into or through the feature. The region is visually striking, as the sun moves through the sky you see features for the first time. From the Rawhide hot springs you watch the sunset’s pink moment on the Monte Cristos. So I return time and time again.

I couldn’t resist taking another photo of the dunes, Nevada’s seascape, snowcapped Gabbs Valley Range in the distance

Anytime I am focused on a mountain I ask, can I ride around it, can I ride over it? I had a starting point, the end of Scheelite (Calcium tungstate CaWO4, tungsten ore) Mine Road. Where the pavement ends, the adventure begins. I made the familiar drop down to the alkali flat. There was standing water on the playa. A group of five pronghorn crossed in front of me. The 360o view of the horizon is a sensory overload for anyone who seeks out time in the mountains. The Gabbs Valley Range was the most snow capped I had ever seen. The first 12 miles of the route was very familiar to me. The dune covered road was stable enough under my plus sized tires to keep pedaling forward. At mile 11 there is a road north to the King Mine (gold) on the west slope of the Monte Cristos. This is on my mind for a future trip as the maps indicate a dune system extending up the slope. I kept it in mind as an escape route from mile 30 if the big loop seemed unattainable.

The notch between the Monte Cristos and Fissure Ridge

This was my second time through the notch, the first was two winters ago as I headed south to Tonopah. This time I followed the road to Gabbs Highway instead of turning south. I was treated to an airshow as two jets from the Fallon Naval Air Station banked through the notch. The road was in good shape and had been recently graded. The skies were dark, I had a few minutes of rain in which I took inventory of my foul weather gear. The only disappointment was not having more dramatic lighting on the Monte Cristos. It was a little difficult finding the turn-off to Kaiser Mine (flourite). I should have taken this as a sign.

The shortest distance between two points

The road I had mapped based on the USGS topo had me following a ghost of road’s past. I had to duck two livestock fences. I was in and out of branching washes making slow progress as I second guessed where the road was. It is times like these I prefer to be solo. To repeat this route I would take the road to Gabbs Highway, turn north about 3/4 of a mile then climb a quality road to Kaiser Mine. While it adds a mile to the route the the savings in route finding and crawling through washes would be significant.

These public lands are managed for grazing, while there is water in the desert I recommend BYO

As I approached Kaiser Mine, I passed a buried water tank plumbed into a water trough. In a pinch I could see filtering/treating the water for cooking or making a drink mix but I imagine on its own it wont be tasty. But it is there! This was one of three livestock troughs I saw on route. I didn’t see any springs but there was snow above 6000′. For this area I carry an abundance of water, 3.5 L today, and plan on filtering from water troughs if I need more. Water in the desert is always a concern, but after years of carrying 3-10L of water at a time I take it for granted.

The high point, how many layers of hills and mountains can you count? While this is characteristic of Nevada it is particularly striking in this area

Climbing above Kaiser Mine I pushed on without exploring the mine. Another reason to return. I could see making a trip just to visit the Kaiser, King, and Eagleville Mines (silver, gold). And camp at the hot springs, of course! Above Kaiser I reached the highest point of the loop, 6100′. There was snow along the road’s edge and a scattering of junipers. After 2000′ of climbing, I was ready for my first descent. I was hoping I wouldn’t speed into a muddy mess. I knew I was pushing my luck at avoiding unrideable mud, but so far I had enjoyed 30 miles of great riding conditions.

My first impression of these yellow rocks was they looked painted

At the bottom of the descent, I was above the King Mine. If I needed to bail on the route, I could descend about 5 miles to mile 11 of the day. Instead it was a hairpin turn into a wash, AKA jeep trail. While baked clay roads are a fast way to cover miles these washes are entertaining with steep water cut walls. With wider mountain bike “plus” tires or fat bike tires the going was slow but steady. With narrow gravel bike tires I think this route would be frustrating. The moisture helps hold the loose gravel together, but once things dry out in the summer 4″ fat bike tires might be the tool of choice. But I was climbing again.

