St. Joseph, Missouri to Marysville, Kansas
Hiked during Odyssey 2004 – LCNHT
June 2, 2004
St. Joseph, Missouri to Sparks, Kansas
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Troy. Kansas to Marysville, Kansas
Odyssey 2016 PENHT Eastern Segment
July 7 to July 12, 2016
Thursday—July 7, 2016
Location—South of Denton, Kansas
This segment (123 miles between Troy and Marysville, Kansas) is what I’ve yet to hike to complete my trek o’er the Pony Express National Historic Trail—from St. Joseph, Missouri, to Sacramento, California.
Just as was its creation in 1860, which, out of necessity, amounted to connecting then existing trails that provided the shortest route to California (and over those same trails as best can be followed, and in similar fashion), I have pieced together my own personal “Pony.” Those then existing trails included the Oregon, California, Mormon Pioneer, and the Central Overland (Stage) Route between Salt Lake City, Utah, and Carson City, Nevada. And so, as a result of my previous treks over these trails, (and including a short bit of my Lewis and Clark outbound journey in 2004) I have also completed those shared segments of the Pony Express Trail. A bit confusing—sure! Anyway, that’s how I’ve ended up here in Troy, Kansas.
Logistics, always a problem to be solved. You may recall that this spring I was fortunate (after caching water and food all along the Central Overland Trail) to be able to leave my old pickup with friends near Carson City, catch a bus to Salt Lake City, then to have my truck waiting for me once that desert crossing was completed. For this trek here in eastern Kansas, I’ve once again had the good fortune of getting help from dear new friends. While scouting this trail segment, trying to locate the 12 Pony Express Station sites between Troy and Marysville, and at the Locknane Creek Station site, I had the pleasure of meeting Mike, who leases that land for his corn and soybean crops. He told me about a friend of his, a Pony Express re-enactment rider who lives near Seneca, and he gave me the number—and I right away made the call—Dan Koch (pronounced Cook) is his name. Ah, and again to my good fortune, Dan offered to let me park my truck at his place. Then he and wife, Myra, cared for me, fed me, and this morning, Dan drives me the 70+ miles to Troy, here to begin this final Pony segment hike—amazing, eh folks? Yes, just amazing!
And so, here we go! Dan drops me off right on US-36 where I hiked past on the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail. From here (in 2004) I turned north to follow Lewis and Clark up the Missouri River. Today, I’ll head west to follow state and county roads toward Marysville where I’ll connect with my Oregon Trail trek (of 2014) out of Independence, Missouri—and that will close this final Pony gap.
Going to take some getting used to, the heat and humidity. Here, a temperature of 90 degrees, humidity of 65 per-cent, produces a heat index of 103! Out in the desert this spring, that same 90-degree temperature, with low humidity commonly below 35 per-cent, yielded heat index readings well below 90 degrees.
Downtown Troy, I pause in courthouse square. Here in the northwest corner I pass the granite monument (complete with a large Pony Express bronze medallion marking the Troy Station), then toward the courthouse entrance, the Veterans (Clary and Wisdom) Memorial, then a miniature bronze of the Statue of Liberty, and finally, the remarkable “Tall Oak” American Indian sculpture by Peter Toth. Great photo ops, all! Time for lunch now, so I head across the square to the Feed Store Café. As I depart, the noon bells chime, and I’m off to an incredibly bright cloud-free day. On Last Chance Road the tarmac is already starting to cook. A gentle breeze, which is the least cool, proves a great benefit, but it’s readily evident—this trek is going to be a head-down-and-haul sort of adventure.
Afternoon, I pull off at the little grocery in Bendena. Owner, Ruth, takes pity on me and provides a sandwich and cold pop, her treat. As the sun drops west (and as I’m trekking west) it starts drilling a hole right through my chest; the sweat is literally pouring off me. I’m soaked, even my socks and shoes are wet from perspiration. I’ve a bit of shade now and then, a tree or two by a farm house, great help. At one farmstead, Ann and her daughter, Felicia (and her children), come to the road to greet me. Ann brings water, and Felicia, a cooling bandana. Her son shows me how it works—soaked in water and wrapped around my neck, it cools me. Evening, near Denton, Wendy, who saw me on the road, returns with cold water. Melvin, Mayor of Denton also stops, then invites me to be his guest at The Café in Denton. I hike on in. Kind couple at The Café, Brenda and Bill, waitress and cook. I join Melvin and his wife, Mary Ann. Hard to eat much, what with the heat, but I manage a burger and small order of fries—downed with near a pitcher of water.
South of Denton, late evening now, and where SR-20 turns west, I stop at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Arnold. Mary Ann was raised nearby and had told me about the Arnolds, that I should stop and ask them for water for the night. Gentle, kind folks, the Arnolds. They provide me water, and as I depart their home, they say a very special prayer for my safe passage and well-being.
Nightfall, and west on SR-20 a mile or two, on a gentle rise I take shelter in an abandoned old farmhouse. Been a very hot, energy-sapping day, but I am of good spirit, thankful to have this first day (back here in Kansas) behind me. A very welcome cool breeze comes for the night, gently whistling through the broken out windows. I sleep soundly.
