Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Nevada's Silver Peak Range - February 2015 - Part One

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

Hiding in plain sight................................and searching for Pliney the Elder. 

What drives us to explore and get out at every possible opportunity? The one word answer - stories. And this is not the stories we tell, it is the search for the stories that are out there. Stories surround us. Rock art tells stories wrapped up in mystery of meaning. Geology tells stories of Earth's fascinating past.  History's story reveals multiple layers in people's day to day existence and survival. Ecology's story is one of complexity and interwoven cause and effect. Natural history's bottom line moral to its story is that we are tied to this old earth and its rules and processes. No way around it and we ought to respect our elders.

Now we know that ancient people had to have a pretty good grasp on how the earth works. If that was not the case, I'd expect no one would be reading this. Humankind would have been only a flash in the pan. But, the first person to write things down in a coherent manner that kind of set the standard on how to do it was a Roman known as Pliney the Elder. That old Pliney is still remembered 2000 years later - long before publicists - for his Naturalis Historia is testament to his importance. I'm never going to get around to reading his work myself, but I firmly believe old Pliney deserves the respect he receives. And to make his story even more intimate and compelling, Pliney died during the eruption of Mount Vesuvius that destroyed Pompeii and Herculaneum.  His is a great story.

So, we love stories and the Lady had a long weekend off from school for President's Day. Where is the best place to go that easily ties together our interests?

And who was joining us for this adventure? The Teds!

I had exchanged emails with Ted discussing possibilities for a destination. One day at lunch I was using Google Earth and looking around areas in Nevada. That's when I saw it. The colors were unbelievable! As I zoomed in closer, I was riveted. I was mesmerized. That evening I showed what I had found to the Lady. "I want to go there!" was her immediate response. I went to my maps and discovered the mountains are called the Silver Peak Range. The only real information I found online was this intriguing piece by The Pew Charitable Trusts - Central Nevada's Scenic Gem - Hiding in Plain Sight.

Early afternoon on Friday found us on the east side of Gap Springs, our planned meeting spot. We were waiting for the Teds, having lunch, in awe of the landscape. The Teds would be coming in from the north. Ted is known for making an entrance with style. He did not disappoint. We had positioned our truck so it would be easily seen and it worked. They slowed and acknowledged they had seen us and then went looking for the road, our route in. That part didn't work as well. Soon the Ted's were driving by in the opposite direction. One of Ted's nicknames is "Magellan" because of his keen navigation skills .....................we'll just let this part of the story go. We were soon set up at a camp spot at road's end.

The Teds are expert pop up campers and it was amazing how fast they were set up and ready to go. These two are pros. We then walked up and explored the basin above us.

Sadly, this incredible area bears the scars of off road motor vehicle abuse and is a poster child for the need for aggressive management of thrillcraft, at the very least keeping them to designated routes only and at best limiting motor vehicle use on our public lands to street legal/licensed vehicles only.

It was an unforgettable afternoon exploring this "scenic gem". The visual wonder is beyond description. This should be a National Monument.

We returned to camp near sunset but the girls saw one more hill to climb.

Ted and I relaxed and Ted, ever the connoisseur of fine beer, opened another selection.

This brought up a subject I wanted to talk with Ted about since neither the Lady or I drink alcohol. On our return home from our January trip to Death Valley we discovered a bottle of beer hidden at the Mono Lake Overlook at Lee Vining.

"Why is it named Pliney the Elder?" I asked.

"The beer is brewed in limited quantities by Russian River Brewing Company in Santa Rosa," Ted carefully explained. "It is finely crafted and an exquisite beer but the casual drinker may find it too bitter to the palette because of the hops used." Ted paused. I could see him bringing alive the flavor from his memory.

I interrupted, "Why is it named Pliney the Elder?"

"Well," Ted continued, "If you had ever read Naturalis Historia, you would know that Pliney the Elder was the first to document the hops plant."

"No kidding?" I asked. "I thought the Romans lived on wine."

"Anything with yeast." Ted added to my education.

