Section 2: Crystal Springs to Tonopah Cache
Section 2, Segment D: Basin and Range National Monument
Crystal Springs to Joe Barney Pass
This segment highlights the Basin and Range National Monument. Although the route through the area is probably not the most scenic I could come up with, the route is still rugged, remote, and is a lead up to the Quinn Canyon Range. A feeling of emptiness is eminent and is enhanced here in the southern portion of the Great Basin Trail. The mountains you begin to see in distance are now becoming bigger and taller, the night skies are becoming darker, and the basins are becoming longer and have a spherical bend as one feels to be underneath a vast and open sea. The monument was established in 2015 by President Obama under the Antiquities Act due to the geographical, cultural, archaeological, and geological significance while protecting the area from mining and other environmental hazards.
The Mt. Irish Wilderness is highlighted by the dominant limestone peak surrounding a basin filled with house-sized boulders etched pictographs. The GBT utilizes the open steppes of sagebrush from Crystal Springs to Logan Pass Road. Quickly the hiker takes a lesser road up Silver Canyon and remnants of old mining activity scar the surrounding mountainsides. The road ambles gently once up below the crest and a series of springs are encountered with Little Cut and Cold Springs being the most reliable. A faint two track crosses Wild Horse Valley before cutting behind a massive and lonesome rocky outcrop at the edge of Garden Valley.
The Worthington Range sprout nearly vertical from the valley floor and etch out a craggy horizon. I relaxed under an alcove in the shade on a bench to while away the warm afternoon. As I felt the temperatures drop milder I took off down the wash leading towards a corral in the distance. The mirage of the corral felt closer and I sipped my water freely as I meandered along cattle trails criss-crossing many washes feeling confident the corral would have a full tank of clear water . A few hours later I swilled away near the cattle now 'real life' in front of me and no longer a black dot in the distance. I pointed my way towards the mountains and where I could spot old mining activity. I passed shafts and adits, old scarrings of a past boom-time. Towards the top I find where miners had shacked up and had better water above the mining tailings. I found a housed spring erected with wooden planks probably milled from the surrounding hill sides and dipped my bottles into the cold water. Some algae floated atop but a bottom could not be seen. The spring felt like a pitted black eye, an oracle into the life that once tried to survive in such a harsh environment. I sauntered on and after descending steep slopes and rocky canyons I easily hiked on alluvial fans until I found camp. The night fell quiet and a chill sunk and I slurped the cold water that trickled into my beard and rolled down my neck.
Section 2, Segment E: Quinn Canyon Range
Joe Barney Pass to Abel Spring
The Quinn Canyon Range is in central Nevada and is highlighted by the namesake wilderness. The range is encapsulated in an extremely remote area with the nearest town being 100 miles away. The crestline topples over the surrounding basins at over 10,000ft while sharp and deep canyons have small creeks running throughout the year that eventually drain into the basins 4-5,000ft below. Views abound the hiker among the ruggedness that may be unparalleled on the Great Basin Trail. The rushing sound of the creek is music to one's ears especially after being deprived of running water for the first ~225m of the Great Basin Trail. The sweet and crisp taste of cold running water just rejuvenates the spirit and one begins to forgive all the driest stretches and barren basins. After a melting of the soul under the shade of a tree while my feet soaked in the cold water I felt cleansed of some hidden guilt I had been holding onto, a selfish one where I felt too damn lucky to be out here. If one is grateful does that then mean one is ignorant? Either way, I hiked on gluttonous on fresh water.
My route through the Quinn's zigzagged up and down a couple canyons on faint two track that had been draped over with a wilderness cloak. Wild horses scampered up the isolated drainages tangling their necks in a playfulness vying for dominance. The horses looked at me strangely as if my human presence had been unrecognizable or unfamiliar. The north fork of Cottonwood canyon climbed steeply as the lushness of Spring encroached over the trail forming a tunnel-like canopy. Eventually, I reached the high basins where snowmelt flowed the small streams and I hiked straight up the gully on last years stale plant life. Then, I attained the jagged and chunky crest and berms of snow and leftover cornices showed the scarring of the wind. Unnamed conical peaks towered over the basins some 5,000ft higher. From my looming lookout I observed the passage of days and nights in the form of mountainous layers in the eastern horizon. Faraway storms venturing across the enormous expanse, both dusty and wet, even electric, set the stage for the curtains of night or the drapes of virga that would instill the rejuvenation of the basin aquifers with moisture.