“Various sources indicate that this site was located within the town of Troy, at the head of Mosquito Creek, a tributary of the Missouri River. A monument in the northwest corner of the courthouse lawn notes the existence of the relay station. Some authors list the monument’s location as the possible site of the station; but, later research links the station with the Smith Hotel. Leonard Smith arrived in Troy in 1858 and purchased the Troy Hotel. Two years later, at the request of the Central Overland California and Pike’s Peak Express, he constructed a barn large enough for five horses. The renamed Smith Hotel served as a relay station and was located at the present northeast corner of East Main and Myrtle Streets. There is a Pony Express marker at the site. The July, 1936 Pony Express Courier reported that Troy served as the first relay station west of St. Joseph, a distance of about 15 miles. Stories associated with handing pastries to the passing rider Johnny Fry by the Dooley girls probably originated in the Troy area. These pastries were supposedly the first donuts.” [Legends of America – Pony express Stations]
Friday—July 8, 2016
Location—Horton, then on to Kickapoo Tribe Golden Eagle Casino
I passed the location of the first relay station west of Troy sometime yesterday. I’ve been told it was called the Cold Springs (and perhaps the Syracuse) Station, located near and north of the present day Denton Middle School on SR-20. I’ve been able to find scant information about it.
I’ll pass two more Pony Express station sites today; one relay, one home—Valley Home and Kennekut. Valley Home was located on land owned by Ray Becker. I have the pleasure of meeting Ray, who takes me to the XP stainless steel post set by Joe Nardone. The marker is by the road but the actual station site was out in Ray’s field. He proudly points out the spot. Ray also tells me about the Cold Springs/Syracuse Station site (which he says is also marked with a Nardone XP stainless post) situated northeast of the Valley Home Station site.
It’s another stifling hot day; however, I’m beginning to acclimate to the humidity. Surprisingly, I’m again suffering shin splints, and my calf muscles just won’t loosen up. I suspect both problems are caused by dehydration. I’m drinking as much water as I can get my hands on, but I know it’s not enough.
Lunch is at the little mom-n-pop café in Everest. I’ve lost my appetite, caused again by the heat, I’m sure, but I do manage to load up on water.
Another long, hot straight-away toward Horton. The highway is treacherous, heavy truck traffic, straight drop-off from the white line, no shoulder; slow and dangerous going. At Mulberry Road I turn south to the little community of Kennekut. Here was the first home station west of St. Joseph. There are markers at (the) street intersection. No remains of the original station exist today.
A jiffy-mart first thing entering Horton, and none-too-soon. I drain their fountain and sit awhile, trying to cool down. From Horton it’s another frying pan straight shot west on busy SR-20. The semi-truck grain haulers haven’t let up; more up and down, in and out of the ditch.
Nearing the Golden Eagle Casino, Christopher, a member of the Kickapoo Tribe, stops to check on me, bewildered that I won’t accept a lift. Another couple-miles I enter Kickapoo Tribal lands and just at dusk I reach the casino. Security opens the door for me, then won’t let me enter, “Can’t take that water bottle in the casino.” He points to a side door that leads to the restaurant, “Water bottle’s okay there,” he says. Twenty bucks for the buffet, five-seventy-five for a burger and fries. I go for the burger and fries, and a pitcher of water.
I’d scouted the area while coming in and found a well-concealed suitable campsite for the night, across the highway, next a cornfield. It’s dark by the time I stealth, then pitch and settled in.
Cold Springs/Syracuse Station
“Sometimes called Cold Springs Rock, this station was situated some 24 miles beyond St. Joseph at the Cold Spring Branch of Wolf River. Situated on the Pottawatomie Road, this was also a station for the Central Overland California and Pike’s Peak Express…Some sources list Cold Spring and Syracuse as the same station, while other suggest they were two different stations. One source lists its location at the head of the North Branch of Independence Creek. The Syracuse Hotel, owned by Walter Peck operated here from 1858-62 and a store was owned by William Vickery. The Vickery Family Cemetery is nearby.” [Legends of America – Pony Express Stations]
Lewis Station (Valley Home Station?)
Also spelled “Louis,” L.C. Bishop and Paul Henderson named and mapped this place as situated on the Spring branch of the South Fork of Wolf River about 10 miles west of Cold Spring. It has been suggested that this station was possibly the same as the Cold Spring Ranch Station. The Lewis Station and Cold Spring Station were located the same distance between Troy and Kennekuk. However, another history resource placed the station on North Independence Creek. Several other sources give yet another location for this station. “Chain Pump” and “Valley Home/House” may be other names for the site. [Legends of America – Pony Express Stations]
Kennekuk (Kinnekuk) Home Station
“Experts on the Pony Express trail in this area have designated Kennekuk as the first home station west of St. Joseph. Most other sources agree on the name but, not the exact location of this station. Some have placed it approximately 44 miles along the trail. Other sources state that it stood approximately 39 miles from the beginning of the trail. The stage route from Atchison and the Fort Leavenworth-Fort Kearny Military Road combined with the trail near Kennekuk and brought much traffic to the settlement in the early 1860s. At one time, the settlement was said to have boasted a dozen homes, a store, and a blacksmith shop. It was also the headquarters of the Kickapoo Indian agent, Major Royal Baldwin. Tom Perry and his wife ran the relay station and served meals to travelers passing through. In 1931, the Oregon Trail Memorial Association, a pioneering trail marking group that formed to mark the Oregon and other western trails, placed a Pony Express stone marker in Kennekuk for this station. A granite stone west of the marker and across the road indicates the site of the relay station.” [Legends of America – Pony Express Stations]
Saturday—July 9, 2016
Location—Locknane’s Pony Express Station, then on to south of Woodlawn
As I left the Golden Eagle Casino to cross the parking lot last evening, and heading back to the highway near where I’d planned to pitch for the night, I saw this sign by the side of the road: “We’re watching you.” I’ve camped on tribal reservation lands before, but never without permission. So, seeing the sign—a bit unsettling, oh yes! By the highway, and waiting for traffic to pass, and as casually as possible, I looked the area over. There were no security cameras that I could see, on the poles, in the trees, anywhere. Without appearing too suspicious, I gave the entire area another good going over. My selected stealth site was down the highway a short distance, concealed by trees. I had a fence to cross to get to the cornfield. The darkness of late evening greatly helped as I waited my opportunity, then crossed the highway and climbed over the fence—much relieved to feel certain my presence had not been detected.
