Nevada Wilderness Camping, July 4-11, 1998

Hickison Summit Campground, Lander County, Nevada, July 5, 1998   

The day is just getting light. Birds are singing. The air is cool and clean and scented with sagebrush. We are camped on a hillside east of Austin, Nevada. There’s no water at this camp, so we’ve had very few bugs.

This morning I got up while it still was dark. I watched thousands of stars, Venus, Jupiter, and an artificial satellite. Then I watched a star set between two trees on the hill north of us. The star was moving downward and eastward, in keeping with its position down and west from Polaris.

Our first night’s campground is at Hickison Summit.

Nearby is some Indian rock art scratched into the sandstone boulders. You can climb a hill by the boulders and see a grand overview of the Toiyabe Range to the southwest and the Monitor Range to the southeast. Both have snow on their higher peaks.

Campy finds an outstanding lookout point.
Campy led yesterday’s hike from Success Summit on SSR 486 to the top of Cleve Creek Baldy, 10,923'. Our hike begins on a dirt road with water running on it and a spring bubbling up right in the road. We continue upward and eastward through meadows with clear flowing water and lots of flowers. There are groves of quaking aspen, many of them carved, and some evergreens.

Here in Nevada you can read the climate from the vegetation. Sagebrush and flowers and grasses in the valleys, giving way to pinion and juniper forest on the mountain slopes, then sparse tundra vegetation above the tree line.

Leaving Reno, we drove east on highway 50 through Fallon and Austin between the Clan Alpine Mountains and the Desatoya Mountains. Then we turned south on Nevada 376 to Kingston to follow the road up Kingston Canyon, with a cold mountain stream and snowcapped peaks on either side. Kingston is an alpine village nestled into the eastern slopes of the Toiyabe Range.

There are 16 of us, variously from California, Oregon, Nevada, Utah, Iowa, Illinois, and Arizona. Our trip is capably led by Vicky Hoover of San Francisco, an experienced Sierra Club guide; Marge Sill of Reno, who knows and loves the Nevada wilderness; and Fred Camphausen, “Campy,” of Bishop, California, a world class outdoorsman.

Most of the other folks are professional people, many of them teachers. All but one are over 40. I’m the only conservative in this group, though Vicky believes there are others in the Sierra Club.

Timber Creek Campground, White Pine County, Nevada, July 6, 1998   

Marge, Therese, Eleanor, Lew and I hiked from the Berry Creek campground a few miles south of here. We followed a deserted mountain road upstream toward South Schell Peak. Our road crosses the stream at the edge of the campground. We didn’t want to get our shoes wet, so we walked upstream along the bank until we found a tree that had fallen over the creek.

The fallen tree wasn’t wide enough to just walk across. Then Therese had a great idea — find a branch long enough to reach down to the bottom of the stream, and use it for balance. Fortunately there was one. We inched across the fallen tree, one by one, holding the branch down in the water like a punting pole.

We hiked through a grove of quaking aspen. The aspen trees have their roots connected so that the aspen grove is really one plant, with new aspens sprouting up wherever the roots extend.

Marge, Therese, Lew, Eleanor and Ted hike along Berry Creek.

Then we noticed the carvings. Folks had come here for years to carve their name and initials and dates in the aspen bark. The oldest date I could read was 1905. Some of the older carvings were made by Basque sheepherders, Marge explained.

Another 1/2 mile and the road leaves Berry Creek to continue upward through alpine meadows toward the snow fields. We stopped to rest by a boulder covered with bright red and orange lichens.

Finally we entered another aspen grove and another stream crossing. No log this time. So we stopped for lunch, took pictures, and started back downhill. A golden eagle flew from a tree in front of us.

Yesterday’s drive from Hickison Summit to Timber Creek took us by the strangely named Pancake Range. Evidently one of the mountains looks like a stack of pancakes, without syrup.

At Garnet Hill we looked for garnets on the ground or embedded in rhyolite. I found a small one.

Then we had lunch at Ruth, overlooking a huge open-pit mine with monstrous trucks driving in and out of the pit. This will be the fate of Nevada’s wilderness if it isn’t protected! The mine trucks drive on the left side of the road. None of us are as tall as their tires.

