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David A. Wright

Day Trips

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Day Trip

November 6, 2019

Whistling Dixie While Circling Nevada

Winnemucca >> Dixie Valley >> Austin >> Battle Mountain >> Winnemucca

Summer ended with a chill. Late September snows and October subzero temperatures. Then Indian Summer came. For days I wanted to get out of the house and get the 4Runner dirty. So I did.

For many years, I’ve wanted to travel Grass Valley Road south from Winnemucca. The road crosses from Grass Valley to Pleasant Valley then into and through Dixie Valley. In the southern third, the gravel road turns to state highway 121 to complete the run to US50.  Instead of returning home by doubling back, I was yearning for lunch at the Toiyabe Café in Austin. It had been more than fifteen years since I’ve eaten there. To enhance the drive I elected to cross over on state highway 722, which is the old route that US50 took before bypassing the Desatoya Mountains well to the north. Then I would return home via state highway 305 to Battle Mountain, then Interstate 80.

Thus I traveled an elongated circle through the north-central part of Nevada.  And got the 4Runner nice and dusty.

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PART 1 – HOME TO NORTH END OF DIXIE VALLEY

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Start of trip: 8:15 AM.

Trip distance at T-Intersection at the Jersey/Buffalo Valley road in northern Dixie Valley: 63.4

Arrival at intersection: 10:31 AM.

Grass Valley and Pleasant Valley look one and the same to the naked eye. But waters draining from the Sonoma and Mount Tobin ranges think otherwise. North of an invisible line waters flow to the Humboldt River near Winnemucca. South of that line they drain south through Pleasant Valley and into Dixie Valley and then disappear into a large playa.

About a dozen miles south of Winnemucca, Grass Valley turns to maintained gravel in Pershing County (Winnemucca is the seat of Humboldt County). In dry weather, 4WD is not necessary, but in winter and spring, it often is.

I was in no hurry to make time and distance. Instead I stopped often to take photos and soak in the character of rural Nevada.

 

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My 4Runner at the start of the trip. Hitting the gravel portion of Grass Valley Road, I engaged the front axle of my 4Runner. Though not necessary, I just like to keep things up there lubed and the shifting mechanisms limber. And sometimes maintained gravel roads toss a curveball that upsets the balance of 4-wheeled nature.

 

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In southern Grass Valley. Mt. Tobin, 9,775’ high, dominates the view.

 

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An old, dilapidated windmill sits at the base of the Mount Tobin Range. A few feet away is an old, concrete slab and sub-walls that was once somebody’s home.

 

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The scenic Vesco Ranch. Mt. Tobin dominates the backdrop.

 

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At the base of the Mount Tobin Range is found this earthquake scarp running for a couple miles. Early in the 20th century and again in the middle part of the century, large scale earthquakes changed the land.

 

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The route detours to the west at the gate of the Pleasant Valley Ranch. It will meet up again with the road heading straight a few miles away at the north end of Dixie Valley.

 

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A 3-way wye is formed here at the junction of Grass Valley Road and the road coming over from the southern Buena Vista Valley via McKinney Pass. This is the southernmost point I have ventured south on Grass Valley Road until this trip. Mt. Moses, 8,645’ high and the southernmost peak in the Fish Creek Mountains, dominates the view.

 

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Which way do I go? Consulting my atlas, it didn’t really matter, for both roads took me to where I wanted to go. This point is where Grass Valley Road enters Dixie Valley. Grass Valley Road is actually the right hand side leg. But I took the left, which t-bones into the same road heading northeasterly into adjacent Jersey and Buffalo valleys. Mt. Moses in the background.

 

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In northernmost Dixie Valley, the leg of the road I took dead ended at the road heading northeast into Jersey and Buffalo valleys. Mt. Moses in the background.

 

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Looking northeast into the central and northern end of the Fish Creek Mountains. Jersey Valley is just past the hills in the foreground, as it is really just a narrow northern extension of Dixie Valley and all drainage flows into Dixie.

 

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Looking back the way I’ve come. The view is along the Stillwater Range; which north of McKinney Pass becomes the East Range. The two ranges are actually one long chain running the distance between US50 east of Fallon, north to Interstate 80 just west of Winnemucca.

