Great Basin Get­away

For a true get­away, ride and camp in Ne­vada’s Great Basin, a vast, sage­brush-cov­ered re­gion that of­fers soli­tude, stargaz­ing, and end­less wilder­ness ar­eas.

Trail Rider - - CONTENTS - BY KENT AND CHAR­LENE KRONE

For a true get­away, ride and camp in Ne­vada’s Great Basin, a vast, sage­brush-cov­ered re­gion that of­fers soli­tude, stargaz­ing, and end­less wilder­ness ar­eas.

TThe Great Basin is a vast, sage­brush­cov­ered re­gion that’s cen­tered in Ne­vada and stretches from Cal­i­for­nia’s Sierra Ne­vada moun­tain range to Utah’s Wasatch Moun­tains. The hardy few who ven­ture into this des­o­late wilder­ness fondly re­fer to it as “back of be­yond.” Mois­ture that drains here stays here. Wa­ter col­lects in shal­low salt lakes, marshes, and mud flats, even­tu­ally evap­o­rat­ing in the dry desert air. At first glance, this area looks mo­not­o­nous — a pale-green sea of sage­brush scat­tered over thirsty, brown ground. Ap­pear­ances are de­ceiv­ing!

In 1986, the United States Congress cre­ated Great Basin Na­tional Park. Later, in 2006, the Great Basin Na­tional Her­itage Area was added to pre­serve, pro­mote, and in­ter­pret her­itage re­sources — his­toric ranches and rail­roads, arche­o­log­i­cal sites, tribal com­mu­ni­ties, and mines.

Great Basin Na­tional Park, among the dark­est re­gions in the coun­try, is un­sur­passed for pris­tine stargaz­ing. Stars pul­sate like laser lights against a black-vel­vet sky.

Into the Park

We camped with our 10-year-old Mis­souri Fox Trot­ter geld­ings, Cow­boy and Nate, for sev­eral nights at the Sacra­mento Pass Bureau of Land Management Camp­ground off of High­way 50, about 30 miles from Great Basin Na­tional Park.

There’s an up­per and lower camp­site loop; the eques­trian camp­sites are on the up­per loop. This camp has no wa­ter or garbage ser­vice. We dis­cov­ered that horse campers can get wa­ter from the visi­tor’s cen­ter, as well as a recre­ational-ve­hi­cle park in the nearby town of Baker.

Bill Wager, a re­tired ranger from the 12-mil­lion-acre Ely BLM district, of­fered to take us on a ride on a trail he helped cre­ate. Wager pa­trolled the back­coun­try on horse­back when he worked for the BLM. When he of­fered to take us on a ride, we hap­pily ac­cepted.

“I like rid­ing here be­cause there are very few des­ig­nated trails,” Wager ex­plained about rid­ing in the Great Basin. “You can ride cross-coun­try and see few, if any, peo­ple.”

Wager added that April and Oc­to­ber are prime times for rid­ing, be­cause the weather is most tem­per­ate dur­ing these months.

Wager and his for­mer BLM horse, Wil­lie, led us from camp onto the non­mo­tor­ized Weaver Creek Basin Eques­trian Trail. This 6.5-mile, one-way trail ex­tends into Weaver Creek Basin and then into Great Basin Na­tional Park. The old two-track trail was an easy, level ride. Thanks to Wager, it’s also well-marked.

We fol­lowed the trail down to Weaver Creek, where we saw rem­nants of old beaver dams and signs of early min­ing. Wager pointed out the un­usual con­glom­er­ate rock clumps unique to this area.

As we rode along, we en­joyed the nearby wild­flow­ers, and dis­tant views of Mount Mariah to the north and Wheeler Peak to the south.

Fi­nally, we came to a gate with a sign in­di­cat­ing the en­trance to Great Basin Na­tional Park. We went through the gate and headed up a hill to an open area ringed with old-growth moun­tain ma­hogany. After en­joy­ing lunch and good con­ver­sa­tion, we re­turned the way we came.

Cross-Coun­try Rid­ing

Right from the Sacra­mento Pass BLM Camp­ground, a good ride is the Sacra­mento Pass/Min­ing Shaft Loop. Be­fore you head out, be sure to pick up a Sacra­mento Pass Recre­ation Area trail map from the Ely BLM District.

When leav­ing camp, take the first, im­me­di­ate in­dis­tinct trail to your left. Ini­tially, it’ll seem in­cor­rect, but will quickly be­come rec­og­niz­able as the Sacra­mento Pass Loop. Most trails on this loop are well­marked, and the map is easy to fol­low.

