For the most part we had a great 2017. Lots of Kayaking, hiking, riding, friends, family and more! We hope you had a great year and enjoy this video of our year. It's roughly 11 minutes long and even though it's mostly silent, the videos have some noise or us talking in it.
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
We love to have a good time here at RaD Explorations and so when it came time to think about what we were going to do for Renee's birthday, there were ideas all around. After a bit of wrangling, we settled on Highland Lakes just across Ebbitts Pass. I was just introduced to these lakes last summer by our good friend Martin, and Renee and I went and camped there late last summer, so I was a little hesitant. "We were just there," I whined, but it fits the bill perfectly for what we want in a birthday weekend: beautiful locale, a chance to just put up our feet and relax a bit, but with lots of opportunities for adventures. In addition to it being Renee's birthday weekend, it was also going to be the eclipse, so I took Monday off from work and we figured, well, we weren't going to be in a prime location (for seeing it, in all other respects a very prime location), but at least we would see it partly and would experience it in the outdoors.
After work on Friday we came back and packed up. And didn't pack light, we brought the kayak, we brought the pool tube, and everything else in between. It has been a bit of an odd summer in a bunch of ways, but one of them has been that while we've been out exploring and playing a lot, we haven't camped that much, not even car camped. So it took us a while to pack and we barely even made out of Reno until dusk was starting to gather. Then south toward Markleeville. There is a Forest Service campground at the lake, which is ideal for birthday party, so we loaded up at Trader Joe's and then packed up some firewood and so by the time we crossed Ebbitts Pass and started up the narrow paved, then dirt, road to the lake it was ten at least. The campground was definitely not empty, but even at that late hour, on a Friday night we were able to find a very nice spot. No fire by then, and having driven the whole way, Renee went straight to bed, but Larry and I stayed up a while to enjoy the Milky Way light show on an incredibly crisp and clear night. One of those nights when every single star shines out bright. We walked down along the upper lake. As we walked in the dark, I noticed what seemed to wide bands of light shining across the mountain above us and all the way down to the lake shore. I puzzled for a bit, and then realized that they were snow drifts. All the way down to the lake! We walked to the bank where I stood and gazed up at the Milky Way and just soaked in the moment. Larry, not so much, I'm still not sure what happened, but I must have shifted and stepped on his toe because suddenly I was yanked from my reverie by Larry sqealing and jumping. Somehow I had the idea that a bear or rattlesnake was attacking and I yelled at the top of my lungs to frighten away whatever it was. Then I switched on my headlamp to find a shaken, but otherwise unharmed Larry, and to realize that most likely I'd been the bear. I also thought for sure I'd woken up the entire campground with my shouting, so we hightailed it back to the tent.
The rest of the night was without event and I awoke pretty early and emerged for my business. Returning, I noticed that the meadow across the way from our campsite was ablaze in blooms of all kinds, red, yellow, white, and blue, just shining. I went and walked in it and then when Renee came out she joined me and we wandered in the little meadow bedazzled by the show. It turned out that Highland Lakes, on this weekend in later August, was just in perfect bloom and the whole time we were awash in colorful flowers that had apparently just been waiting for Renee's birthday to put on their show! Our late night campspot was very nice, but on a trip to the bathroom we saw that the very front site, which just opens up straight onto the lake, had opened up, so we moved our camp over to a new spot and set up.
Then we lazed. Since it was Renee's birthday weekend, I had volunteered to do most all of the cooking, which is pretty unusual for our camping explorations, in general we pretty much share. Since we were car camping, we hadn't held back either and we feasted on eggs, bacon, tortillas, salsa, and all the fixings. The morning was just beautiful and we dawdled and dawdled, eventually wandering around the lake. It was only maybe 10 or 11 in the morning, but by the time that we ventured out packed up to walk, thunderheads were already building heavily in the mountains. On the far side of the lake from the campground the wildflower show that had already bedazzled us just supernova'd into one of the most spectacular wildflower displays I've ever seen. One of the finer shows on earth. The snowdrifts that I had seen the night before also had their attraction, specifically some skiers were climbing high up the shoulder of the mountain to the top of the high drift, maybe a thousand feet above us, and doing turns. Which delighted the skiers' friends down below and added to the whole sense of it being a party.
The thunderheads that had been building all day didn't want to be left out either, and they started to rumble even before we had started our circuit of the lake. By the time we made it all the way across from our campsite, they were rumbling closer and the wind was picking up. On the far end of the lake there is a trailhead entrance to the Carson-Iceburg Wilderness and we walked out a bit to watch the clouds building, at least until a crack of lightning and immediate thunder just down the canyon from us sent us packing back toward camp. We timed it pretty well, because pretty much as soon as we got back to camp, now about 2 in the afternoon, it started to pour on us. And then it rained. Rained and rained.
