Thursday, March 19, 2015

Fernley to Lovelock, Nevada - March 2015 - Part Two

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

As we continued our explorations along the cliff face, in the distance we saw the flatbed tow heading west on the main road out to the scene of the fire. We'd keep an eye out for its return to see what it hauled back to town.

Earlier the cliffs had been alive with the sounds of rock doves heavy into courtship rituals. With the see mores we watched the beginnings of this season's nest sites on the cliffs. So did a pair of ravens, putting to memory the location of nests to raid later in the year. We also noticed three owl nests high up in the cliffs after a barn owl flew overhead.

The base of the cliff was littered with owl pellets. Small rodent skulls were everywhere.

We also noticed the complex geology of the rock underlying the tufa.

We returned to the truck near dark. There had been so much to see and we also couldn't help but think what other magic we may have missed. It had been a good day indeed, well except for that sad column of black smoke. The flatbed returned to town in the fading light. The binoculars revealed it was the SUV. There wasn't much left except for the body outline. The aluminum rims were even gone. The fire had been hot. With no appearance of a medic unit, we are going to assume the driver was safe and probably the first one to call in the fire, at least we hope so. Your guess is as good as ours as to how it happened.

We have now spent several hundreds of nights in the backcountry with our camper. It may sound like a cliché, but this one was one of the best. We had this sunset as we enjoyed dinner outside.

The night air was filled with the sound of owls - the classic hoot of the great horned and the interesting clicks of barn owls. Choruses of coyotes erupted on the flats below. The temperature was surprisingly, shockingly warm, at 62°. A gentle wind added a nice hint of cool. We sat for the longest time in our chairs, listening, savoring the quiet sounds of the night. It is rare we see city lights from our campsites but Lovelock was about 10 miles to the north.

To the northwest, along Interstate 80 was the small airport, Derby Field. We watched its rotating beacon light.

This was also a special anniversary for the ski3pins, OFK. Our first kiss was 32 years ago.

We slept with the windows open. The overnight low was 54°. A week before, when we stayed about 30 miles to the north of here, it had dropped down to 22°.

If you make the effort to get all the way out to a place like this, it would be a shame to miss a Sunday morning sunrise.

It took a bit of work because the Humboldt Sink was in the way along with all the irrigated farm land, but we made our way around to Derby Field.

If you remember the information I posted on our first trip out to find the early air mail beacon sites, beacons were placed approximately every 10 miles (we have discovered much closer in mountainous terrain) and emergency landing fields every 30 miles. The county owned Derby Field got its start as one of those fields.

And back to the theme - "What you find in the middle of nowhere" - how about a Soviet MiG - 15? 

We'll let all you conspiracy theorists contemplate a secret Soviet cold war airbase out in the middle of Nevada. People enjoy believing even crazier ideas.

But we were here to see the beacon, Beacon 26.

It is still in place and still works. The flashing beacon we watched last night is one of the original Transcontinental Air Mail Route Beacons. Pretty darn cool.

How many of you noticed the great horned owl nest? We did, and kept our distance, and did not disturb.

We knew that about 12 miles southwest of Derby Field was an important spot on the California Trail. We made our way along an abandoned section of old Highway 40 along side its replacement, Interstate 80. We found an old spur road, access for repairs on the transcontinental railroad. We found a tunnel under the railway we could walk through. From here it was about a half mile down the route of the old California Trail.

This is where the trails split. The Truckee Route headed west to intersect the Truckee River and then up and over Donner Pass. The much heavier used Carson Route headed to the southwest to intersect with the Carson River and then up and over Carson Pass and then the even higher West Pass. It is cool to find these spots and attempt in some small way to touch history.

It was time to start heading home. We back tracked several miles and got onto Interstate 80, a sad necessity for us. On the east side of Fernley we took the Nevada Pacific Blvd exit. The area just to the south of the Interstate was the site of Fernley Intermediate Field. This new interchange and the development of the nearby industrial center has removed all traces of Beacon 22. Well, not quite all. Taking a look around we found this old rusted paint bucket, obviously classic Aviation Orange.


I have a suspicion that the beacon may have been moved to Tiger Field just to the south of Fernley along Alternate 95. Except for the more modern rotating light on top, everything else looks right.

We had one more air mail beacon to find. This one is hiding in plain sight. It can be seen from most places in Fernley. I expect very few people even notice it or have any idea about its history. With the housing development around Fernley, it took work figuring out access and a route up the hill. We were able to park about a half mile way. We climbed the steep hillside and the prize was ours, Beacon 216. 

This was an acetylene gas lighted beacon, very similar to the beacon we found out in Pleasant Valley last weekend. Being so close to civilization, it is surprising how much is left intact.

The old clip for paperwork was still intact inside the lower shed portion.

Much of the corrugated metal siding is gone.

But on this lee side, the numbering is still visible.

On the windward side exposed to the predominate storm winds, the paint is almost completely removed by the elements. But look close, you can make out the numbers 216.

So that was our weekend, a quick getaway. History, geology, wildlife, adventure - Nevada delivers!

As a note, if you are interested in more information on these Transcontinental Air Mail Route Beacons, I have provided several links in our Buena Vista Valley, Nevada story.

And, if by chance readers in the Reno or Interstate 80 corridor through the Sierra Nevada area have interest in finding beacon sites, take a look at Google Earth. It helps if you have skied at Donner Ski Ranch. Zoom in on the top of the hill with the lift tower. You should see a concrete arrow, the site of Beacon 15.


  1. Thanks so much for posting these trips -- great stories, great photos! These are places that most of us will never get to visit -- it is fun to see it through your eyes!

  2. Thanks Dan! Your nice comments are appreciated.