This trail is rocky, so pro­tect your horse’s hooves with proper shoe­ing or trail­ready hoof boots. This is a fun trail, with me­an­der­ing ups and downs as it snakes its way around a rock-stud­ded knob. Por­tions of the trail are shaded by large growths of moun­tain ma­hogany and edged with fra­grant ju­niper bushes.

Be­fore com­plet­ing the Sacra­mento Pass Loop, we crossed over on the Lucky Boy Trail to the Mine Shaft Loop. The Mine Shaft Loop took us down into a canyon, switch­backed up the canyon, then fol­lowed clock­wise around a hill­top. About three quar­ters of the way around, we cut cross-coun­try and worked our way back to camp.

Chal­leng­ing Loop

Our most ad­ven­tur­ous ride on the trip was the Pole Canyon/Tim­ber Creek/South Fork of Baker Creek Loop.

To find the trail­head for this loop, take the main en­trance into the park. Stop at the visi­tor cen­ter to learn about park his­tory and ge­ol­ogy. After the visi­tor cen­ter, drive to­ward the Grey Cliffs Group area, then left to the Pole Canyon trail­head. No­tice the pic­tographs in the small cave on the left side of the road be­fore ar­riv­ing at the trail­head.

We started up the Pole Canyon Trail and soon came to a tree block­ing our path. It took some work, but we were able to get the horses around it. Lit­tle did we know this ob­sta­cle would fore­shadow events to come.

The trail led to an open, scenic basin at the head of Pole Canyon where we en­coun­tered a rau­cous group of tur­keys that Nate and Cow­boy viewed with dis­dain.

It was a short climb to the sad­dle be­tween Pole Canyon and Tim­ber Creek, where we en­joyed views to the dis­tant moun­tains and the ever-present Wheeler Peak. Wheeler Peak, at 13,063 feet above sea level, is as high as the Grand Te­tons.

From this point, we dropped into Tim­ber Creek and started the last push to the high point be­tween Tim­ber Creek and the South Fork of Baker Creek.

Here, we stopped and stared in dis­may at the scene in front of us. A hel­ter-skel­ter jum­ble of up­rooted trees, bro­ken trees, and crushed limbs blocked our trail. There was

no way to go around them, and it looked im­pos­si­ble to go through them.

Kent spent nearly an hour scout­ing and cut­ting a way through the dead­fall. It was chal­leng­ing, but we worked our way through it and emerged near the top only to find snow!

The snow was fairly deep, but as we emerged from the shad­owed side of the ridge, the snow dis­ap­peared. Our el­e­va­tion was 9,650 feet at the high point of the ride, 2,530 feet higher than the trail­head.

The high pass was a per­fect spot for lunch. Lush moun­tain mead­ows and jagged peaks pro­vided food for the soul while we feasted on peanut-but­ter-and-jelly sand­wiches.

The bushy trees at the top of the ridge to the east are bristle­cone pines, the old­est liv­ing or­gan­isms on the planet. They grow at above 9,500 feet in el­e­va­tion and can be 5,000 years old. The old­est bristle­cone pines in this park are around 3,000 years old. The old­est bristle­cone pines in the world are in the Cal­i­for­nia Sier­ras.

To re­turn to the trail­head, we rode the trail down the South Fork of Baker Creek to a parking area. Here, we took a trail to the right, which con­tin­ues through a camp­ground. Ride through the right side of the camp­ground to the last loop, and take the trail leav­ing the camp­ground for the Grey Cliffs group camp.

After this camp, take the road to the right. Go past the pic­tographs to the start­ing point. You’ll have com­pleted an 11.2mile loop to the high coun­try and back.

Straw­berry Creek

Our next ride was at Straw­berry Creek, which also has an eques­trian camp­ground. Take Straw­berry Creek Rd., and drive 3.3 miles on good dirt road to the camp.

The camp­ground is nes­tled in a pine-cov­ered val­ley with one cor­ral large enough for two horses. Here, there’s a pic­nic ta­ble and a fire ring, but no wa­ter, so bring enough wa­ter for your­self and your equine friend.

The next morn­ing, we built a pleasant camp­fire to ward off the chill in the air. While the horses con­tent­edly munched on hay, we wrapped our hands around steam­ing cups of cof­fee and watched the day un­fold.

While birds be­gan their morn­ing ves­pers, we searched for signs of elk move­ment in the tim­ber. The park is noted for hav­ing a large res­i­dent elk herd that’s of­ten seen in this area.

To ride up Straw­berry Creek, you can trailer 1.5 miles up the road to a trailer turn­around, then ride one-half mile to the trail­head. We sim­ply rode from camp to give our geld­ings a chance to stretch their legs and gait.

