Though rarely mentioned in the annals of the Gold Rush, Pinegrove, with a boom population
Colonel John Fremont, a civil war veteran, explorer, and strong proponent of Manifest Destiny, was the first white man to glimpse the deserts of northern Nevada. His charge, from 1841 to 1846, was a government-funded survey of the region from the Oregon Territory and the Great Basin to the Sierra Nevada Mountains. After meeting Kit Carson on a Missouri riverboat and working together on several westerly expeditions, the two left St. Louis with 55 men for a five-month survey of the west. With a howitzer (cannon) in tow, apparently to fend off hostile Indians, they ventured into the Black Rock Desert. It was January 5, 1843 and a low ground fog obscured visibility to a hundred feet. Many of their livestock and horses had been stolen by Indians or had died, and Fremont's crew needed to find greener pastures. A scouting trek up a precipitous peak revealed the vast azure waters of Pyramid Lake to the south, and the Smoke Creek desert, which was named for the rising smoke from Indian campfires through the fog layer, stretched northward. Fremont's vantage point may have been the peak to our right (east) as we cleared the Moon Rocks area and veered north on Winnemucca Ranch Road.
Winnemucca Valley was a regular dirt-bike haunt from my younger days; I knew the area and figured we could access Smoke Creek from the north end of the valley. Suzy climbed out to open the first of at least 40 cattle gates near a marshy meadow in McKissick canyon (okay, I ended up closing most of the gates from then on). From the summit near Stateline Peak, the distant reaches of the Smoke Creek playa extended for what seemed like eternity.
Mile 1083, Smoke Creek Desert, N40º 32' 11": We lit our campfire in the lee of Eagle Head Peak near Willow Canyon this night. Daily temperatures were rising, and a light wind blew from the south. Looking out over the Smoke Creek Desert, we couldn't help but envision the heavy fog that Fremont and his men witnessed, and the smoke from scattered Indian camps rising through it as a constant reminder they were not alone. Unlike Fremont, we were only graced with the howl of a lone coyote this night. (Radar, the wonder-dog, tucked his tail and burrowed his way to the bottom of the sleeping bags.)
Pirating a Wi-Fi connection can be a hassle. Fortunately, Jeep provided us with an Autonet
Technology is amazing. One of the JK options (actually, all Mopar-optioned vehicles) was a mobile wireless router connected to Mopar's UConnect Web service. In Reno, Scott Brown had hooked us up with a unit and I was able to get a 3G signal from my camp chair. There I sat, at the edge of emptiness, updating the Border-to-Border blog on fourwheeler.com and warming our toes by the fire.
As we pulled into Gerlach, an outpost on the edge of the Black Rock Desert, our departure from the Mexican border seemed like a distant memory. Each day blended with the previous, each new two-track streaming under the JK's AEV bumper like high-speed video game day. The trip meter clicked 1126, nine miles short of Google Earth's "as-the-crow-flies" distance from Mexico to Canada-and we hadn't made it to Oregon yet. We still hadn't unspooled the Viking winch rope from our Warn 9500, but the snow and downed trees to the north would undoubtedly put them to work. Topping off our fuel and water (and grabbing breakfast at the famous Bruno's Café), we again turned the wheels north, nosing the JK onto the Black Rock Playa, a 30-mile-long pool-table-flat alkali flat. Beyond lay the High Rock Canyon, the Trail of Death, and Oregon Territory.
Extended overland treks require preparation and the right gear. Prior to picking up Jeep's
Gear for the Road
When you hit the road for an overland trek, having the right gear is essential. With each installment of B2B, we'll share some of the gear we used and how it worked.
Author's Sidebar Note
If you made it this far in our B-2-B adventure and are wondering about the places that we passed through, look them up on the Internet and read up on them. You'll be amazed how much historical information is available. Don't live on the West Coast? Throw a dart at a map of your state, type in the name of the place it lands, and take a drive.
On the side,