Monday, February 28, 2011

Onward to Winnemucca!

Nevada S.R. 140, part of the Winnemucca-to-the-Sea Highway, leaves Denio Junction for Winnemucca by turning southward, where it almost immediately cuts across a flat area — apparently known as "Antelope" — to head straight for Denio Summit. During our 2010 Oregon roadtrip, I forgot to schedule a stop just before the summit to see Lockwood's graphic granite locality, so MOH and I just breezed on through (darn!).
After crossing the Pine Forest Range at Denio Summit, the road shoots southeast across the northeast arm of the Black Rock Desert, coming within about a mile of Quinn River Crossing (MSRMaps location). Along this entire stretch of 140, you can look south to southwest into the the Black Rock Desert across the ranch lands and alfalfa fields of several historic and active ranches. That's part of the Pine Forest Range on the right side of the photo, and that's the Jackson Mountains on the left.


View Quinn River Crossing in a larger map
NE arm of the Black Rock Desert.
The shadows were impressive as we drove by the east side of the Jackson Mountains: Black Butte, a small cuesta in the foreground, is just eclipsing the rounded, more distant Bottle Hill. (MSRMaps location.)

The Winnemucca-to-the-Sea Highway, by the time it crosses the Quinn River north of the Jackson Mountains (a crossing I somehow missed), has turned east-southeast to head for its junction with Highway 95.
Nevada S.R. 140 officially ends at the junction of U.S. 95, but the Winnemucca-to-the-Sea Highway continues south, joining 95. This sign, honoring two rodeo cowgirls, is located just south of the junction; it's one of Winnemucca's many advertising billboards.

The city of Winnemucca has had quite a self-advertising campaign over the years, with odd to funny signs. Here's one from the Wisconsin Community Development Photo Archive. Other signs said things like:
Winnemucca. Where Life Begins!
Winnemucca. 5 Billion People Haven't Been There. [or "Here"??]
Winnemucca. The City by Battle Mountain.
I don't know how many of these signs, and others from that earlier era known as the eighties, are still extant.
About 15 miles north of Winnemucca, the road crosses a field of parabolic dunes coming from Lahontan lake beds or deltas near or around the alkali flats of Desert Valley at least 40 miles to the west. In fact, the entire length of the dune field is at least 55 miles, depending on where exactly in Desert Valley the field actually begins.


Our arrival in Winnemucca, after driving past the junction commemorating the Winnemucca-to-the-Sea Highway, was unremarkable and unrecorded; after checking in, we immediately went to one of the Basque watering holes restaurants for wine and vittles.

Read a little more about the Nevada portion of Highway 140 here, including some history about Quinn River Crossing and where to find some opal.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Onward to Denio Junction!


As a special winter treat, we're going back to the Winnemucca-to-the-Sea Highway, the next-to-last leg of last summer's Oregon trip, from the Highway 8A turnoff to Cedarville, CA, to that long awaited medium-sized Nevada town of Winnemucca, making it to Denio Junction in this post. (No snow in these pictures!) There are plenty of things to see along this part of the road, including exposures of possible rhyolite, dark brown with swirled flow foliation (left photo), and white to buff lacustrine to alluvial sediments (right photo). The volcanic flow that's being observed from about this location in Street View is shown on an embedded Google Maps view below. There may be one or more small faults in the sedimentary section seen in the right photo, but the angle on Google Street View makes that assessment unsure. I recommend stopping if there is a good pullover. (Interesting to even consider evaluating possible faults in the roadcut using Street View.)

At long last we make it into the small town of...
...Denio Junction! I've never stopped here, so can't tell you much about the place, but it looks like a small oasis in the desert, and an oasis is almost always a good thing.
At the junction, Highway 140, AKA the Winnemucca-to-the-Sea Highway, turns south (despite the sign that says "straight ahead" to Winnemucca), and a short spur S.R. 292 goes north to Denio on the Nevada-Oregon border, crossing into Oregon as Highway 205. (MSRMaps location.)

We should make it into Winnemucca this coming Monday! (Stay tuned.)

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Travel Thursday: Snow, Ice, and Birds

It was last week, and not just on Thursday, that I took out across Nevada and entered the Eureka "white hole" at a time when the road report said the road was open with no controls. The snow had come in so fast that highway signs saying "chains or snow tires required" had not been activated. The whiteout in Eureka, and across Diamond Valley toward Devils Gate and beyond, was not the worst whiteout I've driven in, but it certainly approached the worst in places.

