Great Basin Exploration
Great Basin National Park, the Ruby Mountains, and the Pony Express Trail
May 25th - 28th, 2007
(Photos & text by Kurt Williams unless otherwise indicated)

Day 1 - Friday:

I have done very little exploring in Nevada, so when Richard invited us to join him for a weekend of aimless wandering in the desert landscape of eastern Nevada, I had to say yes. The next step was to convince Candace the dog and her needed to accompany me in the adventure. We didn’t have any major plans for the weekend and Candace was excited to check out some of the stops out west, so it was on.

Candace had to finish up some work before we could make a clean escape; in the meantime I loaded the truck, loaded the dog, and gassed up the truck. All Candace had to do is load a couple days worth of clothes and we were off.

The drive from SLC to Delta usually takes just over 2 hours, with some open stretches and empty roads to our advantage, the Tacoma got us there a half hour ahead of schedule. Candace and I were getting a bit hungry, and we didn’t think the greater Baker, Nevada area would have much to offer us. We settled for the only thing open late in Delta, McDonald’s, needless to say it wasn’t the greatest. We didn’t spend too much time lollygagging in Delta, as we had another hour along Highway 50 before we would get to Border Inn, Nevada where we planned to meet Richard Dyatt. Richard had been hanging out in the area for day or so, the joys of retirement let him escape on a regular occasion.

We followed Richard through the small town of Baker and towards the Lehman Caves within the Great Basin National Park. We turned off the main highway, just a quarter mile or so before the cave center as we were led to the campsite he had laid claim to in the Lower Lehman Creek Campground. Richard had found a nice secluded campsite that had a flowing creek just a few feet away, it sang us to sleep.

Day 2 - Saturday:

The Lehman Caves visitor center opened at 9am, and Richard planned to be there promptly so we could get scheduled on the first tour available. We drove back into Baker and found a great little café for breakfast. Richard scooted out a bit earlier than Candace and I so he could get up to buy the cave tour tickets. As things tuned out we were scheduled for the noon tour, giving us a couple extra hours to burn.

The road past our campground winds up the mountainside, eventually ending at a couple of campsites and the trailhead for several hikes. The longer of the two hikes would take you to Wheeler Peak, sitting at nearly 10,000 feet, towering over the surrounding area. Behind Wheeler Peak lies a line of even taller peaks, the tallest, Baker Peak, piercing the 12,000 foot mark. On a return trip I would like to hike Wheeler, we were neither prepared not had the time for it on this trip. After spending a few minutes enjoying the scenery, we started back down towards the caves, taking our time to enjoy the incredible sites offered at each turn of the road.

The Lehman Caves are a very worthwhile and noteworthy stop to make if you ever find yourself in the area. The guided hour tour through the caves is spectacular, we toured narrow rooms, large “ballrooms” that onetime played host to weddings, receptions and even scout camps. We spent a few dollars in the gift shop after the tour, and were on our way.

We didn’t have a certain goal in mind, mostly just get to the Ruby Mountains for at least a night, our direction didn’t really seem to matter. Richard spotted a “shortcut” bypassing Sacramento Pass along Highway 6/50 that would take us through the Osceola ghost town, works for me. The dirt road meandered through the foothills, passing countless signs of mining, old buildings, and even a handful of livable structures. Back on Hwy 6/50 we made our way up over Connors Pass in into Ely for lunch.

After a relaxing lunch we set about looking for a gas station and a grocery store, a small local market took care of the groceries and the Chevron at the end of town took care of the gas. We were on the road again. We continued north on Highway 94 through McGill, finally turning off the highway towards the small berg of Cherry Creek. This small town seems to be the home of summer vacationers, lots of motor homes and boats, amidst the homes of yesteryear. We strolled through the streets of town looking at old homes, old cars and old people. Richard even spotted an old FJ40, he stopped and inquired as to its status… they weren’t selling.

The road past town climbs west up and over Cherry Creek Summit, where we took a fork in the road that would eventually land us on a portion of the Pony Express Trail. As we motored along the trail we quickly noted that this wasn’t the same type of Pony Express Trail we were used to back in Utah, where one can do freeway plus speeds in the dirt without worry. Rather the road was badly eroded, washout at water crossings, and two track for much of its length. This would last until we passed through the Ruby Valley Station, and landed on the Ruby Valley Road.

The Ruby Valley Road heads north, eventually ending at State Route 767. We turned off of the high speed gravel road heading west up Harrison Pass, eventually crossing the pass. Our search for a campsite took up a road leading south off of the main Harrison Pass Road, though the road continued to climb the ridge so we turned back in search of a better campsite. A little further down the main road we found a spur heading north that lead to a great campsite in the grass, surrounded by a stand of trees. The cool weather and gentle breeze were a welcome change from the heat earlier in the day.

