HIGH DESERT EXPEDITION
Adventure To The Most Desolate Place In America.
Editor: Eric Bewley Photo: L. Pettinger, D. Hamilton, K. Ender, D. Capell
FORT BIDWELL, CA – There are places in the outback of the western US that are simply amazing for a myriad of reasons. The area we visited would not appeal to most of the general population for it is a dry and lonely place that offers only simplicity and clarity to those that want to experience an area that is lightly touched and barely used in this modern time we live in. A place that is happily out of step with the hustle and bustle of modern life. We brave travelers seized the opportunity to experience this wonderful place and were greatly rewarded for our efforts.
Our journey began in the small and beautiful town of Lakeview. This is one of the larger towns in the area of South-central Oregon and boast a substantial set of hotels to service the recreation of the area. Most of the group arrived late Thursday evening and was greeted to the unusual situation of seeing a current cable television show happening right before our eyes. Bull Run, a Speed channel program, was filming their next series and happened to be going through Lakeview the same time we were. Small-town rumors flourished about what, where, when, and who and we did see a couple cool exotic cars, production staff, and “flag girls” in all their un-glory but probably the most surprising was the amount of law enforcement that this petite hamlet had. A strange bonus to a fun filled weekend.
Friday morning and the group assembled at the local grocery store parking lot. After a brief meeting to talk about where we’re going and a speech about trail riding etiquette, we were off to exploration!
Our first destination was the town of Fort Bidwell located in the North-east corner of California. Before we could do that we would travel over the Fandango Pass. This pass is part of the is part of the Applegate and Lassen trails. In fact the pass is where the two trails meet. These two trails were widely used by emigrant pioneers in the years 1846 to 1850. The Applegate trail, established in 1846, led from the Humboldt river in Nevada to the Willamette Valley in Oregon. The Lassen cut-off, established by Peter Lassen in 1848, turned South at Goose Lake and led to the Northern mines and settlements of California.
Fort Bidwell is located near the north end of Surprise Valley in what is now Modoc County, Fort Bidwell was built in 1863. Strategically located in the northwestern corner of the state, its purpose was to protect the travel routes from Oregon and Idaho, including the Applegate and Lassen Trails. Originally called Camp Bidwell, it was named for Mexican War veteran, Major John Bidwell of the California Volunteers. The initial camp was short lived, abandoned in early 1865, but due to numerous Indian raids, was quickly reestablished near its original location in July, 1865. The new post, built of logs, housed two companies of soldiers.
As you can tell by the description above, fort Bidwell town was to be quite a little ghost town from what web research had shown but upon arrival we were amazed to find that there were a lot of inhabitants and current buildings. We were able to find a few historic building but exploring them was off the menu.
Next stop was Cedarville, California a small town that sits right on the shelf where the mountain range ends and the vastness and desolation begins. We fueled up our vehicles and got a drink at the local general store preparing to head out on our way. Fortunately, the gas station owners were quite hip to 4×4 exploration and told me of a nice wheeling loop just south of their town. Always being one to take advantage of a situation like that we changed our planned route and headed off on their recommendation and were rewarded with a great picnic at a horse camp complete with excellent vistas, lakes, and colorful flora.
Another great bonus was the trail itself. Their tip had led us down a very nice two-track trail with great geological treasures which added even more to this bones track.
We were now on our way to the middle of nowhere with a stop at next to nothing. That place had a name and it was Vye. Vye, Nevada was a small ranching town that came to an end in the 1920’s. We had coordinates and a location on the map but were unable to find the town site. So, off to the next point of interest…
We hit a few dry lake beds and explored some homestead ruins over the course of the next fifty miles or so. This area of Nevada is so desolate there is just plain nothing out here and that in itself is a welcome change that ads to the adventure. Two things became painfully apparent as the day blossomed into fullness. This area was really hot and really dusty. The roads were pounded into powder as most desert roads are by the end of the summer and for those that didn’t have a closed cabin with air conditioning, the trail was quite dusty and at times, unpleasant.