When I left Eureka, where I had stopped for a short breather and to access the internet on my cell phone, the road report was already reporting chains and snow tires required over Bob Scott Summit. By the time I made it to Bob Scott, Austin Summit just beyond had socked in and was the worst part of my drive: whiteout, the road scraped by a lone snowplow only on the other side, and snow drifting into bumpy ridges on the unplowed side (my side).

I found when editing the whiteout photo above that I could actually make the conditions look much better than they really were with strong enhancement, so the photo is barely touched, just a slight change in color balance and the addition of a tad bit of contrast.
This section of Highway 8A, now S.R. 305, from Austin to Battle Mountain was damp but otherwise thankfully clear of falling or drifting snow.
I saw large flocks of small birds on the blacktop and in the flats right next to the road, especially along this entire section of old 8A, and also near Lone Mountain on Highway 50.
They would rise up as my truck approached, and I started randomly aiming the camera toward them, hoping for decent pictures. The photos were all cockeyed to begin with, then rotated toward horizontal during processing. I tried more than once to get pictures with the zoom set to 4x, hoping to get closeups of the birds, but all I got that way was a bunch of crooked sky pictures.
I must have driven through maybe 20 of these large flocks; I suppose I was lucky to have hit only one of them, but I really hate doing that.
Here's one of the birds close to the truck, nearly blending into the pavement. With MOH's help, I determined that these are most likely Horned Larks, possibly with some other hangers on like a few Longspurs or other related birds that typically hang together.
When I stopped at a rest area, I noticed that a strange phenomena had affected one of my tires: radiating masses of frozen slush or ice.
The shadows grew longer, the temperatures dropped into the teens, and I continued on toward my ever closer destination.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Spencer Hot Springs, Then and Now

I first came to Spencer hot springs in the mid to late 1970s, certainly by the summer of 1980. In the 70s and early 80s, the lower main hot spring (as opposed to the upper main hot spring) was inside a small cabin. Back then, you — or you and no more than one of your friends — could sit neck high in a large, rectangular, poured-concrete bathtub sitting in the southeast corner of the cabin. Hot water too hot to soak in was piped down to the cabin from the northern spring; the water came to the cement tub through a small hole in the wall. If the water was too hot in the bathtub, you moved the pipe aside or turned off a valve. If it was too cold, you did the opposite.
Spencer Hot Springs as seen from Highway 50, looking south, Toquima Range in the background. Photo taken May, 2008. MSRMaps location.

The cabin was partially divided into two rooms: the bathing room and the changing room. The thing to do upon arriving was to drive up and check for vehicles in front of the cabin. If one or more vehicles were parked nearby, you drove by slowly and parked off a ways, and waited for the bathers to exit. Then you moved your vehicle into place in front of the cabin and soaked. It was considered good hot-spring etiquette not to stay too long after another vehicle had arrived, unless you had just arrived.
Spencer Hot Springs as seen from the junction of Highway 50 with Highway 8A, now S.R. 376, looking east, also from May, 2008. The dirt road goes to Pete's Summit.

People carved, painted, and wrote graffiti — mostly of the “I’ve-been-here-and-when” variety — on the inside wood and metal walls of the cabin. Some of the writings were witty, some were a little racy or vulgar, depending on your point of view. Someone, or a group of people offended by the coarser graffiti, had already, by 1980 or so, started marking over any drawings or words they didn’t like, using red paint or markers. They also added some of their own writings; these were usually puritanical comments stating or implying that the authors whose words they had marked out should get religion and change their ways, or they would soon be going to some disagreeable hell — presumably a hell without hot springs, but hopefully, at least, a hell without the censorship of their red paint.

In 1981, two geologists from Northern Exploration Company — one contract geologist and one summer temp — wrote a poem commemorating the company, the mineral exploration we were doing, some of the key players, and the hot springs itself. They used nicknames when they referred to any of the head honchos, signed their names cryptically, and dated their contribution to the cabin wall. Within a few months to a year, the red-paint people had crossed out one of the NEC geologist’s nicknames, “Asshole,” because it was on their list of bad words. I doubt they knew, or would have cared, that it was an appropriate and self-chosen nickname: he wore a baseball cap and carried a coffee cup with that name, and lived up to his designation admirably.

