Tuesday, August 30th 2011Nevada

My first night in Ely was quiet and uneventful. And I do mean quiet. In fact, I don't think I have ever been in a quieter hotel. No slamming of car or hotel room doors, no blaring of TVs, no truck back-up alarms, no trains, no standing outside and talking late at night. On top of this the hotel has some kind if central, forced air cooling system. I assume it is probably from some type of big swamp cooler.
So, there is no noisy on and off of a wall or window AC unit. And, the fridge even seems noiseless. The only sound I hear in the room is the movement of the air out of the vent. Nice. This made for a good nights sleep. A rare occasion anytime, but especially when travelling.

My original plans for seeing this area were to stop at what used to be called Lehman Caves National Monument. Betsy and I had visited Lehman Caves on June 1st 1982 on our 7 week cross country Honeymoon trip.
Betsy notes in her journal:

We got an early start from Oak Creek Campground & arrived at Lehman Caves, Nevada just in time to catch the 9:00 a.m. tour-in fact we were the only people on the tour. The cave was beautiful-very highly decorated with some shield formations that Mike had not seen before. There were many barnswallows outside the building, nesting in grooves & rafters.

I can still recall our tour guide. He was a young fella - even to us. When we told him we were on our way to San Francisco he got excited and told us he was from Sacramento. He said he knew a great place we could have lunch there. From the way he talked I could tell he was homesick. We stopped at the place he mentioned although the name of the place and what we had to eat has long since been forgotten.

There are over 300 of the "shield formations" Betsy mentions above in Lehman Cave. Below is a photo of the famous Parachute Shield formation from http://www.skianything.com.

Parachute Shielf Formation at Lehman Cave

In the mid-80s Lehman Caves National Monument was incorporated into what is now Great Basin National Park.

OK, enough about the Honeymoon - back to the current ERT. Due to poor planning I arrived at the turn off for Great Basin NP and Lehman Cave to late in the day to stop. So, I pushed on to Ely and planned to backtrack the next day. However, the idea of driving 56 miles back the direction I just come seemed less and less appealing the more I though about. Thus, I decided to "stay local" and check out Cave Lake State Park which was only 15 miles east of Ely.

Click on the photos below for a larger image.

Ely and Cave Lake State Park Terrain map

The oval ring in the graphic above is the rough location of the 4 mile hike I took.

Cave Lake is open year round and is located 15 miles southeast of Ely via U.S. 50/6/93 and Success Summit Road. The 32-acre reservoir at Cave Lake State Park is popular for trout fishing, crawdadding, boating, hiking, picnicking and camping. Perched in the middle of the Schell Creek Range, adjacent to the Humboldt National Forest at an elevation of 7,300 feet, the park offers outstanding scenic views and opportunities for nature study and photography.
Facilities include campgrounds, picnic areas, hiking trails and a boat launch. Winter sports such as ice fishing, cross-country skiing and ice skating are also available. Snow sculpting is becoming a popular activity, and the White Pine Fire & Ice Show is the premier winter event in the area.

Source: Nevada.gov

A trail map and trail descriptions are available at the web site. The trail map is one of the worst I have ever seen and the trail descriptions are not much better.

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The official entrance to Cave Lake State Park. Steptoe Creek which flows down the canyon and through the park is to the right of me.

I decided to take a look at some of the canyon so I went past the entrance to the lake and trail heads and drove on.

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Looking up the canyon of Steptoe Creek. Very typical, and beautiful Nevada scenery in this area. This is past the park boundary and all you see here is private property.
In fact, all the canyon I checked out was peppered with signs like the two below.

Someone spent some time modifying that lower sign. All the signs I saw were vandalized in some way or another.

Local land developer Gary Sprouse of Blue Diamond has carved up the canyon into make shift camping areas. He also had other plans:

USFS nixes Sprouse's ski resort... for now
Humboldt-Toiyabe Forest Supervisor Edward Monnig of Sparks nixed the land swap. Instead of agreeing to a land exchange, Monnig suggested that Sprouse sell the land to the Forest Service. He wrote in a letter to Sprouse dated May 28, 2008 that he believed the land Sprouse sought for the ski resort should be retained by the USFS. Monnig also suggested Sprouse develop and operate a ski resort on USFS land with a special use permit. Sprouse said that option would not be profitable.

