From Sagebrush to Ruby Lake

stories from the open road
June 4, 2018

An Oliver Travel Trailers’ Journey to Ruby Lake

By: Frank McMichael, Hull No.101

During the night the wind stopped and the awareness of that seeped into me with the early morning light. With the light also came the remembrance that I had forgotten to stop for groceries as I passed through some several towns on the way to my sagebrush campsite. No eggs over easy and crispy bacon were to be had for breakfast this morning. Two hard boiled eggs from the refrigerator and a handful of almonds had to suffice for breakfast until a market was available. There was leftover coffee in the percolator that had traveled in the kitchen sink since my Baker City breakfast of yesterday. It was not fresh brewed but it was okay after being warmed in the microwave oven.

My travel trailer has a 2,000 watt inverter that converts 12 volt direct current from my battery pack to 120 volt alternating current. The electricity stored in my batteries comes from my solar array which makes electricity from sunshine. Via this process, electricity from my solar array powers the microwave oven which makes microwaves that warmed my coffee. In essence, I was warming my coffee with energy from sunshine. Sunshine warmed coffee is one more reason why my Oliver is beloved by me.

Upon making camp at my sagebrush site, I thought the Nevada line was near but did not know how close it might be. About ten miles after connecting to US 95 the next morning, the Oregon/Nevada line was passed. Except for a sign, there was no other official marking of the crossover of the line as Nevada was entered. California has a pest control station at every entry road into the State that one must pass through upon entrance. Nevada doesn’t care what pests come and go which effectively relieved me of having to look over my shoulder.

The community of McDermott was immediately across the line. Entering the community caught me by surprise as I was not expecting any such, so soon after entering Nevada. It was not very large, maybe a block long and it had a casino. In my mind, the siting of a casino nearly on the State line indicated an eagerness to get my gambling money. It was amusing as I did not have any. Not having gambling money may be one way to be labeled a pest in Nevada, so I might have to look over my shoulder after all.

Curb space in front of the McDermott Hotel was unclaimed so I claimed it, parking nearly at the front door. The hotel was created back in the horse and mule mining days of the late 1800s and early 1900s. It was the central place for miners of that time in that area to get a drink and food. Today the hotel is a casino and restaurant with rooms for rent. For $6.50, I had a breakfast of 2 eggs, 2 pancakes, 2 sausages and 2 bacons. It wasn’t gourmet but it sure improved my attitude. While waiting for breakfast, I spent some amount of time looking at various photographs on the restaurant walls depicting the history of miners of long ago and of mining equipment utilized by them. This kind of photographic history interests me greatly, I really enjoyed seeing the tools and machinery of yesteryear. The men in the pictures were neither large nor tall. Their small size was due to the physical work they did with limited rations and their height was the result of generations of hunger from whence they came. My breakfast would have been greatly uncommon to their experience.

The hotel, “Say When” casino, two gas stations and a motel were the only commercial activity I saw. Other than employment at those, I am not sure what locals do for work. There may still be local mining activity nearby as Nevada is known as the mining State. I don’t remember seeing much housing either but surely there was some. I forgot to take a picture of McDermott so I had to lean on Wikipedia. The farthest part of the brown run together building on the left is the Hotel. I didn’t go into the casino.

McDermott is about 30 miles north of Winnemucca

McDermott is about 30 miles north of Winnemucca. Winnemucca is where I made connection to IS 80 east. The last time I was there (more than 3 decades ago) it was barely more than a wide spot in the road with a casino. Today it appears to be a large thriving community. For some reason, Winnemucca did not encourage me to stop. IS 80 east took me to Elko, Nevada another “didn’t used to be but now thriving place.” Elko was good for a grocery and gas stop. Winnemucca and Elko were sunny. Elko’s temperature was pleasant enough that a tee shirt was just right.

Elko’s temperature was pleasant enough that a tee shirt was just right.

Approximately 15 miles east of Elko, I took SR 229 toward Ruby Valley and Ruby Lake. Shortly after turning onto 229, this sign made warning. Having just gassed up in Elko, I ignored it but it did cause me a moment of hesitation. I should have noted the warning in the sky as well and remembered that the Ruby Mountains are the wettest mountains in Nevada.

Ruby Valley Road

As I remember, after approximately 25 miles, SR 229 connected to Highway 767, known as the Ruby Valley Road. At this junction Route 229 turned north to connect to US 93. North on 93 will take one into Idaho or south will allow travel on the north side of the Ruby Mountains and ultimately, connection with US 50 in Ely.

SR 229 was paved. It passed through “open range” cattle country.

In open range country, the cows have the right of way. If they want to stop and stand in the road so as to block traffic then the traveler must tolerate that. I once had a Big Horn Ram do this near Zion National Park. He stood in the middle of the road for about ten minutes as I sat watching and then leisurely walked to the cliff face, hopped upon it and turned and looked toward my truck as if watching me. Not a concern in the world – he knew he owned the place.

hundred mile drive to Elko

Open range cows apparently like to poop on the road because the road had ample cow patties. Not all were able to be dodged by my dodge PU, so Oliver was excrementally “baptized”, so to speak. The Ruby Valley Road was dirt and gravel with an additional extra helping of cow patty paving. The road took me past dozens of ranch gate driveways where one could see houses, barns and corrals. Sometimes horses could be seen in fenced enclosures near the barns along with an occasional cow or two.

