Land Rover Trek 133 – Desert Queen, Desert Peak, no name dry lake and dunes.
Friday, 28 November 2008 – Near Fernley Nevada

It’s the day after Thanksgiving. Three of my grandkids are wallowing around and decide to not go. The H2 Hummer is a no show. Mike has had to substitute for his boss at work so he’s not there in the Rock Raptor (Kia Sportage). So at nine thirty am we are; me in the ’04 Discovery, Ben in the ’04 Montero Sport, Brendon and my granddaughter Victoria in the ’02 Silverado and JC and Marilyn in the ’08 LR2.

JC and Marilyn have just spent the past three hours coming up from Cameron Park so we all join them in Jakes Restaurant inside the Silverado Casino while they get a bit of breakfast. A few minutes past 10:00am we are topped up and headed north-east towards the Hot Springs turn off on I-80. Ben is the only newbie to off-roading. We will break him in properly today.

After passing the thermal power plant and onion drying facility we run up past the diatomite plant and eventually round the north end of the Hot Springs Mountains and follow the trail towards Cinnabar Hill. I’d like to remind the reader that this trek follows most of the single vehicle treks that I did earlier this month recorded as numbers 131 and 132.

We make a brief stop at the snoopy-shaped rock formation and watch Brendon and Victoria climbing in a couple of lava tube caves. Back in the vehicles and we head up to the Desert Queen mining area. This was primarily a gold mining operation that also produced some silver back in the 1880 to 1900 era. There has been some more recent small scale working of some of the mines. There quite a few adits and shafts spread over a square mile or so.

After everyone had had their fill of peering down deep scary looking partially caved in holes in the ground we retraced our route about a half mile and started up the long wash to the west that will take us near the top of Desert Peak. I’m running the lead as Trail-Boss, Brendon is in the second spot so I can keep my eye on him, JC is third and Ben is bringing up the rear as the Sweeper.

The next two and a half miles are slow threading our way along the wash that is regularly used as a motorcycle off-road racing trail. They have filled the wash with their usual moguls. Finally we take a south fork in the trail that gets us out of the motorcycle tracks and head towards the peak.

After a couple of steep pitches up what were a couple of weeks ago pretty loose, we arrive at the rocky domed overlook. The trail up wasn’t too bad due to the rain on the day before Thanksgiving firming up the sandy spots. Our newbie is feeling pretty confident. That’s good because in a few minutes I’ll be taking him down the dry waterfalls.

OK. Now it is time to go down the ravine. I walk the guys down the ravine about 50 yards to let them see what they’ll be going over. At first Brendon doesn’t believe me and he’s not too sure that the Silverado is going to fit. So it’s into the Disco and over the edge to show them. I even get it up onto two wheels and rock it a bit. They love it. I drop over the three rock drops in a row and stop 50 yards down the canyon and walk back to spot the Silverado.

The trick with the Chevy is to get it properly lined up. Because of the 130 or so inch wheelbase, it’s not nearly as easy to maneuver as the Disco. The truck has maybe three inches of clearance on both sides and there is a bit of cross-member scraping but he gets down and parks behind the Disco.

Third down is the LR2. As it turns out, he has a bit of a time with it. As the front end starts to drop off of the steepest rocks the truck starts spinning the left front and right rear wheels in the sand between the rocks. The short wheelbase, the center couple and the traction control are all doing a great job but there just isn’t enough articulation! At about the time that we suggest that we hook the strap up to the Chevy to pull him down; JC gets the truck to rock enough to get the wheels to grab and pull on through.

The old hand, Ben, seeing JC’ efforts; takes a different line that keeps all of his wheels on rocks and gets her done. The next 1/8th mile goes pretty smoothly through some minor drops and squeezes until I hear a commotion on the radio and cannot see anyone behind me. I find a spot to do a six point turn-around and head back up the ravine.

Brendon has high-centered the Chevy. It turns out to be a non-event. He has just put a few fresh scrapes on the cross-members in front of and behind the transfer case. I get the snide query, “Hey Ron, I thought this wasn’t going to be a rock crawl?” Hmm, wait ‘til I get him on “The Steam-shovel” or “The School-bus” treks! Anyway, we give it a good inspection and don’t find any cracks, bends or leaks. He’s OK!

Eventually, we exit the canyon and come out onto the sandy country where all of the diatomite prospects are. After maybe another two miles we stop for a lunch break and a bit of plinking. Ben always seems to have a pistol along, so a few hundred rounds of .22 are expended. Victoria really kills a stuffed animal type doll that Ben has brought along for this specific purpose.

After getting down to the thermal power service road we head east towards the saddle crossing the range and the little dry lake just before the pole line road back to Hazen.

We stop for a bit on the dry lake so that Victoria can race around on the dry mud. After maybe fifteen minutes of scaring Brendon to death we continue on to the pole line road.

Even though we had a smattering of rain a couple of days ago, the deep sandy part of the road is surprisingly loose. After passing the row of small volcanic buttes that jut out towards Lahontan Valley, I take the sandy trail to the north-west and head towards the steep sand dunes against the lee side of the mountains.

This trail I had crossed once back in July. It is in deep loose sand and climbs steadily for about a mile to a saddle alongside a butte perhaps 200 feet higher than where we left the pole line road. I neglected to tell the guys behind me that they shouldn’t let the speed drop or they’ll drop to their axles in the sand. You guessed it; some panicky noises over the radio and I hear that Ben wasn’t able to make it up the last rise to the saddle. I tell JC and Brendon to wait on top of the saddle while I go see if I can help Ben up.

As I get back to where I can see Ben, I can see him blasting his way to the top. I pull off the ruts of the trail to let him by and do a quick loop to turn around. He gets by me and I find myself sending up rooster tails of sand and burying myself. As I’m working on extricating myself, Ben pulls of the track to help me out and gets himself buried too. I think I can get loose by backing down hill a bit and angling towards the trail. That does succeed in getting me out but at the same time Ben is radioing Brendon to back towards him to pull him out. This is getting hairy! That’s all I need is to have us all stuck out here in the sand! While this mess is going on I radio JC to continue on to the tufa mounds in front of the dunes and wait for us on the rocky part of the trail.

All turns out well. Ben gets his Montero hooked up onto the back of Brendon’s Chevy and they get him back onto the ruts at the top of the saddle. The three of us eventually reach the tufa and dunes where JC is waiting.

While we’re taking a break, Brendon and Victoria climb the dune and get themselves totally full of sand. Either Ben or JC ask me where do we go from here. My reply,” Back the way we came over that sandy saddle.” They’re a bit apprehensive, but I tell them to just keep it above 15mph and don’t stop for anything until we get back to the pole line road. That turns out successful and we turn south and follow the road back to Hazen.

We reach US-50alt at about 4:30 and say our goodbyes to JC and Marilyn who are heading back to Cameron Park. The rest of us head back to my house to fill up on Thanksgiving leftovers. I think I have Brendon hooked on Nevada off-roading.