The 2022 Great Desert Road Trip

Johnny O

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Next up: everything goes to hell in a hand basket because due to the geology, my compasses don’t work and there are zero modern coms signals for the next 200 miles.

Yep, me and Bert got lost and there was no way to turn around and back track…
 

Johnny O

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So still deep in the Jarbidge wilderness at this point. I decide to move my campsite closer to the fossil beds…and this is when I discovered my compasses are all pointing due west…I drive along various trails, all but the one I wanted. Gas is getting down to the danger zone of a third of a tank. The “roads” are taking their toll on my butt. I then realized I was a day ahead of schedule, so it’s either backtrack to Jarbidge for 7$ a gallon E85 or say F it and do the 150 miles to either Elko or Wells. This is also where I discovered I misplaced my wallet somewhere in the Jeep. I dumped in my spare fuel and unpacked the vehicle to find my wallet…which I was sitting on the whole time. Daylight is waning. Fuel is low. And there are no campsites or turn arounds. It’s all private land south of the canyon all the way to 80. Made the command decision to make a run to I80 and Elko. Fuel and perhaps a hotel room.

Maybe a hour of daylight left. Try to grab a hotel but now my cards aren’t working. I have cash, but that doesn’t cover a deposit.
I decide to make a run for state lands at LaMoille, NV.

Oh. It’s Friday. Everything is full and the only road to public land close by is blocked by a rockslide even the most outfitted rock crawler ain’t passing.

Maps. Internet. And Stressed out exhaustion.

F it. I got lights on the rig. I’m going to drive to Ely, Nevada and Garnet hill where I know there’s a place to sleep…except it’s about 4 hours away…and then night falls with a monsoon storm…

I don’t see well at night due to an astigmatism that makes every headlight a little sun and not a single vehicle out here has properly adjusted headlights…but now there’s no choice. I have to cross the Great Basin in the dark.
 

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klc

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So still deep in the Jarbidge wilderness at this point. I decide to move my campsite closer to the fossil beds…and this is when I discovered my compasses are all pointing due west…I drive along various trails, all but the one I wanted. Gas is getting down to the danger zone of a third of a tank. The “roads” are taking their toll on my butt. I then realized I was a day ahead of schedule, so it’s either backtrack to Jarbidge for 7$ a gallon E85 or say F it and do the 150 miles to either Elko or Wells. This is also where I discovered I misplaced my wallet somewhere in the Jeep. I dumped in my spare fuel and unpacked the vehicle to find my wallet…which I was sitting on the whole time. Daylight is waning. Fuel is low. And there are no campsites or turn arounds. It’s all private land south of the canyon all the way to 80. Made the command decision to make a run to I80 and Elko. Fuel and perhaps a hotel room.

Maybe a hour of daylight left. Try to grab a hotel but now my cards aren’t working. I have cash, but that doesn’t cover a deposit.
I decide to make a run for state lands at LaMoille, NV.

Oh. It’s Friday. Everything is full and the only road to public land close by is blocked by a rockslide even the most outfitted rock crawler ain’t passing.

Maps. Internet. And Stressed out exhaustion.

F it. I got lights on the rig. I’m going to drive to Ely, Nevada and Garnet hill where I know there’s a place to sleep…except it’s about 4 hours away…and then night falls with a monsoon storm…

I don’t see well at night due to an astigmatism that makes every headlight a little sun and not a single vehicle out here has properly adjusted headlights…but now there’s no choice. I have to cross the Great Basin in the dark.
Looks eerily familiar to the northwestern bit I visited earlier this year.
 

Johnny O

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So it’s well after dark and I’ve got the cruise set at 90…

Then I see the signs on the Great Basin highway: elk crossing.

F it. All the off road lights are now on. I’ve hit my second wind.

Who the F introduced elk to the flatlands?

I’m highballing. Bert’s purring like a cougar and many a bug dies a horrible death.

I make it to Ely.

I make it to garnet hill. I pull off and pitch a tent. I’ve been awake for 20 hours.

I wake up to this.
 

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Johnny O

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Ah, Garnet Hill. Not far out of town and really close to the largest copper mine in the US, but it’s got great off road trails, great free camping, and of course garnets.

Yet even at a tame place like this the adventure is about to step it up…
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Johnny O

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So, after a day relaxing by hiking and prospecting, I head back to camp. No MREs tonight! Steak and beans and baked potatoes and even a real salad! That mini fridge I got in the Jeep is earning its keep with cold drinks and real food.

Then, the monsoons hit. Thankfully not much with wind, but there’s lots of rain and even a little hail.

No worries- I have top notch gear and a feast. I have enough cell signal I sit around gorging on good food and watching Longmire with my feet propped up.

Rain means no scorpions or insects to collect; no stargazing either. So I get into bed early and drift off reading John Barleycorn.

