MINA NEVADA TRIP
Since we returned from our Virginia City Nevada trip in April we had all discussed a trip to Mina. I had visited Mina a couple years prior with the Intrepid Explorers group and have been itching to get back in to that area ever since. Because of Mina’s location in Central Nevada, it is hard to access from the California bay area if the Tioga Pass in upper Yosemite is closed for the winter. Summers in Mina can be very hot. So the best time to visit is spring and fall after the pass is open and before it closes for the winter. Not wanting to cancel our trip or force changes upon everyone’s schedules, we watched the weather and Cal-Trans web site closely for the reopening date of the pass. Releasing all hope that it would be open in time for our Memorial Weekend trip, we planned on driving the long way around through Reno and Fallon before dropping down Hwy-95 in to town. Fortunately for the rest of those coming from California, the pass did open just in time for their departure, but we decided to continue with our route to compare timing and view an area of Nevada I had not yet seen; the area between Fallon and Hawthorne to be specific.
Thursday came quickly. The plan was to leave work early, or at least as close to 4pm as possible. Unfortunately plans never seem to develop exactly as anticipated. Maybe that’s why we call them plans? An associate of mine caused me some delay and I did not get home until 7:30pm at which time I had to finish some packing duties while Makala was away at swim practice. Loading the machines on to the trailer, I noticed that my Grizzly was leaking fuel from the carburetor. I had just had the carburetor and fuel system serviced! No time to look it over now. I proceed to load thinking I could take a look at it when we arrived. We drove out our driveway at 11:30pm with a quarter tank of gas and no sleep. A stop in Livermore provided fuel to our High Desert Tow Van and all four 5 gallon fuel jugs. Travel through the central valley was boring and uneventful through Sacramento up Hwy-80. Not far past the Colfax exit there was a lot of road construction that seemed continuous as far as Truckee. Slow moving through the construction we trudged onward. In Nevada we fueled up again in Verde to avoid the high prices of the little town fuel and feed stations.
Give me Mina, or give me death
We arrived in Mina at 9:30am, checking in at the Sunrise Valley RV Park and Campground where we had earlier made reservations. Notifying them in advance, the camp hosts were able to place us in adjacent camp sites. We had been unpacking for about an hour when Vic pulled in and set up his toy hauler in the next space. All the others would be joining us either Friday or Saturday, so we agreed to finish setting up our camps so we could take a short rest before racking out on a small ride in to Douglas and Rebel Canyons.
Short But Sweet!
At 2:00pm, without much rest we headed through the center of town on Douglas Road and out in to the open desert. I love Mina! The entire town is off road friendly. Passing by our intended trail in to Douglas Canyon, we erroneously continued on to Garfield Flats thinking we would drop down in to the canyon from the opposite end. As we took the cut off trail towards the canyon and the ruins left there by early prospectors we soon discovered that our RS 2477 rights would be violated. A new property owner or mining claim owner has chained off the trail and put up his No Trespassing signs. Don’t get me wrong. Being a person who is frequently hired to protect persons and property, I can certainly respect the private property of others; However, RS 2477 clearly states that a land owner or mining claim party can neither deny access or limit access to trails or roads that were intended for traffic prior to their arrival. All one needs to do to achieve a valid case for RS 2477 passage is prove that the trail or road exists, which is not hard considering the access we have these days to satellite imagery and historic maps. Well, to avoid an 1800’s style gun battle, and for the safety of my family, we turned back and decided to follow up with the Bureau of Land Management at a later date. Our detour took us to the remains of the Maryann Mine. The mine ruins consisted of some left over rail road lumber, an ore shoot and a fully intact mine. There were iron doors at the mine opening but they were unsecure. No air or danger warnings posted outside, but we came unprepared. So after poking around some we headed over the hillside in to Rebel Canyon. Rebel Canyon is full of prospector diggings and what appears to be unorganized or early era mining efforts. Although the canyon is a dead end, it is very much worth exploring. Exhausted from the nine hour drive, we headed back to camp and turned in after a short three hour exploration. The ride back through the canyon was awesome, much like most of the other canyons in the area, the walls were high and the trail was actually a wash cut through the mountains making the scenery very picturesque and colorful.