Looking over Bell Flat, Bell Mountain on the horizon

I climbed onto a sagebrush covered ridge above Bell Flat. Fairview Range and Fairview Peak dominated the skyline. I’ve done a loop through this view from Middlegate to Fairview Peak, the earthquake faults, then across the north edge of Bell Flat. On that trip I had hoped to ride through Bell Canyon but the Naval Bombing Range had it fenced off. For all the research I had done Bell Canyon was outside of the range. But the Navy has been discussing expanding their holdings in the area. I am going to enjoy this area while I can, I suggest you do as well.

Bell Flat, Fairview Peak to Bell Mountain
Need a break? Pick up some eye catching stones, they are everywhere!

On the USGS Topo of the area you can see how the Sinkavata Hills drain into Bell Flat. This was the one spot I strategically walked my bike around mud. But after a few yards I was back on sandy roads. I haven’t talked about wind. It was a southwest wind, forecasted 15-20, recorded at 20+ with gusts at 40 mph. Which in a loop, the tailwind helped push me uphill. I loved it. But the 2 mile climb out of Bell Flat with a perfect headwind, well lets just say I was glad to be on a graded road and it inspired me to pick up a few eye catching stones. Suffering uphills and suffering in the wind are two conditions I accept bike touring in Nevada. The tradeoffs weigh in my favor.

Rounding the south end of Fairview Range I started a descent into the most picturesque portion of the ride. The wash cut through the widest range of geological features. The Sand Springs Range rising up to 7400′ dominated the horizon. I descended 800′ in 3.5 miles. Sometimes it is hard to stop in a fun descent to take pictures but I made an effort and remined myself on the downhills it is easy to get started again. Oh, the logic of my internal conversations!

Road to Eagleville Mine
A favorite view? Probably, I took 4 shots of this perspective

Because I had mapped out this route on Ride with GPS downloaded it to my phone for off-line access as well as downloading it to my Garmin cycling computer I had a good idea of where to go, how much further and what sort of climbing was between me and my vehicle. I knew I was getting close to the final downhill. I noted passing the turnoff for Eagleville Mine. Definitely worthy of a return visit. But what I wasn’t prepared for was the view from the final high point. From 5900′ there is an unobstructed view to the Monte Cristo Mountains and the notch I rode through 38 miles or 7 hours ago. The view was clear, maybe a little soft from dust off the alkali flat.

Don’t forget to look back when you are always pushing forward!

It was a quick descent to the truck, 1/2 on dirt, 1/2 paved. I was already making the calculations for the closest food. Middlegate won over Fallon. A cheeseburger with ghost pepper cheese, side of fries, and a Sierra Nevada IPA. It felt like it had been a long time since I had done a new ride. Although I was in Ely in January this seemed different. It scratched an itch. I planned the most comprehensive loop I could find. Now that I have seen the terrain, looked at the jeep trails that intersected my route, I will come up with an alternate mine tour of the Sinkavata Hills and Monte Cristo Mountains.

For those interested in a GPS based map check out my ride on Ride with GPS. You can see all my route planning and rides there. By the numbers this ride was 52 miles with 4000′ of climbing. As an overnight I would camp near Kaiser Mine for an even split in the days.

What else is going on? I have started a monthly newsletter on Substack. The goal of the newsletter is to have a place to share the behind the scenes for these trips as well as the inspiration I gain along the way that may not necessarily make this narrative. Check out my Pitch and the first newsletter on Disappearing Glaciers. I am working on the next newsletter on Wild Pollinators.

Our winter has made planning rides tricky. I have made a couple trips to the Black Rock and documented those trips on Instagram. There is an overnight planned for Dog Valley, April 1-2. Then the Rides with Friends trips will kick off April 15-16 around Little High Rock Canyon Wilderness. My fingers are crossed that the weather will cooperate. I will have an alternate route on deck just in case.

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