Summer Lake, Oregon

Summer Lake is another of the Pleistocene pluvial lakes which filled many of the basins of the Basin and Range Province.

In this map lakes with present day water are light blue. Summer lake is in the top left corner. I like to imagine what this might have been like 10,000 years ago when there was abundant water.

There’s not much open water left anymore.


Summer Lake Hot Springs and Winter Ridge

Hot springs accompany basin and range faulting. I stayed three nights at the delightful Summer Lake Hot Springs. Dry camping is $20 with full access to the hot springs and fantastic views of the dust moving across the playa to the north.

There are three stone lined outdoor pools and an indoor five foot deep swimming pool.

This is the pool house with snowy Winter ridge behind it and the lake (possibly with water in this wet spring) visible. it looks funky but was quite delightful.

There are also geothermally heated cabins.

Pyramid Lake

May, 2019.

Fernley, Nevada.

Pyramid lake is one of the very last of the giant post glacial freshwater lakes that filled every of the long valleys created by basin and range faulting in Nevada. Walker lake south east of here and the Great Salt Lake in Utah are large bodies of water but both are almost too salty for any species of fish to survive.

Pyramid lake is less salty and supports the Lahontan cutthroat trout and Tui chub. It’s fed by the Truckee River which comes out of the high Sierra just west of here. The lake is owned and managed by the Pyramid Lake Paiute tribe, which sued to maintain inflow to the lake.

For a fee the tribe allows camping and fishing along the west side of the lake. I was here on Mother’s day and there were many families picnicking and boating on the beach. It was pretty noisy until sunset when most people packed up to go home.

The weather was mild and the water was lovely to wade or soak in. Surprisingly, a warm wind picked up close to sunset and roared most of the night. I mean really warm, 75 degrees two hours after sunset. That wind might not be too comfortable for tent camping but it was fine in my van.

After my Nevada mountain nights close to freezing that was quite a surprise. I expected warm days but not the warm night.

It was a beautiful sunrise the next morning.

Because the water is not too salty, there are fish in the lake and I heard and saw Birds that eat fish: grebes, pelicans, geese, and ducks.

The tribe has an excellent museum which deserved a much longer visit than I gave it. I think the Indians wrote the text on the displays and they were unusually frank and clear spoken about the impact of European settlers on the native peoples.

Campground closed no problem

I love being what is called self-contained, meaning that I have (in particular) water and toilet with me and am prepared to camp anywhere with no “services”. After spending the day at Toquima Cave I pulled into my next campsite late in the afternoon. The campground was closed! No problem however as there were easy and obvious dispersed sites right outside the campground. I chose a nice place and settled down for the night. While I was there quite a few people came by hoping to camp. Some of them stayed and some of them moved on.

A Forest Service guy said that they were working on the water system. And he was working hard to get it going. He was there on a Saturday night and again Sunday morning.

I took a little walk around and there were spring flowers blooming. This is Lithophragma. The woodland-star.

I didn’t stay long because I had a long drive ahead to get to my next campsite at Pyramid Lake.

Toquima Cave pictographs

Austin, Nevada

This cave was apparently a ceremonial rather than a residential site for the people who lived in this area and painted these pictographs. The two different styles of painting suggest that images were added over a long period of time with different cultural influences. The pigments were not from any local source but would have been traded and transported from far away.

The cave is at 8,000 feet, close to 2,000 feet above the valley floor, and pretty much at the summit of the pass over this mountain range. There is a Forest Service campground by the trail to the cave which would be a lovely place to camp. I spent most of the day up there before heading to my next campsite.

The cave is well protected from vandalism.

I walked around up near the cave and enjoyed watching this chipmunk golden mantled ground squirrel.

Spencer Hot Springs

Austin, Nevada.

Because of basin and range faulting, Nevada has many hot springs. I’ve had several marked on my map but I hadn’t yet made it to any of them before now.

Spencer Hot Springs was lovely. There are three pools- 2 round stock tanks and one natural pool.

Water of course is a draw in the desert. There were killdeer nesting in the overflow from the spring and the feral burros came in the evening and morning to drink.

Toquima Cave is in the mountains just east of the hot spring so I went up to the cave the next morning.

