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







Friday, May 26, 2017

Central Nevada Road Trip - 6. Diana's Punchbowl and Stonehouse Stage Station

Central Nevada Journal for Friday, 5/12/17 - In which we further explore Monitor Valley, Diana's Punchbowl, an old stage station, and are brought to our knees by some little bits of gravel.

Note that you can single click a photo for a full-screen slideshow view.

Diana's Punch Bowl, Monitor Valley, and the Toquima Rangh
Neither I, nor Eric (thank God) are early risers. But I do like my quiet time with coffee and my journal in the morning. Today I barely disturbed Eric’s deep breathing as I climbed out at 7, stealthily crafted my coffee, (AeroPress) and took it back to bed to scribble a few more pages in my 7 X 10 Canson Sketch Book. The focus and the flow of real ink from a fountain pen (Lamy) are like a meditation, the recording of the previous day’s events almost secondary. As I told Eric, while discussing the comparative benefits of digital vs. hand writing, just seeing my bottle of Noodler’s moves me a step into the meditative state. No lie.

The approach to a late 1800's stage station, the two-story structure of native stone
dwarfed beneath the 12,000 foot peaks of the Toquima Range within the
immensity of Monitor Valley
Soon we sat with our breakfast, instant McCann’s Rolled Oats, in our blue folding chairs in the sunny spot with the view of Ralston Valley, planning the day. The sun felt good, as it was a crisp and breezy morning. The plan was to further explore the vast Monitor Valley. Monitor Valley is 10 to 20 miles wide and 70 miles from north to south. It is huge, providing clear vistas across the sagebrush terrain of the snow-capped peaks of the Toquima Range on the west, which reaches elevations of over 10,000 feet. Similar elevations are reached by the peaks to the east, and the valley itself is at nearly 7,000 feet elevation. So we bundled up a bit, and enjoyed being buffeted by the wind when we stopped to check out a playa. Our objective was an old stage station called Stone House, Diana’s Punchbowl, and the wonders, finally, of White Rock.

Stone House was built in 1869 as a station on the Belmont-Austin stage line
Stone House was one of the places I remembered well from my time here in the late 1960’s. Although it is an impressive two-story structure of local stone, it is nearly lost visually in the vastness of Monitor Valley. According to Shawn Hall in Preserving the Glory Days of Ghost Towns and Mining Towns of Nye County, Nevada, it was built as a station on the Belmont-Austin stage line in 1869 and operated for thirty years, also serving as a gathering place with dances held in the ballroom which occupied the second floor. While the folks of Belmont have done a heroic job of rescuing the fine old courthouse there, energy and resources are just spread too thinly over this sparsely-populated landscape to protect all of the old buildings, and we found that Stone House has collapsed considerably over the 49 years since I had last seen it. 

Stone House in 1968
Nevertheless, it is still an imposing and photogenic structure, made even more interested by the several wattle and daub outbuildings. According to Shawn West, after no longer being used as a stage station, a native American family named Hooper bought the station in the 1880’s and operated it as a cattle ranch, adding several additional structures. It may be that the wattle and daub construction of several outbuildings at the site represents a traditional Native American solution to building construction in the desert, where lumber must come from distant mountain ranges. They have weathered the desert storms and are in better condition than the stone building. I found their texture made for fine photographic subject matter. 

An interesting wattle and daub structure behind the main building at Stonehouse was probably added  by a native American family who owned the facility following its use as a stage station in the 1880's. These 140-year-old structures are worthy of consideration for preservation as possible representatives of traditional native American construction solutions to building where lumber is difficult to obtain.

Further north up the valley we turned east on the mile or so long side road that approached Diana's Punchbowl. Over the past several thousand years, this mineral-laden hot spring, energized by the fading volcanic forces that created the layer upon layer of extrusive volcanic rocks now exposed in the tilted fault block mountains, has built a deposit of travertine nearly one quarter of a mile wide and rising 60 to 75 feet above the valley floor. A circular, 60-foot-diameter crater-like opening tops the mound, with a pool of steaming water 15 or 20 feet below the rim. 

The approach to Diana's Punchbowl, a 60 to 75 foot high deposit of travertine nearly a quarter of a mile in diameter.

