Early June 2017. We had been at the ranch a few days and Cannonball and Larry had been on the periphery, the ranch’s latest inhabitants. My sister-in-law knew them from school bus stop mornings on the Denio route, where she is the substitute bus driver and otherwise helps carry that school along. They accompanied two children of a farm worker to the stop, but when the family pulled up stakes the dogs were left orphaned and my sister-in-law took them in.
It was the big water year and we had taken advantage, floating on the Black Rock Playa and the Quinn River. Places water flows only rarely, ephemerally. It was a year since Coco had gone on, and Dusty three. Cannonball and Larry, orphans, were a little adrift at the ranch, in limbo, and with a day free we decided to take them out, but with the caveat that we weren’t going to get too attached. They were a pair, had never lived inside, we weren’t ready.
We went out to Elephant Mountain. We’d hiked its flanks many times before, but never gone up to the summit and so we continued past our usual parking place on Paiute Creek farther up the road that bisects the wildernesses. Larry who then went by Yo-yo, and no one had ever learned Cannonball’s name, so she went by Girl (a name she is still known by in some quarters), and they were very nervous in the front of the pickup with us, they had never or rarely ridden in the front before and they didn’t know how to behave themselves, or exactly what to do.
We stopped and started to climb. The day was overcast and Cannonball and Larry kept us good company. From the north, Elephant Mountain looks just like it sounds, like an elephant charging toward you. We climbed between its ears and up the back side of its skull. It was not a long hike to the top, steep but mostly just a nice desert walk. We stopped for a break and got to know each other well. Cannonball launched herself into us and Larry climbed up on my lap finally and settled in. With him there, I had a chance to see if he had his male parts, which he did, but not for long, after we told my mom. Then we headed onward, up the mountain.
At the summit there was a marker stone and a wide view of the desert and mountains. We sat comfortably in shadow of the harri mutil, the stone boy, that lonely pile of rock that separated range lines, or was made by lonely Basque boys dreaming of their green home, or, who knows? Yo-yo informed us in his kind and wise way that his name was not Yo-yo, but Larry. Cannonball richocheted. Renee hand-stood. When we started down we drifted apart, as we often do in trackless desert, and Cannonball and Larry accompanied Renee on the way down—fortuitously because I crossed paths with a small rattlesnake among the wind-carved rim rocks.
We arrived back at the truck in good spirits and parted on friendly terms. Us back to Reno. Larry and Girl to stay at the ranch.
Soon thereafter we came back to the ranch and met Larry at the door of our little studio there. Cannonball had dumped him for my mom, and, especially, her four-wheeler. In no uncertain terms Larry let us know he was going with us.
After my mom’s surgery, Cannonball, still Girl then, was lost again. With plenty of time at the ranch to acclimate to living indoors, she has fully joined the crew. She and Larry are back to being soulmates. And now they are here, sleeping alongside me while I write this and nurse a bit of a gimpy foot, looking forward to our next explorations!
by Daniel Montero
It's my birthday month! I turned 44 earlier this month and, while I'm not generally a giant birthday celebrator, there is something about 44 that has really inspired me and it has been a whirlwind month. So much has happened that I want to write about more, but I'm still in media res and so haven't had the time to really focus on one thing above the other! Here are some highlights of the month so far.
This wasn't technically in February, but directly before I had to go to the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering for work I took a day and made it to the top of Purgatory Peak in the Selenites. It awesome but quite a challenge, especially navigating the icy rocks and thick brush at the top with Larry.
The National Cowboy Poetry Gathering
I had to go to this for work, where I watched over a booth selling Basque books and emceed a presentation in which I read from Joan Errea and shared the stage with other Center authors. It was quite an adventure being in Elko for this event and I treasured every moment of it. I also, of course, brought my Surly bike, Reggie, to ride around Elko--No way I was going to a Cowboy Poetry Gathering without my steed!
Through Central Nevada from Elko
On my way back from Elko I decided to avoid the freeway and back road across a little part of central Nevada. So I turned south through the Crescent Valley and to Highway 50 near Austin.
