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Nevada Beach to the Hickison Petroglyphs
We all slept soundly. The RV has great spatial separation, with a “room” and queen size bed in the back for Ben and I. Genevieve sleeps in the pull-out sofabed up front, and Sebastian bunks in the loft area above the driver’s seat.
I heard the children’s voices a little after six, and they played quietly until Ben and I finally dragged ourselves from our cozy bed at 7:00. After breakfast, the kids watched their first “Bill Nye, the Science Guy” episodes on DVD, while we got things ready for the day. I had purchased a bunch of Bill Nye’s shows to bring along on our trip. The children giggled hysterically while learning all about “Planets” and “Gravity.” What more could a parent ask for—a children’s program that is both educational and highly entertaining.
Yesterday, we had spotted a wide bicycle path heading north along Lake Tahoe, so we thought we’d follow it this morning. We could see the mountains across the lake more clearly today, and it looked like their peaks may have gathered a bit more snow from yesterday’s light rains.
The bike path led us a few hundred feet to a big parking lot. Dead end. So we turned around to see what else we could find. The bike path was so wide, we thought for sure that it must lead “somewhere”. It led to another big parking lot, less than ¼ of a mile away. Perplexing. We backtracked and took another route, heading toward the main road.
There were signs indicating that the forestry service was doing some work, cutting down trees along the bike path. Some of the trees had pink ribbons or were marked with blue paint:
Before we reached the main road, we came to ribbons stretched across the path to block our way.
We decided to make another loop around our campground area. We could see our RV from the path, in its cozy nest of pine trees:
There was a gnarley looking machine that we had seen yesterday in the woods, and we could hear its grinding noise in the distance. I wanted to get a closer look. The machine was busy pulling small trees out by their roots and stripping the branches off.
We could hear the crunching and ripping sounds as the machine tore the tree’s roots from the earth. Here the tree has been turned sideways, and the limbs are being shorn off.
It was fascinating to watch, but a bit freaky too. With its grasping claw and big saw, it exuded a touch of evil—just enough to mix in some fear along with the awe in my chest.
A nearby sign informed us that the U.S. Forestry Service was cutting down the diseased trees, as well as thinning out trees that were too close together. We learned that the forest here used to be spacious enough to gallop horses through, due to the natural forest fires that kept undergrowth to a minimum. Then, with the discovery of silver in 1859 in Virginia City, the trees became “green gold”, as people chopped them down for mine shaft supports, homes and other buildings. The forest along the lake was essentially obliterated. When the trees started growing in again, the people who lived here would suppress all of the natural fires, and the undergrowth was allowed to spread; many trees grew close together. Over the past decade, the forestry service has started a management program that is intended to bring the forest back to its original, spacious, healthy state.
Near the sign was a small ground squirrel munching on a nut—Genevieve watched in wonderment.
We drove north along the east side of Lake Tahoe, catching sporadic views of the blue water through the trees.
Cave Rock tunnel was short but impressive:
The mountains around us were covered in tall trees:
Our first stop today was Carson City, the capital of Nevada. We crested the last mountain pass and could see a large flat valley stretched out before us:
As we approached the city, the pines disappeared, and we were surrounded by the high desert—with scrub bushes and an occasional low tree.
We stopped at the Nevada Railroad Museum.
The friendly man at the ticket counter explained that it was self-guided. The exhibits had detailed explanations, and we enjoyed walking through and looking at all of the different train engines and cars.
Ben, Genevieve and Sebastian in front of Virginia & Truckee Railroad’s locomotive #22, named “Inyo”.
Inyo was built in 1875, and the name is a Native American word that means “dwelling place of a great spirit.” After many years of service pulling passenger and freight cars, Inyo was eventually purchased by Paramount Pictures and used in many movies and TV shows, including the 1965 TV series “Wild, Wild West.”
Sebastian and Genevieve liked “Whistlin’ Billy”:
A lot of loving care had gone into the restoration of these trains; they were in beautiful condition:
We wandered through the museum, reading all of the interesting bits of history about the building of the railroad.
