Toward the end of September, our journey around Nevada took us through the Owyhee Desert in Elko County, just south of the Idaho and Oregon borders. While most of our route went through remote areas, this felt the most remote. The Owyhee is the type of desert environment where an ocean of sagebrush extends out to the distant horizon, broken up by rolling hills, buttes, and mesas. The vegetation here is mostly sagebrush and bunchgrasses. This arid country is largely uninhabited by humans, with no towns in or around it. A few scattered ranches operate around the edges, but access into the interior of the Owyhee is difficult. The old roads are not well maintained, but they are good enough for horse travel!
After the rigours of the mountainous Jarbidge area, I was excited to drop down in elevation and do some desert riding. They Owyhee did not disappoint. It appears at first to be flat and desolate, but when you ride through you notice the little nuances of the land. There are lots of interesting rock formations, dramatic canyons, and old ruins scattered throughout. Not surprisingly, we didn't see any people out here. If you are looking for solitude, the Owyhee would be a good place to go!
The Owyhee is home to several Herd Management Areas for wild horses, and we saw plenty as we traveled through. One evening from our campsite we watched nearly a hundred horses come over a hill and head down their well-worn horse trails to a water source. They were a very colorful herd; we saw everything from roans and greys to buckskins and paints. They all looked healthy. We enjoyed watching them make their evening commute to the water hole.
Sage watched the horses coming over the hill too. All was peaceful, until Sage had the audacity to whinny at them. Almost immediately, a magnificent red roan stallion responded to Sage with a terrifying roar. Not a whinny, not a nicker, not a squeal - a roar. Suddenly, the whole herd came charging toward us, closing in on us from several sides. The red roan stallion led the charge, aiming straight for Sage. I ran to defend Sage, who was inside his electric corral. The red roan stallion stopped a few hundred feet away, and began to snort and stomp his hooves. Sage became enraged! He roared back at the stallion, and began tearing around his electric corral, rearing, bucking, and striking out. His whole demeanor changed; Sage seemed to be twice his normal size. I could do nothing to calm him down. The red roan galloped back and forth, screaming and snorting. The rest of his herd anxiously ran along the fringe, but they hung back. Clearly this fight was between the red roan stallion and Sage.
I can honestly say this was one of the scariest moments during our entire ride. We have been charged by stallions and small bands countless times, but nothing matched the ferocity of this particular stallion. I absolutely believe that if Sage had been able to get out of his corral, this would have been a fight to the death. I could only hope that he didn't run through the electric fence. Scared, but with no other option, I stood my ground between Sage and the red roan, armed only with a plastic bag. I made a flew bluff charges toward the red roan stallion, and to my relief he begrudgingly began to retreat. The rest of his herd withdrew over the hill. The red roan was the last to disappear, but he stopped periodically to face Sage and roar.
The whole confrontation probably only lasted a few minutes, but it felt like an eternity. In the chaos, Ryan snapped these incredible photos. Bella, unfazed, took advantage of the distraction and ate our dinner. It took Sage some time to calm down, but he remained on high alert for the rest of the evening. This was not the last encounter we had with wild horses in the Owyhee, but it was certainly the most intense. It was a stark reminder of how territorial and aggressive wild horses can be, especially wild horses who live in such remote areas.
The Bureau of Land Management is currently in the midst of a wild horse gather in the Owhyee Desert. (You can read their reports HERE.) The horses they have permanently removed are now at the National Palomino Valley Wild Horse and Burro Adoption Center where they are available for adoption. So far they haven't captured the red roan stallion.
The White Pine Range is one of my favorite ranges in Nevada. It's located in southern White Pine County, in eastern Nevada. It runs about 50 miles in length, north-south between Highway 50 and Highway 6. I purposely added time to our most recent ride, just so I could ride the entire length of this spectacular range.
There's a lot of history in this range. It's home to several ghost towns, the most famous of which is Hamilton, which at one time boasted a population of 10,000 people! Not much remains today except the remnants of scattered outbuildings, cabins, and mines throughout the range. The Hamilton-Pioche Stage Road runs through the area too, which was teeming with stage coaches when Hamilton was booming. There's even a legend of buried treasure somewhere in the White Pine Range!