I camped on a rocky outcrop at around 9,000ft. The wind howled and I slept in fits and dreamt of route directions, of insects crawling all over my skin, of unrecognition of my sun tan as in a deep relation of not being acknowledged for my hard work, as if I was born with the wrinkles of time. I felt lonely in the Quinn's despite feeling inspired. I missed my partner. I missed the twinkling of lights of civilization. The morose dreams came from exhaustion. I knew once my physicality got tired, then a straight path led to the exertion of the mental. And I knew I had been replaying the scenes of the day: the giant at hills, the bushwhacking, thinking of my partner back home and wanting to share these experiences with her, and the constant thoughts of of the isolation I was in away from the world during these strange global times. In between my restless sleep I gazed up at the Milky Way and let my imagination run free. I thought I could see hundreds of miles away the lights of Las Vegas.
The route continues through Little Cherry Creek which reminded me of the rocks in the Fortification Range. Following cattle trails instead of the old tread occasional present I made my way up and over into the Willow Creek drainage. Almost sliding down limestone talus I eventually hit the canyon floor and found cairns that led me to the old mining camp. The creek roared as I fought my way through thick willows. As I hit the jeep track the long Railroad Valley posed the next challenge of getting around crop land and private property in the heart of the basin. The cross country across the basin felt sensible, easy. This basin made me feel even smaller than the other basins probably because the Quinn's and the nearby Grant's toward over the valley and the length of the valley. I was a speck in a desert globe within the sagebrush steppes.
Section 2, Segment F: Lunar Crater
Abel Spring to Highway 6 at Blue Jay Rest Area
The Lunar Crater and the Pancake Range deserves its own segment despite the lower mileage. This unique area is so different than any other area on the Great Basin Trail. Volcanic cones strew the barren landscape. The Lunar Lake is a stark expanse of sun-baked mud as white as salt. The Pancakes are as the name implies and the cliffs provide the legs for which the tables to stand on. All these characters provide the smooth angles of the Lunar Crater especially seen from a distance. These smooth angles are the hardest for me to describe, hard for me to analogize, hard for me to analyze, yet easy for me to gaze at, to recall, to dream into.
The Lunar Crater is a large area composed of mesas, basalts blocks, synclines and monoclines, and is a National Landmark that was once used by astronauts for rover training in what the astronauts might have expected at the Apollo 17 landing site. To further bolster the stark and barren landscape I had a full day of hiking with no trees. Nothing. No shade. Thankfully the cooler temperatures and cloudy skies made the trek comfortable. As I hiked up to The Wall, the rim of the crater, I miraculously found a roll of paper towels. Brand new. Even though I was on a two track no new fresh tracks existed, so I pondered the absurdity of finding such a startling find in such a remote area and even more the absurdity of finding something I could wipe my ass with in the TP shortage of the Covid-19 Pandemic. I swooped the roll up feeling fortunate to have a surplus of ass tissue.
At the Lunar Lake I crossed the white expanse of salt flats. Really the flats were mud-caked but the refulgence held a white brilliance. Migratory bird claw prints froze in time in the middle of the lake bed embedded in mud-caked tiles. My mind migrated to fantasy of trampling worlds afar. I could not help it. I was drifting off despite being as present as possible. Navigating through the volcanic cone alley ways I eventually stumbled upon the actual Lunar Crater. The crater plummeted 700ft into a pit. Seemingly out of nowhere this area has a past of volcanic eruptions and I stood on the rim of proof.
As the wind howled, I moved on. The lenticular clouds mirrored the table lands and I felt free despite the taste of freedom tasting funny. I could not help to continue migrating in the mind of distant lands, even the moon. I wondered if one day I could ride a lenticular cloud like a flying magical carpet. But I thought: I would rather walk. The landscape felt unknown, unhinged yet in a vacuum. Down Monocline Canyon I transported to a random Utah canyon with blocky sandstone lining the canyon. At the mouth I looked over a towering dry fall and felt the heat emanating from the next basalt layer of rocks. I found a way around and stumbled onto a faint two track. I kept stumbling onto fortunate finds, I thought. The Great Basin continued to surprise the hell out of me at this point.
Section 2, Segment G: Hot Creek Range
Highway 6 at Blue Jay Rest Area to Bunch Brush Canyon
The brief experience through the southern tip of the Hot Creek Range is Tybo, an old mining town with relics in good condition and shows the past boom times of what made Nevada a hot bed for folks trying to strike it rich back in the mid to late 1800s. Now a bust, The old silver mining town feels like a living museum, or in a much more stark reality, a ghost town. Through this are I found the old mining two tracks now resemble a trail corridor through a high desert wilderness. Sure, ATVs and side-by -twos frequent the area but the GBT hiker can eschew the popular routes for the more remote one that crosses the range into the more remote and seldom visited East and West Stone Cabin Valleys. The highlight of the are is the Tybo Charcoal Kilns which are still standing after having been erected in 1874. The first two are off the main jeep track in Tybo Canyon while the other two inhabit Kiln Canyon. These kilns burned pinyon pine to charcoal so the mining company could fuel its smelter.