Shortly after the poets wrote and the censors painted, a non-NEC geologist passing by to use the hot springs recognized the historical relevance of the poem and took a picture of it for me. C, who is still an exploration and development geologist, and S, who later became a Quaternary or soil geologist, had perhaps expected a little more anonymity when the signed their names “Chuckles” and “Susie (Mud).” (I guess she already planned on becoming a soil geologist.) Within a few months of the photo-taking event, someone — we always thought it was the red-paint people — burned the cabin to the ground.
Alignment of the old pipeline from the north spring wellhead to the cabin site, looking straight toward Austin Summit; November, 2006.

At the cabin site, you can vaguely discern the outline of the cabin on the ground by discovering, like an archaeologist, the roughly square patch of charcoal-rich blackish dirt, a burned and blackened mattress springs, and pieces of odd artifacts like rusted nails and bits of broken glass and pottery. The jagged, heat-tanned remnant of the concrete tub, assorted pieces of rusted pipes, and the pipeline coming down the hill from this spring all attest to the main former use of the cabin.
A section of the old pipeline as it dives under the road toward the remains of the old bathtub; November, 2006.
Remains of the bathtub, looking southwest toward the Toiyabe Range; November, 2006. Kingston Canyon is just left of the photo in the distance.
Bits of glass, charcoal, and the bathtub, looking south toward the upper main spring (whitish, steamy area on the horizon), with the Toquima Range in the background; November, 2006.

Nowadays there are usually at least three main pools available for soaking. Two of the three soaking tubs consist of metal barrels; the main upper spring is a spacious and rock-lined hole in the ground with wooden deck. MOH and I have camped many times at the northern spring, the one that used to supply water to the concrete tub in the then-standing cabin. The northern spring is our favorite, mostly because it's usually more private than the larger main spring.
Water coming out of the metal pipe at the north tub, Toiyabe Range in the background; April, 2008. The yellow stake near the spring wellhead is there to ward off accidental drivethroughs and to block the scenery.
A lower tub as it looked in September, 2007, looking northwest toward Austin Summit.

The water at the former-cabin spring is too hot to soak in without cooling; it measured 130° F at the wellhead source on April 18, 2001. That same day, the water coming to the tub through a metal pipe measured 120° F.
A look inside the covered wellhead source of the north spring. Photo still from a movie by MOH; December, 2006.

To achieve and maintain a suitable soaking temperature, you have to move the metal pipe in or out of the tub, or turn a valve on or off if one happens to be attached. The desirable set up depends on variations in water temperature, air temperature, wind speed and wind chill factor, amount and kind of precipitation, and personal preference. You can let too-cool water out of the tub through a hole near the downstream end, and can then block the hole with a tennis ball, sock, or other item, so the tub can be re-filled with hot water. Other springs in the area have similar mechanisms for reaching and maintaining good soaking temps.
This large pipe at one of the lower springs had written directions, a temperature measurement, and political commentary; September, 2007.
Sunset at the north tub; November, 2006.

Spencer hot springs shows different aspects depending on time of day, time of year, and weather. I have no pictures from it's snow-covered and snowstorm mode, and no pictures of the incredible dust storms that can pass through. We once arrived after dark, parked near one of the main roads in drifting snow, found the outdoor temperature to be -18° F (it had been +18° F on top of Austin Summit), couldn't get the camper heating system going, and had to drive back to Fallon for repairs.
Another sunset view from November, 2006.

Snow squall days can be most amazing, with hot-spring goers often few and far between. A herd of donkeys with one horse will often pass through camp, and coyotes will be heard in the snowy distance.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Highway8A Introduction II

April 18, 2001—Spencer Hot Springs, NV
The north tub.
Partly cloudy, windy, cool.

The wind has really whipped up since this morning when it was calm. They don’t call this Big Smoky Valley for nothing. Huge plumes of dust are rising from the central playa near and south of Northumberland Canyon, and the strong southerly wind is blowing that playa dust to the hot springs, just the way the westerly jet stream has been carrying dust from a Mongolian Desert dust storm all the way to Nevada (and beyond) during the last few days. The Mongolian dust has cleared out now, so Nevada is back to producing its own. High, thin clouds overhead have created a rather nice, complete circle around the sun. I often associate this kind of ice halo with incoming weather, usually a Pacific front or winter storm.
As far as dust goes (and it obviously goes a long ways), it doesn’t hurt that we are sitting here at the hot springs where a large area of cleared, tracked, alkali dirt is exposed to the wind: we have all the dust anyone could ever want. The only relatively dust-free places are the back of my truck and the hot spring tub. More on that, later, after we soak.



