Oliver Travel Trailers

From Ruby Lake to Cathedral Gorge

stories from the open road
June 13, 2018


By: Frank McMichael, Hull No.101

After three days at Ruby Lake in my travel trailer, I reluctantly decided to leave as the cold weather was predicted to continue for a longer period then I wanted to wait. The weather was very cold on the morning I left, colder than the day before and colder than my little twinkle toes can tolerate. The sky was dark and rain seemed imminent, so I left before it imminenced all over me. The electrically warmed steering wheel was much appreciated this morning. I told you that I was a wuss.

My choices of ways to leave were to re-trace the way I came in, including the nearly 40 miles of dirt and gravel road or to continue south which also included approximately forty miles or more of similar road, except it would be “new” country. I chose the new country. This choice would eventually bring me to US 50. From that junction I could go east toward Ely or west toward Reno. Which was to be chosen had not yet been revealed to me by my nose.

Not too long after I left Ruby Valley, I passed an active gold mining site at Bald Mountain. It looked like a big site in that there were all kinds of industrial looking pipes and buildings. Gold mining in Nevada produces nearly 80% of the gold mined in the US. Much of the gold mined in Nevada are from open pit mines using a chemical leaching process known as cyanidation to separate the gold from the ore which seemed to explain all the industrial looking piping infrastructure. I couldn’t observe the mining pit from the road that I assume was beyond the fence but would have liked to have seen it.

The Bald Mountain mine is a very large operation, I have read that it is the largest in the US. There were a half dozen or so large open bed trucks loaded with parts, supplies and other heavy equipment waiting to enter the mine gate. The gate was guarded by a guard shack and security personnel, two were standing amidst the entry gate road watching the trucks. They gave me a once over as I rolled by, while tempted, I didn’t give in to the urge to stop and take a photo.

I have read that gold worth multiple tens of billions of dollars (estimated to be $250 billion at today’s prices) have been extracted from the state of Nevada. Most of Nevada’s land was occupied by the Shoshone Indians before being taken over by the US which claims ownership of nearly 85% of Nevada. In 1863 the Ruby Valley Treaty was signed (or marked) by 12 Shoshone chiefs. This Treaty would allow travel by others across their lands and would also allow prospecting and mining of minerals (e.g. gold and silver), agricultural settlements and ranches, logging of timber and the erection of mills.

Current day Shoshones claim this Treaty did not cede their land to the US, that they still own the land and that money is owed to them for the allowed activities under the Treaty. They have been in extensive litigation for decades attempting to recoup that which was taken from them or to be paid some significant amount for the use of their land. They have had little success in that US courts have rejected their claims but they keep trying. There must be something to their claims in that the US government offered them $145 million to settle which they did not accept. Of course, this is a pittance by comparison to just the amount of gold taken from these lands.

The drive along this road covered a lot of desert. In some places there were hills and Juniper forests but mostly it was flat, rocky desert. The road was unpaved with myriad ruts and potholes. While it was a bit wet when I first left Ruby Valley, it was not muddy. As I got closer to US 50 it became dusty. From the looks of the road, during wet times of rain or snow melt, it would be impassable for most vehicles – even a four wheel drive vehicle. It was my luck that I came through it while it was dry or relatively so. There were times that I could not avoid potholes, there were so many close together. Even though I was going very slowly, each time I felt my Ollie drop into a hole, I shuddered. I didn’t do this so much with the truck but then my Oliver is beloved and the truck is not. Not only am I a wuss, I am a quirky old man.

Not long after passing the Bald Hill mine, I saw a freshly killed elk alongside the road. Animals are hard to see if driving at night and they have a tendency to jump into headlights. More than one deer or elk have been killed by such action on their part. It had not been dead long enough for decomposition to be obvious. As yet, the body was not attracting vultures. Although nature, red of tooth and claw, can readily be observed in the desert, the deaths of road kill animals somehow bothers me more than seeing a kill for survival by a predator. Maybe because it seems so senseless and unnecessary. In this sense it bothered me to see this death but I also know that the coyotes, foxes, crows and vultures will benefit from this unexpected bounty. Seeing a vulture rise from roadkill has a way of pinging one’s sense of mortality.

A car that accidentally killed an animal that large would have needed high speed to do so. This road did not support speed much more than 25-30 mph and even that was a stretch in many places. Because of the many potholes, this speed or faster would have destroyed the tires and the suspension of a car or pickup truck. However, large truck tires would bridge many of the holes that would harm smaller vehicles so they have the ability to drive these types of roads with greater speed.