About 0300, I’m suddenly wide awake. There’s an odor I can’t place, but it makes the hair on the back of my neck stains up. It gets stronger and stronger. Familiar, yet even my lab rat nose can’t place it. The rain has quit. Must be something drifting in from the copper mine at Ruth, NV.

Had the rare urge to assemble the AR-7 and slap in a magazine…something I rarely do…but my hands do as they have practiced and get it ready to rock and roll short of a live one in the chamber… int the complete darkness of the tent.

Say what you want, but the old Navy weapons dude can now get back to sleep. There’s somehow comfort in frangible copper-resin hollow points and Skeggox and SRK-5.

I wake at 0800 with the sun blazing the tent hard. Can’t find my shoes in the tent, but the snake boots are easy. Wrestle them and the kilt on. Time for coffee and planning of the next leg…except there’s big cat tracks all around my tent and through my campsite inside the Slumberjack “room”.

There’s muddy big kitty footprints on the hood of the Jeep…

Oh yeah, that smell was kitty liter box and predator musk…

F the coffee. Time to move on. There’s kitten tracks mixed in with the big ones…
 

Johnny O

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So the mad dash begins. Tear down camp, pack up, and get on the road. Need gas anyway- can plan the next leg over gas station coffee.

I make record time. I’m ready to get out of her territory in roughly 20 minutes. I open the driverside door to get in and WHACK. Something hits my left shin. Just as I look down, WHACK the rattler hits my boot again in almost the same spot and promptly gets tangled in the laces… yeah, was in a hurry, never laced them up tight.

My fault. In my hurry I never looked under Bert before I approached, something I always do in snake country.

In utter defeat, I hear myself say, “Welp. Gonna die here.” As of course I managed to find the one rattler with no rattle and she’s as thick as my wrist.

I light a smoke waiting for the damn thing to let loose. It just gets more tangled in the laces.

I reach down and carefully grab the POed critter behind the head and get her loose…and of course she promptly wraps up my arm to my arm pit. Big rattler. ( this is how I discovered all the tail segments were busted off)

She’s trying to flex her head, weirdly jointed, and fang my hand, just wrapping tighter. I start moving carefully to the brush. I get a few meters from the Jeep and yell, “$&@^#}! Relax!!!”.

Instantly she relaxed, uncoiled, and I dropped her into the sagebrush and slithers off. In shock I laughingly yell “I am the reptile GOD!”

This is when I noticed the young couple and their kids standing open mouthed staring at me from the access road.

Must of been a helluva sight, me in nothing but a kilt and knee high boots yelling at a snake.

Next stop. Great Basin National Park and a solo hike to 11,300 ft above sea level… if the flash flooding doesn’t get me first.
 
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Johnny O

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Ely, NV. Laundry and a few cokes at the Trumper bar. I don’t do politics, but the place is both interesting and entertaining: the pool tables are covered with house plants. As Les Claypool said, “ I like the way the boots are all reverbed out [on the floorboards].” There’s live, ready to rock and roll, assault rifles behind the bar. The publican is a white haired lady in her 70s that smokes 125mm menthol lights, one perpetually hanging lit from her lip.

Plus they have a visitor logbook I always sign into when I’m there, one more point of contact if I go missing. I first stumbled in there, badly dehydrated, barely able to speak back in 2019 on the first GBDRT at and was treated very well.

Plus, lots of the old timers there are retired miners and prospectors. Time to once again dust off the old barfly social skills and buy some information.

So I put on my “perfectly ‘ normal’ desert rat face”, buy a few rounds, and start gently wringing them out for new camping and fossil sites. Bert draws many eyes and much conversation, particularly when they learn the “off road” package in it’s entirety cost about what Wranglers spend on wheels and tires.

We talk desert backcountry, fossils, and gemstones. I learn of some new to me sites in the deep desert I need to research. We talk using maps and making fun of “Subaru people”.

Timer goes off. Time to pick up laundry (1.25$ a pound wash, dry and fold!) I refuel at the reservation owned gas station/grocery/dispensary and grab a few supplies to deal with altitude.

Waves of monsoon storms hit me as I make excellent time to Snake Creek in the south eastern quadrant of Great Basin National park. I stop at the visitor center and file a back country permit, give the Ranger copies of my route maps, and log my SOS beacon info.

I stop at Baker, NV for a cold drink at what used to be the saloon. Now it’s a trippy-hippy general store…but they have cold, alcohol free craft “beer”. Chat up the bartender. Leave my business card and another map.

Driving up the canyon road, which washed out and “trapped” me for a bit last year, I’m lucky. It’s Tuesday? Wednesday? Dunno. Who cares. I’m on vacation. No one is there. I choose the campsite as close to the trailhead, vault crapper, and on the highest ground.

Camp is set. I bust out maps, check coms (there is none)…not even AM weather radio.

I’m set. Tomorrow, up before dawn and make the climb to 11k feet to finally see bristlecone pines, the oldest known living organisms.

I’ve been training for months for the climb. Spent a year building a vehicle to get me there. Finally. It’s time.

