Nevada Trip 05 (12/16 - 12/21)

By Eric Hampshire

All our photos

This year’s trip was a bit different than the usual. The biggest difference was the time of year. The past 3 years, Nevada has always been a summer trip. We bring lots of sun tan lotion, our wide-brimmed cowboy hats, jeans, and a t-shirt. Possibly a sweatshirt as the temperature drops to mid-60’s at night. The 2005 trip was scheduled for winter, and not just normal, run of the mill winter. It was cold. It was cold in Santa Clara the entire week leading up to the trip. For whatever reason, California seemed to skip fall entirely this year and went straight from beautiful, summer-like weather to cold winter. Not much rain, just plain cold.

Complete map of the trip:

Here are the stops:

4 – Eagleville

7 – Bovard and the one just south of it (camping first night)

9 – Mina, got food here

11 – Tonopah, motel first night

13 – Blair, building with smoke stack

14 – Silver peak

15 – Nivloc

20 – Camping third night

22 – Manhattan

24 – Ophir, snow road where we turned around

3 – Middlegate, we got burgers here

I left Santa Clara at about 12:30 on Friday to head to Sacramento. My goal was to beat the traffic on a typical Friday afternoon and make it to Sacramento before 3 when the traffic started there. I rolled into town at about 2:45 and called Dante, who gave me directions to his house. After making it to Dante’s house, we decided to go run our errands and pick up the truck from Tom’s parent’s house. We first went to Costco and grabbed a 32 pack of Miller Lite and Diet Pepsi and some breakfast Danishes. Then we swung by the camera store for a few last minute supplies (non-rechargeable batteries and the like). Heading over to Tom’s house to pick up the truck, we found it missing (out with his Mom), but his brother John was there, so we hung out for a bit. Then, on to REI to rent the 4-season tent and Food 4 Less to pick up more food – hot dogs, buns, ketchup, chili, fruit cocktail, chips and salsa. After a quick trip back to Dante’s to drop everything off, we successfully grabbed the truck from Tom’s parent’s and took it home to pack. Dante and I were a bit concerned about fitting everything in the bed of the pickup, especially since Tom’s dad had supplied a full spare tire for this year’s trip (since we punctured the sidewall in one of his last year). Dumping all the food and beer in the ice chest, with no need for ice, and with Dante fitting everything he was bringing into a rubbermaid tub, we fit with plenty of room for Tom’s gear. We even managed to remember firewood from Dante’s father’s stockpile in his yard. We packed everything that Friday night and set our alarms to get up and on the road by 6am the next day.

I quickly showered when the alarm went off and we were on the road by Reno Airport (Tom waiting for Eric and Dante)6:30am, headed for Reno. We stopped for a McDonald’s breakfast in Truckee and continued on, arriving in Reno around 8:45. Tom had called saying his plane was slightly delayed, but he still managed to make it by about 5 Chevron in Renominutes to 9. We were parked down the street, and ran over to get him. We headed back up to highway 80 and east, out of town. By the time we hit Fallon, we’d run through almost a full tank of gas (Tom’s dad had given it to us with a full tank), so we stopped quickly for gas. This year was probably best characterized by much more numerous stops by the side of the road to photograph the landscape or other interesting things along the side of the road. We were definitely less hurried to get to our destination and sort of meandered along the road, looking for good photo opportunities instead of trying to make them out of specific, ghost-town destinations.

Here was the view from our first stop, Eagleville.
To the left: To the right:
Tom and I both climbed up to the top of the hill we had parked about halfway up. There was also a cool mine, that opened up after about 20 feet with a nice little skylight. We spent about an hour or two just climbing around this one hill and then decided to drive out. On the way out, we noticed a view we just could not resist to shoot and came away with several incredible pictures. Both Tom and Dante broke out their medium format cameras and went to town.

We then drove back down to the main road, through a little pass, and came across the most beautiful valley any of us could remember seeing in Nevada. So, of course we had to stop. Dante probably got the best shot as I put bullet holes in the DANGER sign (notice them missing in the pic below).
We headed towards Bovard for our first night of camping and got thoroughly lost trying to follow the color GPS and it's wacky directions. We ended up going up a flooding bed that just dead ended. After getting out of the car and looking around, we found the real road we should have been following all along just above us with no easy way to access it (there were some suspicious looking tread marks up the right side of the flood bed where someone had atleast attempted to make it to the road, but we were doubtful our pickup could handle it). After sending Tom out with a walkie-talkie to guide me driving the truck, we finally got back on the road heading up into the hills. As you can see from the photos, it was getting dark at this point, so we quickly found Bovard, and just kept driving until the road basically ended. We parked, hiked the rest of the way to check out the deteriorated structure on the hill and scoped out a campsite.

