Thursday, December 04, 2014

Wells, NV

I first sauntered into Wells, Nevada, while commuting to northern Utah for the Bear 100 in 2012. I just wanted a cheap place to crash for the night, and the Wells Motel 6 was a full $10 cheaper than the one in Elko. At the time I still had a blah view of the I-80 corridor and Northern Nevada in general, but Wells won me over with chicken dinner at this homestyle restaurant that reminded me of the Tour Divide, a boisterous older lady who talked me into buying locally produced cheese curds at the convenience store, and a vast swath of open space that only expanded as I drove north and east. Since then, I've made an effort to stop in Wells every time I roll by on the Interstate. 

 On Wednesday, I spent the first three hours of the drive listening to NPR and feeling disheartened by the state of affairs and the justice system. So I switched to an mP3 playlist that soon cycled through "April 26, 1992" by Sublime, which only reminded me that not much has changed in a generation in this regard. As Salt Lake radio faded away and Capital Public Radio out of Reno flickered in, I caught news of major flooding that was inundating streets and snarling traffic in Sacramento. My timeline had me going through that area right at rush hour, and it seemed prudent to stall for a couple of hours. I pulled into Wells for gas, I thought, "maybe I should go for a short run."

 Since I started engaging in this California/Utah commute, I've become more enamored with Nevada. The view from the highway corridors reveals a seemingly endless ripple of stunning mountain ranges amid the wide-open space of the basins. There's just so much out there, largely under the free-ranging jurisdiction of the Bureau of Land Management and the National Forest system, and I'm convinced Nevada has to be the most underrated outdoor destination in the United States. I must explore it! But I never make the time. I just zip through during drives between Utah and California, just like everyone else.

After topping off the tank, I pointed the car south and found a single road heading into mountains. I figured I'd just find a place to park and run on the road, since I didn't have any knowledge of trails in the region, and figured they'd be largely inaccessible this time of year anyway. A large barrier and a "road closed" sign blocked the road after five or so miles. I parked the Subaru, hoisted my backpack — which was still stocked with all the same stuff I hauled up Gobbler's Knob including four-day-old water — put on the Hokas, and started running.

 Oof, I struggled. Without acclimation I find myself getting noticeably more winded above 6,000 feet, and it's often the worst after a week (after which acclimation starts to kick in, and then it gets better.) I was shuffling and coughing as an "April 26, 1992" earworm taunted me. Eventually there was enough snow on the road that I had no choice but to hike, and finally stole chances to breathe and look up.

 This road is called Angel Camp Road, and it's just stunning. A fortress of castle-shaped peaks towered overhead, clouds streamed off the ridges like smoke, and the thunderous booms of unseen avalanches reverberated through the still air. I witnessed one avalanche erupt in a blast of powder in a gully below Greys Peak, and watched in trembling awe at the fury of this relatively small slide. I was in a safe zone on this road and grateful for that, as it was an invigorating experience to hear and witness these avalanches without feeling threatened by them.

I turned around after four miles. The snow was now knee-deep and reduced my "running" pace to a 35-minute-mile trudge. I put on spikes and once the snow cover diminished some, I embraced the power of gravity and let go, bounding down the hill like one of the many deer whose tracks I could see in the snow. The road snaked down the steep hillside, opening up invigorating views of the treeless basin and my tiny Subaru parked almost directly below. I ran and felt completely free, far away from the deluge and traffic that awaited once I crossed over the Sierras. 1:20 up, 0:40 down. A beautiful way to kill two hours in the midst of a thirteen-hour drive.

I have this idea to plan some kind of traverse of northern Nevada, maybe pack-biking style with mountain biking across the basins and backpacking over trail-less regions of these ranges. I could even plan to route to cross through Elko or Winnemucca so I could get a $7.99 New York steak and maybe drop a few bucks on the roulette table before heading back into the wide-open expanse. Who knows when and if I'll make this happen, but I'm already looking forward to my next visit to Wells. 


  1. Jill - I love how, on the spur of the moment, you just go and explore an area you know nothing about, really, opening yourself up to joy of discovery. As always, great eye and beautiful photos!

  2. I have to give you are able to "smell the roses" during a road-trip. I seem unable to do that...I just get into the "just get there" mindset, and all else slides into the background and I barely even notice the terrain around me.

    However, I am ALWAYS amazed driving into the Sierra's (eastern side) to go backpacking every year w/ my brother. As you drive the 395 looking at the Sierra's, you have NO IDEA what's up/in there until you take one of the roads UP. And what surprises me MOST every time is HOW MUCH there is up there! I really need to take a break and enjoy the surroundings sometime (I'll be driving to Pahrump over the holidays, and there's some amazing looking areas as I go north out of Baker off of interstate 15).

  3. I love the idea of a northern Nevada traverse. I've always wanted to at least explore the Ruby Mountains, but how many other great ranges exist in Nevada that no one (including me) know about? Gonna have to start planning my version!


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