Nevada in February

WHUFU Trip: So Cal Spring 2013 | 0

Thursday (Feb 28) 

my spot at Tecopa, with pond

I really did have the perfect spot on a perfect day, at the far corner of the lot, looking over the little pond and the Death Valley-like mountains on the far side of the wide valley.  If you ignored the “Warning Raw Sewage!” sign, it was idyllic.  Looking back, it is the presence or absence of WIND that makes a spring day in the desert idyllic. Lack of wind is a real treat out here.

The pond was full of ducks.  I saw:

  • Northern Shovellers
  • Lesser Scaups
  • Cinnamon Teal (beautiful duck)
  • Green Winged Teal (a first for me!)
  • Pintails, or some kinda similar duckie with that stylish pointed tail
  • also, I saw a Widgeon somewhere, so let’s say it was here.  A beautiful bird

Anyway, after a morning soak I was outta there. I decided to check out the date farm that I’d seen signs for on previous trips.  It was a pretty cool place.  Driving along in the middle of the desolate nothingness that is the Old Spanish Trail, is a sign that says “China Ranch Date Farm 5 miles”.  I took the turn.  The first three of those miles are to get to the edge of the flat, desolate nothingness.  Suddenly the road narrows, and the winding descent into the canyon begins.  It is a pretty exciting descent.  I gathered from the date milkshake lady that it’s no big deal to the locals, but it sure kept my attention.  At the bottom is a little paradise straight out of a bible movie, complete with the date palms and the oasis.  It’s a working farm, and they are happy to have you wander around and to sell you a shake and a coffee and a few pounds of dates and a geegaw or two, but please be on the road out of the canyon by end of business.

rows of date palms

I would have unreservedly loved the place, but I was so stoked about it I went back and asked milkshake lady about camping (I saw camping was mentioned in the brochure, but I missed the NO part :), and she was “No, we like it when folks leave by 5 or 6” which injected a little negativity in an otherwise perfect visit, but all in all it is a really nice place, perhaps worth the detour and the date shake is quite tasty.  Most folks just stroll the orchards, which is boring.  More obscure but better is the 50 yard walk along the little spring-fed stream that powers the place.  I found that very restorative …. restoration being just the ticket for the rest of today’s drive, which involves crossing Las Vegas from west to east.

In fact, after powering back up the curvy canyon, the next hour could be described as plenty of desert, then a wall of four story condos perpendicular to the road stretching for miles, then boom!  I’m in the stressful boulevards of surburban Las Vegas.  I had planned to stay on the avenues, but I’d had enough of that crap after about three miles, so I high-tailed it for the 215 freeway.  I followed it for a long-ass time and eventually I ended up in Henderson pointed up Lake Meade Parkway. Before you know it, I’m in the NRA(National Recreation Area) and cruising up the parkway on north side of the lake headed for Echo Bay. Las Vegas is just a bad memory.

Note to self, next time camp at the BLM campground in Overton instead of Echo Bay. I remembered it as an enjoyable place fifteen years ago, but it was a loser this time. The five mile road that descends from the parkway to the marina complex had road construction.  The flag ladies gave flag people everywhere a bad name by sitting on their big butts and ignoring me for a literal 8-10 minutes when I really wanted to get to my spot and out of the driver’s seat and decompress.  But the very instant I gave up and turned off my engine, one of them got up and acted like she was giving me VIP treatment by taking me through. I punished them by withholding my usual sunny smile as I went past. that showed ’em!

Echo Bay Campground:  

Omigosh! Google has shrunk their map of Lake Mead so that Echo Bay is like 10 miles from the lake now! The water level must be really low!\

tonight:

The whole Echo Bay Marina is really dead. Not sure if it's the season and the road construction or what. Campground is quite pleasant, on a shelf looking out over a lot of canyon. Shoreline is >100' lower than it was when this place was built.

I was here 5-ish years ago and it was pretty lively, the restaurant was open for breakfast, lots of people and boats ... not so much now

I  hope it was the road work, but that place was seriously dead.  None of the services – gas station, cafe – were open, either that night or the next morning.  There were a few campers at the campground and a couple of boats went in and out, but it was totally not a happening place.  I got my pick of the campsites, but overall the place was a downer – the only one of the trip I’m happy to say.

Friday 

Back up the hill in the morning – no road work, no uppity flag people!  Perfectly good Friday for doing road work, but no one there. … whatever … this place bites and I am glad to get out without further hassle..

