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Our continuing exploration of the real west.
“I wonder if I can get information about Forest Road 017. It runs from the Reese River Valley up to Ophir Summit on the west side of the Toiyabe Range”. I was talking on the phone with staff at the Forest Service Austin Ranger District Office in Austin, Nevada.
“Oh, it’s a maintained road on the west side up to the top. We maintain it, but only up to the summit. We don’t recommend anybody drive the road on the east side.” The woman was helpful in answering my questions.
“Yes, I’ve been up the road on the east side. That’s the reason for me calling about the condition on the west side.”
I appreciated her good attitude toward helping the public. I thanked her for her help.
After our trip into Nevada over the July 4th holiday and discovering the trailhead into the Arc Dome Wilderness at Columbine Campground, the Lady mentioned, several times, about doing a trip to climb the Arc Dome, the Toiyabe Range’s highest peak. The Labor Day holiday weekend gave us that opportunity. Ophir Summit was going to be a bonus.
We launched right after work on Friday afternoon. Our friend Ted helped us with directions to his “Green Mountain” boondock site outside of Fallon, Nevada. We turned off onto the dirt and the Lady grabbed the directions we had printed off of an email from Ted. After finding intersection after intersection just as Ted described, the Lady continued with the directions.
“Okay, here’s the 90 degree corner, now we go two tenths of a mile to a “Y”.
“Here we go,” I said.
“These directions are incredible!” The Lady was pleased.
“I bet we could calibrate our odometer using these directions, they are that good!” I added.
“Incredible! I guess this is how he must have earned the ‘Magellan’ nickname!” the Lady exclaimed as we arrived at Ted's “fantastic flat spot” with a view of the lights of Fallon - just as described.
Late the next morning, after a stop in Austin to top off with gas, found us back at Columbine Campground on Stewart Creek on the west slope of Nevada’s longest mountain range, the Toiyabes.
This tiny campground was half full. We grabbed the same campsite we had over the Fourth of July holiday.
We quickly had the camper popped up and the set up chores completed. We decided to head into the Arc Dome Wilderness Area and explore along the crest of the Toiyabe Range.
Old trail signs greeted us along the route.
It’s about three and a half to four miles up to the crest, in places a broad slanting alpine plateau above timberline.
Very similar to the broad summit plateau of Mount Jefferson to the east in the Toquima Range, this plateau was also cut into on the east side by glaciers that carved out spectacular cirques.
There were also ancient Native American hunting blinds for taking bighorn sheep.
We wandered cross country up on top and did an eight mile loop, taking another route back down to the campground. We dropped back into the Stewart Creek drainage.
As we neared camp we entered a vast grove of aspens. We did not see another person all afternoon as we hiked.
Yes, this is Nevada. This is the heart of the Great Basin.
After our early evening shower and dinner, we wandered down from the campground into the open sage to walk, relax, and enjoy the end of another special day.
We headed back to camp as the light faded.
Tomorrow – to the top of the Toiyabe Range.
This was a day to really have some fun. We enjoy traveling in our truck and camper, exploring and poking around new places, but nothing seems to fulfill something deep inside us like walking through primitive, seemingly untouched land, especially high country. Something about walking away from civilization ………..it’s like walking through the door into a majestic theater, full of anticipation to see your all time favorite movie. Although what we have found beyond that door – out there - far surpasses any movie we could ever imagine. We have been so lucky to have seen and visited so many wonderful places. It gets addicting. We want to keep stepping through that door. It is where we feel at home.
Here we were, early the next morning high in the Toiyabes, looking down as the rising sun lit up the Reese River Valley below.
We climbed up toward the crest, heading for the sunlight.
We stopped for a break on the plateau, snacked and drank water, and got our first real view of the Arc Dome to the south.
The sky was nice but far from the clarity we sometimes experience out here. Still, we were able to make out the north end of the White Mountains with the distinctive Drop Off and Montgomery Peak over 90 miles away.
As we continued south we saw we had a little bit of a drop and Arc Dome was actually a separate and quite distinctive peak.
The switchbacks up the steep north shoulder were quite comfortable and fun.
You do feel like you are on top of the world.
Earlier in the morning we had seen one golden eagle moving to the north. As we relaxed on the summit, a pair came into view moving toward and just above us. We were treated to a marvelous display of flying skill. One circled around and tucked its wings and dove off to the northeast. The second entered the updraft coming up the east face of the Arc Dome and hovered there, still, wings and tail wide. It was carried straight up and soon was just a speck against the sky. To be an eagle!
There are interesting ruins on the top of Arc Dome. I suspect from around World War Two times. A quick search on the Internet did not turn anything up. I may try to talk with a forest archeologist. It has piqued my curiosity.
As we moved back to the north we lingered as we walked across the broad plateau. A long line of rocks caught our eyes.
The temperature was probably in the low 70’s up here with a bit of wind. We were on top of the world in a wonderful place. No one else was up here; another day of not seeing another person. We headed back down to lower elevations and spent some time in a grove of large aspens and enjoyed the graffiti.
On this trip we had found what we had come for – solitude, high alpine terrain, seen where glaciers had been, and the Lady had touched the top of the Toiyabes – 11,773 feet.
We got back to Columbine Campground around mid afternoon. One group had left, replaced by an FWC on a Toyota. Was this one of you out there? We pulled the boots off and relaxed.
“Do you want to just stay here or move and check out Ophir Summit?” the Lady asked. She was looking comfortable in her chair.
