Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Why Highway 8A?

Someone, probably Callan Bentley, asked me this question at the Geoblogger-Geotweeter meetup-tweetup in Portland last fall (paraphrased): "What's the deal with Highway 8A on your blog," referring to this blog's URL.

Highway 8A was Nevada State Route 8A, one of a few mostly north-south paved roads through the state; it was related in part to S.R. 8 and S.R. 8B. Early in my exploration career, and even in grad school, I became familiar with two particular sections of 8A: the first section ran from Battle Mountain down to Highway 50 just west of Austin; the second section ran south from Highway 50 just east of the old Frontier down to Route 6 just east of Tonopah. It is the second section that I've spent the most time on: from at least one early field trip in grad school, then one summer working out of Austin, then a month or two at the Bowman Creek camp in 1978, and finally what essentially amounted to at least a year driving back and forth between Kingston Canyon and the Frontier Truck Stop (and sometimes Austin) from the summer of 1979 through at least the end of the summer of 1980. I've been back many times: Highway 8A, passing through the elevated Big Smoky Valley, is one of the scenic routes through Nevada.
Highway 8A, for me, started just east of the now burned down Frontier, and went south to Kingston Canyon, and beyond that to the turnoff to the Northumberland Mine Road, and beyond that to Carver's Station. Sometimes (for me) it went all the way to the road to Tonopah. Highway 8A was renumbered as part of the 1976 Nevada highway renumbering program when all (or most, at first) 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. (Some routes, like the Battle Mountain to Austin to Tonopah part of S.R. 8A were still shown on state highway maps through 1981, and signs may still exist for 8A in the far northwest part of the state.)

I've started many exploration stories on paper and on computer, and I have them here and there. I didn't start these stories chronologically and have put only a few on this blog. The stories start, in my mind at least, with Highway 8A because I spent so much time on that road so early in my exploration career. The stories really begin before 1978, with Highway 8A being partly involved from 1975 through 1977 and then beyond. I've started putting these stories together on another, non-public blog, but haven't gotten very far with that project.
The stories all begin with the longest north-south straight stretch of paved Nevada highway, which at the time was on my section of Highway 8A, and which I drove so many times that I came to know every long mile by heart. That straight stretch started at the junction of Highway 50 near the old Frontier. It went south from there, making it past the Kingston Canyon turnoff and barely past the dirt road heading west up Bowman Creek, barely past the old RO Ranch, where the Northumberland Mine dirt road takes off to the east heading into West Northumberland Canyon, a favorite field area. The straight stretch crossed the Lander-Nye County border before ending where the road veers slightly to the right toward the Toiyabe Range. This "longest straight stretch" still exists, exactly 19 miles long, though it is probably not longest anymore: a straightened piece of Highway 50 between Austin and Eureka now spans about 21-22 miles. [Note: I've determined since writing this part, that I was referring only to north-south stretches of pavement. There may be additional east-west straight sections of road in Nevada; Highway 50's long straight section between Austin and Eureka, just east of Hickison Summit does not appear to have been straightened.]
All the exploration I've conducted prior and since working along this straight stretch of highway has somehow referred back to it in my mind, maybe just because I spent so much time there, maybe because of a fondness I have for that part of central Nevada. And, as I've said in part of the stories already published:
I'd like to say that it all started on Highway 8A, in Nevada, but it didn't. Nor, I suppose, will it end there, although it could.
And with that, I'll think I'll leave the story of Highway 8A, hoping that maybe the question has been answered or at least partially addressed.

old Frontier siteFrontier Truck Stop: The Frontier Truck Stop, if it was indeed called that - we just called it "the Frontier" - was an all purpose place. Besides the 4-room motel, the bar, restaurant, and gas station, it boasted a truck and vehicle repair garage and towing operation. It had a pay phone, inside out of the weather, no less, and the owners sold knick-knacks of a particular country style. Ranchers, cowboys, and field geologists came from miles around to use the phone, get gas, eat dinner, and have a couple beers (not necessarily in that order). Oh, and I'm pretty sure there was a pool table, at least before the slot machines moved in.

After being burned down in the late 1980's or early 1990's (a separate story), the land was vacant. The site went up for sale in the early 2000's (mentioned here [Wayback Machine], 5th page, 1st under Commercial Sales), and it's now occupied by a ranch-style house.

Posts that mention Highway 8A:
Friday Field Photos #3 (about Northumberland Canyon)
Bowman Creek: Getting There
A Saturday Drive (the road to Bowman and Ophir Creeks)
An Update from the Lake (written before blog publication)

1) Taken at a pullout on Highway 8A near the turnoff to Spencer's Hot Springs, at the start of the long straight stretch, looking south toward the Toiyabe Range.

2) Photo of the Millet AMS sheet showing Big Smoky Valley, with the Toiyabe Range on the west and the Toquima Range on the east. Austin is in the far upper left. Highway 50 snakes through the mountains then crosses the valley in the northern part of the map. Highway 8A (now S.R. 376) is the straight red line coming SSW from it's junction with Highway 50. MSR Maps.

3) Another view looking straight down Highway 8A's straight stretch toward the Toiyabe Range.

4) The end of the straight stretch.

5) Current conditions (2007) at the site of the old Frontier.

Posts tagged 8A
Single Digit Highways
A Bit about License Plates


Gaelyn said...

Hey, you have to start and end somewhere's when on the road so much.

Michael said...

Wow. Talk about evoking old and great memories! Highway 8a is my quintessential "Blue highway" (William Least Heat-Moon's book remains one of my favourites)and I too spent many hours of my life driving it. A long time ago - when The Frontier was still thriving - I (together with graduate students and partners)spent months camped in the forest just outside the Bob Scott campground on the summit east of Austin (shown on your map). We were trying to unravel the story of an Ordovician continental margin collapsed during the Antler orogeny, and much of the critical geology was revealed in the Toiyabe and Toquima ranges. Spectacular landscapes and great and memorable fieldwork.

Later, I moved into geothermal exploration (yes, Spencer's Hot Springs amongst others) and spent long periods on 8a from Battle Mountain before heading for the hills.

All this was around the same period you write about - late 70s, early 80s. I'd be really interested in your Highway 8a project.

Thanks for the post and the memory stimulation!


Silver Fox said...

Michael, interesting that you spent a bunch of time in the area around The Frontier and at Bob Scott Summit. My first camping spot in Nevada was at Bob Scott Summit, on a geology field trip in 1976. Seems like we found some graptolites right there somewhwere, or maybe that was in the Toquima Range.

And I think I'll check out that book "Blue Highways," it sounds like a good one.

whitelightening said...

Hi Fox,
It is strongly rumored around Kingston that Northumberland will be producing gold commercially within a year. Recognizing that gold mining and hype are frequent companions within any conversation, there still may be an element of truth here. I drove out there last fall and did find a locked/posted gate behind which there was a lot of heavy equipment activity. There is some obvious serious interest in the site. If it goes, it could provide some economic assistance to the area. Let's hope so.

Silver Fox said...

whitelightening - I don't know about production for sure, but have heard that the property is more active than in years past. Yes, let's hope it goes!

Silver Fox said...

Contrary to what I said in my first comment, I think that first camping spot in Nevada (1975) was near Pete's Summit.