Monday, March 17, 2014

Grass Valley to Dixie Valley Nevada – March 2014

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We took advantage of the switch to daylight savings time, that now extra hour of daylight at day’s end, and pulled into Rye Patch Campground right at dark. After a quick stop in Fernley, the Interstate deposited us at this “for sure” overnight opportunity, a layover and launching pad for Saturday’s explorations. The campground was quiet, just like the Interstate. With our spot, that made five of the 22 sites occupied along the Humboldt River, more a collection of languid pools here below the dam choking its path to its sink to the west. We took care of set up and then walked in the night circling the campground, then climbing back up to the dam where we stood above it all, the near full moon extinguishing the stars as its brilliance prevailed, lighting up the broad sky from horizon to horizon. After wandering through the deserted parking and picnic areas, we slowly made our way back to camp. A camp trailer and a motor home were quiet with just a soft light visible from outside. One dark car was parked next to a table littered with an assortment of simple camp cooking supplies. Only one camp had signs of life, a fire crackled next to a camp trailer, voices carried in the night as did the pungent fragrance of burning marijuana.
“Whoa, that smell sure carries far,” I commented as the Lady drew closer. “Sure does,” she agreed, “But it’s probably better to have mellow potheads for neighbors then campers getting loud with alcohol. At least we can sleep.”
We soon were back in our berth and ready for sleep and the adventure ahead. This was a celebration night, the anniversary of our first kiss 31 years before. “Well, are you glad we kissed?” I asked as we dropped off to our dreams. “Yes,” the Lady answered, always right to the point.

Our first stop was along Grass Valley Road many miles south of Winnemucca.

The several source pools are east of the road. This one looked bottomless.

Popping and gurgling sounds brought us to this active vent.

All the water was channeled across the road and led to a nearby ranch.

The truck tractor with sleeper appeared to be a decoy, meant to discourage possible soakers. Having known a trucker with a hair trigger who always slept with a civil war style cap and ball 44 caliber “hog leg” pistol on his lap, I don’t approach trucks like this. The 200 acre Leach Hot Springs Ranch is listed for sale along with the claim that all water rights from this spring are deeded with the property.

Traveling south we climbed out of Grass Valley and into Pleasant Valley, vast, empty, and beautiful set up against the Tobin Range.

An earthquake fault scarp/rupture runs along the base of the Tobins.

As we negotiated our route south on dirt roads, the Lady did a great job keeping us found on the maps. In the low hills separating Pleasant Valley from Dixie Valley we came upon an intersection that confirmed our location. Everything had been unsigned up to this point so this was a bit of a surprise.

Late afternoon found us in the north end of Dixie Valley, many miles north of our adventure into Dixie the prior weekend. A spur up from the main road brought us to a bench at the base of the Stillwater Mountains and a perfect, lonely spot for camp. The full moon rose in the east as we enjoyed a simple supper. In the moonlight we walked the half mile back to the main road and then out into the valley. The vastness settled around us. There was not a manmade light in all the emptiness. It was silent. This is the Nevada of our dreams.

Morning was bliss.

For our morning coffee walk the Lady headed to a nearby canyon. It had to be explored.

We were in no hurry to leave this place. The morning started with a low of 44°, surprisingly warm. The Lady relaxed with her book outside as I made a special skillet veggie scramble complete with avocado and fresh orange juice. Life should always be this good.

The afternoon before the Lady had spotted a distant mound on the valley floor to the east. Consulting our 1:24000 scale topos, it was definitely worth backtracking to find a way to it. Successful in finding and negotiating rough 4x4 roads, we parked at the base of a huge mound built from a series of mineral rich hot springs.

This was Hyder Hot Springs.

Our temperature reading was 135.9°.

We were not expecting Hyder to be as interesting and a highpoint of our trip as it turned out to be.

This trip took planning as the places we wanted to discover were just over the half way point in fuel supply for the truck. We had to be sure the way was passable ahead before reaching a point of no return. This was one of the reasons for last weekend's trip in from the south. We headed south after stopping at Nevada’s largest geothermal electric generating plant.

This is so remote the plant has its own airstrip. This is a private enterprise mining the geothermal resources deep along the Stillwater Mountains eastern fault system with water temperatures above 260°C at 3 km. The construction of 280 miles of transmission lines to the south enable power sales to Southern California Edison, all possible with leases of our public lands and resources.

We had seen many new places for us on this adventure. More importantly we had found many more special places that will require further adventures.

It was the middle of the afternoon when we reached highway 50. The length of Grass, Pleasant, and Dixie Valleys had taken us 180 miles. We still had 45 miles to Fallon. After leaving the ranchette sprawl south of Winnemucca we encountered only three vehicles. Saturday afternoon in Grass Valley a pickup with several cowboys was heading north to Winnemucca, possibly for a traditional weekend night in town. A car was parked at a windmill and water tank in the southern end of Pleasant Valley. No one was visible. Sunday morning a company truck with driver was checking out the geothermal wellheads near the plant. His big smile and wave looked genuine and suggested he doesn’t often get to see travelers.

Late afternoon found us close to home but still in the Great Basin.

We chuckled that it is rare we share this part of our trips, maybe commonplace for us, but still a very special place.

We decided on a quick dinner at the Lady’s favorite pizza place.

Soon we were home, the truck and camper were cleaned out; the routine of putting everything away well practiced. All is ready for the next adventure…………………………………


  1. I could almost hear the deep silence of those Nevada valleys. Well done, as always -- thanks!

    1. Thanks for the kind comment Dan. The silence is incredible and should be treasured.

  2. The Hot Springs Ranch by Leech Hot Springs sold since your write up. The owners are friends of my wife and I. They are slowly improving the property. Their water comes from a couple of hot artesian wells, they have no water rights to the springs themselves. The springs are on land owned by a mining company. There is an agreement between my friends and the company wherein they have signed the spring area as to its dangers (they are boiling) and other minor means to protect the public.