Scoping out Northern Nevada
June 09 -10, 2011
David, a riding buddy, volunteered to lead a group of adventure riders on a riding/camping trip to northern Nevada in mid June. He wanted to scope out the area first - primarily to locate likely camping areas, and sources of food, water, and fuel. The original plan was for Bill, another riding buddy, and I to accompany David on his scouting mission. We were going to stay three nights at the motel at Gerlach and make day trips out and back to check things out. We all have larger motorcycles than the group David would be leading, and can travel considerably longer distances than the smaller bikes.
There was only one problem ................ mother nature couldn't see her way clear to provide us with a four-day window of good weather. The ride kept getting rescheduled week after week until time was getting short - on June 1, the eve of our last attempt, it snowed in the Sierra. David and I were itching to ride, so we decided to spend the four days riding to Carrizo Plain where fair skies were forecast. This left David with a single week before the real thing, but Bill and I cancelled out on him and it looked like David and his group were going to have to wing it on their trip.
David, however, decided that he wanted to take at least a cursory look around and decided to make his recon run by himself. He shortened his trip from four days to two days. On June 8, David sent out an email that he was leaving in the morning. I mentioned to Linda that I hated to see him go out into the wilderness alone, and she said: "Why don't you ride with him?" By then it was about 10:30 PM, but I called David to see if he would like some company. He said he wouldn't mind if I tagged along, so we arranged to meet up then next morning at his house in Colfax.
David really knows his way around northern California and he led the way over a lot of roads I'd never traveled. From Colfax we took the backroads to Nevada City where we picked up Hwy 49 and followed it all the way to Sierraville. I've traveled Hwy 49 in this area a couple of times and I'm always surprised at how scenic the views are and how interesting the roads are. For the life of me I can't figure out why I don't come up here more often - the Downieville area is particularly scenic.
The shot above was taken just north of Sierra City - Alaska would be proud to have those mountains. The photo below was taken from the summit of Yuba Pass where the Sierra Valley and Sierraville can be seen by the naked eye. This photo is a panorama so be sure to use the scroll bar.
From Sierraville, we headed south on Hwy 89 for a bit. We then turned left onto a dirt road named Henness Pass Rd which headed east towards Verdi, passing just north of Stampede Reservoir. This was a very interesting little road - about 10 miles long, not in the greatest shape, but pretty easy on our adventure bikes. For some reason we didn't stop for any photos even though things were scenic enough. As we started to drop down into Verdi, I decided that I better take at least one photo - there it is below.
At Verdi, it was time for some fuel and food and we enjoyed a gourmet meal of hamburger and fries - what else, these rides are the perfect excuse to get off my lifelong food management plan.
After lunch, we made our way to Interstate 80 and rode through the Reno metropolitan area. At Sparks we took Nevada Hwy 445 northbound and headed into the northern Nevada desert. I was really surprised at how much development had occurred in the area and how far north we had to travel before we were finally out of civilization. Soon, however, we were all alone on the highway and the hustle and bustle of the freeways and streets of the Reno area seemed light years away. We traveled north for some miles, generally following a little valley. The highway then bent in an easterly direction, through a gap in a small range of mountains and headed straight for a huge lake. I was quite surprised to see that Pyramid Lake is a real lake with lots of water ....... somehow I wasn't expecting such a sight.
It seemed like a good place to take a little break and take some photos .......... which we did. We then rode around the south end of the lake on Hwy 446 then again turned north on Hwy 447 towards Gerlach, our destination for the day. The ride was very pleasant and peaceful. It had been cool when I left home and stayed fairly cool until we descended into the Reno area where it got pretty warm. Now it was cool again and I didn't feel over dressed in my motorcycle gear.