Ick, a motorcycle accident on the parkway.  That’s two bad traffic things on this trip.  Both close to me but not involving me.  What does it all mean? I don’t know!  I exit the National Park, tell the ranger about the accident, and motor onward, pondering the fates and how blessed I am to have not been in either of those accidents.

I need propane and I need beer, so I forego the very scenic Valley of Fire for un-scenic Overton.  I’m OK with that. In fact it didn’t have to be an either/or. It would’ve been an easy 30-ish miles to go back to the park after Overton, but having made the decision, I’m good with missing the park this time and knocking a day off the end of the trip.  And the way the weather turned ugly over the weekend it turned out to be a good decision!

On the last bluff south of Overton, there are many RVs just hanging out. I mark this down as a future camping spot. But then a couple of miles further on down into the valley was the legit camping spot, the “Wildlife Management Area” run by the BLM.  It was kind of run-down and sad-looking, but serviceable as a future camping spot.  Anyway, I was soon in the middle of the dusty little town. I go my needs met and my errands done:  ate, got beer at the creepy mini-mart with the tweekers in the parking lot, got propane at the garage on the far edge of town (getting propane is a pain in the ass, but I have uniformly loved the dudes and woman who fill the tank).  That’s all the civilization I’ll need for the next couple of days.  The propane meter showed empty last night, and it’s really quite shockingly cold at night out here still, so I’m stoked to have a full tank of propane.

side view of the spring-fed creek at Moapa NWR

Because I’m punting Valley of Fire, I am able to take Route 168, a modest little road that cuts off a corner of desert running through the Moapa Valley.  Pretty much accidentally I stumbled across Moapa Valley NWR, which was an interesting place.  Driving along the main road I noticed a large clot of palm trees off to the left.  Then I noticed the sign to the NWR, and since I have a strong commitment to checking out NWRs whenever I have the time and the energy, I took the turn.

Moapa NWR:  

pretty little place off of SR 168. Used to be a warm springs resort, so lots of decorative palm trees around, which the rangers don't like. There is a little endangered fish, the Moapa dace, which is the reason for the whole place.

This turns out to be a brand new NWR, on the site of a former warm springs resort, hence all the decorative palms.  The reason it exists is a little fish about 2 inches long, the endangered Moapa Dace.  Protecting the Dace is what the place is about.  It was all quite new, the little stream viewing window pictured above was interesting, AND I got my own personal ranger to babysit me!   Within about 30 seconds of my pulling into the empty parking lot, a ranger pulled up in his ranger truck.  As I followed the brand new nature trails around the brand new facility, he pulled up a chair, opened up his laptop, and worked on ranger stuff while watching me.  When I left, he left.  I talked to him about it – their usual volunteer didn’t show up, and (it would seem) they are pretty protective of their nice new place.

Route 168 merged with US 93 North, and before you know it, I have arrived at the Pahranagat NWR, my home for the rest of the day.  I explored its bumpy roads for a while, enough to decide they weren’t worth the bumps.  Even with that I was settled in at my lovely site by 3pm. Considering that it was a nearly perfect place, that was a good thing!

Upper Pahranagat Lake:  

Lovely campsites right off the busy highway, next to NWR water - either a small lake or a large pond. Idyllic except for the noise and headlights of the constant semis 300 yds away.

I was parked 30 feet away from Upper Pahranagat Lake, where I saw these interesting critters:

  • green winged teals again
  • coots, which are not ducks, but basically swimming chickens – kinda cute, all black with white beaks, they bob their heads when they swim, like the chickens they are!
  • double breasted cormorants (one of my faves)
  • Clark’s grebes (another fave)
  • a redhead!  This duck is largish with a snowy white body, black shoulders and a very red head. Really a very striking bird.
  • A muskrat every 30 feet or so all around the lake, with many evidently preggo Momma Muskrats hanging out in the reeds waiting for food.  The sign said muskrats are encouraged by the rangers for invasive, non-native weed control.
southeast corner of Upper Pahranagat Lake

I fiddled around, worked on this blog and even did webby things like work on the google map for this trip. I have good phone bars here, and with Personal Hotspot, that means I’ve got pretty good internet!  After this trip, my New Rule is that if you can hear big semi-trailer trucks all night from your campsite, you probably also get phone bars.

I got off my butt for a great walk around the lake at sunset.  Very pretty.  You can’t even hear the semis on the other side!  I’m gonna say it was a four mile walk.