Riding to Black Rock Point
My mom had asked if we could come up and help with some major work, during the next week, so on my actual birthday week I decided I'd try to ride my bike to the ranch to help them out. I drove to Gerlach, packed up with Larry riding in my BoB trailer, and set out, but soon changed my plan (which was pretty malleable anyway) and instead of heading toward Soldier Meadows I turned out toward the Black Rock Point. Despite spending so much time in and around the Black Rock, I'd never been out there and it seemed like a perfect birthday celebration. And it was, such a beautiful ride, then night in the shadow of the Black Rock Point. The next day lollygagged around the springs and riding back to Gerlach, where I then drove to the ranch. Then, of course, I had a flat tire in the Subaru on Jungo Road driving to my family's place, haha, but that was nothing to mar this adventure, which I will definitely write/post more about.
Then it was the ranch, where we helped out with one of the hardest days in a year that is full of hard days, running cows through the chute. Not a lot to say about this one, but we made it through with smiles and not too much in the way of mishaps, so all good!
Closing Gates and a Night Under the Stars
The next day, we worked again, this time taking 4-wheelers up and closing the gates so that the cattle won't drift up into the high country too early. It is sort of our annual job, and we pretty much zipped through it, and then afterward we went out into the desert and spent a wonderful night under the stars before making it home to our warm bed.
Hiking the Cliffs
Looking toward Pine Forest from the southeast face, one of the most striking features is The Cliffs, a landscape of granite cliffs and spires, and on the next weekend, visiting my family again, we snuck off for a hike among them. It is an awe-inspiring face, and it was Renee's first time climbing all the way through them and to the very top. The wind was cold and the day bit into our clothes, but we found a sunny glade out of the wind for our lunch and had a great day!
This is my name for a place that is very special to me, in the Black Rock Range. I have wandered this rock garden many times before, but am always able to make it a new hike. It blew icy, dry snow into our faces all day, and Renee, still fighting a cold, stayes home for this one. I think Larry wouldn't have minded staying home either, he looked like an icicle for a good part of the hike, but it was still a great time.
And beyond! The month is still not over and the explorations are sure to keep coming! With Renee feeling better this week and with some days off maybe we’ll head somewhere south and warm(er) ... it’s definitely chilly in Reno this morning!
From our annual January camping trip last weekend. We stayed on the west side of the playa with shining light and wonderful company. Just the best!
By Daniel Montero
“Up and down the rugged mountain side I searched, with always increasing interest and always augmenting gratitude that I had come to Humboldt and come in time. Of all the experiences of my life, this secret search among the hidden treasures of silver-land was the nearest to unmarred ecstasy. It was a delirious revel.” Mark Twain, from Roughing It. While in this passage Twain is really setting up a joke, I can’t help but feel what he feels in this passage when I am in Nevada’s desert mountains.
Especially in the two Renee and I visited in the late spring of 2016: Star Peak in the Humboldt Mountains and King Lear Peak in the Jackson Mountains. Both of them are true guideposts to this vast part of Northern Nevada and had long beckoned us, especially the imposing volcanic rock faces of King Lear. I grew up looking at it across the desert valley. It always was there on the periphery of my life and with its imposing faces and with its suggestive and romantic name, it always lit my imagination.
Star Peak, and the Humboldt Mountains, was famously visited by Mark Twain and written about in Roughing It. While Twain had only comic luck in his prospecting attempts in the mountain, the mountain did have important mineral discoveries, and it was from the heart of this, the ghost town (well, not even really a ghost town although there are some mining remains and stone foundations) was where we started the hike, going past the big tailings, pits and shafts of the Queen of Sheba Mine. It was a beautiful spring day and we climbed the mountain in grand fashion and high spirits, with Twain’s “unmarred ecstasy.” On the descent it was hot enough that we shed our shoes and soaked our sore feet in the cold rushing water of Star Creek. Many many stars on this one!
After a rest day in between, we set out with a friend to climb King Lear. It is a glorious majestic and steep climb (well, Star Peak was no slouch in that either). We approached it from its western face, off of Jackson Creek Road, and despite sneezing fits with the newly emerging summer pollen, we also climbed it in grand fashion, especially the breathtaking cliff faces of the upper summit climb was, as Twain wrote, “a delirious revel.”
