In preparation for the hiking season, we've been tracking our walks on some of our paved trails the past couple of months (I've got about 80 miles logged so far this year). Once the majority of the snow melted from this year's mild winter, it made it easier to get outside and walk. We are still running into piles of snow on the higher elevation Jeep roads, which means the hiking trails aren't quite ready, but it won't be long until we're able to get out hiking again. Until then, here's another Jeep adventure!
We may just be itching for summer, but it felt like a good idea to remove the roof panels from the Jeep today (technically, for all the Jeep nerds out there, they are called "Freedom Panels") before heading out. The sun was shining, the skies were bright blue. It was inching toward 50º F when we left our house this morning, but we knew it would be over 70º down where we were going. So, I put on a couple extra layers for the ride down to the desert, we packed the propane camping stove and some food for lunch and snacks and down the mountain we went.
After winding through old mining towns, like Silver City and Gold Hill -- which required climbing the steep, narrow highway -- just before reaching Virginia City, we turned off on Ophir Grade and the adventure began. The road was already pretty rough and was only going to get rougher, so we aired down the tires to 26psi.
Most of the terrain looked like this, but the road got a lot rougher and rockier:
Apparently, lots of people had the same idea today. We came across dozens of off-roaders, including side-by-sides, dirt bikes, and Jeeps.
Some pretty nice views of the Sierra when you're up here.
A few miles in, we had a nice little treat. A herd of around 20 wild horses crossed the road in front of us. We even got to see two foals.
Then we dropped it into 4 Low and slowly climbed up a steep and rocky Jumbo Grade. At the top, we stopped and made a simple lunch on the camp stove. Two guys in a side-by-side showed up, too, and they got out and chatted with us for a little bit, stating that they didn't want to intrude on our lunch. They told us that a group of their friends come to this spot regularly and enjoy cheese, crackers, and some wine. I looked at our hot dogs, baked beans, and kettle chips, and looked up at him and said, "We're not that fancy." We all laughed.
The view from this spot was awesome. And across the way, lower in the canyon, we actually saw the same herd of horses wandering around and grazing. I found a flat rock to sit down upon and enjoyed my lunch while watching the horses.
A view of the east side of the Sierra and Washoe Lake. If you were to fly over those snow-capped mountains, you would be directly over Lake Tahoe.
Once we finished our lunch, cleaned up, and took a few photos of the view, we headed back down and tried to take at least two other legs of the road, but we ran into too much snow and mud on steep slopes and decided it wasn't worth getting stuck or sliding off the edge. One of the routes was really narrow and lined with pinyon and juniper trees, which unavoidably scratched the Jeep as we drove past. We eventually turned around and chose a different route back down to Virginia City.
This alternate route was a mixture of greasy mud, slippery snow, and dry, rocky terrain, which was incredibly bumpy. I always get nervous when my husband puts the Jeep in park, gets out, and walks ahead to check out what the next stretch of road looks like. (I'm always secretly hoping he won't be coming back to tell me I have to drive through some treacherous terrain while he spots.) He had to do this type of assessment numerous times today and luckily we were able to avoid some sketchy spots before it turned into an issue.
A particular section of this route we chose had some deep snow with very wet mud beneath it -- oh, and it was steep and on a curve. In fact, we stopped in our tracks because a side-by-side was trying to come up this snowy section and he had to get out and assess the road conditions before proceeding, too. If a side-by-side can't make it, we most certainly won't. While my husband was walking around near the side-by-side and its driver, I wandered down a steep route to take some photos of historic Virginia City below us.
The side-by-side made it up successfully, and my husband took one final look at the snow and mud and said, "I think we can make it, no problem. The side-by-side did us a favor by making a great trench for us to follow."
Cool. I love driving in trenches.
Honestly, I was still pretty nervous about this stretch. It's slippery, it's a steep downhill curve covered in snow and mud. What could possibly go wrong?
We did slide sideways slightly while we were trudging through the snow and mud, and even with our lifted suspension, our bottom was dragging along the top of the snow (that's how deep it was). At one point, my husband hesitates and says, a little befuddled, "...which way is the wheel turned?"
Lucky for us, we didn't get stuck and we didn't slide off the edge. The rest of the road was quite narrow, very steep, and extremely rocky. We actually wondered if we were driving down a dry creekbed rather than a road. It was so bumpy.
By the time we reached Virginia City at the bottom, I could smell the Jeep's hot brakes. But if you've ever been to Virginia City, you know that most of the cross streets there are either a steep up or a steep down, so we didn't have much opportunity to cool them down until we reached C Street, which is the main road through Virginia City. It's pretty flat through the downtown area, so we took it easy and observed all of the tourists milling around while we slowly drove past.
Once we made it through town, we turned and drove through Six Mile Canyon, which was curvy and pretty, if you like canyons with towering rock walls. We got back to Hwy 50 and my husband turned off onto another road that led to a whole bunch more off-road routes. The majority of these were mostly dirt or sand (or smaller rocks), so a little less rough than what we had just driven. We drove up a steep route and got this incredible view.
The Jeep got a little muddy today.
When we stopped to have a snack here, I noticed all of the berries on this juniper tree! It was just full of them, but, as my husband pointed out, the berries were all rock hard, so maybe they were carryovers from a previous season?
From this off-road route, we came out on Sunrise Pass Road and headed towards Hwy 395 to make our way back up the mountain to home. The temperature was quickly falling below 70º, then below 60º, and I added on another layer. With having the roof panels removed all day, my husband's face and neck got pretty sunburned. My face is more windburned than anything, but it was a fun day to explore outside, drive some Jeep roads, see some wild horses, enjoy lunch with a beautiful view, and get some sunshine and fresh air.