Exploring Central Nevada

Monitor Valley, Nevada
Monitor Valley, Nevada

In November, Matt and I joined a friend and his daughter for a camping weekend in central Nevada. Though Matt and I had moved back to Nevada 5 months earlier, this road trip was a great reminder of what I love about this state.

We left Carson City around noon on a Friday with a plan to camp in Monitor Valley that night. We detoured off of Highway 50 to visit Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park, where there is a massive display of fossils and a ghost town!

Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park
This is an Ichthyosaur. Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park

From the park websiteThe park is also home to the most abundant concentration, and largest known remains, of Ichthyosaurs, an ancient marine reptile that swam in a warm ocean that covered central Nevada 225 million years ago. The fossils are protected and displayed at the park’s Fossil House.

The park is open 24/7, but what we didn’t realize until after we arrived, is that the tours of the inside of the fossil house are only given a few times a day on weekends. Luckily, there are two windows that offer a view. If you really use your imagination, and you study the guide that shows you what you’re looking at, you can maybe, kind of, see Ichthyosaurs in the fossils.

We peeked through on both sides of the building, then drove back down to the ghost town of Berlin.

Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park
Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park

Berlin was a mining town that got its start in the 1890’s. Also from the park website: During its heyday, Berlin and its Union suburbs supported 200-250 people including miners, woodcutters, charcoal makers, a doctor, nurse, forest ranger and a prostitute. 

Ha! Sounds like a pretty well-rounded town. Today you can wander around the remaining buildings and read the interpretive signs scattered all around the property.

Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park
Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park
Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park
Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park
Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park
Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park
Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park
Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park
Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park
Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park
Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park
Breakfast anyone?  Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park

Despite being a state park, Berlin-Ichthyosaur is kind of in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by a network of lonely dirt roads. We made our way back to the main highway and, as we were driving through Austin, the sun was rapidly setting. (Keep in mind this was November, it was probably around 4:30 in the afternoon.)

Still about 45 minutes away from Monitor Valley, we decided to stop for the evening at Spencer Hot Springs. The hot springs are about 20 miles southeast of the town of Austin, not too far off the highway (and the NV 376 junction). We drove around a bit in the fading pink daylight until we found a vacant pool and then set up camp in the dark.

Later, we couldn’t stop giggling at the sound of wild burros in the distance. We were hoping to catch a glimpse of them the following morning, but we only saw their makeshift trails – and their poop. Lots of poop.

Spencer Hot Springs, Nevada
Spencer Hot Springs
Camping at Spencer Hot Springs
Camping at Spencer Hot Springs (I photoshopped burro poop out of this pic).

After a leisurely morning soak, we packed up and hit the road towards Monitor Valley. The road is well marked with Forest Service signs to the valley and to Toquima Cave, our next stop.

The cave is about 15 miles down the road from the turn off to Spencer Hot Springs, at Pete’s Summit. There is a campground (Toquima Cave Campground) that offers a spot to park and from there you’ll find a 1/2 mile hiking trail that takes you up to the entrance of the cave.

Toquima Cave
Toquima Cave

The cave is fenced off to protect pictographs made by Native Americans who used this sacred spot as a shelter between 1,500-3,000 years ago. You can read more about the cave here.

Pictographs at Toquima Cave
Pictographs at Toquima Cave
The view of the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest from the cave entrance.
The view of the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest from the cave entrance.

As we drove down in to Monitor Valley, we received a warm welcome from a pack of antelope.

Antelope Crossing, Monitor Valley, Nevada
Antelope Crossing

Antelope Crossing

We wanted to swing by Monitor Valley Hot Spring (aka Pott’s Hot Spring), but the hot spring is on private property and while they allowed visitors and camping in the past, that is no longer the case. We heard it’s because someone trashed the area. Whether or not that’s true, always remember to be respectful and take all your trash with you when you leave. I know you don’t need me to tell you that, my readers are smart and conscientious. The slobs that leave their garbage behind for someone else to deal with are probably not reading this blog.

We stopped briefly at a nearby building so I could take a few pictures. I don’t know what it is about photographing windows through windows in these old abandoned buildings. It’s my thing, I guess.

Monitor Valley
Monitor Valley
Monitor Valley
Monitor Valley
Monitor Valley
Monitor Valley

Next we drove south, over to Diana’s Punch Bowl, off of Monitor Valley Road (NV 82). If you visit, the road to this hot spring is unmarked, but you will see a big, white travertine hill about a mile off of NV 82 and that is where you turn. When you drive down this road, at the base of the hill there is a cattle gate and plenty of space to park. (Make sure you close the cattle gate!)

Monitor Valley
Monitor Valley

We took our lunch up the hill and ate while gazing down in to the giant pit that is Diana’s Punch Bowl. The opening is 50 feet wide with super hot water about 30 feet down. It’s pretty amazing. Down at the base of the hill there are spots for soaking around 110 degrees, but the source is 190 degrees. Yikes!

Diana's Punch Bowl
Diana’s Punch Bowl
Diana's Punch Bowl
Diana’s Punch Bowl
Diana's Punch Bowl
Diana’s Punch Bowl
Monitor Valley
Close that cattle gate! Monitor Valley

We continued south on Monitor Valley Road until we arrived at the town of Belmont. Belmont is yet another ghost town, founded in 1865. It was a thriving place until the mining in Goldfield and Tonopah gained traction. People still live here, and there is a saloon which is still in operation, but we have yet to stop in for a beer.

Belmont, Nevada
Belmont
Belmont, Nevada
Belmont
Belmont, Nevada
Belmont
Belmont, Nevada
Belmont

From Belmont, you can pick up NV 376 which will take you to US 6 and the town of Tonopah. We had one more stop to make on our way to our next campsite – we had a recommendation for finding big chunks of petrified wood north of Tonopah.

We stopped and searched for a while, coming across beautiful pieces of Jasper.

Rockhounding
Rockhounding

Back on the road, we were driving north on Hwy 6/US 95. We were headed to Fish Lake Valley Hot Springs. The drive was mostly in the dark so we didn’t see the gorgeous scenery leading up to the springs until the next day when we were heading home. And we certainly did not expect the crowd we came across camping right at the hot springs, it was mid-November and a pretty chilly night.

But the campers went all out with twinkle lights and cocktails and music. We cruised right on through and drove until we found a private (and quiet!) spot on BLM land.

Camping near Fish Lake Valley Hot Springs
Camping near Fish Lake Valley Hot Springs

The next morning we took our time with breakfast and wandered around picking up small bits of obsidian. By the time we finally packed up and drove back to the hot spring, the crazy crowd had dispersed! We lingered in the warm pool until we were the last ones remaining.

Desert Finds
Desert Finds
Fish Lake
Fish Lake
Fish Lake Valley Hot Springs
Fish Lake Valley Hot Springs

And, as always, with such great weekends like this, we hate for them to end. So we couldn’t resist making a few more stops to enjoy the scenery on the drive home.

We have learned of all the hot springs we visit through this book*. I totally recommend it! The latest edition was just published and it’s beautiful – and more informative than previous editions. *This is an affiliate link, which means if you purchase a copy of the book through this link, I get a small compensation at no extra cost to you.

Want more Nevada? Check out this post on Tonopah and Goldfield, or this post on my favorite hot springs in Nevada.

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