As we crest Harrison Pass on the Pony Express National Historic Trail and begin our descent into Ruby Valley, the route is clearly visible, winding across the treeless lowlands and ascending the Maverick Springs Range. The sense of openness is almost overwhelming and gives pause as I wonder what went through the mind of a horseman speeding from Sacramento, CA, to Saint Joseph, MO, carrying a precious cargo of mail in 1860.
After two years of planning, maps strewn on the kitchen table, and endless Internet searches, the Nevada Ghost Town Tour is under way. Tracking the weather for the weeks prior to the trip revealed atypical conditions: showers and thunderstorms with abnormally low temperatures. Our rendezvous location and the start of this trip is Burns, OR, a midpoint for me coming from Portland and my friend John coming from Boise, ID. During the ride to Burns I experience rain, thunderstorms, and questionable all-weather roads. John and I arrive in Burns within minutes of one another and share similar weather stories. The adventure begins!
Off to a Rough Start
We head south into cool air and threatening skies. Our first detour occurs when the gravel road through Anderson Valley turns to goopy mud. We quickly realize that our big dual sports aren’t going to make it far so we turn around, returning to gravel with our wheels barely turning. After some cleaning we continue through rain as thunderstorms churn all around, making us feel small in this vast sagebrush prairie. John comments about our fine start, “It’s 9:30 a.m. and we’ve already been stuck in the mud and seen lightning. What does the rest of the day hold for us?” After turning onto Highway 78 we encounter a short segment of BB-sized hail about a half-inch deep and feel very fortunate that we missed the storm.
Sixty miles of sweet gravel roads along the east side of Steens Mountain takes us to Fields, OR, a former stagecoach stop between Burns and Winnemucca, NV. The Fields Station Cafe is noted for its terrific burgers and milkshakes; we check for ourselves and agree! Folks say that our next segment into Nevada should be passable with only a few muddy spots so we ride on, enjoying great views of wildlife and desert scenery. We emerge from our dirt-road bliss onto Highway 140 near the border of Oregon, California and Nevada. Our next leg takes us through Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge to Cedarville, CA, and Alturas.