Nearly 60 mile-an-hour winds off of snow-capped peaks, driven by a passing front be darned - we enjoyed our bath immensely.
To build the mound, the spring must have spilled over its top in ages past, creating a deep blue infinity pool of hot water. Now the spring seeps out around the sides of the mound, with part of the flow collected in a dug canal. Here the water temperature has decreased to "just right", and despite the high wind we stripped down, dipped our aluminum washpan into the flow, and repeatedly dump it over our bodies delighting in the warm water and the chance to scrub off a bit of accumulated grime. 

Back at the truck our feeling of cleanliness and refreshment quickly evaporated as we crawled around in the dust replacing a leaky tire. Now we were about 40 miles from Belmont, and another 50 from real auto service in Tonopah without a spare. The gravel roads were looking increasingly treacherous to us, so drove at a sedate pace. It was about 5 or 6 PM as we approached Belmont, having given up for another day our search for the real White Rock because of the late hour and lack of a spare. After our second failed tire in three days, we had gained real respect for desert travel, the possible hazards now welling up into our awareness. Besides, dark clouds and distant virga threatened a shower. We were thinking about the cozy bar as we approached the lone brick smoke stack of the mill about a mile and a half from Belmont when there was a thump and swishing sound as if we had run over a tumbleweed. Except that there was no tumbleweed. Eric said, “We’ve had a blowout”. Sure enough, the right rear had a big, unrepairable rip in it. Thinking there might be enough air in the slow-leak tire we’d removed at Dianna’s Punchbowl to limp into town, we put it on. No go. As Eric pointed out, driving on it would likely destroy it, "It's our only ticket back into Tonopah."

So we dragged by ourselves on foot up over the low pass. At over 7,000 feet Eric patiently held his pace to match that of low-lander Pops. Cruising downhill into town our spirits picked up a bit, but it was still with our tails between our legs that we pushed open the door to the Belmont bar. We were immediately welcomed by Puggie, and directed to the pot luck buffet. When we explained our situation she introduced us to her husband, Jason, a slender cowboy and contractor who thought they might be able to scare up a tire for us, and plug the slow leak. He conferred with his father-in-law, Ray, a tall and slender man in jeans and long-sleeved shirt, the costume generally topped with a straw hat from Michoacán adopted by the local cattle ranchers. We heard Ray say, “We can do that!”, accepting helping out a couple of tourists not as a begrudged but necessary task, but just another job for the day, like greasing up a trailer hitch, or driving over to another valley to deliver some stray cows. We immediately felt the concern and worry drop away as we dug into the very welcome supper and a couple of beers. The Friday night crowd was a large one, and included Puggie’s two grandchildren, Conner, about 8 or 9, and his sister, about 10 or 11, sitting at the table playing cribbage. An assortment of dogs completed the cozy and comfortably friendly group.

As the group broke up, we went out to Puggie’s and Jason’s place next door where Jason and Ray prepared for our rescue by filling a couple of air tanks and loading up the compressor itself into Jason’s truck. We all piled in and drove back to my forlorn Ford, where the low tire was pressured up and we drove back into town. There Ray lay in the dirt under the truck plying his craft of tire plugging, which we watched with interest, where previously it would have been met with a yawn. We learned that the gravel roads are treacherous, especially at this time of year when they are freshly graded and while without washboarding, the gravel has been popped up to lie exposed on the surface, ready to get forced into tires. Later in the year they would get driven into the road base, but now they were such a threat that locals use 10-ply, rather than the normal 4-ply, carry a plug kit and some sort of compressor, and often a second spare.

With four firm tires on the ground, Ray said he thought he would have a tire over at his place in Big Smoky Valley that would match, so we left the bad one there. He would work on that the next day after they rounded up branded some cows up at Pine Creek Ranch in Monitor Valley between Dianna’s Punchbowl and Stone House. Perhaps we would like to come and watch? Hell, yeah! Jason even offered to let us use one of his trucks, as we were without a spare for now, but I felt uncomfortable about that, and besides felt too lazy to transfer all of our gear. We chalked that offer up as another plus for these fine people, drove carefully to our campsite for another fine night’s sleep after fun talk and celebration of our “good luck, bad luck” encounter, i.e., the series of incidents that had lead to meeting Puggie, Jason, Ray, Buddy, Henry, John, Bertie, and more, including Buddy’s dog, Cassie.

Another of the wattle and daub structures at Stone House

Corral at Stone House

Stone House