Apres Burning Man 1999 - High Rock Canyon

Heading back to Oregon I decided to take advantage of my available travel time and explore a little. Being from back East the wide open spaces of the West are still a novelty to me. There really isn't anything quite like the feeling of blasting down a gravel highway in The Thing with nothing man-made in sight in any direction. I stopped in the BLM office in Susanville, CA to see if they had any suggestions of where to go. There's a Back Country Byway that loops through Nevada which looks like fun. They also had a map to High Rock Canyon, part of the original Oregon Trail that has spectacular scenery, and still-extant remants of settlers and the people who passed through a hundred years ago. It's also 30 miles off a gravel road, is unmaintained in any way, and ONLY for high clearage four wheel drive vehicles (or horses or bikes). I have a high-clearance SUV. Amongst VW Thing owners it has a reputation for going anywhere and everywhere except deep mud. I've had mine places you probably wouldn't believe if I could show you, but never before had I tried to go someplace this remote where I would have to rely soley on my own resources if anything went wrong. The nearest road with regular traffic was over 40 miles away.

I was intrigued. And terrified. I had no choice. I had to do it.

Do not attempt this trip unless you are prepared to survive on your own for several days in case of emergency. There is no one to pull your ass out of the fire. While suitable for mountain bikes or horses, the road through High Rock Canyon is impassable for regular street cars.

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12:30 pm - Steven's Camp. Thirty miles after leaving the main road and weaving slowly down a dirt road through the sagebrush desert I arrived at Steven's Camp. I took the right fork at the unmarked intersection. I have no idea where the left one lead. Few roads out here are marked. Get a good map. This is a hunting cabin maintained by the State of Nevada. First come, first serve you can bunk down here with about twelve of your buddies. Primitive, but pretty swanky for camping.

From here on out I'll be quoting from my journal, which is marked with odometer readings and the time. The Thing doesn't come with one of those fancy trip odometers, so the readings don't start at 0. It's supposed to be 16 miles through the canyon. Most of the road is so rough that I was unable to get out of second gear, and did most of it in first.

Odometer reading - 38.7 The canyon starts for certain here. Back aways I scared the piss out of myself. Being careless by trying to take a drink from my canteen - taking my attention off the road for one second - I hit something that threw the car out of the ruts and hung up the Thing on the side of the road, stalling the engine. For a breathless minute I was unable to get back on the road, but then VW came through and I was back on track. However, the mysterious misfire came back and for a few minutes the car wouldn't idle right. As mysteriously as it came, it righted itself and I continued.

Scared off a herd of antelope, didn't have the camera ready. Stopped and watered my head at a small stream. Have to keep cool.

1:30pm 40.8 miles. Been slowly creeping through ponds of water, getting out, scouting ahead. Before me the canyon starts to rise...

The road crosses this stream about twelve times. When I was there the water came up to the floorboards of the Thing.

1:40pm, 42.1 miles. The road is a little bit easier here - the floor of the canyon is much wider, but I went around a short curve and was very surprised by a sudden four foot drop in the road! Yikes! You can't take your eyes off the road for even one second here.

Your narrator leads the way.

1:45pm, 42.2 miles. The going is slow and stressful. I stopped for a brief walk down the empty road. This is a lonely place. Thought about everyone I love. Back in the car again something that looks like a B-52 sweeps by overhead very low. Yow!

Spotted a pair of wild horses running down the far side of the canyon!

2:00pm, 43.9 miles. Settler cabin. Stopped for lunch. The stones of this one room cabin appear to be hand-hewn from the cliffs behind. I stand in awe of the sheer guts of someone who could make the trip across the continent and try to make a life of it with nothing but a trickle of water and fields of sagebrush.

However, this is not remote enough to be free of the pile of spent shell casing that seems to grace every campsite out in the bush. I clean up a pocketfull and head on.

The valley gets quite wide here.

Before long red rock canyon walls rise on either side.


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