"What was a bottle doing at Mono Lake?" I asked.

"Good question. A bottle is hard to come by. Most retailers will limit a customer to only one bottle. When did you find it?" he asked.

"Middle of January," I answered.

"Did you keep it in the refrigerator?"


"Oh good god!" Ted exclaimed, rising from his chair. "Live yeast is used. You might have ruined it! It needs to be consumed when fresh. Each bottle carries a date!"

I felt like a heathen among saints. I tried to change the subject. "So why do you think it was at Mono Lake?"

Ted sighed, "Well it is a frisky brew with a lot of life. Perhaps it is expanding its range and entering new habitats on its own. Yours may be the first confirmed sighting in the Great Basin outside of the Tahoe area. Interesting." Ted took a sip from his Ninkasi. "You didn't refrigerate it?" He was back on track.

"How was I to know? We are pitiful souls when it comes to alcoholic beverages. I'm sorry Ted." I knew Ted is too good of a guy to not understand and would forgive my blunder. I tried to change the subject again. "You know we are in the Great Basin. Maybe we will find some more of these free range Plineys!"

"Maybe," Ted said, "But doubtful. But we'll keep our eyes open."

The beautiful evening light quieted us and anticipation grew about what we would discover the following day.

The Lady and I were up before dawn the next morning. I took a few long exposure photographs in the growing light.

The Lady went for a stroll.

The landscape came alive with the sun. This is an amazing place.

Today, Saturday, we explored. We headed south to the upper end of Fish Lake Valley.

I am curious how this valley got its name.

As I was contemplating fish, Ted pointed out what showed up right beside me and hailed it the first confirmed sighting of Pliney the Elder in Fish Lake Valley. 

I brought up the issue that it could be considered a non-native and invasive species. Ted started whistling the tune "Born Free" and said if BLM starts an eradication project he was signing up for the job.

We started our climb east over the Silver Peak Range.

The White Mountains with Montgomery and Boundary peaks at the northern end dominated the horizon to the west.

We passed by outcrops of what looked to be metamorphic rock because of twisted and folded layers.

Here is an interesting contact zone between two layers.

We dropped over to the eastern side of the range. We consulted our maps and decided to work our way up a primitive road that accessed a spring and a guzzler. We found a spot to park and walked up the small canyon.

We were still in awe of all the color surrounding us.

A group of bighorn sheep moved up slope from the guzzler. Our voices and approach probably disturbed them.

We checked out how the water collection and storage system worked.

The three large tanks were full.

Ted said the water was cool and delicious with not a hint of plastic taste.

It was a warm day, too warm for February. The girls relaxed and watched for returning sheep.

We walked, moseyed really, back down to our vehicles.

We drove down and intersected the main north - south route. We headed north and Ted spotted, with his "see mores", another red sign we were watching for.

"If it says 'Danger' we need to check it out!" became our motto. Our map indicated this was the ruins of the Darm Mine. A well built dugout was down slope.

As we approached the main workings, we spotted another free range Pliney.

This one followed us and appeared to want to keep its eyes on us. I asked Ted why it would pick this area as habitat. "Think about it," Ted said. "Cool tunnels to retreat into to get out of the heat." It made perfect sense.

By this point in our explorations, the girls were wanting to keep some distance from Ted and me. The Lady grabbed her usual high point.

It was time to think of an area to spend the night. We headed to a basin that had looked interesting on Google Earth. We were again alone as we had been throughout the day. We set up camp and the Lady and I, in the late afternoon, walked the mile or so out to pavement.

Pavement did not have as much draw for us as following coyote tracks.

Camp was in a wash below the basin. The sky was expansive and star filled. The lady asked if I could capture Venus setting in the west.

This was a wonderful camp spot that capped off a wonderful day.

The completion of our trip can be found by clicking here for - Part Two.


  1. Wow! Those are really some amazing & colorful piles of dirt!... seriously!

    1. Yes Bill, there are amazing colors out there. It is outstanding country!