Rain came during the night, hard at times, the wind steadily driving it. My tent, especially the raggedy old fly, not the most weatherproof anymore. But I did remain reasonably dry, and managed to sleep quite soundly.
This morning, as I break camp, ticks, they’re everywhere, on my tent, all around in the wet grass. I try to shake them all off my soaked gear. I’m finally out and trekking a bit before seven. I’ll pass two Pony Express Station sites today, Kickapoo/Goteschall Relay Station, and Locknane’s Relay Station. Nothing to see at either of them. Not so much traffic this early, and though already muggy, the day begins with the least cool breeze.
Mid-morning now, and again soaked with sweat, by a swift-running creek, I climb down under the bridge, shed my soggy pack and wet clothes and submerge myself in the cool stream. What a great respite! I wash myself, plus my shirt, shorts, and socks best I can. In the process, I slip and go down in the stream, banging my knee and shoulder. Damage control—everything’s still working, just a couple of minor cuts.
While driving my intended route last week looking for station sites, and while at Locknane’s Station, I chanced to meet Mike, who leases the land for corn and soybean crops. He befriended me, provided much local information, even drove me to the location of Log Chain Station a few miles on west. Ah, and this afternoon, Mike comes by, brings me two iced-down bottles of water! He also offers me a place to stay for the night, his machinery shed just south of Woodlawn, where I’d hoped to reach this evening. I accept his kind offer—thanks, Mike!
On bush US-75 and heading north, I arrive the Fox-Sac Indian Tribe Casino. They’ve a fine modern convenience. I cross over, enter, and proceed to drain their fountain. I truly am acclimating to the heat and humidity, for in just a short time in the air conditioned store, I become chilled.
Another detour today from my mapped trek route, this time to visit the vicinity of Granada, Locknane’s Station. There’s a Nardone stainless steel post here at the driveway entrance to the abandoned farmstead leased by Mike. Grateful to have some cool shade at this spot. I pause for quite awhile to cool down.
Late evening I reach Mike’s building. He’d told me how to get the door open. Ah, and here, Mike has left a cooler full of ice cold water, plus a wonderful energy-packed treat, cheerio peanut butter candy made by his wife!
It’s been another grind-it-out day in the sweltering heat. But it’s also been a very satisfying and rewarding day of hiking the rolling hills of northeast Kansas. My shin splints and tight calf muscles have both improved and I’ve hiked this day with no pain. My legs have definitely come back under me—one more time!
Kickapoo/Goteschall Relay Station
“This relay station stood on Delaware Creek (also called Big Grasshopper or Plum Creek) about twelve miles west of Horton, Kansas, and was generally known as Kickapoo or Goteschall. Both the station and the stone Presbyterian mission, a nearby landmark, existed on the Kickapoo Indian Reservation…Unfortunately, both the relay station and mission are gone.” [Legends of America – Pony Express Stations]
Granada/Pleasant Springs Station (Locknane Creek Station?)
“This place was first called Pleasant Springs until the town officially changed its name to Granada in 1865. There is some confusion between it and Log Chan station. In 1860, the Granada Hotel stood here as well as a station on the Central Overland California and Pike’s Peak Express which was run by a man named David M. Locklane [sic]. It is doubtful that the Pony Express officially stopped here since it was only four miles from the Kickapoo Station.” [Legends of America – Pony Express Stations]
Sunday—July 10, 2016
Location—Oak Grove Road, then on to D Lazy K Ranch, Seneca
Tree branches on the east side of Mike’s building, jostled by a gentle breeze, brushed softly against the metal siding, creating the most restful sound—and I was quickly off to slumberland. Thanks for letting me stay your place, Mike!
Today I’m headed for Seneca, actually, just south of Seneca, the D Lazy K Ranch owned and operated by Dan and Myra Koch. You’ll recall Dan let me park my truck at his place, then drove me the 75-miles to Troy to begin my hike. They’ve invited me to stay the night at their place, so here we go! Along the way I pass the site of Log Chain Pony Express Station, which Mike had shown me. Last evening I called Helen, the lady who owns to station site, but was denied permission to enter her property. So, this morning, at a distance, and from a gentle rise in the road above Log Chain, I’m able to get a glimpse of the site, and take a picture of the supposed station building.
Following the old “Pony” trail, which weaves slightly north of west through here—for me it’s a zig north, then a zag west, then a zig-zag north and west again, repeating the process, as I attempt to remain as close as possible to the old track. I’m on gravel now, usually pleasant hiking, but this morning I’m dealt a freshly spread mile of golf ball size loose rock, slow, arduous going. Glad to “roll” on past and get back to hard-pack.
Early afternoon now, and straying from my planned route the least, I hike right in to D Lazy K Ranch. Dan is home and welcomes me with a broad smile and a firm handshake. Great to be here, Dan, thanks for your help and kindness!
As if he’d nothing better to do, Dan drops everything to spend the rest of the day with me. Riding in his quad-track now, Dan shows me around the ranch, his herd of longhorn, the old farmstead and graveyard on his place. Evening, after a mighty fine meal with Dan and Myra, I’m treated to a “wild west” show as Dan and the young ranch hands practice roping cows in his lighted arena. They’ve spacious, very lavish quarters next their house, in the machinery barn, located above their large commercial kitchen (where they entertain most every night). Tonight, I’m their lucky guest!
