The “Gem of Nevada” Trail System
And Four Ghost Towns on One Trail in One Day
By Del & Stacie Albright
The sweet smell of high desert sage drifted in the air as Stacie and I wheeled our Jeep along the flower-dotted dirt road headed towards the top of Merritt Mountain in northern Nevada. Yellow sunflowers poked up to add color to a very green desert during this exploring trip that included the Gem of Nevada Trail System.
We have been back to Elko many times over the years since this trail system opened officially in 2007, and we never get tired of putting on miles of smiles in this great off-roading areas.
Elko is a Jeepers (and other motorized enthusiasts) paradise. Spring and Fall are the best times. “Explore Elko” is their motto. This town appreciates what motorized recreation brings to a local economy. They like us!
Some of the trails and names…
The Merritt Mountain/Sunflower Flat (map below) route begins at the start of the Gold Creek road where a kiosk sends trail riders on their way winding through the high desert across the flower-filled Sunflower flats to start your assent towards telephone creek where the aspen and pine trees begin to show off. Late fall you might find snow mixed in as well.
Riders will pass the old mining ghost towns of Pats Ville and Rio Tinto before topping out on Merritt Mountain with an elevation of 8,789 feet where riders are sure to feel like they are on top of the world. The Merritt route covers more than 68 miles of country, so recreationists are sure to see some of the native wildlife in the area depending on what time of day they get started.
You need to Explore Elko and see this trail system. For years the folks in Elko and Elko County have been working hard to make it the motorized recreation capital of the West.
Ghost towns and mining camps…
One of our favorite trips is the Spruce Mountain Road where we saw 4 ghost towns on one road in one day. Names ring of history like Sprucemont, Monarch, Latham, Badger and Black Forest and Jasper Mine.
Many of the mines and mine property are private but viewing from or near the road is very possible. Most properties are accessible but you must visit with respect.
This area all started booming in 1869 with the discovery of lead-silver ore where in no time, about 1870 there were 100 mines.
Elko County is amazing in the first place. With three huge gold mines in full swing, Elko is the fourth largest gold producing area in the world. Elko County is the fourth largest (by area) county in the United States with over 17,000 square miles of fun, adventure, cattle grazing and high desert scenery. Hundreds of miles of dirt roads and trails offer the recreationist unlimited opportunity for exploring.
Elko is a famous Spanish Basque area where you can see the culture of an honorable and fun-loving people. Stacie has Basque in her family heritage, so this area is special to us. The Gem trails take you through some Basque country as well. Sheep herding and cattle grazing co-existed in this area, while gold mining put Elko on the map in the late 1800’s, as well as today.
Spanish Basque heritage is alive and well in Elko. Several local establishments in the area will remind you of days gone by.
At that time the trail system opened, Tom Lester and Dave Huckabee, Chairman of the ECVA pointed out that all the trails were marked so folks would have no trouble staying on the right trails and roads.
Part of the Gem trail system takes you to the top of Merritt where you can see three states – the Santa Rosa Mountains in Oregon, the Owyhee Desert in Idaho, and miles of Nevada.
During our repeat trips to Elko, we explored the trail system near the Harrison Pass area of the Ruby Mountains. Harrison Pass is the Overland Road that cuts through the Ruby’s to Ruby Valley on the Southern side of the mountain range.
Ruby Valley played an important role in the history of the entire Great Basin area. Shoshone tribes used this area as a winter home. The Ruby Marshes dot this area with abundant water and wildlife today. The California Trail passed through here just to the north, and the Donner Party crossed the southern end of the valley in 1846.
We spoke with an old Buckaroo, Marv Churchfield, who grew up in the Elko area and started school in the Ruby Valley some 70 years ago. “It was a lonely and isolated place in those days,” Marv said. “We would stock up with supplies and food in early December, and not see people again until April when the snow melted, and the roads were once again passable.”
Marv Churchfield, local buckaroo shows off a member of the “Auto Parts Gang” on a back road outside Elko.
The Gem trail system cuts off at the top of Harrison Pass and goes both directions to mountainous scenery and adventure. There some old mines to explore and plenty of roads to enjoy.
Take a journey to northern Nevada and Explore Elko and the Gem of Nevada Trail System. Start your trip with a visit to the Elko Convention and Visitors Authority (www.elkocva.com). You won’t be disappointed.
Enjoy the pics.
Del with the Auto Parts Gang outside Elko.
If you go in late fall, be prepared for the possibility of snow!
Del tries to re-live what a mining engineer/operator must have felt.
Ruby Marshes are full of wildlife and desert ponds.
Dutch Oven cooking is popular with locals.
Don’t miss the Elko Wildlife Museum in town.
A boiler and smelter on the Spruce Mountain Road
Looking inside a smelter
Touring the famous “Jarbidge Trail”
Yes, we found this full bag of gold and left it…umm, yea, right. Not gold; but an ore bag for sampling.
Visitors will be surprise at the amount of water in the desert.
Fall is an amazing time to Explore Elko.
Del meets the man who helped save the Jarbidge Trail with the Jarbidge Shovel Brigade, and helped start the Nevada Bucket Brigade for trails and water rights, Grant Gerber (R.I.P.). The Klamath Bucket Brigade was a battle with the feds over water irrigation rights, Endangered Species Act, and access. The Nevada version of the Bucket Brigade was struggling to also prevent thirsty Clarke County (Las Vegas) from draining all their water from northern NV. It’s a huge part of the history of Elko. More here about Jarbidge and its connection to the Rubicon Trail.
Side canyon of Lamoille Canyon, just south of Elko.
Stacie and Del Albright, on the ModernJeeper team…
Learn more and Explore Elko here.
NOTE: For those who love or dream about the Rubicon Trail, it was the Jarbidge Shovel Brigade mentioned here that gave Friends of the Rubicon (FOTR) 100 autographed shovels to help FOTR launch the fight for this iconic trail in 2001. Many of the shovels were painted green like the new FOTR logo, and used in protest demonstrations when a gate was proposed on the east side of the trail in the early days of FOTR.
Go here for the whole story of the shovels from Jarbidge to the Rubicon and FOTR.
Go here for Elko maps and trail descriptions.