Rides with Friends #1 Little High Rock Canyon and Denio Camp

As it was originally planned this route was 45.5 miles with 3000’ of climbing around the perimeter of Little High Rock Canyon Wilderness. I originally rode the course as a day ride with Pete Rissler in 2017. We were both on gravel bikes but a mountain bike would be my tool of choice. I planned the ride as an overnight for September 2022, but a crazy storm moved through that weekend so I did it as a solo overnight with the idea of rescheduling it for 2023.

Pre-ride the day before our scheduled trip showed dramatic effects of our big winter but a doable route

So here we are, mid-April, and I am wondering if it was wise to plan a higher elevation trip, 5,000’-6,300’, this early in the season. It was a winter for the record books but things were melting and drying out fast. I had to pre-ride the course to make sure it was ridable before inviting my friends into the unknown. The pre-ride was good, not ideal, there was snow and mud above 6,000’ but nothing that kept me from moving forward. North facing rock outcroppings still held snow, and there were a few drifts over the trails. I figured if I could do the trip unloaded in a day then the group could do the trip loaded in two.

First few miles on Co Rd 34, Granite Range on our left Little High Rock Canyon Wilderness on our right Photo Marc P

But ride plans must be adjusted for the group, time of year, conditions and weather. So we did. And it was fantastic! We met at the Friends of Black Rock High Rock Visitors Center. Spring is taking off with a roar! FBRHR has a full schedule with Fly Ranch Nature Walks, community walks and tours, long and short term grants to fulfill, and a full calendar of events and stewardship projects starting with the Black Rock Rendezvous. I encourage everyone to come out.

Photo Doug A

We had a group of 6, Marc, Shay, Nick, Doug, Galen, and me! We have all ridden together and in the case of Marc and Shay we may be approaching 700-1000 miles of riding together. Whatever the number, its big. After introductions, coffee, and banana bread, huge thank you to Stacey Wittek (Executive Director, Friends of Black Rock High Rock), we caravanned to the start, Lund Petrified Forest.

A fossilized stump 12-16 million years old Photo Shay D

Doing a little dive into the Lund Petrified Forest I have learned the fossilization of this wood happened 12-16 million years ago when the trees were engulfed in volcanic ash or tuft from the volcanic activity of the super-caldera. I also read the eruption of Mt. Lassen, some 12 mya was a source of the volcanic ash/tuft. Structure by microscopic structure in the the plant is mineralized until the organic bits are perfectly cast by silica minerals. George Lund worked to preserve these specimens from the mining activity (gold and uranium) in the area. The abundance of fossilized wood along the whole route was astonishing. Once you have a search image for wood grain in rock, you see it everywhere.

Doug found these specimens near camp Photo Doug A
Plenty of rockhounding opportunities on this route

Speaking of rocks, after the snow melt the small rocks seemed particularly visible. They were washed and brought to the surface. Obsidian, chert, jasper, chalcedony came to mind, but I just repeat the names I hear rockhounds use.

A slightly tricky hike-a-biked Photo Shay D

From the Lund Petrified Forest we turned onto a jeep trail “designated route” that followed the southwest boarder of the Little High Rock Canyon Wilderness Area. It was a great swooping downhill section to Little High Rock Reservoir. The route follows the dam spillway which required a tricky bike portage. Shay sliced a tire sidewall on a sharp rock requiring a tire boot and inner tube to fix. Shay had everything including the skills to make the repair in no time. We hiked across the dam and made our way to the edge of the wilderness and the mouth of Little High Rock Canyon.

Getting into Little High Rock Canyon Photo Doug A

I had visited this far on past rides, but this time we hiked into the canyon. Wow, I was blown away. It is more than just a “little” version of High Rock Canyon. In particular it was acoustically amplifying a croaking frog. I couldn’t imagine a chorus of frogs. I will have to return to get a sound recording. Hiking into the canyon was a highlight of the trip. Although I am not a backpacker, I could see making an exception for this route.

Denio Camp, complete with multiple springs, not a bad rancher’s homestead Photo Doug A

Leaving the canyon we headed to Denio Camp, also known as Billie Denio’s Place. The homestead may only have a few heavy winters left. I think it would be great if architecture students or artists could make drawings of these buildings before they are flattened into the desert. Unfortunately the track between Little High Rock Reservoir and  Denio Camp Springs had a fresh layer of soft sand which took it’s toll on the group’s stamina.

From here the route starts to climb into the snow and mud zone, camping options were looking good Photo Marc P

The next couple of miles doubled the day’s elevation. At this point the group decided this would be a great point to camp rather than push to a very long day through snow and mud at higher elevations. There is good reason for a “first trip” of the season to be a low investment shake out ride.

Home for the night Photo Marc P

We made camp above a drainage where I had seen two pronghorn the day before. They saw me first and took off like American Speed Goats (Antilocapridae: Antilocapra americana)! It was great to be in camp early and rested. We had time to explore. Rocks, flowers, birds all competed for out attention. Once camp was set up I made my rounds for the home tour. Nick was going the lightest in his bivy. Marc and Shay stayed true to their tarps. Galen was protected by an ultralight option from Six Moon Designs. Doug was in a MSR FreeLite. I was in “the coffin”, North Face Stormbreak 1. The wind died down as the sun went down. The overnight low dipped below 30o but everyone slept well. I woke a to grab some star shots. The Milky Way wasn’t apparent but the sky was star filled. At some point we were serenaded by coyotes.

