RETURN TO THE ELBOW
Border Exploration Trip September 2008
The Elbow is a secret paradise in Nevada where a bend in the East Walker River simulates that of a human elbow. It is also the location of an 1800’s stage stop on the Wellington to Aurora & Bodie stage line. This is our fourth trip to the area, and our third setting up camp at the Elbow. Loaded with history and beauty, the advantage of a base camp at the Elbow is the amount of locations you are able to reach in a day’s ride.
Jerry arrived soon after, making his journey from southern California. He chose a spot closer to the river, set on relaxing near the sounds of the babbling water. Before long Cousin Esteban and family from Antioch arrived. They set up camp in a meadow of grass about forty yards to the north. That evening as the sun dropped below the ridge of the mountains, and the sky glowed a brilliant orange, we sat among our friends enjoying that peace that the desert offers. The first night was long as usual; waking to every sound and moving shadow cast by the glow of the hanging lantern shifting in the breeze. By 5am the temperature dropped near freezing, and although the interior of the van remained comfortable, climbing out at first light to start breakfast was not. So another hour slipped by before I could muster the courage to slip out. Before long the sun had made its way over the ridgeline and the much anticipated warmth accompanied it. Birds began chirping and the babbling of the rivers water in the distance could now be heard absent our chattering teeth.
The task of preparing the machines followed breakfast. Loading them with the proper supplies, setting up gps antennas and spare fuel packs… seemed like an endless event. As usual we were the last to finish preparing, but the time soon came and we rode out of camp six machines strong, spaced out over the dusty desert roads that once directed travelers during the 1800’s. We converged and took head count at the site of China Camp, a raw camp occupied by the Chinese persuasion who gathered wood in to the early 1900’s and delivered it to the nearby town of Aurora where it was used as firewood or coal to warm homes and fuel the mill furnaces. We took a small break to dust off and grab a drink. Being here several times in the past, I pointed out the presence of Chinese opium cans that litter the ground for the others to see. Once back on the machines we proceeded up Aurora Canyon Road. Portions of the old toll road were washed out from previous winters, but for the most part the road was easily passable. Full of cinnabar and shale rocks, but passable. As we proceeded on to the winding trails above Bodie we found our way to the Paramount Mine. The side trail down to the mine site led us past a large group of aspen trees which appeared quite popular among horse back riders. The Paramount Mine, which is mentioned on early 1900’s area maps, has since caved in. Inspection of the site indicates a self sufficient and organized operation that included a mill and processing plant and plenty of debris scattered about to inspect.
We began experiencing some power issues with one of the Rhino’s in our group a little earlier in the day. As we began our climb out of the canyon which hides the Paramount, it became evident that we could no longer ignore her symptoms. Strapped to another Rhino, we towed it to the shaded area of the Aspen trees and attempted to diagnose her coughing and sputtering. It didn’t take long to find that the air filter was clogged with grime and gunk. Unfortunately the machine had aftermarket seats and modified seat brackets that stopped us from accessing the air filter box. So after lunch we decided to break in to two groups. One to escort the limping Rhino back to camp, the second consisting of Vic and Jerry, decided to continue on and explore the Bodie Hills.
The ride back was awesome. The first eight or so miles were at higher speeds until we reached the old mining town of Masonic. That’s where we became separated from the other two riders. We took time to stretch and show Sophia and Makala the town’s ruins. The trail beyond Masonic was narrow and slow but very scenic. Snaking through the tree covered Masonic Hills on my Grizzly tailed by my wife and the kids on the Teryx provided a feeling of solitude. Nothing else existed while we were on that trail. Just the two machines slowly working their way through the beauty that surrounded us. An hour and a half after Masonic we arrived back at camp with just enough light to play in the river and wash off that trail dust. Vic and Jerry arrived back before the sun set and we gathered around a table outside of Gino’s toy hauler and ate Ginger’s home made chili and sweets while speaking of previous trips and those to come.
Thinking my father and two brothers would be arriving this evening, Esteban and I stayed up later than everyone else. We rode out to the trails intersection checking the direction markers that I had laid out previously. We waited up until 11pm before the cold breeze of the desert was no longer bearable. That night I slept lightly, waking at every sound that I confused with a vehicle engine arriving. In the morning I looked out the window and saw no sign of my father’s truck.
Saturday’s ride took us past the Nine Mile Ranch to the Fletcher Stage Station. The next stage stop on the old Wellington to Aurora & Bodie stage line. There the girls played in the water from the natural spring before we again broke in to two groups. Driving our Teryx, we teamed up with Gino and Ginger in their Rhino and headed through Bodie Canyon road towards the 1800’s mining camp of Bodie. The others decided to stay behind and explore around Aurora. The ride to Bodie took a scenic hour and a half. Most of which was traveling slowly through a narrow deep canyon along the Bodie Creek. In Bodie we parked our machines in the parking lot and turned the girls loose to explore the town. Sitting in the shade made by our rides, we sat on our coolers and ate lunch. On the ride back to Fletcher Station I decided to ride through a large twenty foot long puddle in the trail that had run off from a nearby spring. To my surprise the puddle was actually two and a half feet deep. Something I was definitely not prepared for. As the machine pushed in to the water the rear sunk deeper as the tires spun to gain traction. The girls screamed as the front of the machine lifted towards the sky and rear seat came closer to the water. The exhaust bubbled like a boat idling in a lake. Then the tires regained traction and the engine roared as we pulled out the other end… Legs wet and shoes soaked we all laughed and continued down the trail.
Outside of the canyon, we made a brief stop at the site of 5 Mile House, a traveler’s stop dating back to the early 1900’s near the mouth of the canyon. All that remained was an old stove leaning against a tree where a residence once stood. Back at Fletcher station we called out to the other group by radio for several minutes without a response. Not knowing their exact location we decided against searching for them and headed for the Borealis Mine near the Lucky Boy Pass. With my wife Tresa at the wheel we traveled for several miles on the old Sweetwater Road when we came upon a dark object centered near the middle of the washboard road. My wife took her foot off the accelerator as we neared, that is until I screamed because the object sprung towards me. Fortunately the fangs of the snake did not make contact with my ankle, I being the only one exposed and seated low enough on that side of the machine for a snake to reach. The Borealis mine was a bust. Although noted on maps dating back as far as 1904, the mines were no longer accessible. An active mining operation has fenced off the area and appears to be working the soil that once comprised the old site.
We arrived back at camp early enough to prepare a steak dinner which we happily ate before the second group arrived back in camp. The girls ran down to the river to play while Tresa and I cleaned up. That night everyone seamed to retire early, tired from the long days ride. I slept well through the night. Much better than the first two anyways. Probably because I was exhausted at this point in our little trip. At 7am I crawled out of the van and started the camp stove for Tresa, who made us all pancakes and sausage. Immediately following breakfast we slowly started tearing down camp and packing. By noon time all of us were hooked up and pulling out. The ride back was much faster. Less stops thanks to the dvd player. The girls were on their third movie when we pulled in to San Jose and dropped off Sophia.
All said and done, it was a successful trip. We got to sport our new roll cage and rear seat on the Teryx and drag our new trailer over the Sierra’s. Makala got to bring a friend for the first time. As for exploring? There are probably only a couple of additional locations I would like to try and locate in the area. There is much more to see to the North and South but requires an alternate base camp. The Elbow may finally be loosing its allure, but will always be one of my favorite places to play.
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