It was a sunny, cool morning when my friend Crazy Mike and I headed out on our adventure. We originally planned on Death Valley, but that didn’t work out this time (we’ll revisit that one in the Fall). Mike suggested the Nevada Desert. He knows my love for ghost towns and this particular area had a few. The one we especially wanted to see was Berlin Ichthyosaur State Park. Surrounding this old miner’s ghost town were other ghost towns such as Ione, Quartz Mountain, and Grantsville. As always, we decided to take the scenic route up. I stayed at my friend, Susan’s house in Sacramento that night, and in the morning Mike and I headed out of Sacramento and up peaceful Hwy 16 where we were treated to green pastures and trees. The rising sun made everything a bright lush green and I was excited to leave the city. We passed through the cute, little gold rush towns of Sutter Creek and Fiddletown as we wound our way from 16, where it connected to 49 and eventually SR 88.
We started out around 55 degrees and as we wound our way up in elevation on SR 88, I was watching the temperature reading on my bike drop lower and lower. Time to flip on heated grips and close the helmet vents! I was surprised to see little splotches of snow on the sides of the road. Then….more snow. When we neared the summit, it was about two feet high on the sides of the road. The road itself was clear though, so we were fine. However, the temperature dipped to a chilling 38 degrees. Brrr! Even so, the scenery was so beautiful, we somehow didn’t seem to mind. This photo was not taken on our ride so you won’t see the snow, but you get an idea of the beauty of this area–this is near Kirkwood. I think our highest point was Carson Pass at around 8,500 feet or so.
We stopped off at Woodford’s Station to stretch our legs and warm up with some hot coffee. After Woodford’s it started to head downhill, which meant climbing back up to the low 60’s.
We connected with Route 395 into Nevada, heading down into the desert terrain, connecting to the lonely Hwy 50. We rode through the afternoon, seeing more sage brush, and dry lake beds, rolling through desolate Nevada. After passing through Fallon, we eventually passed by the Fallon Naval Station (I always get a visual of belly buttons all lined up in a row). I was hoping for some fighter jet action as we passed but just saw a few military helicopters.
We eventually made it down Lincoln Hwy and to our last gas stop, Middlegate Station. (Sound like something out of a Stephen King novel?) This place kind of had the creep vibe going on. We pulled in next to the 1950’s gas pump and took a look around. A man was staring at us intently. He was staring so hard I decided to wave at him but this seemed to really throw him off. Something was not quite right. I went in the bar to pay for my gas then we decided to high tail it out for the last 13 miles to our destination, Cold Springs Station.
Ah, Cold Springs Station! This place was just perfect. It was a bit too cold to camp yet for me, so we rented these little heated cabins for $40 a night. They were clean and cute and made the perfect base camp.
The lady in charge, Kathy, had long silver hair tied back, an hour-glass shape, bright blue eyes and high positive energy–I could tell immediately that she ran this place. I asked her about the man at Middlegate Station and she said he was the local Schizophrenic. Sometimes people get labeled things–not sure if he really is or not, but he seemed harmless. He rode in on his bicycle a few years ago and never left. I’m thinking, where the hell did he ride in from?? The place is in the middle of no where.
She asked me if I was familiar with Stephen King. Anyone who knows me knows I’m an avid King fan, so I was intrigued. She said King came to camp out at Middlegate station and it is from that place, his book “Desperation” was born. THAT is why that place seemed so familiar and creepy to me! That little factoid pretty much made my day.
We settled into our respective cabins and headed to the restaurant. After a great meal, we all decided to hit the hay early as we had a big day of off road riding ahead of us.
The next morning we had a wonderful breakfast and coffee, mapped out our destinations for the day and headed out. We started out with our first destination in mind, Ione. We rode along a gnarly dirt road that was pretty sketchy, but then started to mellow out a bit. The desert and mountains were glorious. There were cows that were just roaming around and were a bit spooked by us at times, so we had to be careful–they like to jump out when you least expect it. We rode slowly by and waved at them.
As we were riding down the dirt road, I was at peace. There is something about the desert that is so calming to me. Maybe it’s the beauty and sweet isolation of it. As I was looking around, I noticed a huge eagle that was circling to the left of us. We all stopped to watch it, I was awed by it–the wing span was so great and he just glided along so majestically. A photo would not do him justice so I just watched him, then we started off. I couldn’t help but want one last glimpse of him so I turned around one last time and found him flying right above me, it gave me chills! He then veered off and I rode away with a smile.
Onto the first ghost town, Ione, NV. Out of all the ghost towns we saw, this one gave me the creeps the most. I can’t say exactly why other than the vibe I felt. There were a few people left living there, although they were no where in sight. Suddenly, no one’s GPS seemed to work in this town. Hmmmm
We rode up to what I was certain was a cemetery. However, when we walked up to it, we realized it was a playground. We all felt a little creepy about it. I thought, no way is this a playground. I expected to see a clown with sharp teeth pushing a ghost girl on the swing. Was Stephen King inspired by this place too?
We headed out of Ione and moved on to find Berliln Ichthyosaur State Park and ghost town. This place is pretty amazing. Ichthyosaurs were ancient marine reptiles that swam in a warm ocean covering central Nevada about 225 million years ago. Remains of their giant marine vertebrates are on display at the park’s Fossil House. It was hard to capture the fossils on camera, but the ruins of the town were pretty cool.
After checking out the Fossil House, we headed back into the ghost town of Berlin. In 1863 a small group of prospectors started mining the area for quartz and discovered silver. (Thus, Nevada being the Silver State). Their deepest mine was 185 feet and they pulled in around $70,000 of silver between 1897 and 1898. Because of the great expense to process and transport the silver ore, they soon ran out of money.
Berlin was a small town with about 250 people, mostly miners. Other positions included machinists, blacksmiths, chemist, mill operators, and an assayer. Other residents included a doctor and nurse, three bar tenders, a grocer, a prostitute, a woodcutter, a charcoal maker, and a stagecoach driver. Here’s some shots of what’s left of the town now:
We left Berlin and will definitely go back to camp there when it’s warmer. They have really nice campsites up behind the park near the Fossil House. Lots of great hiking around too! From here we headed out to Grantsville ghost town. A mind-blowing ride in with red rocks and old stone foundations abandon in the middle of nothing. But there was only one building. A post office perhaps?
From here we decided it was time to start heading back to our cabins for the night. We hopped on the paved road and took it all the way back to Cold Springs Station where we unloaded gear and all got hot showers. We had dinner, then John, the owner, invited us to take some wood out and build a fire so we did just that. We sat around the fire for the rest of the night, chatting with a few of our neighbors who were RV’ing it. Nothing like a good fire to attract people to stop on by.
In the morning, we all got up for a good breakfast and headed on our separate ways. I definitely could’ve used a few more days but we’ll save that for another time. I was sad to pack our bikes up, but I look forward to finding more ghost towns. Nevada is full of them!
We made one last stop to Middlegate Station where our friend who liked to stare was hanging out. This time, he made a very apprehensive attempt of raising his hand, and slowly giving me a bashful wave. I smiled and waved back. Both of us smiling, as the three of us pulled out and headed for home.