Our first night's campsite: Dante decided to take some slow-exposures of Tom as he struggled to setup a tent we'd never seen before in pitch black darkness:

As you can tell, we eventually got the tent setup and a fire going. We cooked our chili (only knocking over one) and a full pack of hot dogs (losing a couple to the fire, as well). Overall, a very good meal and we were in bed before 9. My mattress pad had flown off the back of the pickup somewhere along 80 on the way to Reno the day before, so I was sleeping on the cold, hard ground beneath the tent. This proved to be a mistake as whatever side I was sleeping on got very, very cold and I would just have to turn over. Of course, this meant I was tossing and turning all night. Tom eventually got fed up with Dante and my snoring and put in some earplugs he had brought for shooting. At one point in the middle of the night, we realized it was snowing, but we had not staked the tent fly. So, Tom and I got up and attempted to stake the tent to the ground. The stakes that came with our REI-rented tent were not very sharp, nor very sturdy, so pounding them into the ground with the shovel just left us with bent stakes. After pushing them in the best we could, Tom pulled the ice chest over and tied to the 2 front straps to either side of the ice chest. More towards the morning, I woke to the tent being blown about by the wind. I think I also noticed the fly was gone at this point. A little later Tom woke up and began to freak out that the fly was gone and must have blown away. I told him not to worry, as the ice chest should have kept it from blowing down the mountain. Sure enough, after looking outside, the fly was only a few feet away. But, boy, was it cold! With no fly, the tent let the wind blow right through it. At that point, we just decided to get up and get going. The snow had made our view even better (and, of course, we started to document it):

We packed up the truck and began to drive down the hillside to the other structures below. I asked Tom if he wanted me to drive as there was a particularly tricky part immediately up the bank from our campsite. He said he was good and as we crested the top, he was being very wary of the upcoming rock on the left. At this point, I figured he hadn't noticed the rock on the right as well, so I said, "Look out for the rock on the right". I then repeated it just as we heard a thump and he ran into it. The damage was done, however, as he didn't stop fast enough and the rock scraped the running board under the door. He put the truck in park and decided to let me take over. I successfully guided the truck out of the narrow passageway and we continued down the hill. I was not very inspired and managed to fall asleep in the passenger seat of the truck while Tom and Dante took pictures for an hour or so.

We headed back down the mountain and further south. Turning off the road to the west, we found another cool photo opportunity with a couple structures and some mines. Tom got some awesome landscape shots as he climbed up a ridge. As he said, he went a little ways and it got good. He went a little further and it got even better. At some point we could barely see him as he climbed. At the top of the ridge, it was apparently so windy that he had to hold onto his tripod (which is not a light piece of equipment).

Most of the buildings were gone and one was completely smashed flat to the ground, but we could tell it used to be a sizeable establishment. There was also this strange rock formation off to the right side of the wood structures (looking up the hill).

About this time, we were getting hungry (having only eaten danishes for breakfast). So, we drove down the road and stopped at the cozy little town of Mina for lunch. Tom and Dante had hamburgers, while I had a French dip sandwich with fries for lunch. Tom was brave enough to order the potato salad and we all had coffee and water to drink. The waitress was very impressed that we left a $5 tip on a $20 tab. We took the opportunity to offload our memory cards (Dante and I didn't bring 4.5 GB of flash memory like Tom). The only other strange thing was the men's bathroom had no door on the stall, so we all felt a little exposed as we relieved ourselves. We jumped across the street to the "general store" for some lighters (we'd only managed to bring one) and a candy bar.

A little further up the road, the landscape was beautiful as ever and we found a more modern ghost town to photograph. The backdrop to the town was really nice and the clouds were cooperating, but this is probably the best shot we got.

Bar Sluts Dante's shot

At this point, it was getting pretty dark. One of the other differences this year was the lack of light. The sun would set just before 5 and because there was usually cloud cover, we didn't really get any good sunset shots. A combination of cloud cover and us being down in the valley ensured that the light for shooting photos really deteriorated after about 3:30. So, from our modern ghost town stop, we decided to head to Tonopah for a night in a motel. On the way to Tonopah, we stopped off at a rest stop as Tom had to pee. The rest stop actually turned out to have a couple nice photo ops. The funniest thing was Dante and Tom were discussing the shot of the picnic tables and another traveler came out of the restroom, sort of stopped, looked at them, and snapped a picture with his little point and click. We found this amusing as he probably had no idea what he was taking a picture of and after his trip got home and thought, "What the heck was I taking a picture of?" and deleted it.