Four hours of cloudburst in the Sierras. Our tent stayed dry and out of gathering puddles (with a little bit of flood control engineering), but we retreated into the Subaru for a good bit of time and busted out some of the wine that we had brought for the birthday celebration. It sounds like we got rained out, but in reality it was just what the doctor ordered. A sort of completely enforced opportunity to just stop. Something neither of us do that well, but that is important and that we welcomed on this late summer afternoon. We talked about this and that, we read, we petted Larry (who was quite happy to take up residence in the car), we read, we talked, we sipped wine.
All things come to an end and at about 6 the rain did finally move past and we emerged into the well-washed world outside. It was funny to see all of the other campers starting to emerge as well, smiling and greeting each other, but reminding me of moles or some other subterranean creature venturing from our dens into the outside world. Renee and I then walked down along the bigger, lower lake, where there were some handstand shenanigans and other playtime essentials, then back to camp to start a fire and make dinner. The night descended while we ate and talked and stoked our fire. We cooked hamburgers and sausages over it and then s'mores and then it was bedtime.
The next day morning was glorious again, and we decided that at least the beginning of the day was dedicated to boating. Then in the afternoon, thunderstorms permitting, maybe climbing one of the peaks ringing the lake. So we unpacked the Sea Eagle and our floating tube and started putting them together when Renee had a glorious idea—across the lake from us there was a big snowdrift going all the way down to the lake, and we had a tube, why not go sledding?!? Skiers had been skiing the day before. Sure our tube wasn't made for it, but it might work. So we pumped up and embarked into the water with the tube tied along behind. The water was still and empty in the morning with only a couple of anglers along the bank and we pedaled into the lake in high spirits. Our first stop, on this sunny morning, was in the wildflower extravaganza across the way. We pulled up on a small beach with access to the snowfield, flowers, water, sun, fresh air, and great company! It was a new experience being with the flower fields in the bright morning sunlight compared to the day before' approaching thunderstorm cast across the sky. Then I was bound and determined that I was going to swim and wasn't sure if I'd be cold in the aftermath of our snow excursion, so I jumped in. Given that there was a snowdrift down to the lake a few yards away, it was a cold one, but I made it. Then the sledding, with deep laughter, the kind that only comes with a true fun exploration, we sledded down the snowdrift and into the water again and again, each time picking up speed. And at the end of the run the big splash into the water. We decided that the tube needed more air so we pumped it, then we really started to pick up speed and made some big waves in the lake, but the poor little pool tube wasn't quite made for this introduction into the real world and after a few more runs it popped and sledding was over. We were rosy and laughing and can now say we've sledded in the high sierra in August! Afterward, it warming up, Renee went for a swim and then we started paddling around the lake again. Check out the video we posted at our Fun Photo Friday post last week with some of our sledding fun!
The wind started picking up as we rounded the far end of the lake and the tiny whisper cloud that Renee had earlier said, "there's the beginning of it," had indeed blossomed into a cell and so as we disembarked and returned to camp, we had a decision to make. We were determined to stay outside for the next morning's eclipse, but Renee had to be back to Reno by 3 pm and we while the day before's rain delay had been great, we weren't sure we wanted to do two of them in a row, so we decided reluctantly to pack up and descend. The plan was to find a place down lower, closer to home, and with less chance of heavy rainfall. The thunderheads did chase us off Ebbitts Pass, and were dark behind us as we neared Markleeville.
A cool afternoon in the hot summer called for a soak, however, so we decided to make a quick stop off at Grover Hot Springs. The attendant warned us that the pool would close if the lightning got too close, but we really only wanted a quick soak anyway and so we risked it. It was so cool that we did because within about five minutes of getting in the pool a cloudburst started. I've been in the springs when it was snowing, but it was a different and utterly cool experience to be in it with giant drops of summer cloudburst pelting us. The pool is always pretty crowded and in good spirits until, of course, there was a giant crack and a split of lightning straight down to the mountainside across from us that emptied the pool with an bang even before the attendants came and yelled, "pool's closed!"
We made a dry and fireless (now being down with the dry cheat grass again) camp at Indian Creek Reservoir, which I re dubbed Catches the Valley Light Reservoir because it does overlook the light of the Carson Valley below. This is a great little camping place just east of Woodford's Junction and we enjoyed the afternoon light and watching the thunderstorms go by high in the Sierra to the west.
The next morning was all about the eclipse. We were far from the totality, and didn't have much in the way of eclipse viewing gear, but it just feels really special to be awash in that kind of light. Renee did make us a few makeshift viewers, but we found the best place to experience it was just in the shade of a tiny little baby aspen along the lake shore, using one of our camp chairs as a makeshift screen to catch the eclipse's reflections. There were only a couple of fishermen down at the lakeshore and for a little while during the eclipse it felt strangely like we were the only people in the world, and that the shift in the light had changed everything. A reminder of how tiny we are, and how little the scratchings we make on this world compare to the grandness of the cosmos.
Then home, tired and full of a great weekend.
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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