It’s a couple hours later, now, and the wind has picked up all the loose dust created by us hot-spring comers and goers and our vehicles, and blown it away: even though the wind speed hasn’t dropped, we are sitting in a dust-free zone. Dust is still blowing off the playa to the south, but that dust is flying low, swirling and scurrying like an impatient, runaway ground fog moving northward on the west side of the valley near Highway 8A (now S.R. 376). The wind at altitude seems to be nearly westerly; the ring around the sun has faded some.

A Geographic Note:
Please note the spelling of “Smoky” in Big Smoky Valley (it's not “Smokey”). That’s the way the oldtimers spelled it, and that spelling is preserved and used on (most) maps of the area. The valley was also called Won-a-ho-nupe in at least one or two early reports.

A Writerly Note:
I started the Highway 8A or Mojave Exploration book tentatively with a few fairly unrelated blurbs, including this post and the last one, and then went on to other introductions that are already partly published on this blog. Consequently, although these blurbs are of interest (at least to me), I may not continue posting them. I do have more on Spencer Hot Spring, though, and that will be coming along soon!

A Few References:
Simpson, Captain J.H., 1876, Report of explorations across the Great Basin of the Territory of Utah for a direct wagon-route from Camp Floyd to Genoa in Carson Valley in 1859: Washington, D.C:, Government Printing Office, 518 pp.

Thomas, D.H., 1983, The archaeology of Monitor Valley: Anthropological papers of the American Museum of Natural History, v. 58, pt. 1, 194 pp.

Related Posts:
Why Highway 8A?
Single Digit Highways
A Bit about License Plates
Highway8A Introduction I

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Highway8A Introduction I

April 16, 2001—Reno, NV
About to leave for Spencer Hot Springs.
Mostly sunny, cool, breezy.
I am a geologist, and these are going to be notes that I write in little journal books I carry around. ...a whole lot of them are going to lack any structure at all, but if you know a geologist, you know that that is the way he expresses things. Notes: there is no continuity in a geologist’s life, not in an active, busy one, anyway.”
Rick Bass, Oil Notes
When I started this book — which I've variably titled Mojave Exploration or Highway 8A depending on which section I was writing — I wrote longhand on yellow sheets of lined paper, typed stream of consciousness on an old Mac powerbook, jotted shorter notes in spiral-bound journals, kept scribbled references from myriad phone calls on torn bits of paper, and penciled carefully in one or two of the little yellow field books that geologists are known to carry around out in the field. And so I sat, one blustery spring day, getting ready for a trip to the hot springs, while at the same time trying to get started on starting, trying to write some kind of introduction or prelude to a book consisting of scattered pieces. It was my idea at the time that I'd write every now and then, as though mapping in some field area, writing notes that might go with the stories that were already partly written, but which are even now incomplete. And so I began that day with a field book, a book designed to be carried securely in the side pocket of a Filson vest while out in the field — "the field" being that great beyond where we geologists go to do our fieldwork. And so I began....



This field book, the one I am writing right in now, is being written from the perspective of my future; it is being written by my future self, my self as an old woman — an old geologist — an old geologist with a long memory. My long memory has mixed the past, present, and future into one package the way some geologic rock formations have been pushed, shoved, and squeezed — even sliced and diced — into stratigraphic or tectonic packages where every resulting contact between individual rock formations involves some kind of geologic activity: deposition, mountain building, erosion, folding, and faulting. Because of my geologic memory — my intricate, enduring memory — most of the things I’m writing about happened long ago when I was young and clambered over the rocks and hills freely and easily: like a mountain lion or coyote, like a desert fox. Now I’m a silver fox with the long memory of an elephant, the memory of an ancient mammoth.

Most geologists have long memories. We have to. It’s not just so we can retain enough brain cells to survive the beer, gin and tonic, and tequila sunrise nights that so often go with being a geologist, though it does help to have enough brain cells to begin with so enough will remain later. The long memories most geologists have are primarily concerned with knowing how to delve into what has been called Deep Time.

Most people think the past is gone — that it is not present, that it is not now. This now, however, becomes past before I can even say “now,” and so maybe there is no present. Whatever. What I know to be true, is that the past is not gone, at least not all of it. It’s preserved in the rocks and in the landforms of the earth. And the past will be written in future rocks and landforms that haven’t yet been born. That’s the thing about the past — or maybe that’s the thing about the “now,” or about time — it’s all present, right now, in the present. If you’ve got a long memory like I do, all of time is here now: all the time that was past, all the time that is now, all the time that will be future, and all the time that has been imagined or envisioned as future but has not yet, and maybe never will, come to pass (see Dark Side of the Moon).

