Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Arc Dome Wilderness Nevada - Memorial Day Weekend 2014

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We were ready.

We were in the middle of Nevada. It was dark. The clouds were thinning in the star studded night sky around us. Bring on the meteor storm. We were ready.

We rendezvoused with our friends Lighthawk & SR around six Friday evening in Fallon. "Let's get going. We're going to be racing daylight," Lighthawk said. We followed his lead, piled back in our truck, and headed east. Winning the race, we found the intersection we needed off of the graded dirt primary valley road. In a ways, on the right, was an rv encampment complete with off trailered thrillcraft and a shooting range target set up across the road. Holiday weekends, it was evident, also apply to the middle of nowhere.

Ah, but we're older and maybe wiser and maybe learning some patience and tolerance. After a deep breath and scouting on foot, we found our objective empty and open and ours, and, just barely, accessible for our vehicles. A remote hot spring in the middle of a Great Basin valley, far from light pollution, and we could camp right here..................................as I said, we were ready!

Three sites in this series of hot springs have been developed in the usual primitive style of round cattle tank, some decking material, and a method for filling from a source pool. We were anxious to get to hot spring soaking and watching the predicted meteor storm erupt overhead. We were ready in this private little piece of paradise. A meteor sliced the sky above as we set up camp. Anticipation was building. We were ready!

We immediately encountered a problem - water temperature. On previous visits the source pool here was 145°. Tonight is was 190°! Previous visits, on filling the tank, the initial temperature was 112°. Tonight it was 134°. It would take a long long long long long time to cool to a refreshing and non scalding 105°.  So, how were we, really, with patience?

I suggested stirring, aerating, mixing the hot water with the cool night air in an effort to accelerate the cooling process and our slip into nirvana. A two by four was found, a large ladle for our Macbethian hot cauldron. Lighthawk proved his worth as an planner and organizer. An initial temperature was taken. We took equal turns stirring. We evaluated - ten minutes gave us a two degree drop in temperature. This was going to take awhile. We stirred. We stirred some more. We kept stirring. Were our efforts even making a difference? We again evaluated. Ten minutes without stirring produced a two degree drop. "Maybe it's a little less than two degrees. Maybe one and a half? One and three quarters?" I asked. Our efforts had to be worth something.

The Lady & I took a walk. Distant coyotes offered their songs to the night.  Lighthawk set up his photography equipment. SR moved inside their camper. It was Friday night after a busy week. I was surprised the Lady was still awake, upright, and fairly game. Tonight she was learning a day has two nine o'clocks, two ten o'clocks, two eleven o'clocks.

The water was still too hot. There were no additional meteor streaks in the sky. "How 'bout we turn in, set the alarms, and come back out at one?" Lighthawk suggested.

I suspect our alarm went off. It's my guess the Lady immediately killed it. I did hear Lighthawk outside in the night. I justified my sleeping............................if a once in a lifetime storm of shooting stars displayed across the heavens tonight......................................our friend Lighthawk would surely wake us.

The eastern horizon was just starting to brighten as we awoke. The Lady handed me the thermometer as I climbed out of the camper.

"105°" I answered on my return.
"We're going to soak! Coffee's almost ready!" the Lady beamed.

It was a wonderful quiet morning. We soaked and enjoyed our coffee.  Lighthawk & SR joined us and started their day.  This was decadent, wonderful backcountry luxury.

Today we were heading to our next destination, the southern end of the Reese River Valley, and access to the Arc Dome Wilderness in the high Toiyabe Range. We decided not to back track to the main highway. Instead, we would work our way on roads around the northern end of the playa. Easier said than done as the roads were unsigned and some were improved or added since last mapped. It was an adventure, as SR smiled and said, "We have all day!"

Lighthawk is a wonderful photographer and does not pass by photo opportunities as they present themselves.

We detoured to Austin to fill the gas tanks and then headed south down the Reese River Valley where the road alternated between pavement and graded dirt and grew narrower and rougher as we passed the last settlements. The last short section of broken down pavement was so bad, dirt was so much better.

We reached our unmarked turnoff for the Cow Canyon Trailhead. Lighthawk led the way in.

We found two vehicles parked at the trailhead and set up camp at the south end. We found the lizards black and fat.

We set up camp and Lighthawk caught up on lost sleep. Late afternoon we headed out to check out the trail down into the Upper Reese River Valley.

Afternoon thunderstorms built and we got a few smatterings of raindrops. Returning to camp, we had a late dinner and turned in at dark.

Sunday we spent in the Wilderness along the Reese River. Lighthawk had brought his fly rod along and gotten a two day nonresident Nevada fishing license.

