Nevada Overland Trip (EXBRO5), Day 1: Alkali Flat Hot Springs To Pine Creek

After a morning of fairly easy dirt roads, we entered the first of a number of very sleepy (if alive at all) small hamlets. Like all the others, Manhattan, NV had once been a busy little mining town, and now is home to a small number of inhabitants.

The old wood church on a hill overlooking the town is the most prominent building. It was actually moved here in 1906 from Belmont, our next stop, according to a sign. I couldn’t see how they would have got it up the steep hill intact. It had been taken apart and reassembled.

Its unpainted wood siding and trim have developed a deeply-defined texture and patina after well over a century of harsh Nevada sunlight. The wood is bone dry and hard, but will never rot out here.

Lunch in Manhattan in the parking lot of the museum/former school was as good as anything you’d likely find in its namesake on the other side of the country. Ted’s famous smoked pulled pork was put to use in several meals, starting with these EXBRO sandwiches. There were no gustatory deprivations on this trip.

I noticed a fine collection of CCs across the lot from our lunch spot. Scenes like this are extremely common all through this part of the country, as cars don’t rust and nobody can be bothered to haul them the great distances to a scrap yard. So there’s a museum of previously-owned cars on many folks’ property.

These might be more than one owners’ collection; perhaps because it’s next to the town museum?

The Toyota Tercel 4WD looks to be very much still in use, not surprisingly. It’s a spiritual antecedent to my xB, although with genuine 4WD.

As we were eating and checking out the cars, an older gentleman walked up and greeted us. When five trucks pull into town, folks in places like this do notice. He told us that he worked at the museum when it was open (it was closed this day), so he decided to give us some town history out in the parking lot. He’d lived there for over forty years, having worked at a nearby gold mine that’s still active, and where many of the town’s current inhabitants still work. The little blue Datsun pickup in the collection here was his; he’d bought it new and drove it for a number of decades. He also gave us some good advice about points of interest and camping spots on our route.

Our drive after lunch took us up over the Toquima Range, a fairly low ridge in relative terms. The driving now was even more fun, as the tracks narrowed and became steeper, bouncier and curvier.

We descended into Belmont, first noticeable by the tall chimney from a former ore smelter. These are quite common sights out here, as the wood buildings they were once attached too have long burned or collapsed.

Belmont was founded after a silver strike there in 1865, and was once the seat of Nye County. The elegant brick courthouse has been restored on the outside, but looking into the tall windows showed that the inside is anything but restored.

The former jail at the back of the courthouse had partially collapsed.

No worries; a temporary steel jail had been erected to house the more unruly citizens of Belmont. The hot box.

The main street’s stone buildings are now just a few remaining walls.

Only the former bank’s fine brick facade is still intact.

The Belmont Courier’s building stands quite intact, sporting a new sign.

A few wood buildings survived too.

As has this wood plow. That blooming cactus has nothing to worry about, though.

Right in the center of town there were a few old vehicles, including the almost inevitable Advanced Design Chevy pickup. A 3/4 ton, with an 8′ bed, no less.

There was also this old fire engine. I couldn’t see any markings or badging as a tell-tale to what brand it was. So I lifted the hood in hopes the engine might provide a clue.

No, I don’t think it was an Oldsmobile. But the Rocket V8 must have improved the engine’s speed and pumping power by a healthy margin.

We decided to heed this sign in front of the saloon, and quench our thirsts after a hot walk around town.

The barmaid was taciturn, but Josh has a gift of getting folks to open up, and soon enough we were listening to some fascinating snippets of her life story; just the thing to wash down with a cold beer. Older folks that have lived their lives out here are almost a different species than the average city dweller. And the contrasts have only gotten greater over time.

Back on the road, the scenery was ever-changing. Jim’s Jeep belongs out here, not cooped up in the city.

Our next stop was this ruin way out in the middle of the deserted vast valley, the Stone House Ranch. It’s was quite an edifice; a two story stone building. More than likely it wasn’t just only a ranch house, and there’s some evidence of that out back.

The inside was a jumble of collapsed walls and ceiling, but an old table still stood. And on the far wall, there was some intact plaster.

Some of the writing was still legible. The one apparently dated August 2, 1920 reads (in part):

The dirty Bastard that took that gun better bring it back or I will box a fart out of him as long as…. yours truly…

There were several outbuildings in back, including this mud and wattle one. Not sure what it was used for.

This cabin made of squared-off logs was the most recently inhabited, the evidence being some 1950s vintage furnishings and appliances.

The final outbuilding was chock-full of shelves stacked with hundreds of boxes of core samples. So this place was likely an assayer’s or geologist’s place, at least at one time.

Here’s a video made while on the go. It’s a bit shaky, as I was holding my phone while driving. I should have a mount on top the dash. It gives a reasonably good idea of what it was like on many of the tracks.

From there our route continued north up Monitor Valley, on the valley floor. Jim took a series of videos from the dash of his Jeep as he followed me, willing to eat my dust for the sake of posterity. This first one shows us bopping along, the track being fairly easy. But even then, I had to always drive with a very high level of alertness, as sometimes the ruts got too deep, threatening to high-center the xBox. And there was the ever-present danger of rocks lurking in the endless brush growing in the center. My front end was very unprotected and vulnerable. It eventually took a hit.

The track is getting a bit rougher here, and you can see that at times I have to move out of the tracks/ruts, and place one side up on the bank and the other in the high center, to avoid high-centering.

This final video caught us crossing a dry wash, which was a common occurrence. Randy is taking his Sequoia through slowly, and you can see it bouncing through the wash and its exposed rocks and back up its bank. This was typical of the 4×4 trucks; they had the luxury of taking it slow, including some even rougher and steep sections. I didn’t.

With only FWD, momentum was the essential ingredient. If one of my front wheels went in the air or got hung up in soft sand or mud or such, without 4WD, or at least a limited slip differential, that would be it. So you see me taking it with a bit more verve and commitment than Randy. Of course going faster has very real risks too, such as crashing against a steep bank or rock. It’s a fine line between too slow and too fast.

This section actually wasn’t all that difficult, but it’s representative of the many little challenges thrown my way that kept me on my toes. Which of course was precisely the purpose of the whole exercise: to test myself and my car. As such, it was eminently satisfying.  Not to disparage the 4x4s in the slightest, but undoubtedly I had even more driving fun than they did, if one thrives on challenges and risk-taking.

There were bigger challenges to come, including one that finally bested me and the xBox. That’s in the the next part.

After a long hot, dusty day in the saddle (it was in the low-mid 90s), we were eager for some shade, but most of all water, so we headed up to Pine Creek, which is in the watershed of 11,941′ high Mt. Jefferson. We camped right at the edge of the creek and wasted no time putting it to good use washing the dust off ourselves.

I can’t remember now just what delicious food we had for dinner, probably because the dessert that Jim surprised us with was so unexpected. What a way to end Day One. Each of the subsequent days were to be just as memorable, if not more so; stay tuned. EXBRO5 was off to a splendid and delicious start.


All photographs were taken by the following: Andrea Blaser, Edward Niedermeyer, Jim Klein and myself. Videos by Jim Klein.


Preparation of the xB in the following posts:

The xB Gets An Off-Roading Makeover – Who Needs 4WD Anyway?

The xB Overland Edition Is Finished and Ready For Off-Road Adventure

xB Preparation: How Steep Can It Climb – And A Few Backcountry Waterfalls


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