We passed an excursion train on the Nevada Northern railroad, stopped for gas in Ely before driving here.

Timber Creek isn’t your ideal campground. All of the tent sites are either rocky or tilted or wet. I pitched on what seemed to be a decent site, then noticed groundwater seeping toward me. So I found a digging stick and used it to scratch grooves in the ground to drain the water away from my tent.

Laundromat, Ely, Nevada, July 8, 1998   

This is the day we wash our clothes, after a luxurious hot shower last night at the Cave Lake campground. Strangely, only a few took advantage of this opportunity. The rest are really roughing it.

We had an uninvited visitor in camp early this morning. Something or someone was rummaging around the cooking area while it was still dark, but there were no voices.

I turned out. There was no one, but the sound continued. So I shined my flashlight toward the sound and saw a black bushy tail with two white stripes. Then a little black face with white stripes and two beady eyes. A skunk! It was in our garbage bag feasting on food scraps.

I wondered what to do, from a safe distance. You don’t go running after a skunk and try to chase it away. After thinking about it I decided there wasn’t anything valuable in the garbage. So I climbed back in my tent and sleeping bag.

Lichens and tundra vegetation.
Campy led yesterday’s hike from Success Summit on SSR 486 to the top of Cleve Creek Baldy, 10,923'. Our hike begins on a dirt road with water running on it and a spring bubbling up right in the road. We continue upward and eastward through meadows with clear flowing water and lots of flowers. There are groves of quaking aspen, many of them carved, and some evergreens.

As the road ends we begin a steep climb up a rocky, wooded canyon. Before long there are snow banks. The snow is granular, like a snow cone, with the ground around it turning to mud. Wherever there’s a place to sit down we stop and drink some water. From here I’m leading the way, with Jack and Campy close behind.

Finally we top out on a saddle with a steep drop ahead of us and a fine view of the Schell Creek Range to the east. We turn south and continue 1/2 mile through sparse forest and snowdrifts to another saddle. A herd of elk runs away as soon as they see us. Their droppings are everywhere.

Picnic near the top of Cleve Creek Baldy.

At the second saddle we turn east and begin a long climb up the slope of Cleve Creek Baldy. The top of the mountain is like the top of a ball, steeper on its lower slopes before easing up near the top. By now we’re well above the tree line. From a distance the mountain looks bare, but up close it’s covered with rocks and the most delicate alpine flowers, none of them more than an inch high.

Beyond the rounded top is a rocky pinnacle that is our destination. Campy gets there first, followed by me, Jack, Carolyn, J.R., and later, the others. The view is magnificent and our picnic lunch satisfying.

Campy mentions that the rounded summit we just left is a few feet higher. So I go back around the snow field and try to find out where the real summit is. But the top of Cleve Creek Baldy is so nearly flat that it’s hard to tell. Therese, Blair and Kathy join me for the hike down to Success Summit, which is actually a pass on a mining road.

Baker Creek Campground, Great Basin National Park, Nevada, July 9, 1998   

We’re camped on a rushing stream that flows eastward from Jeff Davis Mountain toward the Utah border. The sunrise was framed by mountains on either side. We all slept later than usual after yesterday’s hike.

Lexington Arch is at the south end of Great Basin National Park. It’s a limestone arch which might have started as a cave and then got eroded out from behind. The trail takes you up inside the arch, but it’s so steep that you don’t see the arch until you are all the way inside.

Our trailhead is at the base of a mountain at the end of a dirt road that begins south of Garrison, Utah, and continues west across the Nevada state line. You can feel the state line when the road becomes suddenly bumpy.

Our trail leads right up the side of the mountain in a series of switchbacks, each wider than the one before. We cross several vegetation zones as we gain elevation, ending in a pine forest when we reach the pass.

Although you can’t see the arch from the trail, we learn that there’s a great view of it from the top of a cliff, just 100' north of the pass. There should be a sign on the trail! We’re there in the late afternoon, when sun isn’t good for pictures looking westward. So we continue to the end of the trail and climb around the inside the arch. To get a picture of the whole arch from the west you would have to climb another mountain.

