I’ve neglected writing up the rest of our splendid Nevada Overland Trip this past summer, but I’m determined to press forward, just as the xB and I did on the trail. We’ll pickup where we left off, in our splendid campsite in the Toiyabe Range and head northwards.
There were some further technical challenges, but the xB made it through them all, including this rather modest water crossing. Nothing exceptional, but just representative of how we spent many hours per day on the Nevada Backcountry Discovery Route (NBDR), some which included a stretch along the original Pony Express route in north-central Nevada.
Once we were out of the mountains, we had only a fairly short and easy drive to Austin, our first town and gas stop since leaving Tonopah.
The first order of business was gassing up, as it had been 200 miles since leaving Tonopah. Any anxieties I might have had about not making the next leg, 220 miles from Austin to Elko without having to dip into my two 2-gallon cans on the roof evaporated in the Nevada sunshine when the xB took only seven gallons. I kept detailed track of my consumption and I’ll share the results of that at the end of the last part.
The route Ted planned called for some deviations from the NBDR in order to take in some historical and cultural sites that he and Andrea were interested in. Josh, in the dark green Tacoma, decided he’d rather stick to the NBDR, which also was a more direct route to his home in Idaho, so from here on out it was the four of us.
Austin sits on US highway 50, dubbed “The Loneliest Highway In America”. That runs east-west, and we’ve had the pleasure of that drive at least once. A great way to experience this part of Nevada without ever leaving the pavement (or your car, if so inclined). Austin, like seemingly all Nevada towns other than Las Vegas and Reno, was a mining town that is a shadow of its former self. There’s some ten churches, all very well built, to accommodate what was once a bustling little city. Now it’s a place to get gas and take a little walk up and down the main street and check out the remnants of the business district.
Bars, liquor stores, and slots were of course a main attraction.
The signs are still there, more or less.
If a bit faded.
Most of them are closed.
And the vibes from the ones that look to be still open are from a different era, in more ways than one.
The modern era looks more like this.
Which rather negates places like the former Austin Garage.
Up on a hill above Austin is the Stokes Castle, looking all the world like a Roman-era ruin. Here’s a little blurb from a Travel Nevada page:
Originally erected in 1897, this elaborate three-story tower is a remnant of the lucrative mining fortunates that inundated this region. Anson Phelps Stokes, a prominent mine developer, railroad magnate and banker, purchased this land with the intention of constructing a summer residence for his family. As a distinctive businessmen and world traveler, Stokes modeled his elaborate home after a tower he had once admired in the Roman Campagna in Italy. Essentially a copy of a Roman Villa, his home was built entirely of hand-hewn, native granite. Amazingly enough, these gargantuan slabs were hoisted into place with a hand winch and held in place with rock wedging and clay mortar.
In addition to adopting late Victorian design elements in the exterior edifice, Stokes also implemented lavish details of this era in the interior of the home. While the kitchen and dining room were on the first floor, the second and third floors housed two bedrooms. Each floor encompassed a fireplace, plate glass view windows, and upper two levels included a balcony. The home had plumbing very adequate for the times and was opulently decorated. Driving the watch tower concept home further, the top story of the home included a battlement terrace or sun deck!
Similar to many residents in this area during mining booms, the Stokes family occupied their Castle for only a short time. After living in the home for a mere month, the family returned for brief periods throughout 1897. Then, in 1898, Stokes sold his mine, milling equipment, and the castle, never to return to Austin.
All that work to live in it for only one month. Maybe his wife didn’t like it?
The view from the castle is impressive, not surprisingly. That’s an abandoned mine head.
It was time to hit the trail again.
In seemingly the middle of nowhere, we came across a large facility that had dozens of large horizontal cooling fans set atop rows of structures. It’s the largest geothermal plant in the US, the Beowawe facility. And as we continued, these pipes with their recurring rises (to handle expansion and contraction?) run alongside the road for a mile, connecting to the actual well head up ahead.
This shot shows the various dust plumes of the cars spaced out ahead. We used cheap ($26) Baofeng 5W hand-held ham radios, using the MURS, Multiple Use Radio Service, a license free band in the 150Mhz range. They worked very well, but sometimes got a bit fuzzy at their functional range of some 1-1.5 miles. We had roof-mounted antennas to maximize their effectiveness.
Here we are staging ourselves for a steep downhill section before heading up and across another of Nevada’s seemingly endless valleys.
Some more video. That was a dry wash with very fine and loose sand.
It wasn’t the most dramatic of our days on the road, and by late afternoon, we were ready to head up into the hills for a place to camp, hopefully with water.
The road wound up into a canyon, although not a very high one.
We were a bit discouraged, looking for some place suitable to pull off the road. I backtracked a bit and found a faint trail that led up into a suitable spot. No water features, but we had a lovely evening up there, and the moon and stars were of course stellar.
Finding a level spot was a bit of a challenge.
In the morning it was back in the saddle for another valley to conquer. They may all look the same, but if one is there, the distinctions are a bit more apparent.
No inhabitants except cattle and wildlife.
Often the vegetation in the middle of the “road” was mighty tall, and at times became a bit challenging, presenting considerable resistance. And on some stretches that were also rocky, the plants in the middle hid them, making it a bit treacherous for my xB’s vulnerable front end. I did bend the lower radiator support, although I’m not sure exactly when or where. But fortunately, no harm done. It required intense concentration to try and spot them before it was too late.
There were numerous water crossings, none of which concerned me, as they looked quite doable in the xB. But when we got to this one, I balked. I got a sense that it was deeper than average, with a hole in the middle. I didn’t want to damage my radiator or such. So I skirted the main hole as best as possible, and that worked out fine. I thought maybe I was being too cautious, but it turned out to be a very good decision.
Randy decided to barrel on through. Sure enough, there was a hole in the middle, and he crunched his brush guard and bent its mount. The “crunch” is quite audible. Nothing serious for his Sequoia, but there’s no doubt that it would have damaged my very vulnerable front radiator and a/c condenser. Good call…
We came to low spot that had very soft sand; my solution as always: go faster than the others. Momentum is king.
By midday, we were thirsting for some water, to wash off the dust. The first reservoir on the map was all dry, as this sad boat ramp attests to.
A ways further on, we scored. I swam about half way across; it felt so good.
It wasn’t all that hot; temperatures had moderated since the first couple of days. And things were about to get a lot cooler.
We decided to head up into the Lamoille Canyon, in the Ruby Mountains. It’s on if the gems of Nevada, and the prospect of seeing high mountains and snow was very appealing after days in the dusty valleys.
It was too late in the day to take a hike, so we just drove up to the end of the road, at 8,800′ elevation, to get a looksie. The plan was to come back tomorrow and take a hike up to a high lake.
We found a great campsite down a ways, next to the river. And then we decided to explore a side canyon. The wild flowers were superb.
The road led to a formal camp village, which had been partly wiped out by a fire a few years back.
I headed up the canyon further while the others piked around the camp.
A ways up, I came across vast beaver dams and the resultant ponds. One of these dams was some five feet tall, quite the feat of engineering. Further up there were the ruins of others, some really huge.
Thus ended Day 4. Days 5 and 6, the last of the trip are coming soon, hopefully.
All photos and videos by Jim Klein, Ed Niedermeyer and I.
Preparation of the xB in the following posts: