Saturday, November 25, 2017

Knickerbocker Flats

One of my favorite local trails follows the edge of oak woods on one side and open rolling meadow on the other, leads past the ruins of a gold rush era ranch and a walnut orchard, then down to a small reservoir. A couple of short steep hills had been leaving me breathless prior to my heart surgery about 6 weeks ago. Today I tested myself on them for the first time with my rebuilt heart (3-way bypass and aortic valve). All went well - no huffing and puffing, just joy at being alive and able to be out in the woods.

I took along my Sony A7ii - I feel naked without a camera over my shoulder. I punched some menu options to bring up the "painting" effect just for fun. Here are a few of the pics. You can click on an image to scroll through them at full screen.

Live oak leaves along the trail

Up one of the whoop-dee-do hills

Where a little life became another's meal

Winter's wind-swept grasses and a single white feather

Trees, meadow, and ancient orchard

Thistles along the fence line

Fine old oaks along the trail

Barbed wire and meadow

Down a hill and through a tunnel of trees

An often photographed group of oaks

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Central Nevada Road Trip - Part 8: Berlin, Grimes Point, and Home

Eric and I stopped in the middle of Ione Valley outside of Berlin to enjoy the smell of rain on sage
The Journal – Sunday, 5/14/17

In which we photograph the ghost town of Berlin, the Petroglyphs at Grimes Point, complete our journey and determine to do it all again next year.

Jason and Ray graciously pose for us after delivering
a replacement spare tire for the truck.
My morning reverie with coffee and journal in the Belmont Campground was interrupted by the rumble of a big diesel dualie scrunching to a stop in the gravel next to our campsite. It was Ray and Jason, delivering on their promise to scare up and mount a good tire on our wheel replacing the one that had blown out. These guys, after a day of activity riding and collecting cattle and branding them had picked up our old tire and rim, taken it to Ray’s place in Big Smokey Valley, found and mounted a decent replacement tire, then found us at our compsite to deliver it. They would not consider any payment for either their efforts or the tire. As they drove off we were left with gratitude, shaking our heads at the kindness of the people we’d met.

Eric catches up with the outside world via an internet connection at the
Belmont bar.
We hooked up the trailer and pulled into Belmont, where we parked in front of the saloon, where Eric was able to make internat connections thanks to Puggie’s sharing her security code. I enjoyed the sunshine and a bit more poking around while he took care of touching base with the outside world. In Tonopah we parked in front of the Central Nevada Museum for more San Juan tuna sandwiches. We chalked up our disappointment at finding it closed on Sundays as just another reason to repeat our Central Nevada experience the following May.  After making a few phone calls connecting with loved ones back in the real world, we headed toward ghost town of Berlin.

The tipple and mill at Berlin look out over Ione Valley as thunder echos
between the encompassing mountain ranges
The ghost towns of Nevada developed during a period of repeated sequences of mining boom and bust. The sequence would begin with a discovery, followed by staking of claims, development, consolidation and exploitation, then bust as the mines played out and became unprofitable. Word would arrive of another strike, and the population would move to begin the sequence all over again in some lonely place in the desert which had previously existed for thousands of years as the seasons passed and the sun rose and fell illuminating nothing more active than a passing antelope herd or an argument between a pair of crows. People would carry their shovels and picks to the new location, dragging even the huge stamp mills and on several occasions even entire buildings, leaving the shacks of the previous location with doors creaking in the desert breeze and tables still set. There they would develop a new community, with the full expectation that it would last for hundreds of years, as evidenced by the sturdy construction of stone and brick buildings such as the Belmont courthouse.

This wondrously picturesque weathered truck poses patiently outside one of
the buildings in Berlin
Berlin, now located within Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park, is one of many of those boom and bust mining communities, now ghost towns. It is about 47 miles east of Fallon on US 50, 32 miles south of Middlegate on Hwy 361, then 20 miles west of Gabbs on Hwy 844, the last bit being a few miles on a gravel road. Like many other boom towns, its discovery drew former residents to drag equipment over the desert from their former fading communities. The town was founded in 1897, following discovery of gold and silver in 1895. The Nevada Mining Company purchased two stamp mills formerly used in the Ione area and hauled them the five miles from Ione to include in a new 30-stamp mill in Berlin. But the town never prospered as much as some other boom towns and the financial panic of 1907 finally did it in. By 1911 it was a ghost town. It had been operated as a company town by the Nevada Mining Company, who maintained it until 1970 when it was acquired by the state, which accounts for its good state of preservation.

Eric is in full flow, setting up lights, camera,
and tripod for a shoot inside one of the old
mine buildings in Berlin.
We photographed a bit around the town in the cool, breezy evening, and then wound up into the nice State Park campground, which was reasonably accessible to our truck and 27-foot trailer. We woke after a very chilly night to a blue sky filled with rapidly moving clouds, which eventually filled in creating a complete overcast. As we photographed more in and out of the buildings I watched a crow bringing food to a nest up in the roof beams of the huge, vacant mill, then take some time to give me a severe scolding. Eric posed us in front of an old car rusting into the desert, and then set up his lighting gear inside the machine shop as we listened to thunder echo across the desert. Through the windows we watched streamers of rain sweep across the valley to the west. Hand-wringing as always, I fretted about the dirt road becoming slick or of snow building up on the pass we had negotiated on the way into the park.

A fine storm followed us out of Berlin, making for dramatic skies.
But all we got was some rain mixed with snow as we headed west, then north, finally emerging from under the storm clouds into a bright desert sky filled with Kodachrome clouds. Our last stop took us to a site of human habitation nearly 10,000 years older than the ghost towns we had been visiting, which in those times was on the shoreline of ancient Lake Lahontan.

Rock art at Grimes Point
Ancient Lake Lahontan grew to encompass an area of over 8,500 square miles, extending over much of northwestern Nevada at its peak during the moist and cool times about 12,700 years ago. Archaeology along the lake shores indicates that the existence of the lake coincided with the first appearance of humans in the region, although by the time of the dated habitation at Grimes Point, it was already shrinking as a result of the increased evaporation rate as the climate warmed around the end of the Pleistocene epoch.

Pits chipped out of the basalt boulders at Grimes Point thousands of years ago 
make me wonder if the people who made them had invented the memory tool known
as the "method of loci" well before the Greeks and Romans. Like the knots in
strings used by some cultures, the pits may have been used as a memory aid to
recall historical events or genealogies. Check out The Memory Code, by Lynne Kelley

Features of the site include rock art and caves, in one of which, Spirit Cave, a mummy was found and dated to 9,470 years before present. The rock art is unique for the width and depth of the markings, and the “cupules”, small pits chipped out of the rock surface and found on hundreds of the black, basalt boulders that cover the site. It is considered to be the oldest rock art in Nevada, which makes it pretty damned old

The ghost towns we had visited elicit a sort of bittersweet sense of the passage of time. This feeling touches on the Japanese aesthic of Wabi-sabi, which constitutes “a world view centered on the acceptance of transience and imperfection” (Wikipedia,, accessed 5/27/2017). I see it in a lichen-covered boulder, the weathered timber of a ghost town structure, or the ghost town itself. It also comes strongly when I sit on a boulder at Grimes Point, and contemplate the ancient lake and the people who once lived along its shores.

Dramatic skies followed us back across Nevada as we followed Hwy 50 to Carson City
And so on to Carson City, a shower, and a delicious dinner served up by Eric’s mom, Jean. Over the good food and libations we relived the trip for her, to the extent that is possible for one who has not experienced it first-hand. It will fade a bit in our perception as well, but I know, as Eric wrote after our day at Pine Creek Ranch, “This time together and the way the world has opened to us have created something that will stay in us until we each die.”

Next May we will return to Central Nevada, step into that cozy bar in Belmont, and get Puggie to explain to us once more how to get to White Rock, which is just, “straight across the valley – you can’t miss it!”

"Pops and the Kid" - photo by Eric Mindling

More Photos

Part of the mining structures in Berlin, this was used to deliver ore to rail cars.

Storm clouds begin to grow over Berlin

Desert rain

Nevada Mining Company tipple and mill
Eric pursuing his craft

Gas stations can be scarce when you get off the pavement in Nevada. We carried two, 5-gallon cans, and were glad to have them. Here Eric gases us up for the trip to Fallon while I take advantage of the facilities at the Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park to service our holding tanks.
Peeking out from beneath rain clouds from a stop in the mountains west of Berlin toward the sunny vastnessof western Nevada

Storm clouds chase us west on US 50 toward Fallon
Sand Mountain, east of Fallon. The desert winds have accumulated the beaches of ancient Lake Lahontan in this corner of the Humboldt Sink.
Grimes Point rock art

The End

Central Nevada Road Trip - Part 7: Branding at Pine Creek Ranch

The "Running W" brand of Pine Creek Ranch

Journal for Saturday, 5/13/17
In which we enter a 200 year-old world of ranching and cowboys.

