Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Berlin Ichthyosaur State Park Nevada – February 2014

please remember you can click on a photo to see a larger version

Robin, the Nevada State Park Ranger, found us around the alcove of the machine shop building in the ghost town of Berlin.

We were up against the warm dark wooden walls and enjoying our lunches. “You guys sure know how to get out of the wind,” he said and then continued, “I don’t have to be back with the film crew at the fossil building until two and I’ve got the keys to everything.” He held up his key ring and smiled. “What do you want to see?” he asked. Beside Robin and the three person film crew, we were the only people in the State Park.

Robin’s smile and question just about sums up our remarkable adventure over the long President’s Weekend.

I started in the middle of the story again. Now back to the beginning. How did this trip start? With Plan B.

We had just spent a quick weekend in Nevada. The temperatures then were typical for the area, quite cold. As I watched the weather forecasts for trip planning, temperatures were predicted to be almost 30° warmer. Really? Wind was predicted, though, with gusts up to 50 to 60 mph. A warm front was quickly passing through with high snow levels back at home.

The Barking Spiders were along. They had been itching to visit Nevada’s Berlin Ichthyosaur State Park. We left early Saturday morning with the required breakfast stop at the Roadrunner in Dayton. Then I suggested a roundabout route that could, maybe, based on wet road conditions, enable a remote hot spring soak – Plan B.

After fueling up in Fallon we encountered only a few vehicles on highway 50. The Lady could keep track of the number on her left hand. After turning off 50 we were it, in over 70 miles of additional driving, we were it. This was our kind of holiday weekend traffic.

The remote hot springs were inaccessible for vehicles. Great! Even in the best of conditions I’d hardly think of it as accessible. But we evolved with legs for a reason. We walked. It does us all good, both physically and spiritually. Our Sherpas handled our packs and supplies.

Barking and I were scouting the area. The women folk were anxious to get to deliciously hot spring water, grabbed our gear, and started out. The Sherpa stuff was totally inadvertent - really. With packs more evenly distributed, we continued around wetlands and reached the series of hot springs.

A huge note of caution. This can be a dangerous area. The source pools are very hot.  Ours was 145°. Some are as high as 170°. We carry a thermometer, always. This is a place to take your time, relax after you fill your tank, let it cool, enjoy a wonderful lunch, and savor being so far from anyone else.

When we returned to the vehicles, the wind was kicking up dust on the playa.

We had a route planned to reach Berlin. Would it go?

With only one mid course correction, we reached Berlin late afternoon. We set up in the well kept campground and Robin, the Park Ranger, came through and checked us out. He explained he had a film crew showing up at 9:30 am Sunday morning but could fit us in for a tour of the ichthyosaur fossil dig site at 10:00 am.

We enjoyed the evening’s sunset with the heavy cloud deck of the passing front.

It is a short walk from the campground to the fossil building. The center piece of the parking area is a large concrete wall with a life size rendition of an adult ichthyosaur.

The film crew was readying Robin for the first segment of filming.

Robin explained they were with Destination America, filming for television. We don’t have much interest in television and with experience working on television projects – including prime time reality TV complete with signed mandatory confidentially agreements – my interest level remains low. On the NBC prime time job I got to come up with my own title, Technical Advisor and Safety Officer, and I enjoyed the pay scale. I also greatly enjoyed the hard working very professional crew, absolutely wonderful people. It was the story that ………………….oops, can’t say anything about that!

Robin was holding his own with the director and camera and audio crew.

We enjoyed the art work in the CXT outhouse as we quietly waited.

Soon it was time to enter the building covering the fossil dig.

We learned there were all different kinds of ichthyosaurs, so we needed to get oriented.

These are big ones here in this dig site, up to 57 feet. The species is named for the surrounding Shoshone Mountains. Robin mentioned  ichthyosaurs recently discovered elsewhere that approach the length of blue whales.

We were going to be looking at bones so we needed to acquaint ourselves with skeletal structure.

Robin has been working at Berlin Ichthyosaur for 14 years. He is self taught on the subject and very knowledgeable. It is obvious he loves his job and sharing his knowledge. He was recently recognized by Nevada for his work at Berlin.

What, at first, only looked like rocks now came to life as vertebrae………………………..

……………………and rib cages.

The film crew was ever present. You’ll have to let us know if we survive the cutting room floor.

Dr. Camp was responsible for the exploration of the site after its earlier discovery

His grandchildren donated one of his textbooks to the State Park.

We visited his cabin on our walk down to Berlin.

His failure to cut any trees at his cabin site confirmed, for us at least, that he was indeed from Berkeley.

Berlin, Nevada had its beginning in 1897 with a gold strike. Below the fossil site, in lower Union Canyon are the remains (sparse) of Union, a silver town born in 1863. The ruins of Union were taken over during the later Berlin boom.

The wind – happily not close to the predicted speeds – was in our faces as we walked to Berlin.

“In a state of arrested decay,” we liked the terminology and figured it could also describe us.

We found our spot out of the wind and we heard Robin’s truck door and then Robin found us. We are back to the beginning, or middle, of the story.

Our first stop with Robin was the interior of the huge Berlin Mill.

We went inside the Assay Office.

Our next stop was Mrs. Steven’s House.

Next stop was a visit to Mrs. Phillips House.

Across the way was the Bachelor’s Quarters, appropriately appointed.

A wonderful old combination gas and wood stove was outside the Watson House.

We reminded Robin of the time and his appointment as we finished up in the Mine Superintendent’s House.

Alone again in the ghost town, we stopped at the Stage Station and looked for plates with our birth years. Barking discovered his “medicare” plate.

This had been a remarkable trip in many ways. One was the warm weather. Robin said the coldest he had experienced was -19° and it had reached -9° four times this winter. To have a couple of days with a high of 60° and lows around 32° was indeed remarkable. We had the campground and Park to ourselves our last night. We ate outside and watched the rising moon.

We had first visited Berlin in May 2010.  The website for the State Park is here.

And about that film crew and the program subject…………………..we were not asked to sign a confidentially agreement, but we will not spoil your fun and the surprise by spilling the beans.


  1. Very interesting, especially as I inherited a tin tea kettle exactly like in your photo of the Mine Superintendent's house. Wonder how old it is?

  2. Each object and each photo has its own story to tell. One can only imagine what these stories are.