Friday, May 31, 2013
PARALLELING HISTORY: WINNEMUCCA TO GERLACH
On the Cedarville, Burns Winnemucca Tour
Final Installment of the Series
We left Winnemucca intent on avoiding I-80 as much as possible. The Nevada copy of DeLorme’s Atlas and Gazetteer tempted us with thin, red lines linking place names forgotten by the freeway: locales on the edge of being lost to history.
We chose something called the Jungo Road, a route that parallels the tracks of the old Western Pacific fifth subdivision and lead us through namesake Jungo, Sulphur, Trego Springs and around the edge of the Black Rock Desert (think Burning Man) to Gerlach.
Departing at 7:15, we assumed the Jungo route off US 95 north of I-80. Straight, flat and paved across an endless plain of alkali and sage, the road converted to a slurry of oiled gravel recently watered to minimize dust. Ten minutes out of town, four Coach USA buses approached, returning from the Haycroft gold mine with a weary night shift. Two or three more were to follow during the course of the 48 miles from town to work. The spray from the on-coming traffic and the cake-frosting-like texture of the road’s surface made me glad I was a passenger in the Toyota SUV and not astride the GSA.
The Western Pacific was the last east-west route to cross into California. Following the trail of early 1800s mountain man from Virginia named Jim Beckworth, the WP makes the lowest elevation passage through the Sierra. Folks suggest this was the easiest route and the one that should have been completed first. But politics, undoubtedly, were at play. Something about a Dutch Flat swindle? Leland? Charley?
The WP route seems smooth – easy to construct, as long as I’m not swingin’ the sledge – with only a turn here and there to go around the mountain. Now subsumed by the Union Pacific, Jungo, listed as a siding, proves to be little more than a curve in the tracks.
A half hour further on, we note to the north a stand of derelict buildings built low to or into the ground. They deserve our attention. Inspection shows they were constructed out of used rail ties.
From a rise above this enclave, we look south and see the activity of the Haycroft’s huge gold mining operation.
Talus debris stretches for four-and-a-half miles, the various colors of which speak to the rich variety of minerals beneath the Nevada desert surface.
Toward the end of the extraction zone, we pause for a picture of Pulpit Rock. Driver John considers a hike up there and an impromptu sermon, but the closer we get to the landmark, the higher it rises. And the area seemed barren of folks in need of our words of salvation – or anybody else – this day.
The drive the 98 mile length of Jungo Road proves to be a series of ancient mountains tilted by tectonic activity divided by flat stretches of one-time lakes filled to their brims with alluvium from the withering hills.
1860s era pioneers passed this way. A steel marker notes the crossing of the old Nobles Immigrant Trail.
It appears the route followed a now-dry rill. It was likely easier to parallel the tiny channel than trundle back and forth across it with ox-driven rolling stock.
A rise presents one of those Church of the Open Road vistas where one can see over the small ridge we’re about to cross and on to the next set of mountains ten or fifteen miles distance – a scene that asks “What might be next?”
Backing down the hill to angle for the best shot, The GPS indicates we’ve stopped at a crossroad. It takes some looking through the sage to realize the electrons are not speaking in error.
Another steel marker confirms that we are near a place of some significance.
Amid this dry landscape, a submerged fumarole vents into water that seemly comes from nowhere reminding us that the change process is not finished with this landscape. Here the water bubbles and smells of failed attempts to poach eggs.
Trego Springs: Not far away, the pool is bathwater temperate.
Some latter-day pioneer installed a pool ladder for those in need of a soul-cleansing soak. Other left Coors Light empties. The WP passes a few yards away. We consider soaking our feet, cracking a beer and waiting for a freight to pass by. But in the two-plus hours we’d monitored the tracks, we’d noted no traffic.
Coursing along the southerly edge of the Black Rock Desert, we find pavement - Nevada Route 447.
North a couple of miles leads to Gerlach, a point that will remain on the bucket list for the time being. South leads to I-80 with a quick jaunt past Pyramid Lake, over the Sierra and home.
We were pleased to have taken this road-not-taken and enjoyed tidbits of history that soon – like auld acquaintance – may be forgot. Let’s not let that happen.
Holmes, Norman W., My Western Pacific Railroad, Steel Rails West Publishing.
McManus, M.C., (Director of Train Operations, The Western Pacific, Sacramento Northern and Tidewater Southern Railroad Companies), Timetable No. 4, April 25, 1976.
Church of the Open Road Press