Tonopah is probably the largest town between Reno/Sparks/Carson City and Las Vegas. The town has about 7 or 8 motels, numerous restaurants, a McDonald's, and a Scolari's (grocery store). We drove through town and stopped at the grocery store to grab some more supplies (namely latex gloves to wear under our fingerless gloves and keep our hands warmer while shooting pics). We then went to our favorite motel and booked a room. Dante took a shower while Tom took some pictures of our room. We then setup the laptops and proceeded to offload our flash cards and critique our pictures from the first half of the trip. We continued to drink beer while we looked through our pictures and waited for Tom's slow-ass USB 1 connection to grok through his photos. By the time we were thinking about dinner, I'd had at least 4 beers and none of us were in any shape to drive. So, we walked outside and tried to decide what to eat. Now, we've never gotten any good food in Tonopah, but we were still optimistic at this point. The Mexican restaurant across the street sucked last year, and wherever we ate the first year none of us could remember it being good, so Dante figured we should just walk to McDonald's. Of course, McD's was all the way through town and on the far side. Tom and I weren't very warmly dressed, but we trudged along for about 5 minutes or so. Then we saw the gas station across the street had pizza. Walking in, it looked like a decent pizza place as it was sort of separate from the gas station register. So, we ordered a 14 incher with bread steaks and 2 1-liter sodas. We browsed the merchandise and Tom picked up a bunch of candy he had yet to try while we waited for our pizza. It took about 10 minutes and then we headed back to the room to eat. Well, let me tell you, that pizza sucked ass. It was the worst thing any of us had ever seen or tasted. And the bread sticks were even worse. We were hungry, though, so we managed to scoop the pizza out of the box (you had to fold the pizza onto the crust to be able to transport it) and chowed down. I think we all bitched the whole way through the meal and were severely disappointed we wasted our appetite on such crappy food. More beer soon had us sedated and we eventually crashed (again, around 9).

We had set an alarm for 8 so we would make sure to get an early enough start and not sleep through all the good light. We knew we were headed towards Nivloc, but decided to get breakfast at the only place in town we could trust to give us at least some minimum quality of food - McDonald's.

On the way to Nivloc, we decided to stop off at Blair. Blair was all concrete structures and looked like it used to be quite a sizeable operation. Both Tom and Dante broke out their medium format cameras. Neither Tom or myself got very good pictures of the place, but Dante got a pretty good shot of the structure on the hill.

Dante's medium format shot The building down below

As we'd never been to Nivloc, we were a little anxious to get there. Our first stop, however, was a little town called Silver Peak. As we forgot to get gas in Tonopah, we thought we needed to get some as we weren't sure how much we were going to explore the hills around Silver Peak (which, according to Tom, were rich in ghost towns and mines). Silver Peak used to be a town of about 500, but now has a population closer to 100 and only one thing to do in town - work for the mining company. As such, the town was a bit eerie as there were many abandoned buildings, playgrounds, and various other structures sprinkled throughout the town. We pulled in at the local "market" to ask where we could get gas. The girl there said the mining company would sell it to us, but would most likely rip us off. Tom attempted to use the pay phone, but needed a phone card to do so. The girl informed him he could buy one at the post office down the street, so he ran up there, got a card, and called Karin while Dante and I drove over to the office to find out about gas. Dante hopped out of the car and began to take pictures of the mining operation. He only got a couple off before someone came out of the office and asked what we were doing (probably my fault for parking right in front of the glass doors). We explained what we were about and then asked him if we could buy some gas. He said we sure could and that the price had just come down to $2.75/gallon. Um, that's not very much more than the gas in Tonopah, so we decided to fill up the tank. Talking to the guy giving us gas, we learned they were mining lithium and that's why they had so many turquoise pools around the mining operation.

Once our truck was full of fuel and we paid the guy $60 for the 19 gallons of gas, we headed further south to Nivloc. Tom had seen pictures of Nivloc on the web and we were looking forward to it. However, as we got there, we found No Trespassing signs posted around the site, which made Tom nervous about getting close to the cool looking structures. So, we drove around the hill to see if there was anything we could get to. As we were out there, a couple hunters drove by in their pickup, headed down the hill. After about 30 minutes and a quick look at the map, we decided to at least go back around the hill and take pictures of Nivloc from across the road. Tom and I climbed the hill to get a better viewpoint, while Dante took pictures from the road. He turned out to make the better decision as he noticed a herd of mountain goats on the same hill Tom and I had climbed. He got some great shots of the animals as they eventually scared, crossed the road, and headed off into the hills. They managed to do this just as the hunters drove back by us and they didn't see the goats. Dante decided to move the truck closer to a explosive storage room cut into the side of the hill (so he wouldn't have to carry his medium format back up the hill). For whatever reason, he had turned off his walkie-talkie, so Tom and me yelling at him through it that the tailgate was still down and our food was about to spill out along with the ice chest as he drove up the hill were wasted. He realized once he stopped and thank goodness no mishaps occurred, but it was a close call. Neither Tom nor myself got very good shots from the top of the hill, but here's a shot of what Nivloc looks like.