In the back of the museum were some miniature trains:
Sebastian said that his favorite part was when Ben held him up to peek into the windows of the passenger cars.
We visited the large warehouse building behind the main part of the museum, where we saw additional trains as well as this railway pedal car:
We also met a wonderful volunteer named Shig.
He was a retired physician who loved trains; he had ridden the Zephyr train from Colorado to Chicago when he started medical school inthe 1950's. He had also traveled on a cross-country trip with his wife in 2007, so we spoke about some of his favorite places along the way.
Genevieve and Sebastian had fun playing in the area outside the museum:
After lunch in the RV, we continued through downtown Carson City. Carson City is the capital of Nevada, and two of the government buildings had roof domes that were silver colored (instead of the traditional gold) to reflect the historical importance of silver mining to the state of Nevada. I couldn’t get a good shot of the domes, but here are the buildings:
Here is the Nevada Commission on Tourism:
We stopped to visit the Nevada State Museum, which was surprisingly fabulous! The museum was housed in the old U.S. mint, with two large modern wings.
Outside was a small monument to the Pony Express, showing the route from St. Joseph, Missouri to Sacramento, California:
The Nevada State Museum contained an incredible array of exhibits covering the wildlife in Nevada, geology, silver mining, Chinese Americans, Native Americans, coin minting, and a recreated ghost town.
Here is Ben in front of the mint press:
From 1870 to 1893, the U.S. Mint in Carson City produced almost $50,000,000 in coins.
The museum had a large, underground replica of a mine, with several tunnels and many displays. This was an excellent exhibit and was thoroughly appreciated by all of us. The tunnels were dark, and it took Sebastian a few attempts before he mustered enough bravery to go into the mine. But after that, he and Genevieve kept asking to go through and explore on their own “one more time.”
Here I am at the entrance to the mine:
Sebastian and Genevieve in the mine:
This is not a very good photo of the world’s largest Lahontan Cutthroat trout; however, it shows the second row of teeth that this type of fish has on its tongue (the children and I were fascinated with this):
Here are additional photos from the museum:
All of us enjoyed this museum immensely, and I highly recommend it.
We then headed west across Nevada along Highway 50, dubbed “the loneliest road in America” by Life magazine in 1986. The label was intended to be derogatory to reflect the utter desolation and lack of any human services (gas, food, lodging) for miles and miles. The Nevada tourism board snatched the label up, however, and has been flaunting it as a marketing slogan ever since.
After leaving Carson City, the highway eventually narrowed from 4 lanes down to 2, and we left behind the many new subdivisions of tract homes. Ben turned to me and said, “Is this where it gets ‘lonely’?” I replied, “No, it starts near Fallon. Are you feeling lonely over there?” He smiled, “Not with you by my side.”
The sagebrush was abundant:
There was a newly constructed house for sale:
There were also some very old houses:
I spotted a single track trail running parallel to the road, with a short wooden posts and red marker every hundred feet or so. As a dirt biker, I am always on the lookout for thin lines denoting trails in the mountains and on the terrain that we pass. I was thinking that perhaps this was might be a trail that ran next to the highway for off-road motorcycles. But as the miles passed, I thought that a dirt biker would have to be crazy to want to ride for long distances along this straight road. Then I remembered that Highway 50 tracks the old Pony Express, and that the ride is actually recreated annually as a major event. I surmised that perhaps the wooden posts marked the Pony Express route. Ben and I mulled this over for a few more miles, and then we thought that we would just satisfy our curiosity by stopping to read the small writing on the red markers. This is what we found:
What a laugh we had! (We decided that we liked our fantasy about the trail markers more than the reality of a buried fiber optic cable.)
Amidst the dry landscape was Lake Lahontan, a reservoir formed by the Lahontan Dam on the Carson River.