Geologists routinely work with the long, well-written, though sometimes buried, obscured, offset, or even truncated memories of the earth. Geologists work with all of geologic time: past, present, and future. For example, because of my particular geologic knowledge and experience, I could write a book called Ore Deposits of the Near and Far Future, the way some geologists write about earthquakes or volcanic eruptions yet to come. Instead, I’m writing these field notes about that long ago past. I’m writing them because I dreamed of doing so one summer day in the early 1980’s while I was driving south on Nevada Highway 8A — south from The Frontier, a place that no longer exists, toward a cabin in Kingston Canyon, where I no longer live — driving on the longest north-south straight stretch of paved Nevada road, on a highway that no longer bears its original number. On that long-ago day I dreamed of this book, and so it has come to be: that long ago past is present now, just as this now was present then.



And that's the way I began back then, in the spring of 2001, in a fit of fancy.

Related Posts:
Why Highway 8A
Single Digit Highways
A Bit about License Plates
Highway 8A: The Cutoff from Cedarville to the Winnemucca-to-the-Sea Highway

Related Asides:
A Geologist's Field Book
Deep Time

Dark Side of the Moon
Wedge #15: Ore Deposits of the Future

Monday, February 14, 2011

Happy Valentine's Day from the central Basin and Range

Thanks to a combination of faults and linears along 1) the Walker Lane, 2) some ENE-trending structures in northwest Nevada that parallel the main trend of the Snake River Plain, 3) the Northern Nevada Rift (the north-central, NNE-trending magnetic linear on this map), 4) some northeasterly features in north-central Nevada that trend toward the Snake River Plain, 5) the Wasatch Fault, and 6) other Basin and Range structures near Las Vegas (going clockwise from the west), I've managed to outline a large heart-shaped feature in the central part of the Basin and Range.
That's what I see every time I look at the Nevada-Utah part of the Basin and Range on Google Earth. (Enlarge both images, then click back and forth to see where I've drawn the lines.)

Happy Valentine's Day!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Dark Side of the Moon

Eclipse

All that you touch and all that you see
all that you taste, all you feel
and all that you love and all that you hate
all you distrust, all you save
and all that you give and all that you deal
and all that you buy, beg, borrow or steal
and all you create and all you destroy
and all that you do and all that you say
and all that you eat and everyone you meet
and all that you slight and everyone you fight
and all that is now and all that is gone
and all that's to come
and everything under the sun is in tune
but the sun is eclipsed by the moon

Roger Waters quoting Jerry Driscoll, from an interview at The Most Complete Pink Floyd Page:
"The final words ['but the sun is eclipsed by the moon'] are Jerry Driscoll's. His original words were, 'There is no dark side of the moon really. As a matter of fact it's all dark... and the thing that makes it look alight is the sun.""
darkPink Floyd
Dark Side of the Moon
Composer: Waters
Year, 1973



Cover Art from a now defunct (geocities) Pink Floyd site.



Related Posts:
Why Highway 8A?
Single Digit Highways
A Bit about License Plates

Coming Soon!
Highway8A Introduction I

Thursday, February 10, 2011

A Bit About License Plates

The Nevada state license plate change in the 1980's (about 1982) took away a key identifying feature from vehicle license plates by removing county identifiers that had been issued on Nevada blue plates starting in 1969. (Judging from some of the plate photos linked to here, there were county designations on Nevada plates prior to 1969, in the 1950s and early 1960s.) Out in the field, it became difficult for exploration geologists to distinguish mining and exploration trucks from local and ranching trucks. Prior to the change, one merely had to note the letters with which the plates started with: for passenger vehicles, “W” meant Washoe County (i.e. Reno and Sparks), where most of the mining and exploration vehicles in Nevada were registered; “LA” meant Lander County, where ranching trucks might be registered; and “C,” and other myriad letters Las Vegas and Clark County used before they ran out of letters and forced Nevada out of the county designation mode, meant... Clark County. Elko County ("EL") was one of those up and coming mining towns at the time (prior to the license plate change), so it had a mix of mostly ranching trucks with a growing number of mining trucks.
Note: County designations by letter for trucks were somewhat different than the car designations I've referred to here (see list below), making things a bit more complicated. I don't know whether light-duty trucks were given truck plates or passenger plates. Reading the NRS is a bit complicated.
In those days, if you came across a Washoe County truck while you were, say, out in the California Coast Ranges — a long way from Highway 8A or Reno — it was easy to deduce that you were dealing with an exploration truck and probably not just some Nevadan on vacation, and likewise, if you ran into a Washoe County truck in Lander County, Nevada, you would be prone to come to the same conclusion. If you encountered a Lander County truck on a dirt road in Lander County, or on almost any dirt road anywhere else in the state, you could be fairly sure you were looking at a truck owned by some rancher.