The following day we slept in and had a nice breakfast. The plan was to revisit the Douglas Camp area until it was completely explored out. Diane arrived with her old timing puppy about 9am, introduced her to G-Girl our middle aged puppy then quickly set up camp. By 11am I, Tresa and Makala had climbed in to our Teryx, Diane and her dog in to her Rhino and Vic on his Artic Cat. We cruised out of the campground and headed on in to Douglas and Rebel Canyon, this time from the correct direction. The most prominent structure remaining in the lower portion of Douglas Camp area was the remains of the Triumph Mine at the end of the canyon. But there were plenty of other mines scattered about the area. Most being vertical shafts near the canyons center. By 3pm Tresa had seen enough and wanted to be taken back to camp. The heat had become an annoyance. Not intolerable, but somewhat of a discomfort, especially for someone born and raised in Michigan. So we headed back solo while Vic and Diane continued to scour through the area. Back at camp we ate lunch and waited for a radio call from Vic who agreed to contact me when they were finished so I could join them on a journey to the Silver Dyke Mine. I never received that call so Makala and I boarded the Teryx once more and headed for Rebel Canyon to locate a safe place to target shoot her .22 rifle. After several safety speeches and demonstrations she fired her first shot and loved it. I spent the next hour instructing and teaching. While we took turns firing that little rifle. Then the rain came along with the Thunder. So we packed up and headed back to camp. When we had arrived, we found Vic and Diane were already in camp, appearing only minutes prior.
Late and Forgetful
At about 8pm that evening after dinner, Frank Sr. and his wife arrived and set up camp next to us hopeful his machine would arrive on Marc’s trailer sometime later that evening. It was about 3am when Marc pulled in to camp, his trailer loaded with 3 quads. Accompanying him were my youngest brother Michael, his son Michael jr. Marc’s new wife and Marc’s youngest son. Ok, here is some fun. Between the three families that showed up after Diane on Friday night, one forgot their propane, another forgot their tent poles, and the third forgot pots and pans to cook on! Watching them improvise over the weekend made for some comedy in itself. The following morning after breakfast and a few laughs at the expense of the forgetfulls, we saddled up for a 75 mile round trip that would take us around the Excelsior Mountains. The first stop on our agenda was The Silver Dyke Mine, a turn of the century site deep in a canyon wash that sees very few visitors. We headed out of camp about 11am leaving behind the new arrivals who were too tired. We wiggled our way down a telephone service trail until we reached the foot of the Excelsior Mountains. Using gps tracks provided by a couple explorers from the Intrepid Explorers Group recorded earlier in the year, Vic led us in to the mountains. After winding our way around the first set of hills, we soon found ourselves entering the deep and narrow Silver Dyke Canyon. The trail in to the canyon travels up the wash that created it, so the terrain was forgiving consisting mostly of gravel and small rock. That terrain worsens as you travel deeper in to the canyon and eventually requires a bit of rock crawling experience to negotiate the trail. Rocks from the steep cliff have slid down the ledges over the years coming to rest on the already volatile trail. Two areas of the trail were dangerous enough that passengers riding in the UTV’s chose to walk. Even the dogs jumped out deciding they would rely on their 4 paw traction systems rather than the unsteady steering of their masters. Slowly and carefully we bounced over the sharp loose rocks trying to protect our vulnerable side walls and suspensions. To the surprise of our K9 companions, we all arrived at the Silver Dyke Mine safe and without damage or injury.