Tom and I eventually climbed down after some discussion about where to go next to figure out what Dante was up to. Dante had his camera setup in the explosive's storage and was working on setting up a slow exposure with his medium format. Not really knowing how to work it, things took awhile as Tom explained the steps required (Dante's medium format used to belong to Tom). We sat around for almost 30 minutes waiting on Dante and snacked on some cheese and crackers.

Since Tom had been planning on a trip to Manhattan for a specific shot he hadn't gotten quite right the first year, we knew we had to be pretty far north the next day. We figured that the best light would be in the morning, so we needed to camp in or around Manhattan that night. So, we left Nivloc, drove back through Silver Peak and Tonopah (doh, could have waited till then to get gas!), we headed north. About 10 minutes from the turn off to Manhattan, we saw a sign for a campground off to the left. So, we turned off and went in search of it. Of course, by this time it was pitch black and we couldn't see anything off to the side of the road. A sign said it was 7 miles to both the campground and a particular ranch. The ranch was on the GPS, so we headed towards that. It required a turn to the left and we were going back south. As we reached the ranch, we realized the campground was no where near. After looking at all our maps, we realized the topo maps were the only one that mentioned a campground. And, we should have gone straight instead of turning left.
So, we headed back north and got on the correct road. Just before the campground and just inside Toyabe national forest a couple houses sat (most of which looked empty) and the tire tracks stopped. We knew we'd be the only people at the campground. It was a little tough to find in dark, but we eventually found a nice campsite, left the car on for the use of the headlights, and proceeded to setup camp. This time Dante was in charge of the fire and Tom and I setup the tent. We tied all the stake-points for the fly to various trees and bushes surrounding the tent to keep it from flying away and us dry in case it snowed on us again. The campsite was very comfortable as we cooked our standard meal of hot dogs and chili. We had also purchased some wine from Scolari's in Tonopah as we decided Dante's incessant farting was because of the lite beer we had been drinking. So, we made him drink wine while we sat around. We managed to stay up later as we didn't hit the sacks until about 10pm. Both Tom and Dante took slow exposures of our campsite, but Dante cheated and used the headlights from the truck.

Tom was the first to get up yet again as he was anxious to hit Manhattan. Looking out of the little gorge we were in, it was obvious the sun was shining on much of the valley and there were only a few scattered clouds in the sky. We quickly broke camp, piled everything in the truck, and headed back to the main road and on to Manhattan. To our surprise a mining operation had opened directly across from the structures we came to photograph (about a mile out of downtown Manhattan).
We were anxious they had fenced our structures in, but it turned out they had built just to the right of them. Since we planned on shooting towards the hill anyways, the new buildings did not pose a problem. However, almost as soon as we had parked, someone came out of the office and asked what we were up to. We once again explained what we were doing and he asked us to re-park the truck to leave the road clear. We complied and then he gave us a warning about a cave-in they had less than 4 weeks ago. This naturally peaked my curiosity so I went to find out what he was talking about. They had fenced off the big hole in the ground, but I was able to get a fairly good shot of it.
As this was the place Tom had really wanted to visit the whole trip, we spent over an hour while he played with his digital and medium format cameras to get the perfect shot. After shooting 2 full rolls of film, he remarked that he had better have gotten the shot he needed (I'm sure he did). Dante chose to photograph the closer structure, but also spent a lot of time getting the perfect shot.
Tom's Dante's

I finished shooting and went back to the truck for some breakfast and Tom soon joined me. We then set out for downtown Manhattan and spent a little bit walking around the town shooting the buildings. Dante focused on the bank, while Tom walked down the road and got pictures of almost every building in town. His best shot is captured here.