Log Chain Relay Station
“Log Chain was the relay station between Kickapoo and Seneca. It was on Locknane’s Creek. There are a couple of theories about the name. One is that it was a corruption of the creek’s name. Another is that since Log Chain was on the old military road where wagons often had trouble crossing the swampy ground around Locknane Creek, that wagon chains often broke there. In 1861, during the Pony Express, Don’s Father N. H. Rising built a house there. It measured 24 x 40. The barn was 70 feet long. The altered home is still there and at one time the American Pioneer Trails Association had one of their round, metal silhouette rider signs above the door. However, within the last 10 years it has disappeared. Granada is the name for a town near Log Chain. The Pony Express/Military Road goes about a mile to the north of Granada. There is an old building in Granada that says Pony Express on it. It is possible that an occasional rider may have stopped in at Granada, but it was most probably used just after the Pony Express as a stage stop.” [A. T. Andreas – History of the State of Kansas, 1883]
Monday—July 11, 2016
Location—Frontier Road and SR-99, then on to just past Guittard Pony Express Station
D Lazy K Ranch, a very special place. Dan, Myra, what a wonderful time spent with you, thanks!
Going to be a long day as I head for Guittard Pony Express Station, some 26-miles northwest of Seneca.
It’s a pleasant, cool morning as I depart D Lazy K Ranch. In Seneca, at McDonald’s, I stop for my usual morning coffee fix, than to load up on pancakes. With me, out the door, I’m carrying four breakfast burritos, two for supper this evening, and two for breakfast in the morning.
West end of Seneca, I turn north, then west, to again closely approximate the old “Pony” trail. Northwest of Baileyville was the site of Ash Point Pony Express Station. There’s an unbelievably sad story associated with this place—the nearby Ash Point Cemetery. Dan told me all about the cemetery, where it had been originally and where the remains of it are now located. Seems, a few years ago, the owner of the Ash Point Cemetery site decided he didn’t like having the cemetery there, and decided to move it—and that he did, with a bulldozer! In the process, the graves were completely desecrated; the tombstones pushed a great distance to a large tree, there to be left in a pile—the entire graveyard, skeletons and all. Some years later (and a number of years ago now) Dan, having heard what happened, decided to do something about it. With permission and with the blessings of his county commissioner, he and his sons went to Ash Point. There, they gathered the gravestones, best they could, and move them to a fenced area, which they had prepared.
And so, folks, here I stand now, in that fenced enclosure, head meekly bowed by these old tombstones (which mark no graves). Here are 15, maybe 20 stones. Some are elaborate, very ornately engraved. Others, just the simplest, unmarked blocks of stone. Many (had) marked the graves of infants, dating back to the Overland Stage and Pony Express era.
Dear friends, have you ever heard of anything like this? Is it not so tragically sad and deeply heart wrenching? Oh my, just when I think I’ve seen, heard, or read about what could possibly have been the most heinous of man’s inhumanity to man…
The monument marking the old Ash Point Pony Express Station site is located up, over, and back down the next mile-section road. I hike there, get that photo.
Afternoon, as I’m nearing a farm, that of a friend of Dan’s, comes Dan in his pickup behind me. He’s brought a cooler of water, plus an ice cold Sprite. Perfect timing, Dan—thanks for coming out and tracking me down!
Just at dusk I cross the bridge on Granite Road, there to turn north toward the beautiful and impressive monument marking the Guittard Pony Express Station. Down a nearby lane, and on the site of the old station, lives Margaret Polson. I’d previously stopped by and met Margaret while scouting the trail. She befriended me, permitted me to walk through the field past her barn to the creek, to the “cutbank” where the old trail once crossed. This evening, to my good fortune, Margaret is again home. Once more, we visit awhile, then Margaret fills my water bottles—and I get her picture standing proudly by the stainless XP post right next her front gate. A joy seeing you again, Margaret—thanks for your kindness!
With dark descending, and backtracking, I once again turn the corner at Granite Road. Soon, I find a sheltered spot beside a cornfield to pitch for the night. A very long and tiring (melancholy) day.
