Ghost Town Explorer
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SAND MOUNTAIN NEVADA
May 2007

Back in March I reunited with my cousin Stephen and his family for a trip to Clear Creek California for a weekend of camping and recreation riding. My family was invited to join theirs at Sand Mountain the following May for some more camping, riding and catching up. For the past two months we could think of nothing else but the upcoming trip. I spent sometime researching the area we would be visiting, including nearby trails to historic sites. Sand Mountain is a gathering place for those who prefer to play on the sand dunes that it is so famous for. Favoring trail riding over sand dunes, I figured out a way to access these trails from the Sand Mountain area. So we anticipated an awesome weekend of campsite fellowship and long historic trail rides, so awesome I was able to talk my brother Marc in to joining us and bringing his family along for the fun.

We departed the bay area at 9:30pm on Thursday, almost 2 & ½ hours later than planned, which meant a long overnight drive. After grabbing some ice and fuel at the neighborhood Rotten Robbie's, we were off. KK almost immediately fell asleep, and did not wake up until we stopped near auburn to top off for fuel and feed. I'm not real fond of Denny's but there are not a lot of choices at 11:30 at night. As I checked the tie downs securing the quads to the trailer I noticed mine had shifted and jammed the loading ramp that was stored underneath. Making the necessary adjustments and the extremely slow service at the restaurant slowed us an additional hour and a half. It was now 1am and we still had to cross the Sierra's. The drive in to Reno was successful thanks to the recently upgraded DVD player and a Pink Panther cartoon. Our last stop was in Fallon, the last town before reaching Sand Mountain. Here we refueled to be on the safe side, and grabbed another bag of ice to top off the ice chests. We noticed a lot of toy haulers and RV's in town at the gas stations and parked in the Walmart parking lot where overnight resting is common. As for us, we pressed on and arrived at the entrance to the recreation area at 4am. One thing we noticed about this part of the desert is that dawn is more evident at this time than back home. The sky glowed a deep blue over the bare mountain tops and the air was crisp and fresh. We rattled over the mile long graded dirt road in to the camping area where we found the vehicles of our cousin counterparts. We pulled up besides their parked toy hauler, leaned our seats back and slowly drifted in to a much needed rest.

An hour and a half later we were greeted by my cousins and soon found ourselves following them closer to the sand dunes. Camp was established between the end of the graded road and the dunes in soft sand. Even at this time of morning the temperatures were quite warm, so unpacking was done in a paced fashion. We spent much of the first afternoon falling in and out of sleep under the shade awning trying to adjust to the hotter than expected temperature and extremely loud vehicles and quads racing through the dunes. It was so warm out that we pretty much remained in camp. My hope was that my brother would show up by midnight and agree to a cool night ride, but that thought faded away with my inability to remain awake and my brother's inability to show up on time. On a good note, I got to spend some time with my aunt and uncle who I have not seen in a long while. They purchased a Yamaha Rhino a year ago and decided on a weekend of relaxation and trail rides. Friday night the wind picked up immensely and sand was blown everywhere, all our equipment and cookware was covered. Saturday morning I awoke to my daughter hollering that my brother had arrived. After putting on some clothes and shoes, I walked out on to the sand to greet them. We aired down his tires for traction and he proceeded to situate his vehicle and set up his camp. I retreated to my own area where I continued to empty the sand out of all our gear, including cooking utensils. Although my brother had not slept in over 24 hours, we were all ready to ride by 11am. Uncle and Auntie had packed up their Rhino with an ice chest of water and snacks as well as extra fuel. I also packed an extra tank of fuel by attaching my flat pack. We were soon riding the dunes north towards the Dixie Valley 6 vehicles strong. Cousin Jaime and Stephen rode their Raptors, while my brother and I mounted our Grizzlys. Marc's girlfriend Alesia rode my fathers Wolverine and my aunt and uncle appeared comfortable in their Rhino. The further we roamed over the dunes, the softer and taller they became. This took a toll on the heavier machines, and they became stuck one by one. We had no choice but to turn back and adjust our route. After a quick stop back at camp to top up on h20, we proceeded south out of the recreation area and in to the Sand Springs Range. After crossing the highway we immediately explored a narrow canyon near the Sand Springs Pass which we eventually discovered to be washed out and impassable. Although we ultimately had to turn back, we definitely enjoyed the scenery and terrain that the narrow trail had to offer. We continued south to a mining area that appears to have been exploited more recently. Here we poked around in some of the tunnels before proceeding even further south. Several minutes later we crossed a dry wash and arrived at the Wrightman Well for a shade and water break.