Saturday 


my excellent lakeside campsite in the morning

Awaken, eat a little cereal, enjoy the wifi and the quiet.  With a little imagination, highway noise is sort of like the noise of the surf, just a soothing background noise.

Leave my happy spot noonish.  I follow US 93 more or less due north then due east 80 miles to the rumpled little town of Caliente before seeing anything that looked like a restaurant.  I had a pretty cheap and tasty breakfast at the Branding Iron.  The teenagers holding the place down on a slow Saturday afternoon were cute and endearing and kind of made my day.

Onward a mere 30-ish miles to Cathedral Gorge State Park. I had been intrigued by a BLM campground called Horsethief Gulch which my app showed as being right next to Pioche.  Further research last night showed it to be quite a bit east of Pioche, down 25 miles of gravel road.  That would further mean another 25 miles of gravel road tomorrow morning to start my journey to Ely.  Some days I would be down with that, but not on this day with it’s increasingly sketchy weather. Plan B was Cathedral Gorge.  I remembered it as being boring and it kind of is boring, but I really enjoyed it this time.

Cathedral Gorge State Park:  

Pleasant, quiet state park campground. In the flats at the bottom of the gorge. The gorge is an easy hike away.

tonight:

very pleasant in February. Nice evening hike up the canyon to sunset at the overlook. Shower with hot water!

gloomy afternoon at Cathedral Gorge

The weather continued it’s turn from sunny and windless to the opposite.  I did the one fun thing to do here, namely hike up the canyon to the top of the gorge and back.  We have a waxing gibbous moon, so I was looking forward to the moonlight hike on the way back.

I did not however want to do the steep and gravelly path down the cliff by moonlight, so I milked as much of the sunset as I could on the top of the hill then headed down in the gathering gloom. I did create a little moonlight excitement for myself by off-roading a bit!  Walking up the wide, flat part of the canyon a dry sandy creekbed crosses my the trail near the beginning and near the end.  So elementary topology tells me that I if I turn off the trail and follow that creekbed I will cut off a chunk of trail and avoid the part of the trail that is a road.  There was the usual little bit of excitement “I should’ve seen my trail by now, did I miss it?  Did I f— up?“, but I didn’t f— up, and I did re-connect with my trail, and it was fun!

Oh joy, this lovely campground has free hot showers.  You rock State of Nevada!  I am hte only camper here tonight.

Sunday 


yep, just like CSI

I can see why they want folks to stay on the trails.  The ground is amazingly fragile.  Every step you take is preserved like a CSI footprint mold.

Cathedral Gorge jackrabbit crossing

There are no ponds or streams here.  So instead of muskrats and teals and shovelers and grebes, there are jackrabbits and roadrunners.  Both are pretty funny looking animals, and I’m glad I had a chance to see them.  There were a lot of jackrabbits.

I have cereal and putter around for a while, but the darkening mood of the sky makes it hard to relax, so I do not hang out for as long as I’ve done the last few mornings.  I do stop at the Visitors Center at the front of the park. The nice ranger lady I saw last night was manning the desk, and we yakked for a half hour.

Pioche is dead

A short drive up 93 then off a little to the west takes me up a canyon to the interesting old mining town of Pioche, where I have Sunday breakfast at the only place in town that is open.  The town has so much history, so many cool old buildings and mining artifacts, and is in a fine location commanding the whole valley, but it really seemed dead.  Good luck Pioche.

looking towards Mt Wheeler from my wide valley

Nothing to do now but blast up the road due north for 110 miles to Ely.  Mountains in Nevada run north-south, so driving due north is pretty easy.  On the other hand, driving east-west as I will do tomorrow is more of an adventure, especially in dicey weather.  Today’s drive is really beautiful.  The road is flat and straight, with snow-capped mountains on both sides, for miles and miles.  Towards the north end of this run the mountains on the right (east) are the back of Great Basin Nat’l Park and 14,000′ Wheeler Peak.  There is a lot of fresh, white, bright snow from the storm that rattled the van at Doheny Beach last week.

Nevada Hotel, Ely

I pull into Ely mid-afternoon.  The funky old Hotel Nevada downtown (either a quaint historical treasure or a musty old flea trap depending on your p.o.v.) allows overnight RV parking in its lot.  I did stop and eat in the casino restaurant and take a few pics in the little corner of the casino they call a museum, full of stuffed animals and statues and other strange stuff.  I voluntarily ordered a salad, which is an indication that my body is finally rebelling from too much truck stop food.  But it’s too early in the day to stop for an overnight in a parking lot (see Walmart discussion above), and besides, the increasingly gloomy and hostile weather is starting to get to me.