Starry night

Camp was in a great location for an early sunrise. I listened for the morning chorus of the birds that survived the night. Although there weren’t many resident birds it is always a great song. Breakfast was had, camp was packed. We were exiting on roads we hoped wouldn’t bee too sandy. It was also the shortest way to Co Rd 34, which we knew was in great shape.

Pre-dawn moonrise Photo Shay D

These roads are outside the NCA through BLM managed public lands. They provide great access for ranchers, hunters, and travelers like ourselves. But there were some significant washouts across the roads. I can’t imagine what we are going to encounter this year on minimally maintained roads nor the cost to repair roads deemed critical. Always look before you leap!

Ride out to Co Rd 34

Co Rd 34 had some rolling climbs and descents back to Lund Petrified Forest. I was reminded of riding I want to do between Hog Ranch and Big Hog Ranch Creeks. There is a gold mine permitted for that area. I cant help but to wonder what that infrastructure will do to the wildness of the area? Light and noise pollution to start. Then haul road traffic and increased traffic on Co Rd 34. It is unfortunate that the intrinsic value of our public land is not greater than what lies bellow it. I have the cynical opinion that the mining companies fleece their investors at the price of our public lands with very little accountability. I know the mining companies can argue circles around me to the contrary.

I was also intrigued by Chester Rd and Lost Creek Rd reminding me I need to keep up with my back roads exploring. Ultimately these roads will connect bike tourists to or from northern California for longer tours.

By the numbers this loop was 26 miles with 1,500’ of climbing. This is a great introductory overnight distance leaving plenty of time for setting up camp, cooking meals, and exploring on foot. I could even imagine an outing that splits in two. A group can choose the longer loop and a group can choose the shorter loop. Depending on the confidence of the groups this could be a good option. Here are Day1, Day 2, and the original route on Ride with GPS.

My bike choice for this trip was the Falconer B+. As a rigid mountain bike with 1×11 drivetrain and 27.5×2.8 tires (measure to 2.6) it was the ideal tool for the job. With the double sets of braze-ons per fork leg and set of braze-ons on the down tube near the bottom bracket, I was under-packed carrying the following:

  • Miscellaneous Extras
    • Camera Bag over shoulder
    • Camp Chair
    • Poop trowel
    • Wipes
    • Face cloth
    • Sunscreen
  • Kitchen
    • Small Ti pot/mug
    • Small fuel canister
    • Lighter
    • Stove
    • Knife
    • Spork
    • Silicone bowl w lid
  • Food
    • Instant dinner “Thanksgiving Dinner”
    • Instant breakfast quick oats
    • Instant coffee
    • Bars n chews for lunch
    • Juice box
  • Sleep
    • Thermarest Neo Air Pad
    • Sleeping bag liner
    • Patagonia Hybrid sleeping bag
  • Shelter- North Face Storm Break tent
  • Clothes (worn)
    • Kuhl LS shirt
    • Kuhl pants
    • buff
    • Defeet socks
    • Merell waterproof shoes
    • Craft light gloves
  • Clothes (carried)
    • Hat
    • Patagonia Dirt Roamer shell
    • LS base layer
    • Thick sleeping socks
    • OR Helium down jacket
  • Electronics
    • Phone
    • Backup battery and cable
    • Garmin
    • Headlamp
    • Spot
    • Headphones
  • Water 4L, 2X1.5 L Nalgenes, 1X1 L Nalgene
  • Repair
    • First Aid
    • Repair kit
    • Pump
    • Tube

Weigh-in: Falconer B+, bike and bags: 32.6 lbs, full loaded 62 lbs. Everything worked well for the trip. I could carry less water, spend time filtering and go with a lighter shelter. As the summers warm my sleep kit will lighten, but I will carry more water.

Rides with Friends Photo Marc P

This was the first of seven Rides with Friends for the season. May 28 is the ride from Cassidy Mine to Calico Mountains, 1/2 day ride as a part of Black Rock Rendezvous. June 17-18 is bikefishing overnight in the Granite Range. July 15-16 is the Fox Peak Loop in the Granite Range. August 12-13 is the Perseids Meteor Shower overnight on the playa. September 16-17 Massacre Ranch overnight. October 14-15 Black Rock Point micro playas overnight. Hope to see you out there. If there is anything I can do to help you plan a trip to the Black Rock Desert High Rock Canyon Emigrant Trails National Conservation Area please reach out.

3 thoughts on “Rides with Friends #1 Little High Rock Canyon and Denio Camp

  1. This is great! With each post I realize new and funny things … how little i knew about petrified forests and how you dont even pull off the “trail” when you decide to make camp for the night. And how many different types of “tents” there are. Anyway … super cool! I tried to leave a comment but it wouldnt let me. That happens often … the site asks for my info but says “sorry, cant post your comment.”

    Ride on!

  2. Just curious on your thoughts about carrying ‘wet food’ ie: Canned/package foods vs the ususal backcountry travelers dehy type foods. I’ve recently started carrying more wet foods and it has significantly reduced my water needs. In the past I carried almost all dehy foods but had to carry the fuel to melt snow and boil water. I certainly don’t have the scientific answer but am moving toward wet foods for desert travel and carrying less water and fuel.

    1. I agree with wet foods for desert travel especially when you have to carry most or all your water needs. Especially during the cooler seasons fresh foods travel well. I include the water content of fresh fruits and vegetables when keeping track of my water rations. Even without the scientific answer there is consensus in carrying wet foods over carrying backpacker’s meals like we were trained to do. “Stoveless” meals deserve consideration. Great observation!

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