We were lucky to find a great campground for our first night’s stay. A bit tired and weary, the group set up their tents at Gooch Springs camp. Unusual for this area, this campground actually had a spring with water running. A simple set up with a fire ring as it’s only improvement, this type of campground is my very favorite. There is hardly no chance of a motor home complete with satellite television and a eco-friendly generator pulling up next to you to share in the outdoor experience. Wild horses, a great vista, really warm overnight temperatures proved that this camp was wonderful.
We woke to the sound of wild horses drinking and frolicking around the spring. The evening’s temperature was quite warm and would stand in stark contrast to the next night’s camp but that’s a story for later. We had breakfast and broke camp to leave this great place only to notice that we all had another visitor in the evening, mice. We were fortunate enough to have had a little fellow in our Samurai. He decided to nibble into our chip bag and enjoy a few bites of wonderful Idaho goodness and then leave a little gift on my seat. Thank you fellow traveler, best wishes to you too.
Two scheduled activities were in store for the group today. First, we were headed to a hot spring called Dufurrena. Mainly used as fishing ponds now, the ponds were built to deliver irrigation water to agricultural lands in Virgin Valley. Following the purchase of the lands by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the Ponds were managed primarily for fish and wildlife values. There is a campground and hot spring boasts a year-round warm pool of water and a shower house that has constantly running warm water. After the dusty trek we had been on so far, the group was more than happy to take a dip and get cleaned off.
After cleaned ears and a full belly, we were off to our next activity which was to go hunting for fire Opals. Precious opals are translucent to transparent and are distinguished by a combination of milky to pearly opalescence and an attractive play of many colors. These colors flash and change as a stone is viewed from different directions are caused by interference of light along minute cracks… and they look cool. This area called the Virgin Valley has many Opal mines and most have a pay to dig program that you can go out to dig, find, and keep some serious gemstones. We headed up to a good mine and talked with the owners a bit about gemstones and what it would take to get something neat but decided to travel on because the heat at this point was unbearable and punishing but we did have the opportunity to see some really cool specimens and a few rocks were picked up just along the roadway.
It is now about mid-day and we begin our trek westward now to loop back. The plan was to get back into the mountains for some cooler weather and nicer camping and that is what we did. Along the way we stopped at a quaint gas stop slash bar slash general store at Adel. This place is very interesting inside and if you’re ever in the area, take a moment to go in and get a beer or a soda pop. It will be worth your time.
The next group activity involved a bit of that four letter word, hike. We drove along a two-track trail and got as close as we could to the place where the three states meet. We called it the three corners but in reality, it’s more of a “T” than corners but that didn’t distract from the interesting nature of this point on the globe.
There are actually two markers in close proximity to each other. A stack of rocks with a placard and an government survey marker. I’m sure there is an interesting story as to why there in different spots but the desert didn’t whisper it to us. The hike was about 3 miles round trip and was enjoyed by all that attempted it with the possible exception of Dave’s youngest kid who was barely tall enough to see over the rugged sage brush and weeds and was getting scratch and pelted the whole way up and back. He soldiered on and made the whole trip on his own though, what a little trooper!
We found a suitable camp about an hour before sunset at a place called Deep Creek. This was a semi-primitive camp site with picnic tables, fire rings, and a pit toilet and that was about it. There was just enough room for our group as we filled up the whole camp ground. This campground gave us an A+ experience of the mountain range. A beautiful creek, trees, and cattle bellowing off in the distance set the scene as we all made dinner and talked over the day’s activities.
The next morning broke without anyone noticing as all were still asleep until the Sun was quite high in the sky. Overland traveling can be quite tiresome and most all took advantage of the relaxed atmosphere to get a few extra winks of sleep. We then broke camp and travel a very nice two-track trail through the mountain range towards Lakeview. This trail was a really nice treat and had something for everyone. There were steep climbs, some rocky sections, creek crossing, and great views of the valley and “lake” below.
We made it back to Lakeview and had some lunch in a city park and then said our goodbyes. With all in high spirits from the refreshing, interesting, and relaxing trip we had just completed, we all made our separate ways back home.