Friday, October 29, 2010

Backroads: The Upper Part of Ophir Canyon

We left the town site of Ophir reluctantly, only because the day was wearing on and we either had a long way north back to Highway 50 (once we got over the pass), or we had two more mountain ranges to cross, hopefully on faster roads. NOTE: This is Ophir Canyon in the Toiyabe Range of central Nevada, nowhere near the Ophir Grade of the Comstock Lode. [Photo © 2010 by MOH.]
The upper part of the canyon is variable, but still continues to be narrow and often brush covered, with the trail remaining near Ophir Creek for about half the remaining distance (total remaining distance being about 4 miles). There aren't as many creek crossings as in the lower canyon, only three, and they aren't as rocky or as steep in general. [Photo © 2010 by MOH.]

The intrepid driver and bushwacker, being caught somewhat unawares by MOH. We're still somewhere in the canyon, below the long climb out, somewhere in and out of overhung, encroaching thick brush. [Photo © 2010 by MOH.]
Now we've climbed out of the canyon and have our first real view of the valley floor and the distant Toquima Range.
And right around a narrow corner we go! Rocks on one side (and in the road), drop off on the other side. The aspens have mostly dropped their leaves at this elevation, which is about 8900 feet. We are now at Point F on my newly revised Google Maps route through Ophir Canyon (see Embed below), having come from Ophir at Point C.
And here's where I thought the road got interesting, and there was no way to get a good picture of it without backing down through parts I didn't want to back through. This is at about Point G.

I'm toodling along through dense, heavy brush and trees, at a moderately steep angle, driving along in the 2nd gear of 4 Low (4L or Low Range) — not in Low Low or the 1st and lowest gear of 4L. This 2nd gear of 4L is equivalent to the 1st gear of 4H, the gear below starting gear, which is called 2nd by Chevy. (These gears are numbered differently in Fords.) I come around some corner or through some extra-dense brush, and suddenly the road has pitched up to what looks like vertical ahead of me, and then the road disappears around a turn while going at this suddenly steeper pitch. Additionally, the road looks dark like it's muddy.

The picture I took, above, was grabbed at a moment that didn't seem quite so intense; the other picture, below, was taken by MOH.
There's no way to really convey the steepness, which also hid some jutting but for the most part not terribly large rocks. We were lucky. The road wasn't muddy, and it wasn't covered with snow. It had been rutted a little by someone who had driven it while it was at least wet, probably muddy. The worst case would have been having to back down some unknown distance, possibly around the narrow rocky overhung part of the road at Point F, to what looks like a possible turnout at Point E. [Photo © 2010 by MOH.]
The steep part is either at about 9000 feet below the word JEEP on this map, or it's at about 9200 feet, in the straight part uphill from the word JEEP. I'm thinking it started at the latter point. [Map from MSRMaps, ultimately from the USGS.]

Whew! After gritting my teeth a bit and plowing through the steep part, not shifting down but just pushing on ahead, not knowing when the steep zone was going to end — it finally did, and the road came uphill into a wide junction area shown as Point H. This is the point at which Google thinks the road ends. Strangely enough, this is actually the point where the topo map shows the road becoming a double dashed road rather than a single dashed jeep trail.

Through the steep part, it had been nice to see that the road had been driven by the vehicle that made the ruts, and nice to realize that the ruts had been made fairly recently, sometime after the last rain or snow, probably within the previous week or two. I usually feel better if there are tracks on a road, although a single set of tracks can end in a getting stuck point, sometimes with the vehicle that made the tracks still stuck in the mud, sand, rocks, snow, what-have-you.
The junction, at about 9500 feet, is a nice place to get out and look at the view. This time, Mt. Jefferson is finally coming into view from behind the canyon ridge on the right. In a low spot in the Toquima Range between Mt. Jefferson to the south and Wildcat Peak to the north, you can see beyond to the Monitor Range. Wildcat Peak is the high point above the Big Smoky Valley playa.
The road goes on, above this little metal shed area, where one old roof is lying flat on the ground. The metal buildings may have something to do with the old drill roads switchbacking through the canyon. [Photo © 2010 by MOH.]
This part of the road — though steep, narrow, and a little rocky — was actually fun because we could see the summit ahead and knew that almost nothing would prevent us from reaching our goal. In fact, at this point I was sure we would make it. Prior to that, I didn't know if we would have to back down because of snow or other unexpected occurrences.
This is very much the same view as the last one, but from about 9900 feet. I've taken the picture by just pointing my camera in the general direction of the passenger side window, which is rolled down for picture taking. (And then I rotated the resulting tilted photo.) Also note that the alluvial fan road we came in on is visible beyond the mouth of Ophir Canyon (embiggen at will), as is old Highway 8A, heading straight to the south toward Carver's Station.
That's the saddle ahead! Ophir Summit at 10,109 feet! The small objects are one hunting pickup truck, one hunting ATV, and one wilderness sign.
Signs at the summit are myriad, including the summit marker and a sign for the Arc Dome Wilderness area, which begins to the south, just behind the truck.
More signs, including the marker on the right telling you what can't be done in the wilderness area. That's Mt. Jefferson behind the yellow sign.
The sign says, No Turnaround Ahead, looking back down the road we just came up. Gee, thanks for the warning!
Looking to the west, we see Reese River Valley, the Shoshone Mountains beyond that, with the Paradise Range beyond to the south (left), and the high part of the Desatoya Mountains beyond to the north (right). Also looking west, we see that the sun is lower, and we estimate the time to sunset as being 2 hours and 15 minutes, using the hand method of ascertaining hours to sunset. Stay tuned to find out if this estimate is accurate. [Photo © 2010 by MOH.]

All told: about 30 minutes for the lower canyon, 15 minutes in Ophir, and about 40 minutes for the upper canyon. I recommend starting earlier in the day, not at 3:30 pm the way we did!


Anonymous said...

Another gripping tale. Thanks for sharing this adventure, I know a road I want to explore!

Gaelyn said...

What a Grand adventure! I love how you defy the map makers. If my truck was 4x4 it would go to even more remote places than it already does. Tis rather spooky when the road just disappears over a hill.

We visited, via backroads, the defunct mining town of Placerita yesterday. Will post soon. Although I don't know very much about it's geology.

Silver Fox said...

And now, all that's left of Ophir is the downhill slide toward Middlegate! :)

@NevadaWolf I recommend a jeep if you have one.

@Gaelyn Looking forward to your Placerita post.

Dan McShane said...

Yikes! I got white knuckles reading that drive. Great fun.

Silver Fox said...

You got white knuckles!

hgg said...

I love this, must visit your part of the world again soon!

Silver Fox said...

Yes, you probably must! Let me know if you drop in. :)