Seneca Home Station
“Sources generally agree that Seneca Station’s location and identity as an early Pony Express home station, was also known as the Smith Hotel. John E. Smith and his wife Agnes managed the station operations at the hotel, located on the corner of present-day Fourth and Main Streets. Smith entered the hotel business in 1858, and his two-story white hotel also served as a restaurant, school, and residence. On July 1, 1860, it became a home station. About 1900, the Smith Hotel was moved from its original site and relocated several blocks west. Thereafter, in 1972, the building was razed because of the lack of preservation funds. A marker designates the site of the original station in downtown Seneca. [Legends of America – Pony Express Stations]
Ash Point Relay Station
“Ash Point/Laramie Creek Station – Located on the banks of Vermillion Creek, this station was also referred to as Frogtown and Hickory Point. The tiny settlement of Ash Point began at the junction of the Pony Express route and a branch of the California Road prior to 1860. ‘Uncle John’ O’Laughlin, a storekeeper, managed the station operations and said to have sold whisky to stage passengers. Richard F. Burton, the noted English traveler, passed through Ash Point in November, 1860, where the stage stopped for water at ‘Uncle John’s Grocery.’ The town continued to serve as a stage stop in the 1860s, but had faded away by the end of the 1870s…A marker designates the site. monument reads: ‘1858 Pony Express Station Overland Trail—Ash Point 240 Rods E.’” [Legends of America – Pony Express Stations]
Guittard Relay Station
“Sources generally agree on the identification of Guittard’s Station as a Pony Express and stage stop. In late 1860, Burton saw the Pony Express rider arrive at Guittard’s Station. Burton described the station as a “clump of board houses on the far side of a shady, well-wooded creek—the Vermillion, a tributary of the Big Blue River, so called from its red sandstone bottom, dotted with granitic and porphyritic boulders. The George Guittard (Guttard) family arrived in Kansas in 1857, establishing their ranch on Vermillion Creek as the earliest permanent settlement in that part of Marshall County, Kansas. George’s son, Xavier Guittard, managed the station, which alternated as a home or relay base at various times, as well as a stage stop. A large, two-story house provided living quarters and a waiting room for stage passengers, and the roomy barn accommodated a blacksmith shop and stalls for some twenty-four horses. In 1910, the house was dismantled, and the lumber went into a new dwelling on the same site, thereby destroying the site. Nevertheless, a door from the original house exists in a second-story room. A stone marker, with a bronze plaque from the Oregon Trail Memorial Association, was placed near the site in June 1931. The text on the marker can still be read. It states: “1860-61 Guittard Station—East 80 Rods Oregon Trail.” [Legends of America – Pony Express Stations]
Tuesday—July 12, 2016
I pitched in a gentle breeze, last, the faint glow of lightning far off to the northwest. At two, I’m awakened by the wind, very strong, followed by lightning, thunder—and the deluge. I hunker down, grip my hiking sticks (which are my tent poles) and hold on. The hard wind, which continues whipping the wall of rain, brings a dense mist to the inside of my tent. The whole episode continues for better part of an hour.
This is going to be another melancholy day, one with an uncommon mixture of bitter-sweetness. For sure, there’s lightness in my step, brought on by the thought of reaching Marysville, there to end this odyssey. Yet, also come the feelings and emotions one must deal with—finality, the thought of ending what has proven to be a truly remarkable and memorable journey.
This morning, a farmer stops to check on me, and tells me that his rain gauge measured an inch, unusual for a single storm. And what I soon find (and to my dismay), Granite Road, which I’m following west, just past a farm, turns to dirt, becoming a total mud-bog. I’ve never experienced anything like this. Even the desert dirt when turned to mud is no match for this stuff. Walking along, it loads up on the soles of my shoes, even clinging to my hiking sticks, to the point of being so thick and heavy I’m nearly unable to continue. This mess lasts for only a mile, but it’s one of the longest miles I’ve trekked in a very long time!
Turning south now, toward a little village, interesting enough, named “Home,” I’m into the final stretch for this day, of this journey. In Home, at the little jiffy, and in the company of the klatch that’s gathered, I proceed to drain the fountain. Fellows are talking about the rain, each knows to the exact 16th of an inch how much they got. When realizing the farmer up where I’d pitched got more, quite a bit more than any of them, I had to chime in. That prompted one old fellow asked if I’d come and camp at his place tonight!
The traffic is heavy and hauling on busy US-36, but I’ve a paved, full width shoulder. The six miles on into Marysville passes quickly. I’d called my friend, Kathy, a volunteer at the old Pony Express Barn Museum, and she is right there to greet me. A few pictures at the barn, also at the impressive larger-than-life bronze pony rider monument just down the street, and this Pony Express Trail odyssey comes to a close.
“After crossing some prairie country, the next stop was Marysville, which also was known as Palmetto City. Situated about 112 miles west of St. Joseph, this place also served as a stage station for the Central Overland California and Pike’s Peak Express. In 1859, Joseph H. Cottrell and Hank Williams contracted with Russell, Majors, and Waddell to build and lease a livery stable as a home station. The riders probably slept at the nearby Barrett Hotel…The north end of the stone stable served as a blacksmith shop, and stalls were located on the other side. The first westbound rider left St. Joseph, Missouri early in the evening of April 3, 1860, arriving in Marysville the next morning. Historians differ as to his identity, but local tradition says it was Johnny Fry. According to the travel writer, Richard Burton, it was a town that thrived ‘by selling whiskey to ruffians of all descriptions.’ After serving as a livery stable, the building later housed a garage, produce station, and a cold storage locker plant. In 1876, a hip style roof was added to the building after a fire destroyed the original board roof. On April 2, 1973, the stable joined the National Register of Historic Places. Today, the building serves as a museum, consisting of the original stable, which is the oldest building in Marshall County. An annex was added in 1991 which matches it in architectural style.” [Legends of America – Pony Express Stations]
Marysville, Kansas to Fort Bridger, Wyoming
Hiked during Odyssey 2014 – ONHT
May 8 to June 30, 2014
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Fort Bridger, Wyoming to Salt Lake City, Utah
Hiked during Odyssey 2015 MPNHT Western Segment
July 6 to July 11, 2015
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Salt Lake City, Utah to CNHT/US-50 (past Fort Churchill), Nevada
Odyssey 2016 PENHT Central Overland Route Segment
May 13 to June 11, 2016
Friday—May 13, 2016
Location—Salt Lake City
Well dear friends, Odyssey 2016 is finally underway! Bart and I have returned to Salt Lake City, from here to continue our respective treks o’er the Pony Express National Historic Trail—the Central Overland Segment, that 570-mile high plains desert no-man’s-land that for us stretches from just west of here, across the Great Basin, to a bit west of Fort Churchill, Nevada. This will complete the “Pony” trek for Bart. I’ll still have a 125-mile segment in Kansas, from Troy to Marysville, to do to complete my own “Pony” hike.