 

PART 2 DIXIE VALLEY TO JCT. NV 121/U.S.50

Trip distance at US50: 135.6 miles.

Arrival at US50: 12:26 PM.

Dixie Valley is a long valley trending northeast and sandwiched between the Stillwater and Clan Alpine ranges. It is fairly low compared to the rest of the region, the lowest part of the valley along the road dipping below 3,400 feet. The valley is settled very sparingly.

In the northern valley, the topographic map shows a confusing maze of roads. My Benchmark Nevada atlas shows Grass Valley Road turning west and hugging the base of the Stillwater Range. Pershing and Churchill counties decided to push the road straight down the center to a point within Churchill County, then turning west to the base of the Stillwater Range just south of a small geothermal plant. Though posing no challenges, periodic signs warning of minimal maintenance created a bit of a sense of uncertainty in my mind; though frequent culverts, reflectors and signs indicating curves appealed to the logical part of me telling me that all was fine.

 

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At the northernmost part of the valley, the way to go south is to go west toward the Stillwater Range. Logan Peak, 6,789’ high, dominates the ridge.

 

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Hmmm … the map doesn’t show this turn … And neither does the navigation unit in my 4Runner. This shortly after starting on this leg of the journey.

 

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Sure is lonely country out here. The navigation system in my 4Runner simply showed me nothing at all.

 

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After traversing roughly 13 miles of “nowhere,” the byway t-bones into a primary east-west road and the southbound travel turns west to near the geothermal plant. From that point on, the road on the ground and the maps jive. And the navigation on my 4Runner started showing me a road again. Here, I disengaged the front end of my 4Runner, which remained so the remainder of the trip.

 

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The small Dixie Valley geothermal plant.

 

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The view southeast across the large playa in Dixie Valley. The Clan Alpine Range forms the backdrop.

 

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From some springs at the base of the Stillwater Range, a bit of water runs about a mile out onto the playa. Mt. Grant, 8,901’ high, dominates the scene.

 

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After nearly an hour and 30.8 miles, I hit the northern end of paved NV121. The map showed the community of Dixie Valley off to the east about four miles, but my eye only saw a few scattered stunted trees and little more.

 

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Southbound on NV121. Fairview Mountain, 8,243’ high, is in the distance.

 

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Driving south on NV121 for 27.2 miles brings one to US50. Fairview Mountain dominates the background.

 

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Looking back the way I came. This part of Dixie Valley is within the US Naval Reservation at Fallon, and multiple targets are scattered over the valley as far north as the Dixie Valley settlement that jets like to shoot at. In the near background can be seen two of those targets – two military 6x6’s with rocket launchers sit next to the road. Photos and details of those and other targets by Jack Freer are seen on this forum and on his website.

 

PART 3 – JCTNV 121/US50 TO AUSTIN

Trip distance traveled at Austin: 208.0 miles (note: backtracked several times short distances for photography, adding slightly to mileage figures).

Arrival at Austin: 2:19 PM.

US50 is touted to be the loneliest road in America. Such hogwash is touted by the state tourism department to attract hoards to make it far less lonely. Indeed, I passed numerous semi trucks, locals and tourists with out of state license plates. So I sought out far lonelier roads to get to Austin. My choice was NV722, which is the original alignment of US50, over the Desatoya Mountains via 7,420’ high Carroll Summit. I only passed one local ranch truck; as well as having slow and stop for a cattle drive across the road herded by a cowboy on a dirt bike.

 

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US50 eastbound with the Desatoya Mountains in the distance. Looks kind of lonely out here. It is, if you are from some big city.

 

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I did find myself smack dab in the middle of “Nowhere, Nevada.”

 

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The big metropolis of Middlegate. The maps shows an Eastgate as well. But I’ve never managed to locate a Westgate.

 

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Just east of Middlegate, I found this “shoe tree.” I’ve seen others throughout the state, likely made by bored travelers. Look how high people have managed to place shoes! I pondered how they got there. Someone literally risked life and limb to climb out on those dead limbs; or maybe they tied two shoes together by their laces and repeatedly tossed them into the air in hopes that they might stick somewhere up high. Even the lowest limbs were high enough to require a ladder as the base of the tree was in a water filled ditch that paralleled the highway.