From the summit the vast Black Rock Playa spread out below us and peaks ringed us, including, off to the southeast, Star Peak, but peaks, peaks all around. King Lear is of course, a literary reference. But why King Lear? In Nevada Place Names, Helen Carlson refers to its Shakespearean origin, but to me that only begs the question. Why among all of Shakespeare's hundreds of characters, why King Lear, why the betrayed father driven mad? I don’t know the answer to this, but in the imagination of Gloucester, who, blinded, believes he will jump from the heights of the cliffs of Dover, there are descriptions that do seem to fit King Lear Peak:
“There is a cliff, whose high and bending head
Looks fearfully in the confined deep:
Bring me but to the very brim of it,
And I'll repair the misery thou dost bear
With something rich about me: from that place
I shall no leading need.”
And later, Edgar’s description to the confused Gloucester:
“Come on, sir; here's the place: stand still. How fearful
And dizzy 'tis, to cast one's eyes so low!
The crows and choughs that wing the midway air
Show scarce so gross as beetles: half way down
Hangs one that gathers samphire, dreadful trade!
Methinks he seems no bigger than his head:
The fishermen, that walk upon the beach,
Appear like mice; and yond tall anchoring bark,
Diminish'd to her cock; her cock, a buoy
Almost too small for sight: the murmuring surge,
That on the unnumber'd idle pebbles chafes,
Cannot be heard so high. I'll look no more;
Lest my brain turn, and the deficient sight
Topple down headlong.”
I can feel some of King Lear in these descriptions, but I don’t know. Does anyone out there have any ideas?
We started down into the afternoon and, as a writer for the WPA Guide to Nevada wrote in the 1930s about the Jacksons: “At sunset in this silent land, light changes so swiftly that one evening may be filled with 100 variations of color and pattern. Occasional quivering mirages project themselves against the hills.”
Books In This Post
Written by Renee Aldrich
We are spending Christmas week in one of our favorite places, the northwestern corner of Nevada, at the base of the Pine Forest Range.
So far, we’ve enjoyed beautiful skies on our drive up, my mom and sister came to spend Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with us, on Christmas Day we all went up to one of our favorite spots—Chicken Creek, and on the day after Christmas we hiked up Bartlett Peak, a peak in the Black Rock Range. It’s now Wednesday morning and there’s still a lot of fun and adventure to be had!
We hope you all had a great Christmas and Holidays!
It's that time of year, time for the annual Burning Man celebration. So I thought I'd throwback to March and this fun photo of my friend and fellow wild woman Laura Blaylock kayaking over the spot where Black Rock City is typically erected.
Also, this photo is featured on the back page of Friends of Nevada Wilderness's 2018 calendar, YAY!
By Daniel Montero
Shadows were lengthening when we left Winnemucca, headed north and west toward the night into one of the largest dark spaces left in the Lower 48. In the gathering darkness the sky shines brighter than the greasewood scrub land alongside the highway and I drove with my eyes peeled for anything darting into the road: deer, rabbits, mice. One night along these dark ways I had to swerve to miss a wild horse standing stock still dead in the center of the roadway.
As we turn west onto Highway 140, we drop from the alluvial fan of the Santa Rosa Mountains down into a broad flat. Our destination, the Quinn River, flows out of the Santa Rosa Mountains and its course winds along these basins, curving north and south and tending westward as it finds its way through a maze of high desert ranges: south from its origin in them along the western face of the Santa Rosas Mountains, past Slumbering Hills to the south, The Double H Mountains to the north, the Jackson Mountains to the south, the Bilk Creek Mountains to the north before the river turns definitively south, blocked by the Pine Forest Mountains, to start a long journey into the Black Rock Desert. In a thirty-mile stretch the highway makes exactly one slight bend, the river course, meanwhile, meanders greatly in the nearly flat plan, winding its way along sagebrush and greasewood flats. I say river course, because the river we are approaching, the river that we have come this way to find, is in its very nature a chimera. It flows in sections when it flows at all, and it never flows year round. It is an ephemeral river. In Home Ground: Language for an American Landscape (edited by Barry Lopez and Debra Gwartney), Jeffery Renard Allen writes that “A stream or reach of a stream that flows only during and for short periods following precipitation is known as an ephemeral stream. Also called a stormwater channel, it receives no extensive long-term water supply from melting snow or other sources, and its channel is, at all times, above the water table.”
The river may been alternatively known as the Queen River (in the the 1870 census) and was called the River of the Lakes by Peter Skeen Ogden in 1828 (Helen Carlson, Nevada Place Names, “Quinn” entry). The course follows a 110-mile path from the Santa Rosas to the Black Rock playa and its basin encompasses 11,600 square miles of northwestern Nevada).