For the past month I’ve been out here in Utah and Nevada, driving the trail in my old 4WD pickup, caching water for us—24 gallons in all. Hopefully, with this pre-planning, we’ll be able to make this traverse successfully.
So, here we go!
“The Pony Express largely followed the Central Overland Trail, opened across the western Great Basin by Army Captain James Simpson in 1859. The Central Overland runs many miles south of the Humboldt River, crossing the unpaved, remote territory between Ibapah, Utah, and Carson City, Nevada; its route is roughly approximated by today’s US 50, The Loneliest Road in America.” [Wikipedia]
Saturday—May 14, 2016
Location—Rockwell Pony Express Station
Rest on a bus is not easy, at least not for me. I got on Greyhound late Thursday evening in Reno, a short distance up from Chuck and Sharon’s home, dear (www.warmshowers.org) folks that took me in Wednesday, then drove me to Reno. It took all night Thursday for the bus to reach Salt Lake City. So the night spent at Zion’s Motel on State Street in Salt Lake City last, just a very pleasant and restful time!
Bart and I are finally hiking south on State Street (the route of the Pony Express) by late morning. A beautiful day to continue this journey west. By noon, however, the wind has found us, and figured us out. We’re hiking south, and sure, the wind is blowing directly from the south—at 25-per! Ha, the old man’s whining already, and he hasn’t hiked five miles yet!
The first Pony Express Station is ten miles from downtown. It was known as Trader’s/Traveler’s Rest. I had a waypoint set for the marker at an intersection along State Street, but we missed it—hiked right on by. The second one, though, we find, Rockwell Station. The station monument is in a small grove of old cottonwood right by a busy intersection. Here was Porter Rockwell’s Hot Springs Brewery Hotel. The hotel and brewery was a popular stopping point for travelers.
“Orrin Porter Rockwell was one of the most colorful characters on the Mormon frontier. He was a Danite (member of the Mormon protection group, organized in Missouri to protect against terrorist activities) and became a close friend and adherent of Joseph Smith while still in his teens. He served as bodyguard for both Joseph Smith and Brigham Young. In Utah, Rockwell served as a territorial law-man, with a reputation for relentless pursuit, and swift and final justice. Whether he was in fact a loyal defender of his Church and its leaders, or a cold blooded murderous villain, Porter is said to have asserted that he “never killed a man who didn’t need killing.” Photographs and drawings of Porter Rockwell show him with long, flowing hair and beard. It is said that Joseph Smith promised him that as long as he never cut his hair, a bullet would not take his life. Indeed, Porter died of heart failure in 1878, at age 65.” [B. Scott Holmes]
Rockwell Station is a little over 20-miles from downtown Salt Lake City and is our destination for today. It’s been an okay hiking day, but not great fun as it was totally spent hiking from one busy intersection to the next, the entire 20 miles, all commercial—used car lots, pawn shops, auto parts and tire stores, strip malls. Three McDonald’s along. We hit two of them, one for lunch, the other for supper.
Tomorrow, after another McDonald’s and a Wal-Mart, we’ll leave the sprawl of Salt Lake City in our rearview, with no services again until Austin, Nevada, some 370 miles to the west. We’ll make it close to Camp Floyd.
“In 1858, hearing of Egan’s Trail, the U.S. Army sent an expedition led by Captain James H. Simpson to survey it for a military road to get supplies to the Army’s Camp Floyd in Utah. Simpson came back with a surveyed route that was about 280 miles (450 km) shorter than the ‘standard’ California Trail route along the Humboldt River. The Army then improved the trail and springs for use by wagons and stagecoaches in 1859 and 1860.” [Wikipedia]
Sunday—May 15, 2016
Location—P.E. Memorial Park, then on to Camp Floyd
We were able to find a nice campsite beside an irrigation canal just past the Rockwell Station marker last evening. First day, a tiring one. Happy to have Salt Lake City and commercial/business State Street/US-89 behind us.
Rain, strong wind off and on from just after midnight until daylight. Had trouble setting one of my tent stakes and fretted it not holding in the buffeting wind. But, thankfully, it stayed put.
We’re out to a cool, overcast, blustery morning. Unusual, the wind propelling us from behind. By noon we’re at the Wal-Mart just west of Lehi. We’d hoped to visit the Hutchings Museum of Natural History in Lehi, but it’s closed both today and tomorrow; just poor planning. Cindy Muir, the kind lady who manages the museum, her husband is a direct descendent of John Muir. Just a disappointment we won’t get to visit; maybe next time.
At Wal-Mart Bart and I load six days food, the number of days to the little village of Callao and the Anderson home, kind folks I met while caching food and water, who’ve permitted me leave another six days of food with them. From Lehi to Austin is 370 miles, and there’s nothing but high plains desert between us and there. The six days of food left with the Andersons has got to get us to Long Valley, where I’ve buried another six days of food. That adds up to (and I’ve figured) 18 days to get to Austin. There’s also 24 gallons of water buried out there, between here and Austin.
Our hike today takes us along Pony Express Parkway, the Eagle Mountain Pony Express Trail segment. In a vacant area by one of many new subdivisions springing up along, is the location of Joe’s Dougout, the third Pony Express Station west of Salt Lake City. Joe’s Dugout was a lonely place where two Mormon men were stationed, there to keep watch and pass information to Salt Lake City concerning the goings on of Johnston’s army which was stationed eight miles away at Camp Floyd. Brigham Young was concerned that Johnston would launch an attack on Salt Lake City from the west, but that attack never happened. Today, although I had solid coordinates for the location, no visible remains of Joe’s Dugout could be found.