It's hard to describe how empty the countryside is in this part of the world. Except for the highway, it looks like humans have never visited. We encountered the first signs of human activity in a little mining town named Empire, about five miles south of Gerlach. Some time ago, I read an article that the local gypsum mine closed in January 2011, another casualty of the housing crisis - gypsum is used to make drywall. Since Empire was (is) a company town, the entire population of about 500 people is now out of work and homeless. The article said the company is allowing the people to stay in their homes until the end of the school year - June 20. We saw some activity as we drove through town, but it didn't look abandoned yet.
Five miles up the road we entered Gerlach, NV, another very small town. One gets the idea that the entire town is owned by Bruno.
It was after 5:00 PM when we rolled into town and we thought it would be prudent to make getting a room for the night the first order of business. It was also time to fuel up so we pulled into the only service station in town, just across the street from Bruno's Motel, the only motel in town. We couldn't see an office at the motel so I went into the gas station and asked the attendant how to go about it. He told us to go to the casino and talk to the bartender ............ which we did. The bartender said he had a room, but he really undersold it .............. telling us it was very small and not very fancy. "But", he said, "It's clean." The price was right at $49 including tax, so we decided to take it. It turns out the bartender was right - it was small, not fancy, but the sheets were clean and the shower was great. David and I discussed the fact that, however humble this room was, it beat camping hands down.
David's not so bad, but I have so much crap, I mean gear, that I need a lot of floor space to stash everything. In this room, I had stuff stacked several layers deep and I still had to watch my step when I got up to pee in the middle of the night.
As we walked out of the Casino, three other "old" guys walked with us and struck up a conversation as we were futzing around getting ready to mount our bikes. These guys were on a fishing trip and were camping out nearby. They knew the area pretty well - the guy I was talking to said he'd been coming here for over 40 years - and gave David a couple of ideas for camp sites for his upcoming trip.
We still had some time before the restaurant closed at 8:00 PM, so we took a quick look at our room and headed up the road to do a little exploring. We headed north on County Rd 34 which has a mountain range on the west and a huge dry lake bed on the east. We rode about 20 miles to Fly Reservoir, one of the spots mentioned by the fisherman I had talked with. There was nothing of particular interest that we could see. It was now getting late and the road had turned to dirt, so we turned around and headed back to Gerlach, and some chow.
The food was actually pretty good and I enjoyed my meal a lot. After dinner we hung around and discussed many things. There's nothing like a couple of "old" guys sharing their adventures and life's stories. David is a very interesting fellow and has lived in some very interesting places. Nobody seemed in a big hurry to close up the cafe and we, along with several other people, stayed way past 8:00 PM enjoying each other's company.
When we got back to the motel, David broke out his maps, and we started planning our trip home. There was still a potential camping area David wanted to check out before we left the area and David mapped a route home that passed nearby. It looked like we had about 85 miles of dirt roads to negotiate and we had no idea what we might run into.
I was counting on getting a good night's sleep, but before we knew it, it was 11:30 PM and we were still up. By 11:45 PM, we were both in bed, and by 11:47 PM, I was asleep.
I was still sound asleep at 6:00 AM when David started talking - he was asking me if I was ready for an early breakfast. It took me a few seconds to realize where I was and I sure wasn't ready to wake up. After a few minutes of chit-chat, however, I was wide awake and ready to go. I was looking forward to the day's ride and the possibility of a little adventure on the 85 miles of dirt road ahead. We had only one option for breakfast, so we headed for the Casino restaurant which was supposed to open at 6:30 AM. As we approached the restaurant, however, there was no sign of activity and we both thought it might not be open. Not to worry .......... when we tried the door, it was open and a waiter invited us in. Again, the food was great.
By the time we got packed up and hit the road, it was about 8:00 AM. The first order of business was to check out Squaw Valley Reservoir, the potential camping site the fishermen had recommended. We headed north on Nevada Hwy 447 and immediately out of Gerlach we were in the desert wilderness.