I turn in early after a few MREs, an entire loaf of bread as PB&J, and 500ml of olive oil.

The normal, daily, late afternoon rain starts…

I fall asleep to the gentle patter. Tomorrow is the day!
 

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lfhoward

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Loving the travel log, Johnny. Thanks for keeping us updated! As a field scientist who hasn’t done a long research trip since 2016, I am living vicariously through this. ;) I’ve had experiences with rattlesnakes, bears, a panther, and cliff edge trails over the years. Fun stuff!
 

profdlp

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Really enjoying the commentary and also the pictures. Been too long since I have had an extended vacation trip so enjoying yours vicariously is a treat.
 
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klc

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How did your refrigerator work out? What kind was it? You’ve got me thinking about getting one.
 

Johnny O

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How did your refrigerator work out? What kind was it? You’ve got me thinking about getting one.
Excellent and affordable. I’ll be posting a review in the near future.
 
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Johnny O

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So I wake up to utter silence. No birds or bugs. As I go to get out of the tent, I discover a flash flood has buried my campsite to a depth of about 8” of mud. Dang this ARB tent rocks. Dry inside, mud all the way around.

I make coffee and gear up for the 20 mile hike from 8k feet to 11k feet to see the bristlecone pines at the peak of Mount Washington. Due to the flood, I realize the first 4 miles are gonna suck due to the mud…

So I disconnect the Slumberjack and drive Bert through the mess to the trail head…mostly so I don’t have to do the climb with wet footwear.

I’m laughing my but off as Bert crawls along through the mess in 4lo gear 1. I hit the trail. It starts clouding up threatening a storm so I decide about 3 miles in to turn around and go back. Thou shalt not get caught on the mountain in a lightning storm.

I get back to the trailhead and it clears up in minutes. Fake storm. F it, I’m doing this. I turn around yet again and haul a$$ to the peak line.

The trail basically ceases to exist at about 9500” and is “just” a scramble along the peak line through the glacial till. Good thing I spent all that time in the gym!

I make it to the grove only to discover I forgot to charge my phone. No camera. No pictures. Oh well.

It’s about noon, so time to haul myself back to camp, hopefully avoiding the afternoon storms GBNP gets pretty much every day.

At the halfway mark I run into a Ranger. She’s looking for a couple of missing hikers. She thinks they just neglected to check out, but it’s been 72 hours…

“Seen anyone?”
“Nope.”
“Saw tire tracks on the Snake Creek road where it’s washed out. Don’t think it’s them though as they were driving a Subaru…”
Tracks are mine. I’m the only one in Snake Creek canyon.
“Cool. I don’t have to go all the way to the top then.”
Glad to be a help.
“Got a four Wheeler on the emergency access road- want a ride back to the trailhead?”
Hell yes!

We make it about two miles and a storm rolls in. Little rain, but lots of lightning and wind. Temp drops to 45F.

No cover so we have to just lay flat on the ground and wait for it to pass. Finally around 1730, we make it back to the trailhead.

I say my goodbyes and thanks and drive back to camp.

There’s big cat footprints all through the mud…

Next up- screw it- Imma climb again and get pictures of them damned trees!
 

lfhoward

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YES!! This dendrochronologist wants pics of the oldest trees on earth! Super cool. :p

For folks who haven’t heard of bristlecone pines before:

 

Johnny O

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So I’m done running from big kitties, but my backcountry permit is about to expire and the weather on Mt. Washington is still unstable. I break camp and Bert crawls through the debris back to the visitor center. I check out and then make the drive up Wheeler Peak to the “tourist” trail head.

It’s just a few miles from there to the other bristlecone grove. I’ll let the photos tell the rest. Mission accomplished.
 

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Johnny O

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Pt 2
 

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Johnny O

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Next up: the itinerary is already shredded thanks to Jabidge Wilderness hijinks. Heck, I'm shredded. So, the only logical thing to do is to cross the desert yet again to Delta, Utah via more of the Loneliest road in America.
I'm in great shape physically, but the altitude has taken a toll...and my feet are swollen up so large none of my footwear fits. Its also been nearly 2k miles drive time, and Bert needs some TLC. There's mud and sand and god knows what else in the undercarriage and suspension. The brakes need cleaned in particular as they got cooked a bit coming back down the mountain. The Donaldson pre filter is on its fifth cycle of being packed solid with dust and bugs.

But a big meal at the Rancher, a cheap room with a real shower, rock shops, a car wash, and a bit of "civilization" will do me good. From there the plan is that restocked and recharged, I'll head back into the desert for trilobite fossils and some serious off-roading in Amasa Basin, then bring this excursion to a close and head back to Nebraska. I know this part of the Great Basin like the back of my hand. Don't even need a map as all of Millard Country is etched in my brain.

Little did I know that the greatest tribulation of this trip was yet to come...some stuff goes down I didn't share on Facebook during the trip as I didn't want anyone to panic...
 
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