Our walk back to the trailhead is pleasant. Rain earlier in the day washed the air and settled the dust. Birds are singing in celebration.


Snow fields. A gray sky with light rain. Gnarled bristlecone pines in the foreground with gray, craggy mountains in the background. What month is it?

Vicky leads us toward the Bristlecone Pines.

July, of course. Starting from the Wheeler Peak Campground, 9886', we took a trail to the bristlecone pines. There were scattered showers. Everyone but me brought their raincoats and ponchos and put them on when it started to sprinkle. A few minutes later the sun came out and everyone but me took off their raincoats and ponchos and put them back away. Bristlecone pines are the oldest living organisms, some of them 4000 years old and counting. The tree ring dating exhibit is highly informative.

We follow the trail past Teresa Lake and Stella Lake, both of them green and quite at home in this region of alpine glaciation.

Then Vicky, Jack, Jim and I start on a trail toward the ridge. On the south end of the ridge is Wheeler Peak, 13,063'. On the north end is Bald Mountain, 11,562', our destination. Bald Mountain is shaped like the top of a ball, with steeper sides on its lower elevations. That makes climbing easier as you get higher. The surface is broken rocks the size of softballs and footballs.

Jim, Vicky, Jack, and Ted atop Bald Mountain, with Wheeler Peak in the background.

From the top of Bald Mountain we have the grandest view of Wheeler Peak that it’s possible to reach on foot! Mt. Moriah to the north and the Schell Creek Range to the west and the mountains of Utah to the east are spectacular.

Clouds are approaching, so we don’t stay long. Descending to the ridge I feel a few raindrops, but then the sun comes out for good. By now lots of snow is melting. Our trail is soggy at the lower elevations. We pass some deer grazing in a peaceful meadow.

La Quinta Airport Inn, Reno, Nevada, July 11, 1998   

The Easy Chair is a volcanic cinder cone, hundreds of feet high. It’s higher on one side and lower on the other, so it looks remarkably like an easy chair made for Godzilla. The volcanic ash is dull red, a suitable upholstery color.

We drive to the base of the Easy Chair and climb the lowest part of the rim. It looks like a good place for a group picture. But I need some perspective, so I decide to climb up on the right arm of the chair with my camera.

Ted doesn’t quite fit in the Easy Chair.
    Something is sticking me in both feet. This leads to an amazing discovery: plants on the Easy Chair have evolved to use people’s shoes and socks as a means of propagation! Their seeds are little spear points with fins, 1/2" long, sharp, and quite capable of working their way inside your shoes and socks and all the way down to your toes. I’ve picked up dozens of them, woven right into my socks and the inside of my shoes where they’re tough to get out.

I spend the rest of the day taking my shoes off, finding and removing a few more spear points each time. It occurs to me that every time I throw away a spear point I’m planting a shoe and sock weed.

They call U.S. 50 across Nevada the loneliest highway, but it isn’t. On U.S. highway 6 between Ely and Tonopah we saw only 6 cars and one person in 165 miles. The towns of Currant and Warm Springs which appear on the map are virtual ghost towns.

Our last night of camping is primitive. We’re camped in the desert just west of Saulsbury Wash, 25 miles east of Tonopah on highway 6. There’s nothing there — just the vast expanse of Great Basin desert with mountains in the distance. The ground has a thin, fragile crust, then it’s dry and dusty for a couple inches, then rock-hard caliche. The desert is very quiet. The air is scented with sagebrush. Night falls quickly. I sleep soundly as the stars blaze.

Ichthyosaur State Paleontological Monument.

After leaving our primitive camp we drive to the Ichthyosaur State Paleontological Monument east of Gabbs. Their main exhibit is the fossil remains of a dozen ichthyosaurs lying buried in a rock formation. A natural disaster must have killed them all at once, the ranger explains, but no one knows what it was. Ichthyosaurs were a global marine predator, much as sharks are today. The ranger wonders, “How could a global marine predator become extinct?”

Mile 204 home page Vacation pictures