Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Finding a Thesis: Into the Palmetto Mountains

Looking southeast from Goldfield Summit. Stonewall Mountain is barely peeking through the gap.
South from Goldfield, the country drops off fairly abruptly, as if preparing the traveler for their eventual departure from the Great Basin, which would happen about 127 miles to the southeast and 3020 feet downhill if the traveler continued in a southerly direction, approximately here at an obscure pass north of Vegas. In other directions, egress from the Great Basin would occur about 104 miles to the ESE and 4741 feet slightly uphill (downhill, uphill, downhill, and uphill several times) at Hancock Summit on S.R. 375, the E.T. Highway, or about 79 miles southwest and 7480 feet uphill (downhill, then uphill, then downhill, then back uphill) at "Ed Lane Peak" on the crest of the Sierra. These measurements would be as the crow flies.
The country dropping off south of Goldfield Summit. The mountains in the far distance are the northern part of the Amargosa Range on the Nevada-California boundary at the edge of Death Valley. 
By road from Goldfield Summit to Lida Junction, Highway 95 falls away 1401 feet in about 13 miles (a 2% grade); from Goldfield Summit to Beatty, it sinks another 1389 feet in about 52 miles (0.5% grade). About 86 more miles south of Beatty, the road arrives at its intersection with the Great Basin Divide, located at a vague point on an alluvial fan approximately corresponding with the junction of 95 and S.R. 156. The grade from Beatty to this point on 95 north of Vegas is almost nil. It's no wonder that the decline south of Goldfield seems noteworthy.
Lida Junction and the now defunct Cottontail Ranch.
The Cottontail Ranch was for sale when I took this picture in August, 2010. Other photos from that era can be viewed here.

Back to finding a thesis: Upon leaving the Kondyke District back in 1976, I drove south through Goldfield and then west on old Highway 3 (now S.R. 266), a paved road that shoots off of Highway 95 at Lida Junction toward the Palmetto Mountains, my next stop.
The road to Lida.
After about 19 miles of paved road, I came to the small town of Lida. Lida, currently inhabited by a smallish number of ranchers and probable retirees, is often referred to as a ghost town because of its old, abandoned buildings and townsite dating back to its short heyday in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
An old building in Lida (Google Maps location).
Populated areas, even those with a very small number of people, kind of spooked me back then – and I continue to prefer unpopulated areas when doing field work – so I made some hurried, almost furtive passes through town and then turned northward onto a dirt road, heading for one of the prospects I planned to visit the next day. The road ascended a fairly steep alluvial fan on the south side of the Palmetto Mountains. I'm no longer sure which road I took, and though I remember it being one that took off from the highway near Lida, it could have been one of a few on the west side of Lida Summit.

I make my way up the fan: I’m on a narrow, two-track dirt road in my '72 Opel. I cross a sand wash and drive past a cottonwood tree, at which point the road turns sharply and pushes itself upward. Sitting in my Opel, I am below the tops of head-high sagebrush. There is nowhere to turn around should I need to, and I’m not sure I could back through the turn and sand near the cottonwood tree. As I proceed up the fan, I notice a light-colored 4WD pickup coming down the road toward me. A little apprehension sets in: other than continuing on this road without stopping, there isn’t much I can do. I’m sure that if I stop, I will not be able to start up the hill again, but will have to attempt backing down. I look nervoulsy for places to pull over, but there aren’t any, just more and more waist- to head-high sagebrush. As I approach the truck, it pulls off the road and stops, flattening the big sage without effort. I smile and wave a little, and drive on by, not stopping. What could these more experienced people think of a young woman driving up this road in a clearly unsuitable car?

At this juncture, while I’m driving past the pulled-over truck, it’s worth pointing out that there is a thing called The Code of the West, which consists of a variable number of generally unwritten rules. One of the codes is about not asking where other people are from or much of anything about their past. Back then, I took to this first Code of the West – "Don't inquire into a person's past. Take the measure of a man [sic] for what he is today." – quite heartily: I didn’t like being asked questions about myself, and I didn’t like talking about myself. This part of the code, developed in the time of the early west when people would escape misfortune, debt, and calamity in the east by coming west and making some clean start, could allow me to continue to be semi-anonymous even amongst people I knew, and allowed me to go unnoticed, something I preferred back then.

Another, possibly newer part of the code says that the person going uphill has the right-of-way. This rule applies whether you are hiking, riding a horse, driving a carriage, or driving a vehicle. It’s especially true on dirt roads and in all mountainous country. It is incumbent upon the person going downhill to find a place to pull-over or to back up to the last pullout point. I mention this not lightly. A few years ago in northern Idaho, I found that the locals would not give way to a non-local going uphill (me) under any circumstances, even on private land not belonging to them but leased to the company I was working for. Possibly the CA plates I was runnning didn’t help matters any, and so I vowed to retrieve some old AK or NV plates for use if I ever went back. I don’t know if that would have corrected their rude, non-western behavior.

Back to the Palmettos. I continued up the road, not knowing if I would come to a dead end or if I would find a turnaround point. At the rocky base of the mountains, the road turned sharply to the left, culminating in a flat area large enough for me to turn around by making a full circle rather than by making one of those awkward, multi-point turns. A charred circle of rocks marked the place as a campsite, so I gratefully settled in, ending the day on a flat point overlooking the valley and mountain to the south. The campsite was more comfortable than my previous one near Belmont, and the weather was warmer. I watched the sun set while eating a camp-made dinner.
The view from my campsite may have looked something like this before the sun went down, although it was taken from Lida Summit, looking east.
I would spend most of the next day looking at various prospects on the south side of the Palmettos, driving up this road and then that. Fortunately, the roads had been bladed, so I wouldn't have to concern myself with the logistics of stopping, backing up, or turning around.

To be continued...

Previous Posts in this Series:
Thesis: Finding an Area
Finding a Thesis: Battle Mountain to Austin to Gabbs
Finding a Thesis: Pole Line Road
Finding a Thesis: Pole Line to Belmont
Finding a Thesis: Klondyke District
Finding a Thesis: A Joshua Tree Aside

NOTE: Some of these reconnoiters may have occurred during more than one trip, although the trips would make one fairly nice loop or out-and-back from my back-then location north of Reno.

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