I have seen cars that have hit a deer at normal road speed, the front end was completely destroyed. The impact at road speed of animals as large as this elk would have destroyed the car and perhaps the driver would have been killed. There was not a wrecked vehicle or other usual indicators that a car collision had occurred. Keeping in mind that a tow truck was about a hundred miles distant, given the freshness of the kill, a wrecked car would likely still be beside the road. In any case, the preponderance of traffic on this road were mine trucks. A diesel truck with a heavy load, would not need so much speed to be lethal. It is my conjecture that a large mine delivery truck must have hit the animal. If so, damage would have been far less than to a car and the truck would have been able to continue onward.

Nevada is vast in size with many state roads that have little to offer in the way of communities and facilities. It is important to pay attention to the gas gauge, as often opportunities to re-fuel can be many miles apart. Once my tank is between 3/4 and less, I start looking for opportunities to fill up as it is not always certain there will be fuel ahead. I do not pass a fuel stop when my tank is at that level or less. This habit of topping off whenever possible once triggered my credit card company to deny my use until I called. To them it was suspicious that the card was being used that often. Also, their computer algorithm does not account for vast distances in the West that may be speedily traversed in a few hours’ time with a concomitant high usage of fuel, so using a card several times a day triggers their worry gremlins.

There were no gas stations along the dusty road from IS 80 to US 50. Ruby Valley doesn’t even have a store, let alone a gas station. From the time I left Ruby Lake, checking my gas gauge became almost compulsive. As the gauge crept ever lower, my nervousness increased. Because of concern about gas, it seemed like it took forever before I hit the pavement of US 50. I had last refueled in Elko. By the time that I arrived to US 50, my tank was slightly more than 1/4 full or about ¾ empty, depending on one’s world view. This amount was good for maybe 80 miles if I drove at a careful speed. Once I made the connection to US 50, Ely was less than forty miles east and it would have gas. Reno was farther, so my nose pointed east. Ordering that oversized tank when I ordered my truck continues to be a good investment.

Very soon after heading toward Ely, I came across a herd of cows on the highway, mostly mamas with babies, 3 or 4 dozen altogether. This is not an open range area. I am not sure how they got through the fence on to the road, but they did. With cows, when one goes somewhere, others tend to follow; so the first cow through the broken fence had many followers. The grass was not green on either side but clearly new was better than what they had. The unknown owners will likely have a difficult time rounding them up and may lose a few. Highway 50 is major east/west high traffic travel road. It is a 70 mph road and the cows seem oblivious to the danger.

From Ruby Lake to Cathedral Gorge

It appeared that most of the cows had calves about 3-4 months old. It was very interesting to watch how the baby calves stayed right alongside mom. They may not know much but they know that mom was food and safety, so close by was good. The reason that I was stopped when these pictures were taken is that there were cows before me and behind me.

My cow experience is from being raised on a dairy farm. Milk cows are seldom antagonistic as they are used to being around people. Because of seldom being around people, range cows are suspicious of people and will be very protective of their young when a human comes into sight. As can be seen from the photos they were attempting to avoid me by moving around me. I am quite sure that if I had attempted to walk toward them they would have turned and faced me down, giving warning that I should not come closer. After about ten minutes, the way forward was clear enough that I could proceed toward Ely.

From Ruby Lake to Cathedral Gorge

From Ely, I took US 93 south where I stopped at Cathedral Gorge State Campground which is about a dozen miles north of Caliente, Nevada. By the time I stopped (about 3 p.m.), I was tired and my back was really bothering me, so I did little but take some Tylenol, have a beer, sit outside in the wonderful warmth and sunshine and later make a sandwich for dinner. Although it was still light out, I was in bed by 7:30 hoping sleep would ease my back.

The following day I toured about the Gorge for a few hours, lolled in the sunshine and warm air with a book and in the late afternoon, drove to Caliente for dinner. Over the course of the day and the warm sunshine, my back eased enough that I began to consider my next move. Perhaps this would be a good time to visit Scotties Castle.

Caliente has an old two story, stucco railroad building that was originally built by the Union Pacific in 1905 in the style of Spanish Mission architecture. At that time Caliente was a major stopping point for the railroad. The building was meant to house railroad offices on the first floor and a hotel on the second floor. For many years Caliente was an Amtrak stop. When Amtrak stopped running, the depot was donated to the City of Caliente. Today, it is Caliente’s Civic Center.

From Ruby Lake to Cathedral Gorge

It was architecturally interesting enough to me that I took several pictures. Also took pictures of places in the Gorge. Somehow, I lost them, probably when I transferred a large batch of pictures from the camera to my computer. Therefore, I had to once again lean on Wikipedia for a photo.

I am missing others as well. Don’t know how that might have occurred other than gremlins messing with me. This is why I am more at ease with a kerosene lantern than a computer – a lantern is my level of technological understanding.

I stayed another day at the Campground. Through some application rigmarole with the State of Nevada and for a fee, I was previously able to obtain access to the internet so I was able to catch up with news and family stuff. This was the first time that I had internet in more than a week. Roughing it all the way, that’s me.

“This was the day that was.”


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