Text: Joseph Marek • Photography: Joseph Marek, John Ringert

Badger Campground sits off a main dirt road against a little canyon north of the Black Rock Desert. While people often use words like “desolate” and “inhospitable” to describe this area in northern Nevada, my good travel partner, John, and I love this part of the Great Basin Desert. We’d come to spend several days exploring the edges of the Black Rock Desert and Santa Rosa Range to the east.

As the first light peeked over the eastern horizon, we scurried about getting breakfast and gear ready. Pointing southeast along a well-graded gravel road, we passed over rolling hills and across the Summit Lake Indian reservation, home to the Paiute Tribe. Off the main road, we followed a bumpy two-track through the sagebrush into the hills and back into another valley past a remote ranch.

Backcountry travel requires planning and being self-sufficient. Trail repairs are inevitable and their scope varies widely. The first test of our preparations came after a GPS mounting bolt fell off, causing my Garmin 276Cx to bounce and spin wildly as I tried to stop. After a failed zip-tie fix, I paused again to search through my tool roll for a proper-sized bolt. John saved the day with a suitable one from his repair kit.  

We halted to take in the desert from a hillside. We gazed across the vastness and listened to nature’s sounds—the light breeze, western meadowlarks singing, and small desert sparrows calling from the sagebrush. While climbing over McGee Mountain on a rough mountain-side track, we started to notice gathering storm clouds and the potential for thunderstorms.

Virgin Valley Campground had many campers taking advantage of the lovely hot spring pools. During the depression in the 1930s, a federal program called the Works Progress Administration put thousands of men to work building infrastructure, roads, trails, and campgrounds, including several buildings at this site. The quality of the craftsmanship stands as a testament to these highly skilled individuals. There was also potable water, so we topped off our hydration bladders before heading to the Royal Peacock Opal Mine.

Opals are formed from a combination of volcanic ash, forest debris, and steaming hot water simmering for thousands of years. You can pay a fee and dig opals yourself from these sediments, but we needed to moto on. With skies bubbling with big cumulus clouds and growing darker by the minute, we were rushing to get back to camp. Riding in a thunderstorm is not fun and could be deadly!

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For the complete touring article, including facts & information, map(s), and GPS files, please purchase the November/December 2021 back issue.