When plates no longer gave you a clue about where a vehicle had been registered, it was no longer easy to discern what type of individual was driving a particular truck out in the middle of nowhere, and these sorts of clues were considered important. Matters became a little easier later, though, when some western exploration geologists (AKA explorationists) started registering their trucks in Idaho, Montana, or Colorado. In Nevada, Utah, southern California, or Arizona, these foreign trucks were easily recognized as exploration vehicles, except when you happened to also be dealing with winter snowbirds in the Arizona and southern California deserts.

Photos of some early Nevada plates:
Nevada Passenger Plates 1962-1976
Nevada 1976 Page
Nevada Trucks and Commerial Plates

List of County Designator Prefixes:
Churchil: CH, CHA-CHZ; trucks: AA-AZ

Clark: C, CA-CZ, CAA-CZZ, TAA-TZZ; trucks: BA-BZ, YA-YZ

Douglas: DS, DSA-DSZ, DAA-DZZ; trucks: DA-DZ

Elko: EL, ELA-ELZ, EAA-EZZ (except ESA-ESZ, EUA-EUZ); trucks: EA-EZ

Esmeralda: ES, ESA-ESZ; trucks: FA-FZ

Eureka: EU, EUA-EUZ; trucks: GA-GZ

Humboldt: HU, HUA-HUZ; trucks: HA-HZ

Lander: LA, LAA-LZZ; trucks: JA-JZ

Lincoln: LN, LNA-LNZ; trucks: KA-KZ

Lyon: LY, LYA-LYZ, LBB-LZZ; trucks: LB-LZ

Mineral: MN, MNA-MNZ, MAA-MZZ; trucks: MA-MZ

Nye: NY, NYA-NYZ, NAA-NZZ; trucks: NA-NZ

Ormsby, until 1969, Carson City after that: OR, ORA-ORZ, OAA-OZZ; trucks: OA-OZ

Pershing: PE, PEA-PEZ, PAA-PZZ; trucks: PA-PZ

Storey: ST, STA-STZ; trucks: SA-SZ

Washoe: W, WAA-WZZ (except WPA-WPZ), KAA-KZZ; trucks: WA-WZ

White Pine: WP, WPA-WPZ, ZAA-ZZZ; trucks: ZA-ZZ

County designators were initially approved sometime in the 1950s and continued into the early 1980s: see 1956, 1979 and 1981.

Related Posts:
Why Highway 8A?
Single Digit Highways

Monday, February 7, 2011

Single Digit Highways

722 sign
Nevada S.R. 722 sign near its western junction with Highway 50.

As I mentioned in Why Highway 8A?, single digit highways in Nevada became a thing of the past during the 1976 Nevada highway renumbering program:
"when all ... single digit state highway numbers were replaced by harder to remember three digit numbers. Hence, my stretch of Highway 8A is now S.R. 376. The Austin to Battle Mountains segment of Highway 8A is now S.R. 305."
Those of us who were around in those days often still use the old highway numbers of single digits when giving directions. We tend to remember those numbers and do not always know the new three-digit numbers that came along just about the same time the state had another bright idea: get rid of license plates designating county of origin.

As it turns out, even Nevada State Route 2 — "old" Highway 50, the alternate route to Austin that takes off from “new” Highway 50 just east of Middlegate gap and then squeezes through Eastgate and switchbacks over the Desatoya Mountains — is now designated by an unmemorable three-digit number, 722. It takes almost as long to remember Route 2’s new three-digit number as it takes to get to Austin on Route 2.
junction 50 + 722
Junction of 722 and 50 looking eastward, with Eastgate barely discernible and the Desatoya Mountains in the background.

The distances to Austin on Highway 50 and Route 2 are similar, but the sharp switchbacks over the Desatoyas and the back-then invariable condition of complete disrepair made the drive take a little longer. (During the 1970s and 1980s, the state was always just on the verge of letting Route 2 — excuse me, Highway 722 — go back to dirt by allowing the asphalt to erode. Conditions are now generally improved, but don't count on crossing in winter.) That longer time to Austin, however, was well worth it then, and is still worth it today: it’s the scenic route, after all. Please take it at least once.