On this year of high flows the river is genuinely running and since the middle of the winter we have been thinking about and planning for an excursion on it. Floating on ephemeral water in the desert.
Our plan is to depart from the last crossing before the Black Rock Wilderness and so to float into the wilderness. This of course means that what we pack in, we will have to pack out, in this case a two-person inflatable kayak and all of our gear, so we plan to go light. On another trip, conditions permitting, it would be amazing to take it as far as we could, even floating all the way down to the playa (which we had also floated on recently), but given our work schedules and limited resources our excursion is a bit limited.
As we turn west onto Highway 140 the light is nearly gone and by the time we cross the pain to Sod House, what used to be a stage stop and with the remains of its namesake sod structure still visible from the highway we stop and walk to the fence marked No Trespassing and look into the gathering dark. There is water here, a broad bed of what seems to be standing water on what are generally dry pastures catching the glint of the shining light. This buoys us, the water is flowing, and we get back and drive into the dark. But farther along, where the plain narrows after Kings River Valley between the southern edge of the Bilk Creeks and the northern of the Jacksons and the river crosses the highway, we stop and the in the dark can make out that the channel is dry and it deflates us. But then, out on the next plain that goes south and becomes somewhere indistinct there the famous Black Rock Desert, at the next crossing of the river on Leonard Creek Road, we stop and it is flowing again. A mystery of the spring and water flow, or something else that I don’t know. But that final crossing is our point of departure and it means that in the morning this will be happening.
We are back there in the morning, inflating the boat and packing our lunch. The river here has cut a narrow channel into the alkaline playa that is maybe generally 4 or 5 feet below the general floor of the basin, so that when we push off into the brown-gray water it seems as if we have descended into the desert itself, that even beyond the fact that we are adrift in sinking pieces of crust between an ocean that is eventually spreading itself into existence, we are buried inside of that itself. As if we have returned to the true cradle of the earth. We must be submerged, as in amniotic fluid, in order to emerge again renewed. At least it feels that way as we push ourselves and float with the slow-moving current, as if we are being born of the desert. If we went on this as far as it would go we would emerge eventually at one of the flattest places on earth—the Black Rock playa.
Ephemeral water. Water that exists and doesn’t exist. That exists in this time, but not in that time or the time before that, or after that. And then it exists again. It questions our notions of permanence.
We paddle now and again. The current definitely moves us through sweeping oxbows constantly bending back and forth to nearly touch themselves. There are islands in them, and water, on this wet year is breaking between the oxbows in places. Retracing itself, the river draws a DNA strand of its existence into the soft soil of an ancient inland sea that will become an ocean again. Ancient by our standards, of course, really a baby of an inland sea compared to the vast stretch of time. Wandering in a boat along the upper reaches of a desert valley is a sublime place to contemplate the existence of time.
We pull up to an inlet. It is tricky easing out of our shifting little blow-up kayak onto the slick mud and then dry alkaline soil beyond, but we navigate ourselves onto dry land and climb up. On the surface of the Quinn River valley, as it becomes the Black Rock Desert, we are surrounded by mountains circling the horizon. In Basin and Range (via the compilation Annals of the Former World), John McPhee writes about the geologic processes of the basin and range, how the separation of the crust here will eventually open another ocean and California will be an island. In this discussion, he writes “the basin-range fault blocks in a sense are floating on the mantle.” Looking east, the massive pyramidal edifice of King Lear Peak adorns the Jacksons—they an oceanic volcanic island arc added to the edge of North America during the Jurassic period—and overlooks a vast swath of northern Nevada. West, the massive rounded peaks of the Black Rock Range have always reminded me of a school of whales diving and leaping south toward the equator. So it’s easy to imagine them floating, their scale and mine different only in degrees that are tiny compared to the cosmos. Holding my hand to them, the peaks are no larger than my fingernail although having climbed on them I can also feel their heft, know their steep slopes, massive cliff faces, and meadows and springs.
We continue on. Time doesn’t seem to mean anything anymore, only measured in the slow, brown and gray current. We float through jungles of willows, brushing through them or occasionally just brushing their tips. At some point I put my paddle straight down into the water, to see how deep the channel is below us. It extends most of the way down before hitting the soft mud at the bottom, itself flowing along at simply a different rate. In The Secret Knowledge of Water, Craig Childs writes “the voices in water are real, for whatever they might mean,” and for a little while we just drift in complete silence, listening to its murmur.