I am driving into a storm front, and I’m in a much colder climate area.  Last night near Pioche you could tell weather was coming, but down there in March weather would probably mean warm rain and a little wind.  Up here, it’s a very chilly rain that could turn to snow, and since I am now driving west, I am crossing mountains rather than just driving up valleys.  On US 50 (the Loneliest Highway!) I will cross two passes over 7,000′ and three more 6,500′ or more, so snow is starting to be a concern.  My outside thermometer is showing temps of low 40’s and high 30’s, and it is raining.

sunset on US 50

My new plan is to press on to Hickison Petroglyphs, which means I will be driving pretty much until dark.  This is not how I like to roll on vacation, but this is not vacation weather.  This weather is good for nothing but staying inside, sipping hot drinks and curling up in a blanket.

I execute my plan, past the gigantic Ruby Mine, roll through Eureka, keep rolling and rolling, through light rain to a beautiful sunset! It was a little after sunset but still light when I got to Hickison, and I was ready to stop.

But sadly for me, the excitement is not quite over for the night.  Hickison is only about 1/2 mile off of US 50, but it was a pretty exciting 1/2 mile tonight.  No snow on the road, but there was a 30 yard long mudpit that had the van doing some scary little side-sliding.  Past that was the campground, and most of it was snow-covered.  Not deep snow, but enough snow to scare wimpy ole me.  I started to power through the little loop of the sites, decided it wasn’t worth the risk, carefully backed out and found the most level place I could in the general parking area.

Hickison Petroglyph Campground:  

Very handy, right off US 50 on a really long, really boring road with the only other option being roadside pull-offs. Far enough off the road to be very quiet.

The short petroglyph trail takes you to a west facing view over a the Big Smokey Valley, and a nice sunset.

tonight:

still very handy and all, but significant snow in the sites and kind of a dicey road in and out. More excitement than I bargained for.

I am wiped out. No laptop blogging or software tinkering tonight, just a hit of the emergency scotch and watch a little of the one movie I have on my laptop (Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy – the 1960’s BBC version, Alec Guiness as Smiley) and go directly to sleep.

Monday 

Ah, the sun is out and the world is a bright and friendly place again!  I take the little hike to the gap in the ridge where you can see into the next valley – Big Smoky Valley. I brace myself for the slip’nslide drive out of here to get outta here.  I did slip and slide a little. I probably was in no real danger of getting stuck, but nonetheless I was hugely relieved to be back on good ole pavement.

More US 50.  Just 20-ish miles on is the intersection with Route 376, another beautiful drive which rolls north-south up the Big Smoky Valley, with the very dramatic Toiyabe Mountains to the west, the Toquimas to the east.  It’s also the place to turn to head off to Spencer Hot Springs.  I took the turnoff, stared at the seven miles of straight gravel road across the valley, and decided today was not the day.  It looked ok, but I remembered my mud trauma and took a pass.

Austin Summit
catch it before it melts

The road gets curvy as I head up to my next pass, Austin Summit.  I stopped and took pictures here because it was very pretty.  Then breakfast at the other place in Austin.  Every time I pass through here I eat at the International Cafe, and make a note to myself to try the other place (Toiyabe Cafe) at the other end of town the next time.  This time I did it!  I’d say that the food is equally average in both places.  The International is kitschy and has an airy, open feel, but I recall some annoyance at the service last time.  The lady at Toiyabe was very nice and the food didn’t suck (but the coffee really did suck), so I will officially recommend them both!

The very long stretch of 50 from Austin to Fallon is always kind of a death march in my mind, but fresh off of breakfast it was pretty easy today.  I got to the eastern edge of Fallon noon-ish, and was feeling so perky I decided to check out Stillwater Wildlife Refuge!  Usually on the last day of a trip I am so tired and homesick that I just blast on through to get to my tv and a beer on my sofa, but today I’m feelin’ it!

viewing area, Stillwater NWR

Apple Maps lied again about the location of the refuge, so I drove about 25 extra miles, but I eventually got there,  I ended up driving way more than I wanted, but overall I had a really nice afternoon checking the place out.

Then follow the 25mph speed limit through Fallon, get some relatively cheap diesel, and motor on,  home by 5-ish.