“About half way between the Brewery and the Camp is a station held by a Shropshire Mormon, whose only name as far as I could discover was Joe Dug-out, so called from the style of his habitation. He had married a young woman, who deterred him from giving her a sister — every Oriental language has a word to express what in English is rudely translated ‘a rival wife’ — by threatening to have his ears cut off by the ‘horfficers.’ Joe, however, seemed quite resigned to the pains and penalties of monogamy, and what more to our purpose, had a good brew of porter and Lager-bier.” [Sir Richard Burton – October, 1860]
Monday—May 16, 2016
Location—Faust P.E. Station
We ended up behind the bathrooms, Camp Floyd, next the neighbor’s fence, a fine site for the night, last. And the neighbor? Kind young fellow named Seth. He came over to see what we were up to, and invited us to supper. Just a wonderful evening, great food and conversation; thanks, Seth!
This morning we have leisure time, time for a cold breakfast soft drink from the Camp pop machine, while we wait for the Camp Floyd Visitor Center to open at nine. Chuck, the ranger I’d met while passing through in my old pickup last month is on duty elsewhere, but Mark is here, and Nick. From their bookshelf of Pony Express Books, Bart shows Nick his book, which includes his great landscape photos. Nate decides to purchase one (from their own offerings) then has Bart autograph it. Great beginning for this day.
We’re then given a free tour of the old Inn. It is well cared for. Antique era furnishings; very authentic, an enjoyable time. On our way on west, Bart visits the old Camp Floyd Cemetery. Climbing to Fivemile Pass we’re slammed by rain and buckshot pellet hail. Another cold front is swirling around and across Utah and we’re caught right in it. I become totally soaked. The storm tries moving on later, and the day turns iffy, overcast with more on and off rain, but an almost wind free day for hiking. We pass two old Pony Express Station monuments today, East Rush Valley and Faust’s.
At Faust, I again visit the home of Tom, who works at Dugway Proving Grounds. He had offered to provide me water, as the next available water is some 26 miles away at Simpson Springs. He is at work, but I meet his wife and mother-in-law, who have bottled water for us!
Out of Faust we begin the Pony Express National Backcountry Byway, which closely follows the old trail over gravel roads for some 125-miles to Ibapah. Hiking the road along I see a majestic pronghorn and many jackrabbit. The storm lingers on the mountains.
At the onset of most of my journeys I suffer pain from shin splints. But so far this trek the problem has been minor, and my legs are coming back under me one more time!
Camp for this night is on BLM lands a bit west of Faust.
“The Central Overland Route (also known as the “Central Overland Trail”, “Central Route”, “Simpson’s Route”, or the “Egan Trail”) was a transportation route from Salt Lake City, Utah south of the Great Salt Lake through the mountains of central Nevada to Carson City, Nevada. For a decade after 1859, until the first Transcontinental Railroad was completed in 1869, it served a vital role in the transport of emigrants, mail, freight, and passengers between California, Nevada, and Utah.” [Wikipedia]
Tuesday—May 17, 2016
Location—Pony Express Road at Little Valley, then on to Simpson Springs Pony Express Station
We spent the night in a little cove on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands just past Faust Station, a quiet, peaceful night.
We’re up to a cold, cloudy, totally overcast morning. I break camp and head out with all my meager clothing on, head down, hands in my pockets. Warming up comes quickly, though, as we’re faced with a long, steady climb up to Lookout Pass.
Through Lookout Pass and into Little Valley the old trail can be seen as eroding side cuts along/down Pony Express/Simpson Springs Road. Entering Little Valley, and on a lovely knoll I’d buried our first water cache. I give Bart my GPS, coordinates fixed, and with a clue or two, I send him to find the water. He soon returns with a proud look on his face. He’d gone right to the cache spot and was able to retrieve the two gallons of water with no problem at all! I’ll be playing this geocache game with Bart from here on west, hopefully, with the same successful results.
Dust clouds can be seen a mile away, the few vehicles that pass. Long, long straightaway, loose gravel, slow going. A long 24-mile day with the afternoon turning very hot. I’d applied sunscreen very liberally, but the back of my legs are red and burned.
To end the day, it’s a long uphill pull to Simpson Springs. The steady climb is tiring, but my legs are definitely coming back under me. The shin splint discomfort is beginning to settle down; thank you, Lord!
Clear, cold, refreshing water at Simpson Springs. The station here was established as an Overland Mail station by George Chorpenning for mule train connection between Salt Lake and Sacramento. Later, it became an important Pony Express, Overland Stage, and Wells Fargo station on the trail through the dry Utah desert.
We water up, then pitch for the night in the sage near the old station.
“Simpson Springs was one of the most dependable watering points in Utah’s west desert. It has long served man’s needs, Indians used it and early travelers and explorers counted on finding water here. It bears the name of…explorer Captain J. H. Simpson, who stopped here in 1858 while searching for an overland mail route between Salt Lake City and California.” [Utah Outdoor Activities]
Wednesday—May 18, 2016
Location—Riverbed Pony Express Station, then on to Dugway Pony Express Station
Another restful, cool night in the desert. The long (mostly straightaway) 24-mile day yesterday wore me down. Something about when you can see where you’re going for the next 3-4 hours; tends to work on you!
This morning, looking west across Dugway Valley, and on the horizon, we can see the glistening white-tops of the beautiful Ruby Mountains. Will be awhile before we reach there, to climb up and through them.