From the trail­head, it’s a 1,500-foot el­e­va­tion gain to the sad­dle at the top of the val­ley. The trail fol­lows a tree line to the left and a spa­cious high-coun­try val­ley on the right.

Just be­fore a bridge over the creek is a trail to the right. This goes to the ridge and end point of our first ride on the Weaver Creek trail from the Sacra­mento Pass Recre­ation Area.

You can con­tinue straight up the val­ley or go to the right to ac­cess the Weaver Creek Trail. Ei­ther way, you’ll be re­warded with gor­geous views and fun trails.

After the bridge, the Osce­ola Ditch Trail

comes in on the left. This trail isn’t open to eques­tri­ans. We were told this trail is steep and dan­ger­ous in places.

The up­hill trail tran­scends from ecosys­tems of pinyon pine to fir and, fi­nally, to aspen. Keep an eye on the aspen trees for dates that Basque sheep­herders carved into trees. We saw dates in the 1940s and 1950s. You also may see art­work that the Basque carved into trees. It’s dif­fi­cult to imag­ine the soli­tary, yet peace­ful, life these folks had.

After we left the area, a for­est fire struck the Straw­berry Creek drainage. Be­fore you ride in this area, call the park ser­vice for sta­tus of the trails and camp­ground.

Hid­den Canyon Re­treat

If there’s gold in the Great Basin, then we struck it for sure when we ar­rived at Hid­den Canyon Re­treat, an amaz­ing bed & barn owned and man­aged by Ron and Robin Crouch. Think com­fort, good food, tran­quil­ity, and seren­ity wrapped and pack­aged by com­pe­tent, car­ing peo­ple.

Hid­den Canyon is south­east of Baker and less than a mile south of Gar­ri­son. From Gar­ri­son, turn right on Hid­den Canyon Ranch Rd., a well-main­tained gravel road, and stay on it for six miles. Be care­ful — the last por­tion of the road is steep!

Ron and Robin are friendly and in­ter­est­ing, and have an in­fec­tious en­thu­si­asm for the Great Basin. There is no tele­vi­sion, phone, or cell­phone ser­vice, but there is a quiet, spir­i­tual qual­ity about Hid­den Canyon. Birds sing, coy­otes ser­e­nade, and deer fade in and out of view along a creek that winds its way in the canyon.

Room rentals come with break­fast; you pay ex­tra for dinner. There are 11 two-bed­room suites, each with a dif­fer­ent dé­cor. To stargaze in style, head for the out­door hot tub above the creek.

Nate and Cow­boy were treated to large, cov­ered stalls. We parked our liv­ing-quar­ters trailer near shade trees that were teem­ing with bird life. Horse wa­ter is nearby, but has to be buck­eted a short dis­tance.

Robin cre­ated a mem­o­rable break­fast. This lady can cook! Ron and Robin make their guests feel like fam­ily. Break­fast to­gether was a spe­cial ex­pe­ri­ence of food and so­cial in­ter­ac­tion.

From Hid­den Canyon, you can ride up be­hind the canyon on trails that lead into Great Basin Na­tional Park. Out of the sad­dle, you can sim­ply re­lax and en­joy the in­cred­i­ble sur­round­ings. TTR Kent and Char­lene Krone com­bine their in­ter­est in pho­to­jour­nal­ism with a pas­sion for horses. They’ve sold photographs to mag­a­zines, books, cal­en­dars, post­cards, and video pro­duc­ers for more than 20 years. (For a sam­pling, visit www.su­per­stock.com, and type “sup­plier:1314” in the search box.) They en­joy shar­ing their horse­back ad­ven­tures in the United States and West­ern Canada. Reach them at ken­tand­char­lene@gmail.com.

Char­lene Krone rides Nate on the Sacra­mento Pass and Mine Shaft Loop trails out of the Sacra­mento Pass Recre­ation Area. “These are easy loops that wind around boul­ders with great views of the plains and moun­tains,” note the Krones.

Cow­boy en­joys the only cor­ral at the rus­tic Sacra­mento Pass Bureau of Land Management Camp­ground, about 30 miles from Great Basin Na­tional Park.

Kent Krone (left) and Bill Wager, a re­tired ranger, on the Weaver Eques­trian Trail, which ex­tends into Weaver Creek Basin and then into Great Basin Na­tional Park. Top in­set: Cow­boy stud­ies the junc­tion of the Sacra­mento Pass and Lucky Boy trails. Bot­tom in­set: Sig­nage for the Weaver Creek Basin Eques­trian Trail.

Kent and Char­lene Krone, aboard Cow­boy and Nate, at the top of the Pole Canyon/Baker Creek Loop, which sits at 9,650 feet el­e­va­tion, 2,530 feet higher than the trail­head.

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