Eastern Recce

For Wildwood Expedition, like many others, summer 2021 is an attempt to gain a semblance of normalcy and return to travel. On our first excursion into new territory this year we headed out to the eastern mountains of Nevada. Our goal was, in part, to take advantage of the legendary fishing we’d heard about. Also in our plan, a bit of reconnaissance for future land trust acquisitions for Wildwood Conservancy.

Our route intended to cover a fair bit of ground on a limited timeline. Weather was forecast to be unseasonably hot. We needed to be efficient in our movement. Within those constraints we opted for Tundra’s and ground tents over our outfitted Defender 110 – Angus. Tim, a board director of the Wildwood Open Lands Foundation, my two boys and I, loaded up and struck out east into the 100-degree temperatures of the great basin.

Turning north at Elko into the rolling hills offered little relief from the heat. Not until we had climbed high into the Jarbidge Wilderness did we find tolerable conditions. The sub-alpine hillsides had reached full bloom just in time for us to pass through. In retrospect, we noted that once leaving Elko, every turn deeper into the wilderness stripped away a layer of the captivity anxiety that accumulated over the preceding 16 months. In an inversely climatic paradox, the descent to the bottom of narrow Jarbidge Canyon ends at Jarbidge proper where time moves at its natural pace and cellular ridiculousness ceases to influence our conditioned minds.

Sun rises early this time of year. Morning light illuminated the river flowing 30% of average. Lousy winter snowpack diminished our hopes of a record haul. We fished, regardless, at our camp and at several holes downstream throughout the hot day. Disappointing but enjoyable, nonetheless.

Throughout our stay we encountered a guarded welcomeness. Hospitable, yet standoffish. Similar to experiences that we had in other remote communities throughout the pandemic. Property in the canyon tends to be passed from one generation to the next. Many of the same families have owned real estate in the community since its gold rush days in the early 1900s.

Pressing south into the Ruby Mountains we decided to ascend into Lamoille Canyon, hoping to find refuge from the smoke impregnated, 90+ degree atmosphere we’d contended with for several days. In contrast to our time in Jarbidge, we found Lamoille brimming with visitors. Our options in the canyon were few and we were grateful to find any.

Lamoille creek runs fast and cold. Upstream of Thomas Canyon, deep crystalline pools offer respite from the heat and an exhilarating shock to the body. Purging days of sweat, dust, and stank improved the collective enjoyment of our situation.

We rose with the sun to break camp and explore the rim of the canyon, several thousand feet higher. At elevation above the tree line, we committed to another visit to properly explore and photograph the high-altitude lakes and trails. Tim needed to return to Reno for an urgent business meeting. We needed to restock our supplies before continuing south into White Pine County.

In Elko we parted company then turned southbound along the western foot of the Ruby Range. It wasn’t long before the hazy skies deteriorated into darkness and released a torrent of rain. The desert and mountains appeared less and less like Nevada. The temperature plummeted while flat, dim light cast across the landscape giving the scrub vegetation of the gently rolling plain and foothills a greenish iridescence contrasting with the sopping earth. So foreign was the scene that I imagined this as terrain we could discover during the wet months on the upland plateaus of the Andes. Note* this is the same weather system that flooded out much of Zion National Park and Springdale, Utah.

Rain continued as we crossed over Harrison Pass to the eastern slopes of the mountains. Precipitation diminished to a drizzle as we emerged onto the floor of the valley. The boys and I set camp in a dense juniper grove at the foot of the mountains before striking out into the Ruby Lake National Wildlife Refuge. Following the storm that had passed and beneath a threatening platinum sky, expectations of good fishing were pretty low. Nonetheless we continued to cast from several spots until giving up from the lack of bites. Hiking up the drainage behind our camp we watched clouds race across the valley. The air became cool and remained damp. Bright stars and chilly temps followed shorty after the sun dipped below the ridgeline.

We choose to link up with the Pony Express/Central Overland trail as our route across the range. Just west of the Hastings Cutoff the pass descends into a wide valley with gentle mountains on either side and Juniper sparsely dotting the landscape. Farther south, the Diamond Mountains rise to the west as Newark Valley opens below. Jagged, towering, alpine peaks feather down into a rolling juniper savannah that extends to the floor of the valley. Here the juniper meets a grassland that encircles the valley before terminating into a dried salt pan. Even our widest camera lens couldn’t capture the dynamic of terrain.

Crossing back across Nevada to the west we poked about and explored several spurs to either side of route 50. Enough opportunities to keep us occupied for a good while.

Some thoughts as we wrap up our initial reconnaissance in the eastern side of the state:

  • The Jarbidge Wilderness needs to be revisited when there is higher water in the river.
  • The northern Ruby Mountains shall be traversed on foot during the summer months.
  • A central Ruby Mountains ski-mountaineering tour should be planned for the spring months.
  • In general, White Pine County warrants further exploration.

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