Wrighman well is a small abandoned cattle camp that contains a large livestock corral where water flowed freely thanks to a windmill pump. There is a 30 foot aluminum trailer that appears to have been home to the caretaker at one time many years ago. It is now falling apart and full of bullet holes. After a several minutes of rest we continued on our southern route through another scenic narrow canyon. This canyon was littered with several small modern mines and diggings. Eventually we crossed the county line of Churchill in to Mineral County. As we exited the canyons southern end we found ourselves on a large plateau used for cattle grazing. Although there were no cows grazing today, we did come across some cattle carcasses and bones. Water appears scarce in this area, so it's possible that water did not make it out in time to save their lives. Or maybe they could not shake the coyotes. As we continued south towards Rawhide we came upon some stone remains about 30 yards off the trail. The former structure had two attached rooms and no more. There were no signs of tailings from digging or live stock corral materials, so we have not decided if the remains are those of a miner's hovel or a stage station. Traveling south an additional 4 miles placed us at the intersection of Camp Terrill cut-off. From here we had an awesome view of Regent Mountain. Regent was a 1900's mining camp that existed a couple short miles North of Rawhide. The mines that littered the mountain are responsible for stripping it of its vegetation. Today nothing remains of Regent other than its several mines and colored tailings that clutter the hill sides. As we rounded the bend we came upon the backside of a modern mining operation that had completely stripped the town of Rawhide. Absolutely nothing of the former town has survived this eager company's quest. Before turning back, we rode up to the front gate which was manned by a security guard. Maybe to satisfy our aspiration that there would be some sort of remains. As we turned back on the trail we decided to check out some of the smaller mines on the backside of Rawhides former self. Then we became separated near Regent Mountain which delayed our departure by 45 minutes. Fortunately we all found our way to the Terrill Cut-off intersection where we proceeded to refuel and prepare for a long journey back to camp. Our return trip was pretty much uneventful. After leaving the Cut-off, we next convened at the Wrightman Well where auntie passed out fig newtons and the last of the water. Marc and I washed the dirt out of our eyes. Yes, for the first time in my atv exploring life, I rode without a helmet and goggles. Big mistake. We finally arrived back at camp at 6pm, and logged in a 7 hour, 72 mile ride. Man was I glad to be back. First thing I did was wash the dust out of my hair and face.

After washing up I started dinner. Tonight it was hamburgers, hot dogs and hot links with French fries and corn on the cobb. We finished dinner quickly, before the others had even started cooking, thanks to gas camping grills. Now we could take down the shade awning and cover everything before the evening winds. Fortunately for us those winds never arrived. Because the winds did not come, the heat settled on the valley floor and we ended up sleeping with the van doors open until 4am. Sunday morning I cooked a nice Mexican style breakfast. After eating I pondered if I really had the energy to do another full day's ride in to the Dixie Valley. And if I did, would I have still have enough in reserves to do the packing the following morning. The afternoon temperatures since our arrival were holding steadily near 100 degrees, and it was really kicking my butt. Before I could answer my own question, I looked across the table at my wife who was really struggling. And to make matters even worse, Makala was coming down with a bad cold. So the choice was made. It was time to pack up and head back to California. As I fell asleep late that night in the comfort of my own bed, it finally hit me. I left before completing my planned explorations of the Dixie Valley. I may never get back to that part of the desert. What have I done?

 

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