Day 3 - Sunday:

After breaking camp and packing the rigs, we continued west along the Harrison Pass Road. It eventually ended, joining the pavement heading towards Elko. Just outside of Elko we hit the Lamoille Canyon Road and proceeded up the canyon. As we reached the head of the canyon we decided to stretch our legs and take a short hike. The hike ended up being closer to 2 miles each way, the last half in the snow, ending at Lamoille Lake. The lake was still frozen over, but the hike was a great way to break up the monotony of sitting in the truck all day. We returned to the rigs and moved on out of the canyon in search of lunch.

Lamoille, Nevada is a rural suburb of Elko, a quaint main street with dirt side roads. There we found an excellent bar that had a great lunch to offer. As we dined Richard busted out his Nevada atlas and we planned the next leg of our route. To Wendover and beyond. From Lamoille we were able to stay almost completely in the dirt before catching Interstate 80 near Deeth. The stretch I80 seemed to drag, likely because our speeds along the dirt road had many times exceeded the speed limit on the interstate. Eventually we rolled into Wendover, a different direction than I am normally acquainted with. We didn’t spend long in Wendover, just enough time to grab some fuel, and something to snack on for the night. From Wendover we traveled south on Highway 93, turning off about 15 miles south towards Blue Lake.

I had never been to Blue Lake, though I had heard all about it from those who used the spring fed lake to do their scuba certifications. The general consensus was that the water was murky and the mosquitoes were relentless. Thankfully I didn’t find either to be particularly true. Richard and I took a short swim in the lake, while Candace stood ashore, trying to coax our dog Jada into the water. We learned she could swim that afternoon, though I wasn’t sure she would be doing it on her own accord in the future.

After our quick bath, we traveled south towards the northern end of the Deep Creek Mountains, stopping in Gold Hill, Utah for a quick look around. The once great mining town is as sleepy as they come, but scenic and serene nonetheless. I could picture myself having a little place here. A base camp for future adventures, a place to escape to? One day.

It was growing late and we would lose the sun in a couple hours yet. Our goal was to get as close to home as possible tonight. We made quick time to Callao, then to Fish Springs, and finally in the Black Rock vicinity. We were all exhausted, between the morning hike, the afternoon swim and the countless hours in the car, it was time to find a place to crash. It was windy out, so our goal was to find something with a little bit of natural wind break, as well as off the main road where vehicles would be kicking up dust and through the night.

After investigating a few spur roads, we traveled along one that switch backed up a hill, a mile or so off the main trail. We couldn’t see the roads destination in the dark, but a fire pit at one of the switchback corners would become our home for the evening. As it turns out the road leads to the U of U cosmic ray station which consists of a dirt road, a couple cleared out parking areas, and a cement pad. We cooked hot dogs over a small camp stove, huddled in the wind break of Richards rig, and enjoyed the breeze as we slept.

Day 4 - Monday:
 
It didn’t take long for Candace and me to get up and at it that morning. Between the dog’s anxiety and the sun beating down on our tent, it was hopeless, we had to get up. We loaded all the gear into the truck and took a stroll up the remainder of the road, arriving at the aforementioned U of U facility. Richard decided to spend a couple more hours in the desert, so we were off solo this time, heading home. It was Memorial Day Monday, and the crowds increased the closer we got to the valley. A couple hours later and we were pulling into the driveway, ready for a nap. An excellent adventure, ~900 miles total, nearly 350 of them in the dirt!



Great Basin National Park, Nevada

Great Basin National Park, Nevada

Great Basin National Park, Nevada

Great Basin National Park, Nevada

Great Basin National Park, Nevada

Great Basin National Park, Nevada

Great Basin National Park, Nevada

Great Basin National Park, Nevada

Cherry Creek, Nevada

Pony Express Trail, Nevada

Pony Express Trail, Nevada

Pony Express Trail, Nevada

Pony Express Trail, Nevada

Pony Express Trail, Nevada

Ruby Lake, Nevada

Ruby Lake, Nevada

Ruby Lake, Nevada

Ruby Mountains, Nevada

Ruby Mountains, Nevada

Ruby Mountains, Nevada

Ruby Mountains, Nevada

Ruby Mountains, Nevada

Ruby Mountains, Nevada

Ruby Mountains, Nevada

Ruby Mountains, Nevada

Ruby Mountains, Nevada

Lamoille Canyon, Nevada

Lamoille Canyon, Nevada

Lamoille Canyon, Nevada

Lamoille Canyon, Nevada

Lamoille Canyon, Nevada

Lamoille Canyon, Nevada

West Wendover, Nevada

Blue Lake, Utah

Pony Express Trail, Utah

Pony Express Trail, Utah

Pony Express Trail, Utah

Pony Express Trail, Utah

Pony Express Trail, Utah

Pony Express Trail, Utah

Pony Express Trail, Utah

Pony Express Trail, Utah



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