Those single-digit, Route 2 days were back before the Fernley-to-Ely portion of Highway 50 was dubbed “The Loneliest Road” by some passing-through reporter working for Life Magazine. The epithet came out in Life’s July 1986 issue.
lonely?
NOTE: Life Magazine claimed the 287-mile stretch of Highway 50 from "Ely to Fernley" as The Loneliest Road, although Highway 50 doesn't go through Fernley; only Alt 50 goes through Fernley. Highway 50 takes off east of Fallon about half way to Fernley, and heads straight for Silver Springs, Dayton, and Carson City.
The label of "loneliest" was at first rejected, even jeered at, by those who lived and worked along the second-most heavily traveled east-west road in Nevada. (There are exactly three east-west roads that span the entire width of Nevada: I-80, Highway 50, and Route 6. Parts of two or three others combine to make it eastward from Tonopah to the stateline near Panaca, and I'm not counting that partial, multi-road crossing, nor am I counting I-15, a mostly north-south route that makes a short northeasterly cut through Nevada's southern tip.) Later, after its initial rejection, "Loneliest Road" was picked up and turned into a tourist attraction, thereby creating more traffic and making the road even less lonely.

I never understood the “loneliest” appellation. It wasn't lonely to drive across Nevada on Highway 50, or on Route 2 aka old Highway 50: it was open, free, beautiful, and at times exhilarating. In the summer, when all the geologists and prospectors were out in the field, the small mountain town of Austin was crowded. Motel rooms were booked in advance, although an unsuspecting traveler might be able to find an empty room on a weekend, when some of the working crowd had left town. And I swear, every single time I drove through Austin on this “loneliest” road, I ran into at least one person I knew, someone not from Austin — and this phenomenon continued well into the 1990s.

In these days of increasing complexity, there are only two single-digit routes left in Nevada. One is a disconnected section of Highway 8A that is still left in the northern part of Washoe County in northwest Nevada. Although the most recent state highway map no longer shows that route number, Nevada 8A signs were uploaded to Flickr in 2007.

The only road that has maintained its single-digit integrity — its integer — is Route 6. That’s because Route 6 is a U.S. Highway, not a Nevada Highway.
NOTE: There are still some Nevada highways that have their original double-digit designations. I won’t be going into the double digit routes much, because they aren’t as distinctive to me, and didn’t play as large a role in my personal geologic history.
Route 6 is a strangely incomparable, unparalleled highway that starts (ends?) in Bishop, California, on the east side of the Sierra Nevada — the side that most rightly belongs, in terms of geological and political temperament, inside the boundaries of Nevada, as clearly as Las Vegas most rightly belongs inside the confines of southern California. From Bishop, Route 6 heads east into Tonopah, Nevada, northeast into Ely, Nevada, east into that variably muddy and dusty town of Green River, Utah, and farther east into Grand Junction, Colorado. From there, it crosses the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains, where it officially leaves the geologic and physiographic province of the West and enters the geologic and physiographic province of the Midwest and the city of Denver, Colorado, simultaneously. From Denver, Route 6 goes through Lincoln and Omaha, Nebraska, Des Moines, Iowa, Gary, Indiana, Cleveland, Ohio, Scranton, Pennsylvania, and Providence, Rhode Island. It then juts out to Provincetown, Massachusetts, ending (beginning?) at the very northernmost tip of Cape Cod. Along its meandering journey, this obscure highway mingles with some of the great ones: U.S. Highway 50 and Interstates 70, 76, 80, 84, 90, and 195. The Sierra Nevada, which arose as a geologic block a few million years ago, long before Route 6 was conceived or constructed, seems to have prevented its attainment of sea-to-sea stature.
NOTE: Route 6 started (or ended) in Long Beach, CA, for 27 years, and indeed was a coast-to-coast highway during that time (1937 to 1964) before the section from Bishop to Long Beach was formally decomissioned as part of California's 1964 renumbering program. Thanks to Lyle for pointing this out.
But these stories are not about Route 6 or Highway 8A. They are not really about highways at all. Instead, the stories — which may someday be complied into a book — center around people and some of the places, geology, and projects along a few of the highways and backroads I have traveled; the stories are about where those highways lead.

