Inspired by a 1957 issue of Desert Magazine, Frank Ross takes his Hallmark Milner past the pavement and into the ghost towns and Nevada mining towns, 100 years back in time…
A Journey Back In Time
by: Frank Ross
September, 2011. Moss Beach, California. I’m going over last minute details before I continue my assault on the state of Nevada in the morning. I’m using check lists I’ve compiled over the years. I have one for my 2006 Dodge Power Wagon, one for my 2005 Hallmark Milner LX camper, one for food, and one for gear. I’ve used the web, maps, and old issues of Desert Magazine to get ideas on places to go and things to see. With gas prices what they are, I figured the far northeast corner of Nevada might be a good place to cross off the list, sooner rather than later.
Saturday, 7:00am. It’s a good time to leave the San Francisco Bay Area, no traffic to fight. Five hours later I’m in Fernley, Nevada getting gas. From here it’s goodbye to freeways. It’s like going back in time.
I head north on two lane Highway 447 towards Gerlach. Just south of town I turn right and head east on a rough dirt road. I stop and air down my tires and let most of the air out of my rear bags. This will help smooth out the bumps.
Above: My 2005 Hallmark Milner LX camper at Saw Tooth Knob
It’s fifty miles out into the desert to a small mountain called Saw Tooth Knob. Why here? I read an article in Desert Magazine’s January 1957 issue. All Desert Magazines are available for free online at www.scribd.com. Published monthly from 1937 to the 80s, Desert Magazine is a great source for stories, travel ideas, and research.
The article was about John and Sybil Huntington, married fifty-five years and living out here fifty miles from the nearest post office. In 1957, he was eighty-three and she was eighty-six. They had already lived here twenty years. The Huntingtons came to own this home, a ten room mining bunk house, in 1936. A mining company couldn’t pay John for some surveying work he had done. In a court settlement, they got the bunk house and some placer gold claims.
Sybil is a renowned artist and their story was interesting enough to make me come out here and see if their old house still existed. It might be private property, or a pile of debris, or I might not find it at all.
Shortly after passing a huge sulfur mine, I turn south on a two track trail. Now I’m really back in time. I could be driving a covered wagon instead of a Power Wagon. Then I see Saw Tooth Knob. It’s hard to miss.
After a couple of miles, I see a building. Could this be it?
I park and compare the picture of their house I printed from the article with what was before me. Yes, this is it! The house is run down but it’s still here after some seventy-five years.
I make camp up on a bluff below Saw Tooth. Miles traveled today; 404.
Above: Inside John and Sybil Huntington’s house
It’s different walking through an old desert dwelling, of which there are many, when you now the history. That’s it for their story for now, but I will end my trip in the ghost town of Mazuma in Seven Troughs Canyon. In the year 1912 Sybil and her infant son were almost killed in a terrible accident. Interested? Good. Go read the article.
Sunday 8:30am. I head fifty miles east to Winnemucca. The road is smooth now thanks to the big mine that maintains it. After getting gas, I have to get on the freeway east for sixteen miles. What a drag.
Above: Willow Creek Reservoir
I turn northeast on highway 789. For eleven miles it’s paved, then seventy-five miles of dirt. The dirt road is in great shape for thirty miles thanks to another big mine around Midas. I make a stop for lunch at Willow Creek Reservoir. No crowds here and very pretty.
Above: Maggie Summit
About twenty-five miles later, I hook up with Highway 226 and head north. Soon I’m in the dirt again headed into the Toiyabe National Forest. The scenery has changed from desert to forest. It’s beautiful country and there are ranches mingled in with the national forest land. It’s late afternoon and there is rain and thunder when I reach Maggie Summit. I pull off the road and set up camp during a thunder storm. It’s nice having a cozy camper with an electric top when the rain and wind pick up. Mileage today; 185.
Above: Cool metal sculptures
Monday, after sausage, eggs and hash browns, I head northeast towards Highway 225. Along the way I come to a ranch gate with these cool metal sculptures. Check out the one on the far right.
I reach the highway and head north to the town of Owyhee in the Duck Valley Indian Reservation.
Above: Rio Tinto was a short side trip I went to after I got gas and water in Owyhee
After topping off the fuel and water tanks, I back track south to a road that loops north, then east, then south, ending up in the town of Jarbridge.