Shortly after our arrival a series of thunder storms rolled over us bringing lots of wind and rain. I believe our trail angels were watching over us that afternoon. Had the storm arrived any earlier it would have caught us crossing the rocks exposing us to the rain and lightning strikes. Instead we were able to huddle in one of the crumbling cabins below the mine site. There we sat, cold and shivering on that old wood floor in the middle of the Nevada desert for an hour as the storms crossed over us. Then, just as it arrived; It was gone.. One at a time we crawled out of the old rickety shack like moles on a cold spring morning. Grabbing our cameras, we all scattered throughout the canyon to explore what was once before.
The ride out of the deep forgotten canyon was quicker than our entrance. We gathered at the foot of the canyon and looked over our route to our next stop across the plateau and in to the next set of canyons. That route would later prove to be the roughest of the day. We crossed several washes where the trail had disappeared and upon rocky mountain ledges before we approached Moho Mountain standing high at almost 9,000 feet. Leading the group, we were the first to come across two wild horses which ran up the canyon alongside us. Eventually the horses stopped at an opening and watched as we passed them by. The Moho Mine was one of the most awesome mines I had ever navigated to. A complete intact mine operation that still maintains its narrow ore cart tracks and forgery room. The site has an awesome view of Teels Marsh, and the ghost town of Marietta below. The mine itself was stable and safe. Some of us walked several hundred feet inside before turning back. We didn’t hang out too long, instead racing for the warmth of the desert floor. Along the way we made a quick stop at the former town site of Moho for Vic and Diane to capture some photos. Being here only two years prior, everything appeared the same to me.
A Furry Old Timer
Being able to see the ghost town of Marietta from Moho Mountain made it easy to find our next destination. We quickly headed down the hill following the trail to the once bustling main street that housed several saloons, hotels and businesses. As we arrived at the crumbling ruins of Borax Smiths General Store, me and Makala dismounted for a drink and happened to look back down main street to see Vic and Diane communicating with a wild burro. For several minutes they sat on their machines trying to coax the furry old timer to take a tasty snack from their hands.. But stubborn as his old age, the burro wouldn’t bite! So he wondered off in to the brush the same way he appeared. Frank Sr. explored one of the cemeteries while Diane and Vic explored ruins of a fallen structure across the main street. Unfortunately we were running out of time. Originally we intended to explore the Black Hawk Mine and the Endowment Mine nestled in a canyon deep in the Excelsior Mountains. We also wanted to explore Bass Camp which we added to our list of “must see sights” at the last minute. But darkness would soon arrive and we were 40 miles from our camp and civilization. So we mapped out a return route through an unnamed wash that cuts through the western end of the Excelsior’s and dumps out near nearer to Whiskey Flat. The wash trail was most beautiful, tall narrow sand stone cliffs with trees and soft forgiving terrain. I really enjoyed the trail, but Frank Sr. appeared to be getting tired and grumpy from the long day. We all crossed a couple of sketchy sections that required a bit of attention before exiting the canyon at the edge of the Inyo National Forest. Riding down hill we eventually turned up at Rattle Snake Well where we cut across a small shelf and then dropped in to Rattle Snake Canyon which lead us back to the more familiar territory of Garfield Flats. By this time light had run out and we were now faced with traveling the last 20 or so miles in the dark. We gathered one last time at the edge of the flats to check on each others condition; fueled up Frank Sr. to discover a charging system issue with his quad. Apparently the negative battery cable nut had vibrated loose and went missing. So I stuck a plug of chewing gum in its place and we were back on the trail. Fortunately the gum stayed moist enough to get him safely back to camp, but the brisk air wore on us those last few miles. Then the lights of the town were upon us in the distance and we were soon in the comfort of our campsites planning dinner and showers. The forgettables had all but abandoned the campsites for the comforts of Hawthorne Nevada. Two hours later they returned after a tastey meal at some restaurant.