This bush was dominate on the scrublands. It was also lovely in bloom. Can someone provide an identification for us?

Note: Our friend Patrick has helped with the identification - Desert Peach prunus andersonii
Thanks Patrick, the flowers do look like the blossoms on peach trees!

The riparian area along the Reese River was thick with willows just starting to bud out.

We met the "New York Boys" hiking back out to the trailhead, three fellows from New York City backpacking in the middle of Nevada.

The varied species of birds added to the excitement of exploring a new area.

Beaver are busy on the Reese River and its tributaries.

At one river crossing the Lady watched a small brown water snake catch and swallow a small sucker minnow. Unfortunately my focus was just a bit off with the moving water level and my photos were useful only for identifying the fish species.  It was neat, nonetheless, to witness this bite of nature.

The topo map showed, up river, a building labeled "Stone Cabin."

Nearby was a grassy area under large aspen that bordered the creek. This was a great place as the afternoon warmed. We stretched out, picnicked, dosed off, watched and listened to birds, and enjoyed the canopy of aspen above.

We headed back down river.

We wanted to explore up one of the Reese's main tributaries, Big Sawmill Creek. This turned out to be one of the highlights and will justify a return trip for further exploration. The Big Sawmill Creek drainage was more how I had envisioned the Reese River to be while planning for the trip. The canyon was narrower, the aspen trees kept the stream shaded, and the higher gradient kept the stream bed cleaner. The "New York Boys" had also told us the beaver ponds held the only trout they had seen.

Along the trail a young marmot bounded out onto the trail and then hunkered down when it saw me.

It was odd behavior and surprising that mother marmot was not around and raising a racket nor were there any little marmot siblings. The little fellow relaxed and started moving about.

I stepped forward and it moved under the willows but remained visible. I moved toward it again and it finally went under cover.  It was odd behavior that had us concerned about its mother. We would come upon another possible orphan later in the day, a baby Belding's ground squirrel in the center of the trail as we hiked out of the valley.

The Lady was ahead and missed the little marmot but she reached the beaver ponds first and excitedly reported she had seen a "huge" beaver. In fact she came back down the trail to tell us and found that Lighthawk and I were occupied with a Red Naped Sapsucker.

This bird was actively feeding on bugs as I approached. It did not attempt to hide, but vocalized at us and flew from tree to tree and from branch to branch as if it had just been waiting for photographers to show up.

After a very enjoyable day, it was again late afternoon, time to tackle the short climb out to the trailhead and our camp.

Relaxing with showers and dinner, it looked like evening color was possible. The lady and I headed up onto the high ground above our camper. The outcroppings of volcanic rock held nice displays of spring wildflowers and colorful lichen.

The Arc Dome - yup, we've been to the summit - high point of the Toiyabes, was to our east. The little point on the nearer knob on the far right is Lighthawk ready with camera and tripod.

This was a glorious end to a wonderful day.

The next morning the Lady and I were back up on the high ground for the dawn light.

This was a traveling day, the day for returning home. Lighthawk studied the maps and suggested trying out the Grantsville Road across the Shoshone Range to the west.

This turned out to be an excellent idea and route. The ruins of Grantsville lie in the canyon south of the more well known ghost town of Berlin. The ruins around Grantsville were well worth the stop.

As Lighthawk and I checked out the ruins, the women folk were busy chatting. I spotted them, backlit by the morning sun, an opportunity. I turned toward them with the camera and overheard the Lady say to SR, "We are doing our job, standing here so they can take our picture." They were doing their job and doing it well.

Our holiday weekend was coming to its end. As we headed across Ione Valley to our climb over the Paradise Mountains, a lone pronghorn stood along the road, doing its job also.

This had been a wonderful trip discovering new territory and spending time with the delightful Lighthawk & SR and, of course, their Miss Callie, aka Cow Dog. Oh, and if the Camelopardalids meteor storm had materialized, we were ready!


  1. Wonderful photos, especially the trees silhouetted against the sunset! And you did not miss any meteors -- not only was it mostly cloudy, but the meteors simply did not show up.

  2. Looks like a fantastic trip. Thanks for the narrative and the gorgeous photos!

  3. I like the pictures very much. Especially the first one is done at night in the middle of Nevada. And your journey is very interesting. Thank you for sharing this journey with us!

  4. Hi ski3pin! I absolutely love your blog. I very much resonate with your adventures in the Nevada wilderness.

    I'm planning a backpacking trip to the Arc Dome wilderness in June, and I'm interested in finding hot springs in the vicinity. Would you be willing to share the location of the cattle tank hot springs you found four the meteor shower? Did you find the location on a top map? I found a bunch of springs in Nevada hydrological data, but I'm curious as to the one you found.