Above: Traveling down Jarbridge Road
After an hour or so into the national forest, I come to a sign saying the road is washed out and closed ahead. I don’t want to turn back; it would be a major detour. I decided to go check it out. A flood tore up about a hundred yards of the road. It was rough, but you could drive a mini-van across it. This loop of road had many gorgeous views and any truck camper could handle it.
Above: A tombstone in Jarbridge cemetery
Just north of Jarbridge I stop at the cemetery. This headstone got my attention – always good to have a sense of humor.
The town was full of people on ATVs enjoying the many trails in the area. I spotted a gas pump with the old spinning numbers like a slot machine outside one of the many old buildings. So I topped off and headed south out of town – too many people for me.
My destination is an area south of Jarbridge called Copper Basin. I plan to camp here and dig for fossils in the morning. I turn off the main road and head down a steep trail and come to an off camber section. Steep I can handle. My truck has electric locking axles and will climb a wall. But off camber is scary, especially with a camper’s high center of gravity. At around twenty degrees on the inclinometer, I start getting nervous. At twenty-three degrees I’m starting to suck up the seat cushion, but I get through and set up camp near the dig. On the next ridge over is a large flock of sheep. Miles today; 139.
Tuesday morning, after digging for an hour and finding one leaf fossil, I decide this is more like work and less like vacation. So I pack it up and head back to the main road. Soon I come to the flock of sheep and get an escort by a good looking sheep dog.
I thought about getting out and giving the dog a scratch behind the ear, but you never know. One or both of us could have lost an ear.
Further down the road towards the town of Deeth, I stop and pick up some Jasper alongside the road. Now that’s easy rock hounding. I’m getting my fossil and rock sites out of the book, “Rockhounding Nevada” by William Kappele.
Above: Metropolis, Nevada
At Deeth, I went east on the interstate a short distance to Wells, Nevada. I headed north out of town for several miles looking for the ghost town of Metropolis. I found it without much difficulty and spent an hour or so looking around. The story of Metropolis is interesting and can be found by googling “Metropolis, Nevada”.
Above: Camped on the California trail
I went back to Wells for lunch and gas and then headed north out of Wells on Highway 93. After twenty-six miles, I turned right onto a dirt road. This road is a BLM “Back Country By Way” called the California Trail. It’s ninety miles total and the first forty miles follow the route the wagon trains took to California. You can get off the main road in places and get on the actual two track trail they used. I did exactly that here and made camp right next to the wagon trail. It was a beautiful evening, seventy-three degrees and no wind. 178 miles today. An owl woke me up a 3am hooting up a storm.
Above: A hot spring on the California Trail near Jackpot, Nevada
Wednesday morning. I continue following the trail northeast. It goes almost to the corner of Nevada, then turns Northwest, then eventually west to the town of Jackpot. I made a short half-mile side trip to check out this pretty hot spring.
A car can drive this by way during the dry season. There was one creek crossing, but it’s very shallow. I gassed up in Jackpot and headed back east into the desert. There are some old mines to visit and some rockhounding to do.
First stop is an old mine to look for malachite. It has a green color that is easy to see. There were a couple of old jalopies here which always complement an old mine.
I go further east, then south along Trout Creek Road to an Onyx mine. I hike the last quarter mile up to the mine and go through some tailings. I find enough examples to move on to the last site of the day. It’s a small hill covered in Junipers and there are several diggings where you can find opalized wood.
Above: Texas Springs where I spent Wednesday night
This was a nice place to camp as stated in my rock hounding book. The opalized wood was all over this hill. Easy pickings. Today’s mileage; 124.
Thursday, 8:30am. The time had come to start heading west. I wanted to be back in Moss Beach on Saturday. I picked out a trail that went back to Highway 93, past the Vulcan mine.
This mine had a deep tunnel and some old equipment to look at. It even had a lot of bags full of ore lying around. No, not gold. It looked like the owners just walked away one day. Later on the road I came across this old Lincoln. Need any parts?
I also meet this brave Sage Grouse.