 

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What hard hats have to do with shoes is anybody’s guess. I’ve found in my travels over the decades several isolated landmarks festooned with items of a certain theme to have morphed into another theme.

 

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Typical central Nevada scenery. This taken looking north just west of Eastgate at the western foot of the Desatoya Mountains on NV722.

 

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Eastgate.

 

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Climbing the west side of the Desatoya Mountains.

 

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The west side of the Desatoya Mountains have been visited by wildfire since my last pass through here in April, 2008. The view is west from just west of Carroll Summit.

 

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Carroll Station, an early fuel and rest stop along old US50. Postcard image obtained from the Internet.

 

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Exiting the Desatoya Mountains into Smith Creek Valley.

 

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The view southeast to the Toiyabe Range from the Campbell Creek Ranch.

 

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Crossing Smith Creek Valley.

 

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The mighty Reese River in the Reese River Valley not far from Austin. This river drains a large area of central Nevada into the Humboldt River far to the north at Battle Mountain. The Toiyabe Range forms the backdrop.

 

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Austin. My much anticipated lunch stop is just around the corner …

 

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I found the Toiyabe Café closed. Darn! I missed closing time by 18 minutes, as it closes at 2:00 PM daily during winter. So I ate at the historic International Hotel. Back in 2006 on a camping trip throughout the region with a now deceased friend, I wanted to eat at the Toiyabe, but he liked the ambience of the International. His stronger will dictated we eat breakfast there, so I got skunked. Now I got skunked again because I was 18 minutes late for my lunch appointment in Austin. At least the burger and fries were good. The bikes were ridden by Chinese speaking persons who ordered in fluent English. They came in after I had been served; they and I were the only ones to patronize the International.

 

PART 4 – AUSTIN TO HOME

Total trip: 353.9 miles.

Arrival at Home: 5:47 PM.

I left the International Hotel at 2:53 PM. Instead of going straight home, I detoured a mile to the famous Stokes Castle. Throughout the decades and numerous visits to Austin, I never before took the time to see it up close. The silence of the site was shattered by two sets of closely spaced and quite startling sonic booms. After my visit, I headed north on NV305 to Battle Mountain. The remaining mileage for the amount of fuel left readout on the dash was too close for comfort for the remaining miles left for home (I had the navigation unit set to guide me home so I could keep tract on time and mileage remaining), so I stopped in Battle Mountain to top off the tank, then shot home at the legal speed back to Winnemucca – doing 80 on I-80. It was solidly dark by the time I pulled into my driveway.

 

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Stokes Castle.

 

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Northbound in NV305 in the Reese River Valley north of Austin. The route follows the Reese River all the way to Battle Mountain. The highway follows history as well. Until the Depression of the early 20th century, the narrow gauge Nevada Central Railroad helped transport the riches of early Austin to the outside world; the railroad bed can still be seen here and there where it is close enough to the highway to pick out in the sagebrush.

 

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Northbound in the Antelope Valley.

 

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Northbound in the northernmost reaches of Antelope Valley.

 

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Mount Lewis, 9,680’ high, with its giant radar unit, looking like an oversized golf ball even from the valley below. You can monitor the view from two web cameras live at http://myers.seismo.unr.edu/devalert/firecams.html From the menu pick out BLM Cameras then from the list of thumbnails, choose Mt. Lewis. The view updates about every 10 seconds. One generally looks down onto Battle Mountain, the other moves about to different directions regularly.

 

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The sun setting over Mount Tobin. Earlier in the day I had traveled southward along its far side.

 

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The shadow of my 4Runner attempting to keep up. My goal get home in time to see the 6:00 news. I made it with enough time to gather the stuff from the 4Runner and take all back into the house.

 

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Battle Mountain in time for a gas and pee break.

 

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80 on 80.

 

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Entering Winnemucca.

Trip stats: 353.9 miles; driving time 8 hours 43 minutes; gas mileage 19.9 miles per gallon. It was a fun day. Now the 4Runner needs washing. But maybe I’ll leave it dirty so I can do another daytrip again real soon.

 

 

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