Some miscellaneous notes:
  1. Ely is pronounced Eee-lee, not Eee-lie like the inventor Eli Whitney. And Nevada is pronounced with the first “a” sounding like the “a” in cat—it is not pronounced as it is in Spanish, where the first “a” would sound like the “a’s” in “la-di-da.” The common mispronunciations of these words, along with a few other Nevada place names like Verdi, Genoa, and Moana, give away newcomers and outsiders from places like California, Colorado, and the East Coast. The correct pronunciation of these other place names will have to be taken up with a Nevadan, preferably a native Nevadan or someone who has been around awhile.
  2. Some people prefer to think that the West begins with the westward crossing of the Mississippi River. I firmly believe that one has not entered the province of the West until one has gone westward from Denver, Colorado, and crossed into the Rocky Mountains, the eastward edge of which is marked by the hogbacks along the Front Range just west of Denver.
Return to Why Highway 8A? (if that's where you came from).

Friday, February 4, 2011

Friday Fault Photos: Fault Scarp at Fairview Peak, Nevada

On that same gray day in early December that MOH and I found flow-banded rhyolite, brecciated rhyolite, tuff, fossils, and Earthscope, we made our way up the wide, gravelled, but unmarked road to the fault scarp on Fairview Peak. The unmarked road we took is here (Google Street View); the main road marked by the BLM "Earthquake Faults" sign is here. We took the unmarked road primarily because I'd never driven it. I don't know which road is best; the unmarked road goes by a strange government installation with warning signs and a robot that may come out onto the road every now and then, judging by tracks we saw.

The view in the first photo above looks southward from a parking area the end of a graded loop road, shown here in Street View. This same loop road is also shown on the second Google Earth image of my fault line post.
We walked uphill to stand on the fault, and were surprised to see a second fault scarp uphill from the main scarp. The photo looks straight down the main scarp, left of center; the second scarp is uphill and to the right.
We then walked SSW along the fault scarp to an area where the scarp cuts through bedrock rather than just cutting alluvial fan material. This is one of the most photographed parts of the fault, simply because it's so close to the loop road. To the left (east) of the east-dipping fault scarp, you can see a little valley overgrown with straw-colored bunch grass. The valley or gully is partly erosional and partly due to a small downdrop east of the main scarp. This downdrop appears to be down-to-the-west, opposite to the down-to-the-east main scarp. A similar downdrop can be seen in the USGS photo below, a photo which at first glance appears to have been taken at the same site (it may not be the same site).
USGS Photograph of the scarp formed on Dec 16, 1954, taken by H. Benioff.

The man is standing in a gully created by the juxtaposition of the main, east-dipping scarp (here it's some 2+ meters high), and a smaller, vertical to west-dipping cut to the left of the man. The USGS picture may show the same section of the fault that I photographed; it may be a different section. I know, for example, that there's a nice exposure visible if you drive (or hike) up a lousy, very steep, two-track road located north of the good, not-so steep loop road. I think the USGS photo shows what looks like a steep, second scarp above and west (right) of the main one; that second high scarp is not seemingly present at the loop-road site, and the trees and bushes don't look quite right to me. (Two Google Earth images at the bottom of this post show the loop road and lousy road.)
This is the view from that southern exposure of the scarp, with MOH for scale, looking back to the NNE, toward the little parking area at the end of the road.
Here's a similar view looking northeast along the sharp, V-shaped valley, which was in part formed by down-dropping along its right (east) edge, similar to the doubly faulted valley in the USGS photo. There may be a technical term for this second, opposing scarp or faulted valley, a term I don't know.
There's a great view to the northeast from the fault scarp (photo enlarges nicely), making the short hike well worthwhile. The Desatoya Mountains are the blue, snow-covered mountains on the right; the Clan Alpine Mountinas are the brownish to bluish mountains in front of them to the left and in the center. On our day's journey, we started near the southernmost visible part of the Clan Alpine Mountains. The EarthScope observatory we saw earlier is in the low hills of that southern, brownish part of the Clan Alpine Mountains.
The loop road. The scarp we walked to is the whitish, slightly bent part of the scarp where it crosses a little, tree-covered hill southwest of the loop. North is to the right.
The barely visible, steep, two-track road that leads to another well exposed scarp can be seen when this Google Earth image is enlarged. This road is not recommended for travel because of turning around problems at its steep upper end.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Road Song: Child of the Wind

This obviously classic road song was sent to me by a reader, Tom Skaug. Keep 'em coming!



Bruce Cockburn: Child of the Wind (lyrics)
Album: Nothing But a Burning Light, 1991

The melody, if not the words, fit in really well with my current frame of mind.