After passing through miles of desert plants, we encountered the green agricultural fields around the town of Fallon:
After Fallon, the colors of the landscape became more muted:
We passed a total of seven bicyclists on the “loneliest road”, including these three:
The creamy expanse of Sand Mountain rose from the desert floor, and we could see tiny ant-like quads climbing the giant dune.
The rain threatened on and off, with dark clouds constantly either overhead or on the horizon. As we approached Frenchman Flat, which is a dry lake bed used by the U.S. Navy for low level flight operations, I saw a white expanse of what I thought was a salt flat. It turned out to be a small lake of water from the recent rain!
Middlegate Station is a former Pony Express stop, and it has a bar, restaurant and hotel. It is a popular overnight stop for bicyclists riding across Nevada; however, it did not beckon to us:
The hills often had large jagged rocks poking through the surface:
We came around a curve to find a bizarre looking tree by the side of the road. We had to stop and take a closer look.
We had found the “Shoe Tree”—a large tree draped with hundreds, if not thousands, of shoes.
The exact year that the tree starting bearing “shoe fruit” is estimated to be in the early 1990’s. The “legend” is that a newlywed couple was driving from Colorado to California. They began to argue as they crossed Nevada, and things became so heated that the husband pulled over and left his wife at the base of a big cottonwood tree to cool off. He then drove to Middlegate Station and had a beer. He then returned to the tree and found that his wife was still furious; he responded by grabbing a pair of her shoes and throwing them into the tree. Then he drove back to the bar for another drink. The bartender convinced him to go back and get his wife. He returned to the tree, and the couple reconciled. However, the husband could not retrieve the wife’s shoes from the tree, so the shoes were left behind dangling from a tree branch. Other people noticed the shoes and began throwing their own shoes up into the tree, and the tradition continues to this day.
We didn’t add any shoes, but we took lots of photos. Here are some more:
Someone had added a “Shoe Tree” sign, which was lying on the ground:
Genevieve and Sebastian explored the shoes underneath, searching for the most interesting pair.
Genevieve, who was not going to touch any of the shoes:
Some of the shoes had signatures on them. The black shoes below were signed “Elder Ortiz, Maryland”.
After we had had our fill of marveling at the tree, we headed onward into a downpour of rain. The surrounding grey mountains had wisps of low-lying clouds:
The recent rains had caused the sagebrush along the side of the road to be a beautiful bright green, which I had never seen before in the desert:
As we reached each mountain pass and descended into the next valley, we could see the road stretching into the distance:
One would think that we would wearily be singing “The bear went over the mountain,” but I never got tired of the scenery:
A huge, dark mountain range loomed in the distance—part of the Humboldt Toiyable National Forest. The highest peak was snow-covered Arc Dome, at 11,773 feet.
We spied Stokes Castle on the outskirts of Austin, which is one of the three small towns along the 409 miles of “lonely” highway:
A mine developer, Anson Phelps Stokes, completed this granite castle tower in the summer of 1897, using a family painting of Italy as an architectural model. His family only lived in the castle for a year, then sold their mine and the castle and never returned. The castle fell into neglect and was eventually purchased by one of Anson’s cousins, Molly Magee Knudsen. Molly moved from New York and became a well-known ranch owner in Austin. In 2003, the Stokes castle was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
There was a pretty brick church on the hill:
The rain fell steadily as we left Austin. The mountains around us were green with a yellow tinge:
That yellow was created by the vast scattering of these pretty flowers:
The peaks of the hills around us did not have the abundance of vegetation found around their bases:
These rustic buildings appear to have been abandoned (although sometimes homes look empty at first glance, and then I will notice a thin wisp of smoke coming from a chimney):
Twenty miles east of Austin was our stopping point for the night, the Hickison Petroglyphs.
We arrived later than anticipated, and our hike to view the ancient petroglyphs would have to wait until tomorrow morning. We found a free campsite and settled in for the evening, cooking dinner inside out of the rain.
<< Day 1: California to Nevada Beach | Day 3: Hickison Petroglyphs to Great Basin National Park >>
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