An attempt to develop a ski resort on Ward Mountain also failed due to a rejected land exchange with the Forest Service about a decade ago. In recent years, Sprouse revisited the idea of a ski resort on Success Loop. He said Pat Irwin, district ranger for the Ely Ranger District, supported a land exchange for the current ski resort proposal.

“The guy in Sparks has turned it down and I'm not sure if he is the final word,” Sprouse said. “I intend to go clear to Washington with it if I have to.”

Source: © The Ely Times

Well, maybe Mr. Sprouse didn't get to Washington as, 4 years later, there is still no sign of any Ski Resort.

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ORVs are big here in the West. I mean, why walk up a hill when you can run a 4-wheeler up it?!

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Now here is something I don't see every day - hops growing along a roadside.
Those red fruits look like rose hips to me. We used to eat rose hips and make tea from them during the Breiding family "back to the land" days.

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Here is the beginning of the Cave Lake Overlook trail - a small foot bridge over Cave Creek.

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The trail follows the creek for a short distance through a grove of Trembling Aspen.

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Once out of the Aspens the trail starts it's 1000' elevation gain to the top. Seen here are the wetlands and backwater of the lake.

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Another look of Cave Creek and into the mountains beyond.

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After looking twice at the rock face on the right I realized there was something different about it.

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It has a window! See it? It is in the upper right, partway down the ridge.

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A welcome sight. I rarely stop and rest on hikes. But, since the trail head elevation is at 7200' and the climb was steady I was already huffin' and puffin' and my heart beat was like a drum roll. So, I settled in for a while here, and enjoyed an orange, more water - and the view.

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The view from the bench. What a nice way to spend a few moments - gazing into the distance and day dreaming.

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Look at all them pecker holes! I counted 8 of them. Maybe Mr. Sprouse has a woodpecker counterpart who is trying to develop condos in this scraggly old juniper.

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The views were stunning. Until now I never new such scenery exited in Nevada. But, since Nevada is the most mountainous state in the country, with over 300 individual mountain ranges and 42 named summits over 11,000 feet, it should be no surprise.

The round formation to left kept appearing and reappearing on this hike. And, although it is not visible from the lake, it dominates the view when approaching the park from the access road off of US 50. I am sure such a prominent feature on the landscape had a name but I could find no references to it. Anyone out there got a USGS quad for this area? Maybe it has a name on it.

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I tried several points of view for this shot. The variations of light and dark made it difficult to capture the scene. But, not matter where I stood - it was gorgeous!

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There were some pretty gnarly looking old juniper and Pinyon pine up on top. In fact, this biome is referred to as Pinyon-juniper Woodlands. They are common and widespread though out the arid west.

Over most of Nevada, the woodland is dominated by two tree species, singleleaf pinyon pine, Pinus monophylla, and Utah juniper, Juniperus osteosperma. Utah juniper stands alone whereas pinyon pine is absent from the northernmost ranges of Nevada, roughly those ranges lying north of the Truckee and Humboldt rivers. Western juniper (Juniperus occidentalis) overtakes Utah juniper in the northwestern part of Nevada and extends northward into the northern Great Basin and southern Cascades.

Source: The Online Nevada Encyclopedia™ & © 2010

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From up on the top there were outstanding views in every direction.

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Try as I might I could not capture the feeling these old junipers and ancient, rocky mountains evoked.

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These soft and rolling mountains reminded me longingly of my wife's lovely breasts.

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"Twisted Pine Trail". Boy, did that sound tempting. But, with no decent map or trail descriptions I had no idea how long the trail would be, or how much more, if any, elevation change there would be. Another time perhaps.

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Some cones of the Piñon Pine. This group of pines, of which there are over a dozen species in North America, and some in Europe, produce the tasty "Pine nut" of commerce. Needless to say they also provide an excellent food source for the denizens of these mountains.

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I picked up one these green cones. There was so much sap exuding from it I had to "shake it off" to drop it. In spite of that I saw a partially eaten one laying along the trail's edge. Obviously the local critters are not deterred by a little sticky sap.

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As I started back down the mountain there was less rock and more soil and the tree cover became thicker. The soil looked to me like millions of tiny fragments of broken rocks. Which, of course, is exactly what it is.