The Squaw Valley Reservoir was only about 20 miles away and we were there in no time. It is actually a pretty good little camp site. We opened a gate and rode into the area through an short access road - it was pretty rutted up and I doubt a passenger car could make it. The fisherman we'd met the night before were out on the lake in boats and we didn't get a chance to talk to them. We stayed only for a few minutes - it didn't take long to see that this would be the perfect place for David's group - there was even a two-track road heading out into the wilderness, perfect for dual-sport riding.
The beginning or our 85 miles of dirt road was about 10 miles south of Squaw Valley Reservoir. Even though the road looked in excellent shape at the beginning, I decided to lower the air pressure on my tires. Eighty five miles is a long way and we could run into anything - sand, mud, deep gravel, rocks - and I feel that lower air pressure is an advantage in those conditions. Even on the ideal, well maintained, gravel road I prefer the lower pressures even though I don't mind riding for a few miles with street pressures. David, on the other hand, leaves his tire pressures alone. To each his own.
The road was excellent all the way to Hwy 395 at Doyle, CA. It was wide, well maintained gravel and we traveled 50+ mph most of the way. I stopped for photos a few times and was easily able to travel 65 mph to catch up. I've driven on paved roads that were much worse. In fact, I can remember times when Interstate 80 over Donner Summit was in much worse shape - it sometimes embarrasses me to think that I used to work for Caltrans.
Not too far down the road we encountered this little fellow taking a sun bath. I didn't even see him .............. When David turned around, I couldn't imagine what he was doing, but I turned around and followed him. It was only when David stopped that I saw what had grabbed his attention. I guess I was too busy looking at the vast landscapes to see what was in right front of me. As we were taking his picture, he was slowly and cautiously making his way to the grasses at the side of the road and when he finally reached some cover, he picked up speed and was soon out of sight.
We enjoyed a quiet, easy ride across the desert landscape. We saw a few ranches scattered about and I wondered how life would be in such a remote area.
We saw a couple of abandoned homes along the way and stopped to check them out. I'm always a little sad when I see these places. I think of the day that someone moved in - a family full of hope and dreams of the future. Apparently David had the same thoughts and we talked about all the life that must have gone on in these walls - the family dinners, the arguments, the loving .............. At some point, the dream was lost and the occupants decided to cut their losses by abandoning the place they had worked so hard to create - very sad.
It was a good think I had my GPS this day. We came to several junctions that had no signs and it would have been very easy to have taken a wrong turn. At one intersection, the correct route was so counter intuitive, that we discussed whether someone had messed with the signs.
Soon, we were at the end of the gravel road and entered Doyle, a very small town on Hwy 395. We pulled in to a gas station and fueled up. The night before, we discussed that from Doyle, we would decide which way we wanted to head for home. There were several routes that would take us over more dirt roads through the mountains. We both decided we'd had enough dirt riding and decided to head south on Hwy 395 to Hwy 70 and pick up Hwy 49 to home. While we were taking a short rest, water, and snack break, I aired up my tires to highway pressures and David lubed his chain.
From here, it was a fairly routine ride home. The scenery was just as spectacular heading southbound as it was going northbound and the roads were just as enjoyable.
We stopped for lunch at a great little place in Sierra City called the Mountain Creek Restaurant. There is outside seating with a spring fed water feature and lush vegetation. The food was great and the prices were right.
We left Hwy 49 north of Nevada City. David had told me that he was going to lead me on a scenic route to avoid the Nevada City/Grass Valley area ..... and he did. We turned so many times, up one road and down the other, that I soon had no idea where we were. I won't even attempt to recount the route. In not too long, we drove up to an interchange on Interstate 80 just east of Applegate. Here's where we split up - David headed east for home in Colfax and I headed west for Auburn then south to home.
By the time I reached home, my GPS told me that I had traveled 623 miles in the past couple of days. It was a great ride and I'm sure glad I decided to go.
A couple of days after the ride, I received an email from David telling me that the guys he was going to lead on the riding/camping trip had cancelled out. I hope David doesn't consider this a wasted trip - I sure don't. Maybe we'll be back to explore more of this country one of these days.