By this time it was late morning, and we knew it was a long ways back to Reno, so we hit the road and decided to stop along the way at anything interesting. After a couple stops along the side of the road to take pictures of the valley, we turned off the road and headed for Ophir. As we got to the base of the mountain there was a sign saying the road/trail was maintained by a local 4 wheel drive club. That didn't faze us too much, but things soon got hairy. The road snaked its way up a rather narrow canyon with a small stream running down the middle. This meant lots of stream crossings as the road went back and forth up the canyon. The entire landscape was coated in snow and we started hitting snow that was about a foot thick. Lacking snow tires, our truck struggled at some points, especially coming out of a stream crossing and heading up the far bank (as the tires were now wet). We slipped and slided our way past the point the previous tracks turned around and ended up turning around ourselves when the truck was unable to make it any further. Dante and Tom snapped a few pictures and then we decided to do some shooting (with guns). We hadn't shot very much this Nevada trip and had tons of ammo left. I had bought clay pigeons to shoot at, so we set them up against the 2x6's we had brought in case the truck got stuck. Tom pulled out my shotgun and managed to get a round jammed. As we disassembled the gun trying to fix it, Tom popped out the spring and it went flying completely over the truck to land in the snow on the other side. I thought we had lost it, but soon found it laying by the opposite tire of the truck. We eventually were able to get the round out and re-assemble the gun, but it had ruined the shooting experience. So, we packed up and headed back down the hill.
As we were coming down the hill we noticed more structures off to the right that we had missed on the way in. This meant it was time to stop the truck and go take some pictures since the backdrop was really nice (I think it was Round Mountain in the back). Both Tom and Dante got some good shots of these structures. They were hungry so after they were finished shooting pictures, Tom made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for a quick lunch and then we drove back to the main road to continue north.
Once we hit Highway 50, we turned left and went west back towards Reno. Coming over a summit, we found ourselves in Austin and realized this was the long lost town we got stranded in our first year. We had fond memories of the town and were glad to finally confirm which town it really was. We stopped for gas and to take pictures of all the places we had been 4 years ago. Looking at the map we realized we were going to pass the bar Tom and Dante had camped next to and had wonderful burgers at. So, we headed for that and I was really looking forward to it since I hadn't eaten sandwiches with Tom and Dante.
After filling up on burgers (I had a double bacon cheeseburger), we drove straight into Reno, arriving somewhere around 6 (just in time for Reno rush hour). We decided to stay downtown and picked a cheap-looking motel right behind Circus Circus. For $50/night, they were decent accommodations, but the room wasn't near as big as our room in Tonopah (which was only $30 for the night). We checked in, piled most of the stuff into our room as we were afraid of getting things ripped off in the back of the pickup, took showers, Tom packed, and offloaded our pics. After the bar burgers, none of us were very hungry so we just snacked on some crackers and cheese. We shared the last of our beer and put a dent in the remaining wine. I was exhausted and passed out while Tom and Dante went for a walk. We still went to bed early with the alarms set for 5am.

Rising early, I managed to squeeze in a shower before we packed up the truck and dropped off Tom at the airport in time for his 7am departure. The clerk at the front desk of our motel had warned us of rush hour traffic and said to budget 30 minutes to get to the airport. We made it in less than 10, so Tom was dropped off at about 5:40. We contemplated going out for breakfast, but none of us were very hungry, so we just said our goodbyes and Dante and I headed for Sacramento. I let Dante drive as I was still pretty tired. Coming over the Donner Summit was a bit of a challenge as the rain started soon after leaving Reno. The rain continued the entire trip to Sacramento with it turning to a blizzard at the very peak. Overall it was a very wet ride, with low visibility (we ended up going about 20-25 mph on the summit). At one point the tarp came loose in the back and we had to pull over to cover our gear the best we could.

When we got back to Sacramento, we unloaded the truck and cleaned it out the best we could at Dante's house. Then we took the truck to find a carwash. Since it was raining, no one had a carwash open, so we got the inside cleaned for $10 and then took it back to Tom's parents. Picking up Dante's car, we went back to Dante's house and I headed towards my grandparent's (in south Sacramento). Less than 10 minutes after leaving Dante called me and asked if he could have his pictures off my laptop. Laughing, I drove back and offloaded all the pictures we had taken so everyone had a copy.

Overall the Nevada trip was a complete success. As each year goes by we get better at execution and end up with less snags. Despite the cold weather, we had a lot of fun and had beautiful sky and backdrops for our pictures. The desert is beautiful to us anytime of year, but the snow on the ground added an extra dimension we had yet to experience. Normally the roads are boring dirt tracks that we try and leave out of our pictures. This year, they were bright white highlights that we tried to include as they took us further into the landscape shot. The snow also added extra shadowing and space to our pictures of the mountains as often only one side would still be white while the sun had melted the other side completely. The range of colors looking at a landscape shot was simply amazing and everywhere we went was a perfect photo opportunity. It was hard not to just creep up the road, stopping every mile or so to take pictures, but we managed. Despite the compressed timeframe (we usually have 5 days), the trip was one of our best and showed us we need to schedule the trip for various times of the year instead of trying to hit it during the summer every time.