Above: Buffalo Valley Airfield
After passing a ranch, I was back on Highway 93 and headed south to Wells. From here I had 120 miles of freeway. My destination was fifty miles southwest of Battle Mountain in the Buffalo Valley. Here I tried to find some petrified wood and an abandoned airfield called, Buffalo Valley Intermediate Airfield. It was one of many built by the Civil Aeronautics Administration in the 1920s and 1930s. They were intended for emergency use for commercial aircraft and this particular one served the San Francisco-Salt Lake airway. The airfield closed in the late 1940s/early 1950s. I did manage to find it. It was just a lot of the old foundations and pads for generators and the beacon. I found a lot of runway lighting cones and this 1936 license plate that made a nice souvenir.
I would have taken a cone, but they were too big. I could find no evidence of the old sod runways. The desert had reclaimed them. I made camp here for the night. Miles today, 248. Here is a link to a web site with pictures of the old terminal building; http://www.airfields-freeman.com/NV/Airfields_NV_NE.htm#buffalo
Above: Driving through Pole Canyon
Friday morning. I went up a nearby canyon to a spot mentioned in my rockhound book and I gathered up a little petrified wood. Then I traveled west on the interstate to Mill City, and back out into the desert. I’m headed up Pole Canyon on a very steep and narrow trail to the ridge top. The drop off is scary and you need to stay alert. It’s about this time I usually start thinking, “Why am I doing this in a big truck with camper instead of a Jeep?”
Above: Pole Canyon scenery
I reach the top of the ridgeline and park. Near here I hope to find indian petroglyphs. I have to hike downhill for several hundred yards to a rock out cropping.
Above: Pole Canyon petroglyphs
I find the petroglyphs and they are very nice examples. I’m not the first to set eyes on them as there is a sign bolted to the rock from the BLM asking people to respect our history. I’ve seen many petroglyphs in Nevada and the easier they are to get to, the more likely that they have been vandalized. These have not been harmed.
I needed to keep heading west so I head down the other side of the ridge into Woody Canyon. This turned out to be the toughest road of the trip. It was heavily over grown. At one point I had to get out and chop off a tree limb. Then I came to a deep ditch on the right side of the trail with water flowing down it. The other side of the trail is a drop off. After pondering the situation for a while, I lock the front and rear axles and straddle the ditch until I can cross over.
Above: Woody Canyon Exit
When I finally exited the mouth of Woody Canyon, I stopped and checked out all my new paint scratches.
Above: The road to Placerites
I had enough time left today to take the back trails to “The Placerites”, a big gold Placer mining area. I make camp here in the late afternoon. Miles today, 216.
Saturday morning. I do some target shooting after breakfast. There’s no one around, just a small herd of cattle far off to the west. After shooting a while, I see the cattle coming towards me at a quick pace. I’m guessing the rancher calls them for food with his gun. I decide to leave before I’m surrounded by a hungry herd. I could see myself saying, “It’s all right, I’m a vegetarian.”
Above: Tunnel Camp, an old mining camp 25 miles NW of Lovelock, Nevada
There are two more places I want to check out on my last day and they’re close together. First stop is Tunnel Camp. If you ever want to go to an old mining camp, this is a good one. It’s about twenty-five miles northwest of Lovelock. The road is okay, and the last twelve miles are paved.
Above: The big stamping mill made in San Francisco
Tunnel Camp is packed with lodes of old mining equipment and buildings. I really liked the big stamping mill made in San Francisco.
After Tunnel Camp, I moved on to Mazuma at the mouth of Seven Troughs Canyon. Remember at the beginning of the trip I said I would end it here with part of Sybil’s story?
It’s July 19th, 1912. Sybil and her infant son Morgan are leaving the house to go to the store. They head down the hill when Sybil realizes she had left the windows shut and returns to open them. There has been a lot of thunder up the in the mountains. Then Sybil hears rumbling coming down the canyon. It’s a twenty foot wall of water and debris. A flash flood has wiped out the town and mines in the canyon.
Sybil and her son would have been killed had they not turned back. Eleven people were killed. The force of the water carried this safe down to the mouth of the canyon. There is a good article with pictures in the June 1958 Desert Magazine on this flood and story.
After Mazuma, it was time for me to go 100 years into the future. I leave for Moss Beach at 1:15 pm and arrive home at 8:00 pm. Miles today, 391. Total miles, 1,885. I used 195 gallons of gas costing $630.
This is my favorite way to vacation. You get to see a lot of country side. But you must like driving your rig, like I love driving mine. Happy Expeditions.