This is a really diverse range so it's a lot of fun to ride. It features rocky ridges, rolling hills, and epic views of the valley floor. The high point is Currant Mountain, a dramatic limestone peak rising to 11,513 feet. Vegetation includes limber pine, juniper, and even Great Basin Bristlecone Pine! There's a lot of water in this area too, with year-round springs and creeks. When I rode through here on my 2013 ride in the spring, the wildflowers were out of control! On my recent ride, we saw elk, deer, and wild horses. (This is where we had our heartbreaking encounter with the young wild horse we named Oscar.) I've read the range is also home to Bighorn Sheep, but alas, I never saw any.
Some of the trails are tough, but they're worth it. Like most of the ranges we explored during the ride, we didn't see a lot of people in here, only a few hunters out scouting. One of the things I love about public land is that you can just pick a spot and camp. There are some great places in this range to set up camp and then head out and hike or ride. Watch out for the cows though - we had a big bull wander into our camp one evening! If you do need something a little less primitive, there is an actual campground on the southern end of the range. As always, I recommend the Nevada Road & Recreation Atlas from Benchmark Maps to get a feel for the area before you go.
One of the places I was most excited to ride through on our recent journey is truly one of the most remote places in the continental U.S. Located in Elko County, in the northeast corner of Nevada, just south of the Idaho border, you'll find spectacular views, rugged terrain, and complete solitude.
This out-of-the-way area is home to the Jarbidge Wilderness - 113,00+ acres of pristine public land. (Areas that are designated as "wilderness" by Congress are protected from development. They are closed to mechanized recreation, which means you can't use a car, atv, or bicycle in wilderness areas. They are, however, open to hikers and horses!) The Jarbidge Wilderness features dozens of mountain peaks, eight of which are over 10,000 ft. It's also an unusually wet area for Nevada, with two lakes, many rivers, creeks, and streams. Lush meadows and trees abound, including Subalpine Fir, Whitebark Pine, and Quaking Aspens. I'm told the wildflowers in Jarbidge are amazing in the spring. We rode through in September, which was still beautiful with all the fall colors starting to emerge.
For my ride, I chose a nearly 20-mile pack trail that runs north-south through the wilderness area. I can honestly say it was some of the most thrilling riding I have ever done in my life! The pack trail is extremely technical, with non-stop obstacles and lots of elevation change. In many places the narrow trail wound high up along the sides of the mountains. I kept telling myself not to look down and I hoped Sage wouldn't either! The pack trail was fairly easy to follow. There are very few signs, but in some confusing spots people have erected rock cairns to help guide travelers. I only lost the trail once, but luckily was able to get back on track with my GPS.
It seemed as though every turn of the trail revealed a new, stunning landscape. I couldn't stop taking pictures! This is certainly not the terrain most people think of when they think of Nevada. One of the most wonderful experiences I had riding through this area was seeing all the elk. We encountered several bull elk and more than a dozen cow elk throughout the day. They are magnificent animals to see up close. And hearing them bugle? It gives you goose bumps! Incredibly, we spent a whole day riding through the wilderness area, but we didn't see a single other person. I felt like we had the whole place to ourselves.
After a very tough day of riding in the Jarbidge Wilderness, we rode through the town of Jarbidge itself. This quaint community is home to approx. 180 people. It has one hotel, one bar, one diner, one gas station, a community center/museum, and... that's about it! We had a blast riding through town. Several residents came to talk to us and one lady told me it had been a long time since someone rode a horse through town!
Go check out Jarbidge! It's well worth the drive. You'll want good tires; the roads are not paved. Also bring cash; there's no ATM, though the hotel and diner accept cards. The wilderness area has 150+ miles of pack trails to explore and quite a few trail heads. Trail maps are extremely hard to find online, but the Nevada Road & Recreation Atlas from Benchmark Maps is a good start. This is one place I definitely want to go back to explore more. In fact, if you're planning to go let me know and I'll go with you!
The latest updates from Samantha on the Nevada Discovery Ride.