I didn’t observe any stores in Ruby Valley. I had already been warned by the sign that there were no gas stations. The locals don’t just run out for a gallon of milk or a loaf of bread in this part of the world. Depending on which end of the Valley a person resided, a shopping trip was an eighty to hundred mile drive to Elko.

Much of Nevada has this isolated circumstance. The isolation tends to attract a certain kind of person who is self-reliant, has a dislike of crowds and has a bit of pioneering spirit. Disliking crowds gets a “me too” agreement from me. In traveling with my beloved Oliver, I seek remoteness for the peace and quiet, a sense of solitude and clear night skies unencumbered by street and parking lot lighting. I couldn’t live remote however, there is more difficulty and hardship involved in living that way than I would want. And, there would be no wife, at least not the one that I have had for more than fifty years. I own an Oliver because I can go to remote areas when I want, with comfort. She has no interest in coming with me.

Ruby Valley contains the Ruby Lake National Wildlife Refuge

After 40 miles of eating dust and dodging cow patties, I saw this sign, it was most welcome. Ruby Valley contains the Ruby Lake National Wildlife Refuge. The Refuge includes wetlands and a lake that functions as a resting location and feeding area for migratory birds. Ducks, Trumpeter Swans, and Sandhill Cranes seasonally use this location. It is a home or stop over location for 220 species of birds. The Refuge is one of the most important waterfowl nesting areas in the Great Basin and intermountain West.

It is also a seasonal gathering place for Sage Grouse. Thus, my interest in spending some time in this Valley.

This part of the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest does not allow dispersed camping, so it was necessary for me to use the south Ruby campground which cost $7.50 if one has a senior pass. It was worth maybe that much. Water was available at the location where the camp host hid out across the highway from the campground. Because I did not need it, my memory is vague about the availability of a dump station but I think there was one near the camp host’s location.

south ruby campground

The gravel sites were not level. I chose one that had swing room for backing and was enclosed on three sides by tall Juniper bushes and trees which would provide a nice windbreak. The parking area for the trailer had a hummock or a little hill which made it simultaneously up and down steep. It was also off level from side-to-side by 8-9 inches for the width of the trailer. The way most trailers are leveled side-to-side is by running the low-side tires up onto blocks.

This requires that the site be within a few inches of level. Any trailer that utilized this method could not use this site as it would have been impossible to obtain a leveling by driving up onto blocks 8-9 inches high.

The Oliver has three integral electric jacks – a front tongue jack and one on each side of the trailer by the rear tires. Upscale motorhomes have similar integral leveling jacks. Most new trailers today have an electric tongue jack which allows front to back leveling. I have yet to see any other trailer with integral electric jacks for side-to-side leveling. I am not talking about stabilizer jacks that are used to reduce trailer rocking while occupied. Many trailers have those type of jacks. Those aren’t designed for leveling.

Oliver’s front tongue jack has a bull’s eye level on it that will register both up and down level and side-to-side level. When the bubble of the front level is centered in the bull’s eye, then the trailer is level in both axes. (I usually double check with a two foot carpenter’s level.) Except for placing several stacked 4 x 6 x 12 inch wood blocks under the jack on the low side, leveling the Oliver was a matter of pushing switches until the bubble was in the bull’s eye. Within a few minutes I was able to be in the “bubble” and level.

I use the stacked wood blocks for load spreading in soft soil and for reducing the amount of downward travel of the jack. That way there is less potential for bending stress on the jack arm versus being fully extended. One other nice thing about the Oliver’s jacks is that each jack is stout enough to raise that side’s tires off the ground. This allows easier change of a flat tire, easier installation of snow chains and easier access for brake and bearing maintenance. Compared to the method of placing a separate jack under the frame of the trailer, integral jacks are far safer in that the jack can’t slip from the frame while a tire has been removed or is being removed. Also safer, because less time would be needed by a busy road for changing a flat tire. Integral electric jacks are yet another reason why my Oliver is beloved by me.

The elevation at Ruby Lake is in excess of 6,000 feet. It gets cold there in the winter. I was there the latter part of May. Four months earlier, a Ruby Valley rancher died in a heavy snow storm that struck the Valley. The snow was gone but the cold was still hanging on. With wind gusting at 20-25 mph, I did not spend much time outside after leveling the Oliver. By 5:30 with lowering skies and rain turning to sleet, I went inside and made warmth and something to eat a priority. Thank God for the Oliver’s furnace that can quickly warm the interior. In a very short time I was enjoying my bubble of heat while it was sleeting outside. “Camping is hard” he said facetiously to himself.

In recent past years, the timing of my late May arrival would have been good for observing wildlife in the spring. At this elevation, late May can be about the time that rattle snakes come out of their rocky dens hoping to find a Kangaroo Rat or two for lunch. I didn’t see any snakes, but if I did, I would’ve needed to bring them into my Ollie to warm them up in order to get snake bit.

I stayed for an additional two days hoping the weather would turn. The weather remained the same as the day of my arrival, cold and nasty. Except from a far distance, I was unable to see much in the way of birds or other wildlife. Spotting scopes are helpful, once one’s eyes inform where to direct it. They aren’t much help when the rain and mist prevent or obscure initial observation. Cold and wet causes inactivity in birds and animals as well.

And, it didn’t take me long to become weary of being outside tramping around in the cold and wet. For more time than I normally prefer, I retreated to a cup of tea and a book in the warmth of the Oliver. And, a nap or two as well. I have become such a wuss in my old age.

“This was the day that was.”

This story was prepared or accomplished by the author in his personal capacity. The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of Oliver Travel Trailers, Inc.