“Well, let’s sit a bit. We have lots of daylight left and Ophir’s not far but it’s probably a steep slow road up to the top.” My chair was feeling comfortable to me too. “In a few minutes let’s drop the top and head over. I expect the views and sunset and sunrise to be amazing from there. I bet we’ll be glad we go up there.”
We had first seen Ophir Summit from the east side of the Toiyabe’s on our Memorial DayWeekend adventure in 2010.
On that trip we had driven up to the ghost town of Ophir – and about snow line – camped and had hiked from there up to the Toiyabe crest. The road is very rough up to Ophir and disintegrates from there on up. Still, we remembered the views we had of this high trailhead, and wondered if someday we would drive up to this spot.
It is ten miles to the top from the Reese River Valley road. Six miles is the approach up the alluvial fan to the mountain block. From here the road climbs for four miles to the summit. It is an edge of the mountain, shelf road these last four miles. A sign at the bottom says narrow steep road ahead. It’s right. It is narrow with possible turnouts to deal with oncoming vehicles almost nonexistent. The only advantage is that in most places the line of sight is a mile or more and you might be able to plan how to pass a vehicle. The road is in good shape and mostly smooth dirt. The views are incredible and it is a spectacular road. We will be back. This was a fun drive.
We did not meet another vehicle. From far below we saw a tiny white speck at the top. We were concerned this vehicle might start down as we were coming up. Turns out, this truck wasn’t going anywhere.
Somebody had had a really bad day. Two alloy rims with Firestone tires on the passenger side. No spare tire under the truck. A steel rim with a Michelin on the driver’s side back, no tire on the driver’s front, and the front differential lowered onto a rock. It wasn’t too hard to piece together the story. We wondered when and if someone would return.
There is a sign for east bound travelers.
Under the jeep symbol on the post it reads, “Not Recommended.” There were a few ATV tracks on the road down the east side.
We were alone. It was around 5 pm. There was a nice flat spot. It was warm in the sun with little wind. We set up camp.
The light, the views, everything was just right for a remote camp. We sat in our chairs beside a makeshift rock wind shelter and enjoyed dinner. We were joined by a grey robin sized bird. From its perch on the summit sign it would spot large insects and then just nail them on the ground. Dinner safely in its beak it would fly to the top of the rock wall within three feet of the Lady, and devour its meal.
“It’s joining us for supper!” the Lady said. “You have to get a picture of it so we can identify it when we get home. We have to start carrying the Sibley book with us!”
I had my assignment. We came up with Loggerhead Shrike.
We watched the shadow of the Toiyabes creep across the Smokey Valley and toward the Mount Jefferson massif as the sun dropped in the west.
The sunset could hardly have been better.
As the sun sank it illuminated roll after roll of Nevada’s mountain ranges.
As the last colors were fading in the west the Lady asked if I could capture the red over the Shoshone Range with the lights of the Yomba Reservation below.
What an evening! There’s one thing that makes a camp spot perfect for the Lady, when the coyote’s song breaks the silence of the night. This was one of those perfect spots. The coyotes sang as we dropped off to sleep.
In the morning there was a bank of clouds over the Toquima Range.
There was a bit of a wind out of the west, enough to drive us inside for breakfast. We packed up, dropped the top, and I was doing outside chores when I saw the truck round the last corner about a half mile down the west side. It was about 7:30.
"Truck’s coming up,” I told the Lady.
“Really, must be people bringing up tires,” the Lady replied.
“Yup, there’s a tire riding high on the cargo shelf over the camper shell.”
The Lady finished her fussing inside the camper and I waited for the truck to pull up.
“You gonna get your truck up and running?” I asked as what looked like a father and son climbed out of a matching white Dodge.
“Yeah,” the son answered as he scrambled up on the rack and started untying the tire. “All we thought about driving up was that we sure didn’t want this tire flying off this truck!” he added.
The Lady had joined us. “Whose truck is it?” she asked.
“Mine,” the older gentleman answered.
“We saw your truck and thought what a bummer! Did you have to hike out to get help?”
‘No, we had two trucks up here.”
The younger man had the tire untied.
“Let me help with that,” I said as I moved alongside the truck with the older guy.
“No, we got it,” the older guy said.
“Yeah, but it never hurts to have help,” I said.
The younger man lowered the tire into our hands until we had all the weight.
The older guy said with a grin, “You know these big tires are a lot lighter when they have air in them!”
I laughed as we set the tire on the ground. “That’s a good one! I’m going to use that line sometime.”
Our truck was running to warm up the cab. “You guys got it from here?" I asked.
Yeah, we got it,” the young man answered.
I moved to our truck.
“Hey,” the older guy said, “What are you guys doing up here? Are you hunting?
“Naw. We’ve been hiking and looking around. We went to the top of Arc Dome yesterday and in the afternoon we thought this would be a great spot to spend the night.”
“You spent the night up here?” the young man asked as he looked surprised.
“Yeah, it was a great night. The views are great and the sky just looks huge from up here.”
“Wow, cool!” the young guy smiled.
“We’re heading down the road. You two the only ones coming up?” I asked.
“Yup, the road should be clear for you.”
We headed down.
This is the bottom half of the shelf road. Yes, that’s it further down the canyon on the left.
We headed home marveling that we again had such a great time in the Great Basin. As we turned north on the Reese River Valley Road, the Lady said, “You know I’d be fine with never spending another night in a motel. I love our camper.”