The afternoon drifting by, the way that perfect afternoons should. We pull alongside a steep bank face and eat sandwiches and drink hot soup in the kayak. Then we beach again and climb out of the river channel. The plain horizon to the mountains is now broken by an old tilted metal windmill, knocked askew by the settling ground and the tremendous wind that gusts up this valley. But I want to imagine it knocked over by Don Quixote.
We had planned to portage home, folding and drying the inflatable kayak, packing it backpack style across the plain to the county road. But as slow as the current is, we decide instead to paddle back up the river itself. So turning north, from a complete idyll of following the path of least resistance, we are thrust into sustained motion. Paddling in sync becomes a rhythm, a pleasure to strain against the flow of the water and to glide over top it. Until the rhythm is broken by one of us (usually me) and we turn and reset and paddle again into the gathering afternoon. When in rhythm it is a pleasure to glide over the water and through that willow tops, to work ourselves out and to feel our progress through the use of our muscles rather than letting the slow, meandering water simply carry us along.
A day that has has felt suspended out of time is still nearly ending by the time that we beach again at the county road and start to unpack. After the exertion of the paddle back up the river it feels good to get out of the boat and stretch. We unpack and deflate the kayak. The brown gray water starts to catch a bit of the blue of the day end light and we walk back and look at the river and the greasewood plain. For a river that floats on a flat, it hides so much, disappearing modestly a hundred yards or so into its own depths just a hundred yards or so from the bridge. It hides itself not only in time, but from the casual glance of the usual passer by. The mountains are starting to catch a bit of glow.
From here we turn forward, into the night of people. There is a Basque dinner at the Denio Community Hall. At it we will eat, and laugh, and talk to this river’s neighbors, who are mostly laughingly unbelieving about how we have chosen to spend our day, but also respect it, for this valley, with all of its seeming vast emptiness, is their home.
By Renee Aldrich
This was one of those once in a lifetime, rare, you better jump on it now before it's gone opportunities!
I had seen social media posts about the Black Rock Lake that had formed over the usually dry or muddy Black Rock Playa, yep that big, flat, dusty, beautiful expanse of desert that is home to the annual Burning Man Festival. Rumors have it that the last time the playa had this much water was in 1984!
My good friend Laura (see below in the yellow kayak) had posted some photos of a nude beach sign that had been erected at the 12 mile entrance and about the potential of kayaking. Dan and I had just ordered an inflatable kayak in hopes to float the ephemeral Quinn River (post coming soon), but seeing Laura's post made us think we needed to add a Black Rock Lake floating mission for our forthcoming kayak!
On the Thursday before we hit the lake, we went to the Stand by Your Land presentation hosted by Friends of Nevada Wilderness and Patagonia. At the end of the presentations we were standing around with some friends finishing our beers and chatting. We got to talking about how we needed to get out and doing something together soon. We started to discuss ideas and of course the idea of floating the Black Rock Lake emerged. Everyone got very excited about it and we all had kayaks, ours was still a day away, but it would be here soon enough. So we were all in!
At first we, had a hard time settling on a date when we would all be in town and able to go. It was looking like it might not happen for a month or more and not knowing how long the water was going to last we didn't want to wait that long. All of a sudden we realized Sunday, this upcoming Sunday, would work for everyone. We wouldn't be able to camp because of conflicting schedules--I wouldn't be home until fairly late on Saturday--but a day kayaking on the rarely seen Black Rock Lake was in our very near future!
It was a fairly gray day, but beautiful nonetheless and not too cold. We had to wade out about a quarter of a mile, give or take, to get to water deep enough to kayak in, but once we were there the floating was amazing. We were able to go a good ways and could have gone much further had we the time. The water was about 1.5-2 feet deep! We even went swimming! At the end of the day, we had snacks and Laura even caught a fish!
It was such a fun, beautiful, magical day.
When mother Earth gives you a gift take the time time to revel in it!
At the bottom of this page is a link to the article the Reno Gazette Journal ran on the Black Rock Lake.
Here's the link to the story the Reno Gazette Journal ran:
This blog is dedicated to stories and ideas from our explorations. We hope you enjoy!
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