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The obligatory rock shot. Far be it from me to interpret or explain this complicated mess!

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I can only speculate what caused this pine to "bleed" so copiously. Insects? Woodpeckers looking for insects?

Shortly after this snap I was zigging and zagging back down the mountain on one switchback after another. I was thankful for all those switchbacks as it certainly made it easier on me.

I crossed back over the footbridge and on the way out of the park stopped for a few more snaps.

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The backwaters of the lake looked particularly lush after spending the last few hours on the hot and dry mountain.

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This is Steptoe Creek as it makes it's way down the canyon and to the valley below.

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I could not resist another shot of the mountains as I made my way back down Success Summit Road to US 50.

What an excellent hike. 4 miles of pure walkin'/lookin' pleasure!

Rather than head straight back to the hotel I stopped at the information station for the The Steptoe Valley Wildlife Management Area. I am pretty sure this is the same place where Betsy and I stopped and did a little birding on our honeymoon - although it was pre-WMA.

Located in White Pine County, the Steptoe Valley Wildlife Management Area (WMA) was purchased by the Nevada Division of Wildlife in 1999. It’s 6,426 acres in size, consisting of about 2,423 acres of wetlands and 4,003 acres of associated uplands. Purchase of the ranch included not only a large tract of land, but substantial water rights too which will support a vast wetland complex in the valley bottom just south of the town of Ely .

n partnership with NDOW, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Barrick Goldstrike Mines, the Fairweather Foundation, the Mule Deer Foundation, Trout Unlimited, White Pine County Sportsman’s Association, Wildlife Habitat Improvement of Nevada, the Great Basin Bird Observatory, the Bureau of Land Management, the Nevada Waterfowl Association and private donors, DU is restoring the wetlands in the valley that have been degraded by previous livestock and ranching management practices.

Source: Ducks Unlimited

More about the Steptoe Valley.

Steptoe Valley is a long valley located in White Pine County, in northeastern Nevada. From the historic community of Currie, the valley runs south for approximately 100 miles. To the west are the high Egan Range and the Cherry Creek Range, while to the east is the even higher Schell Creek Range. Highway 93 passes through the valley, past the historic mining town of Cherry Creek and the communities of McGill and Ely, before crossing the Schell Creek Range at Connor’s Pass.

Also found in this valley are the Ward Charcoal Ovens State Historic Park, the Steptoe Valley Wildlife Management Area, and Cave Lake State Park. At Egan Canyon and Schellbourne Pass (near Cherry Creek), the Overland Stage Line and the subsequent Pony Express and Transcontinental Telegraph made their way through the mountains of central Nevada in the 1860s. The valley is named after Colonel Edward Steptoe, who explored the region in 1854.

Source: http://www.land-water.com


After looking over the info kiosk I gave Miss Winky a call so I could tell here what a great hike she missed.

I then decided to drive into town since I had not been there yet.
I wanted to see the old Hotel Nevada which is now a "gambling hall". But, what in Nevada isn't? When I first checked into the hotel I was given a coupon for one free margarita and a 1$ gambling coupon.
I had no interest in either but I did want to take a look at the old place.

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When the 6-story Hotel Nevada opened in 1929, it was the tallest building in the state and its first fire-proof building. Guest speakers were Senator Tasker L. Oddie and Congressman Sam Arentz, and rooms rented for $1.50 and up, "All with private toilet; 85% with private bath."

Prohibition was in still in effect when the hotel opened, and from the beginning bootlegged refreshment and gambling were available 24 hours a day. "Bathtub Gin" made from raw alcohol, water, and flavorings and "White Lightening" was conveniently supplied by local individuals.

On October 24 the Stock Market crashed and Depression struck and the Hotel Nevada leased commercial space to a bank and drug store as well as providing illegal gambling and booze. When Gambling was again legalized in 1931, the owners immediately installed blackjack tables and slot machines.

Source: Hotel Nevada web site

A colorful past, to be sure.

Then, it was another quiet evening in Ely. For dinner I feasted on corn tortillas and salsa verde appetizers and for the main course it was microwave heated Dinty Moore beef stew with cheap beer. For dessert I had more cheap beer. Then I watched some TV. Then I went to bed.

Tomorrow, I pull up stakes and move on to good old Californicate.


Bye, bye...