Nevada has an infamous and rich history in mining which I really do not want to get into. Visitors from all over the place frequent Nevada and the Great Basin to explore these historical scarrings of human endeavor, both culturally and on the land. The mining roads provide access to the GBT and the ranges that otherwise would be a bear to get into. The feel of these places are of the more wild sort nowadays. I think this area shows the bonanzas and the borrascsa ---the fat and the lean, of what we have constructed within our country and continue to due so. It seems humans and their endeavors are not always sustainable. It certainly seems wilderness is, that is wilderness will adapt a way to continue to exist.
Once out of the range wild horses roam the East and West Stone Cabin Valleys. purple mountains and blueish-green sagebrush dominate the skyline and lowline. I witnessed a few band of horses, all separate yet within close proximity of each other, banty up in a combination of defiance and curiosity towards me. Then, as in complete admonition of my existence, the horses turned their attention towards each other and galloped over towards each other in a stand-off of some sort. Their fiery disposition fiercely positioned the horse in a fighting stance. Their hooves lumbered up at paddled at the air in front of the next horse. Then, like that, poof, the war was over and you could tell who won the competition. They proceeded to focus their attention back to with glaring eyes and snorting in abhorrence. I felt the wild spirit within and they zoommed right off back to their respective bands. I laid up that night having chosen the tougher path. I laid down that night feeling stronger, wilder.
Section 2, Segment H: McKinney Range
Bunch Brush Canyon to Highway 376 at Tonopah Cache
Bunch Brush Canyon felt thick and wooly with shrubs of all sorts--chamise, mahogany, bitterbrush. The sweet grass bloomed, the sagebrush stood tall and fragrant. The pinyon showed off green springs, the juniper bragged its ashy blue berries. Because of this the canyon air had a redolence of sweetness. I had not planned on this 'way.' I went off feel; I went off the inspiration of wild horses. I had noticed something out here on the Great Basin Trail: where I found wild horses good things happened---which meant no people, wild trails, water, and a way through. At the end of that evening I camped at a piped spring where the overgrown two track became indiscernible and the largest pinyon I have ever laid eyes upon grew. I guzzled much as I had the surplus to do so.
At the crack of dawn I maneuvered through the esses of the canyon and as the canyon became narrower the canyon became choked with plant life. I picked my way through and keep persisting towards the saddle between some rocky turrets. Atop the broad flats I scanned the hillsides that had veins of rock ledges sticking out of the pinyon and mahogany forests. Little Cottonwood Canyon plummeted into a narrow squeeze of pinched crimson rock, the drainage lined with the canyon's namesake. I side-hilled over to a low pass on the ridgecrest and found tread to trample on that led right to the canyon's headwater spring. From there a lengthy and exquisite traverse on PCT style tread ensued. Not on a map, this is what is special about the GBT---the free form nature within a wild nature. Under the range's high point plateau I finally hit the broad ridge above Big Cottonwood Canyon. I felt very fortunate to have ambled through an area otherwise unknown, for an unknown path became a clear path. I had many cows and wild horses to thank.
In the wee hours of that night I woke up shook up in Ralston Valley. An earthquake moaned and groaned in the basin. I had laid down in an indiscernible wash lined with saltbrush. I groggily lifted my head and noticed the light blue glow of the eastern horizon as the sun thought about rising. My first thought became washed over by my realization that I was experiencing an earthquake. I thought the tremor felt small but I knew immediately I had no frame of reference. The trembling continued on for a few long seconds and I laid my head back down on my sleeping pad. Surreal. Utterly surreal. I must have feel quickly back to sleep after being somewhat Los Angeles apathetic---I grew up in earthquakes. But couple that notion with being in the middle of nowhere I just did not tie the impact of what had just occurred. A few minutes later I woke up in a different type of silence---an earthquake silence, which if you grew up in an earthquake zone you would know--- coyotes yipped and barked like domestic dogs and I instantly knew what was about to occur. The moment felt like Northridge 1994. The groaned moaned again, bellowed as the ground rolled; no walls, no edifications, and I thought: 'Well, I'm ok as long as the ground does not open up.'
I rolled over and went back to sleep feeling so isolated and apathetic, simply feeling a different yet non-threatening experience. I woke up at dawn and began the ramble to my pick-up point with my moms who was driving up from LA ironically. The terrain lazily rolled up over a small range, the southern finger of the Toquimas. Up wide washes, grey with rock, almost ash like, until I saw the grand Toiyabe beckoning in the distance.