We enjoyed a delightful sleep in, cozy after a cool night of bright stars in the Belmont Campground, followed by coffee time and catching up the journal. After breakfast and with Eric at the wheel we drove sedately through Belmont, where we stopped briefly to say hello to Henry who was helping to set up a horseshoe tournament, thank him again for the courthouse tour, and tell him that we had been invited by Ray and Jason to attend a branding at Pine Creek Ranch. Then on over the low pass, where we had trudged a mile and a half yesterday under the threat of rain hoping for help with our flat tire, not only receiving it graciously but an invite to the branding at Pine Creek Ranch as well. Clear blue skies made the orange brick of the Combination Mill stack stand out against the sky and contrast with the purples of the vast valley.

The approach to Pine Creek Ranch past snowmelt from the Toquima Range.
The sedate pace was engendered by our new respect for desert roads which had given us three failed tires in as many days. We were riding on a tire of indeterminate age that had been plugged to staunch yesterday’s leak, three others with thinning tread, and were without a spare. Where previously we hadn't given the graded gravel road much thought, other than to appreciate the lack of washboarding, now we saw the seemingly innocent pebbles popped up by the grader as containing a hidden malevolence.

The ranch house at Pine Creek
But we made it safely to Pine Creek Ranch which is approached through green pastures and past a stream of snowmelt from the 12,000 foot peaks of the Toquima Range to the west. Lynn, a sturdy woman of about 50 described what was going on, which I semi-understood as involving collecting the cattle in groups based on owner, then branding, ear tagging or ear marking to distinguish them for the four owners. The brand is the “running W”, identifying the owner of the ranch on which they were grazing. The animals to be marked were 100 or so about eight months old.

On horseback the men separated the cattle into a complex maze of corrals, then drove them in groups into a long chute leading to a cow trap. Men at the corral leading to the chute herded them in, those stationed along it prodded them along, as the cattle were understandably apprehensive of the bang and clatter of the cow trap, the bawling of the cow being branded, and the smell of singed hide. At the cow trap a large solid steel back door was slammed shut, and a sturdy man in his 30’s who had gone through college on a football scholarship threw his muscle and weight into the two ropes controlling the trap's body squeeze and the neck trap. Ray wielded the branding iron which had been heated in a fire in an old wheelbarrow. Other men, also in their 70’s, helped with positioning and holding the cow still for the operations. In back of the chute, 8-year-old Conner was helped by Lynn with the job of prodding the cows along when necessary with a beat up and weathered chunk of 2X4, and another similar bit of lumber was used to keep them from backing out of the chute. Lynn showed Conner how to hold the piece of wood so that it wouldn’t break his wrist if the cow lunged against it in an unexpected way – though not even quite yearlings, being just 8 months old, they were already up to about 500 pounds.

All of this took place with the background of the Toquima Range, the long long vistas of Monitor Valley, and … but wait, my son Eric has produced a piece of writing as part of a note to a friend that expresses the ambiance of the event far beyond my powers:

Puggie's husband, Jason, handled his horse with a grace that
was a pleasure to watch. While not being a cowboy, Jason works
as a contractor. He told us that they had met when he had been
hired to replace the floor, and make plumbing and electrical
repairs. "I came for a week and got life, " he says with a grin.
By Eric Mindling
The days and experiences of this adventure with my father have been truly good. This time together and the way the world has opened to us have created something that will stay in us until we each die.  Yesterday, for example, we spent hours at a ranch on the edge of a tremendously long valley sided by snow capped mountains and carpeted with sage brush and cattle meadows fed by the surging runoff of melting snow.  The sky was endlessly blue and clear and the air had a bite to it that left my cheeks red and reminded me how tropical my blood is.  We'd been invited out to Pine Creek Ranch by the cowboys who'd fixed our flat the day before. It was branding day and we both watched and photographed somewhat transfixed in this world of  confident, friendly, sturdy handed outdoorsmen wearing worn Carhart jackets and beat leather boots with pretty horses... and the crazy, jumbled work of lining up cattle to brand and ear snip. The animals bellowed and bucked,  hammered against the fences and each other with heaving breath , the air smelled of woodsmoke from the branding iron fire and sizzled hair from the branding proper.  And as they worked in that big open landscape, or spoke to me with an ease and openness akin to that l
Ray prepares to wield a branding iron, which has been
heated in the wood fire in the wheelbarrow.
andscape and no doubt bred by it, or offered a Bud Lite from the cooler in the back of the truck or told the story of building a house with their bare hands it became clear to me that this was a good and healthy way of being human.  As one of the bearded cattlemen said to me, "we’re all cut from different cloth. I like the 40 mile gaze", referring to the vast horizon of open, empty, wild and solitary land that surrounded us on all sides. 

== Eric Mindling, May 13, 2017

Conner sat his horse just out of the way of the turmoil of the roundup with the patience of an adult. I'd observed his outfit the day before of straw hat, long-sleeved shirt, and jeans, and adopted it as best I could for the event at Pine Creek.



Conner helps to carefully sort out some ear tags