Hickison Petroglyphs

Austin, Nevada

The petroglyphs are at a BLM campground near Austin, Nevada.

The geology here is volcanic. Rhyolite and ash flows cover up the older fossil containing Cretaceous rocks unfortunately (no fossils). But, the soft ash is a good substrate for petroglyphs.

I couldn’t find any information on how old these are but human habitation in this area goes back 10,000 years. This site says that petroglyphs of this style are associated with hunting.

Rabbit Valley, McInnes Canyon NCA, Colorado

I chose this place because it looked interesting and was on the direction I wanted to be traveling. And it turned out to be a lovely place that I hope I get back to to stay longer.

Probably because it’s both beautiful and right off of I-70 it is heavily visited. The BLM limits human impacts there by designating camping spots. There’s probably room for about 30 vehicles all told.

I walked down McDonald Canyon. There are Fremont culture petroglyphs down there somewhere but I didn’t find them. Next time I’ll camp closer to the canyon and walk further in. If you walk far enough down the canyon you reach the Colorado river.

Designated dispersed camping

Sometimes the camping rules for public land call for “designated dispersed camping”. This means that allowable campsites are scattered rather than aggregated into a campground (so they are “dispersed”) but camping is only allowed at specific sites (“designated”). This is done to limit human impact on popular or vulnerable areas.

Here in Rabbit Valley in the McInnes Canyon National Conservation Area there are designated campsites, designated trails for mountain bikes and designated roads for motorized transportation.

I spent two nights here and if I had another week I’d move to one of the more remote campsites and walk from there down McDonald creek trail to the Colorado River. On my walk yesterday I got about a third of the way to the river. There are Fremont culture petroglyphs in McDonald Canyon but I couldn’t find them. Probably I didn’t go deep enough into the canyon. I’d like another chance to see them. I’m currently in one of the sites at the top of the map. I’d drive down the red Kokopelli trail and find a site closer to the canyon and the river.

How I find campsites

My budget doesn’t extend to paying for a campsite every night so I often look for dispersed or free camping through when I’m in a new part of the world.But when I am on the road doing long days (that’s 200 miles for me) I do look for official campgrounds as a landing space.

I had done a long and windy drive up and over the Rockies to get from northern New Mexico to western Colorado and arrived in Montrose, Colorado late afternoon just tired of driving. My planned destination (dispersed camping in a place I hadn’t been before) was an hour north. It’s not a good idea to look for dispersed camping late in the day. So I changed plans. There were no campgrounds nearby. What to do?

Fortunately, the guy in the vehicle next to me was clearly a camper. He was in a beat up pickup truck with a solar panel mounted on the hood and camping stuff in the canopy. So I asked him if he knew of dispersed camping sites nearby. Yes. He told me to go up Colorado 90 on the Uncompahgre plateau. I followed his advice and went up. I rejected the first site as too trashy, the second site had people in it already. I kept going up and looked for side roads that might have a potential campsite and found a site with a fire ring just far enough off the main road to not get dusted by traffic.

Here’s where I ended up. A bit off the main road and out of sight. Juniper and piƱon trees. And surprise! A leafed out cottonwood tree quite close. Cottonwoods mean water. I went over there and yes there was flowing water in “Dry ditch creek”. Uphill of me along the creek there were some nice grassy meadows (the fuzzy green in the satellite view), willows in the creek and groves of scrub oak. I’ve forgotten the elevation I was at but I believe the road goes maybe 2000 feet higher so it would be very easy to adjust the temperature by changing elevation on that road.

I only stayed one night but I would have happily stayed a week.

And when I look now at!Montrose,+Colorado,+United+States I see that there are several sites marked along that road, and none of them are the site I stayed at. I don’t know why I didn’t check Freecampsites at the time. Too tired to think clearly I guess.

This long story is to remind myself to not do long drives in one day, and to say thanks to Doug the nomad in the parking lot at the grocery store.

I was at that site so briefly that I didn’t really take many pictures. But here’s a few spring flowers for you.

My geology app said that I was standing on the Dakota sandstone (Jurassic!). When I walked a bit downhill I found a spot where the top soil was gone, exposing the underlying rock. you can see how the whole plateau tilts down to the northeast.