The following morning we had a nice breakfast before planning a two series adventure in to the Pilot Mountains. Our first stop was to be the Belleville Mine, a WWII era operation sitting high in the hills. The short timers could return to camp and the die hards would be able to continue on to the sites east of the Pilot Mountains. It took approx. 40 minutes to reach the Belleville Mine due to a poor approach to the canyon. We had miss judged the road in and chose a rocky side trail to the correct road when we could have delayed our approach by another 10 minutes to find the correct road. So after a rough and bouncy ride we finally entered Telephone Canyon and began our climb in to the hills. Near the end of the canyon we took the side trail that cut up the right or south side of the mountain side. The trail was steep and full of loose rock making it a slow but a reward able climb. When we reached the top, there situated in front of us were the remains of a very large and in tact mill operation. Full of mill equipment and rusted machinery she stands on the mountain side overlooking the town of Rhodes Nevada, quiet since the days of war, only our photos to tell her story. Vic and Diane explored the entire site on foot including the backside where two additional structures remained. After about an hour of exploring I led the rest of the group back to camp where we scarfed down a sandwich with the intention of meeting back up with Vic and Diane who opted to continue exploring. Concluding our last gulp, My brother Michael and I reloaded ourselves on to the Teryx followed by Marc’s youngest son who stowed away in the back. We tore off in to the desert at full speed, climbing telephone Canyon leaving only dust to indicate our presence on the unforgiving trail. Higher and higher we climbed until we reached Pilot Peak. Wow, what a view. Expecting to get a temp sensor warning, we settled at the top to rest and let the vehicle cool. But this lasted only long enough to relieve ourselves. We slowly made our way down the opposite side of Pilot Mountain, inching our way down the narrow switchbacks, careful not to slide off the narrow trail and down the steep canyon below. Butt Puckering on more than one occasion we finally made the trek to the bottom where Michael let out a deep sigh of relief, turned towards me smiling and said “that is the freak in scariest trail I have ever been on”. Well, it wasn’t mine, but I did squeeze a pickle my first time on it too.
Not long after landing in Dunlap Canyon we caught up with Vic and Diane at the Mina Mercury Mine. Then as a group of three we headed out of the canyon and around to the east side of the mountains. Following the remains of a dried wash, the terrain turned to loose gravel enabling us to travel at much higher speeds. I took up the rear, but the ride started to feel loose, as if it was becoming harder to keep the machine traveling straight. We continued on like this for about a mile. I continued to maneuver the Teryx in an attempt to test the front suspension. Then we slowed to turn north up another canyon and a dirt trail. I yelled out to Michael to check my front tire on the passenger side, he then glanced back to check the rear. Sure enough the rear passenger side tire was dead flat. We had been riding on the rim for the last mile. We were able to signal Diane by sending out a call tone over the radio. Fortunately she heard it over her roaring engine as she climbed in to the canyon. Minutes later both Vic and Diane had returned to our disabled vehicle. I had already made the Diagnosis; ¼ inch tear in the side wall. In those few minutes that it took for Vic and Diane to back track, Michael and I had already played the same scenarios over and over in our heads. Being 6pm, we were going to have to wait at least 3 hours in the dark 20 miles from camp in the middle of the desert as Vic and Diane went to retrieve a rear tire from my Grizzly. We had a flashlight, my daughter Makala’s .22 rifle, and no warm clothing… But it didn’t turn out that way. Using a new trail repair kit we actually plugged two different areas of that tire well enough to make it directly back to camp. By exiting through Cinnabar Canyon, a very scenic and beautiful canyon, we were able to make it back to the camp in little over an hour. Once on the trailer I inspected the rear tires and found a total of three holes. While we were out Tresa had spent some time packing to make it easier for tomorrow mornings escape. Leaving by 10am Monday morning we were able to beat the majority of the traffic back in to the central valley and the bay area. Although the campground does not compare with the allure of the Elbow, the riding and exploring possibilities far surpass it making this my new all time favorite place to explore. I’m going to miss the desert that surrounds Mina. Hopefully I can return real soon; there is so much more to be seen.
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