A bit of a scare today; one of the rear wheels came off of the “Bart Cart.” Not a serious problem, though, as Bart was able to get it back on and working fine again. A heavy load, such weight certainly not intended for the stroller. It must bear not only Bart’s heavy pack, but also all his camera gear, our food, and three gallons of water. Sure hope the poor thing holds up and stays together for the duration..
Miles of interesting old trail ruts beside the road today, marked by the familiar Pony Express Carsonite and concrete BLM posts. Another cache at Riverbed Station, which Bart finds quickly. Riverbed, not a popular place according to station keepers. Ghosts were reportedly seen here, which became known as “Desert Fairies.”
Along the road today I see a magnificent, very large Pronghorn, plus a dozen or so wild horses. Nearing Dugway Station, we leave the road (at the Dave+Darla cattle tank) to hike over to the old Dugway site. It’s well worth the time, as the monument is one of the first (original). We’ll camp here. Not as long or as tiring a day.
“…it was hard for the Pony Express company to keep men at the station [Riverbed] because they thought it was haunted by “Desert Fairies.” Evidence of archaic human occupation of the riverbed dates back many thousands of years. Perhaps it was their apparitions that were seen by the station men in the pale moonlight. It is also entirely possible that they drank too much whiskey with nothing better to do out in the desert as they were waiting for the next stage or pony rider.” [Tooele Transcript Bullletin]
Thursday—May 19, 2016
Location—Black Rock Pony Express Station, then on to Fish Springs National Wildlife Refuge
We enjoyed a beautiful moon-lit night at the Dugway Station site. Some really fine late afternoon and evening photo ops. Bart set up his tripod and spent much time catching the shifting evening light as it cast shadows and created striking relief across the desert landscape. Then, just at dusk, a very territorial Pronghorn came lurking for over an hour, shorting angrily at us.
The Dugway Station site is over a mile off the main road. In order to get back this morning, we’ve got to either backtrack a good distance, or take to cross-country. We choose the latter as we follow the old ruts marked by Carsonite posts. It works out perfectly, and we’re soon on the Backcountry Byway gravel road, once more headed west.
When the road for the stagecoach and wagon travel was built through Dugway Pass (to get up and over), the side-cut required much pick and shovel work. The result was called a “dugway.” Much of the old cribbing, walls of rock, they still exist. And the narrow, winding roadbed (just below the modern road) is plainly visible for a remarkable distance. More great photo ops. Bart gets a shot of me standing on one of the tall cribbed-up sections.
Right in the pass, I had cached three more gallons of water. Hey, Bart is really getting good at locating these!
Early afternoon we reach Blackrock Pony Express Station and pause for lunch. Shortly after, and once back on the Byway, a BLM vehicle comes by and stops. We meet Alan, Wayne, Ivan, April, and Hollie, mine inspectors on their way back to Salt Lake City. They give us a liter of Gatorade; just a great treat—thanks, dear new friends!
Mid afternoon the wind comes again, abruptly, quartering us once more from every side—10, then 20, then 25, gusting to over thirty. And as usual, it makes necessary adjustments, to finally come directly at us, kicking up alkali and dust on its way.
Late afternoon, and arriving Fish Springs tired and fatigued, we meet Ranger Eric, who quickly gives us permission to pitch in the lee of his dwelling. It’s such a blessing to get out of the relentless wind. After filling our water jugs, we both pitch and are in, in a flash.
“Fish Springs National Wildlife Refuge, located at the southern end of the Great Salt Lake Desert, was established in 1959 to provide habitat for migrating and wintering birds. Totaling 17,992 acres, the Refuge supports 10,000 acres of lush spring fed wetlands, a critical habitat in the arid Great Basin…The Refuge has a very rich cultural history. Occupation by Native American tribes is thought to have occurred more than 10,000 years ago, and evidence of several different Native American cultures is found throughout the Refuge. Modern day inhabitation dates back to 1861 when the Pony Express maintained a station at what is today the Thomas Ranch Watchable Wildlife Area. It was followed by the Central Overland Stage and the nation’s first transcontinental automobile highway, the Lincoln Highway.” [Utah State Parks]
Friday—May 20, 2016
Location—Willow Springs Pony Express Station, home of Don and Beth Anderson, Callao
It was our good fortune to be offered a spot to pitch out of the wind, last. Seems that once the wind begins in the desert, it tends to persist for the longest time, paying no heed to whether it’s day or night. And the wind last night? Yes, it continued blowing for the longest time. Thanks, Eric, for your thoughtfulness, in helping us get out of it!
Our route today does a horseshoe out and around the tip of a descending ridge that juts out into the desert flats. We decide to take a shortcut, considered by some to also have been a route taken by the Pony Express. It goes directly up and over. For lack of a better name, we’ll call it Boyd’s/Butte Cutoff. The climb up is uneventful, easy enough, just steady, with up and more up. Bart muscles his cart along. At the summit, however, and looking down the other side, a scary situation—the trail drops nearly straight off, down and through a boulder-choked, narrow canyon. We look down, then back in the direction from which we just came. Quick decision; we’re not going back. So over the edge we go! No time at all, Bart must off-load his heavy pack from the cart, and shoulder it in order to control his descent. I work my way down, trying to find a way (other than straight down) through the tangle of brush and the jumble of boulders. How the Pony ever got through here, heaven only knows. I manage; Bart manages, but it takes us awhile, quite awhile, before we finally emerge on a two-track above an old abandoned mine. A most fascinating place. Shafts straight down into the echoing darkness. A rock dropped takes three seconds to hit bottom—how far is that? Some interesting photos. Gotta check them out!
Back on the Byway again, we’re soon at Boyd’s/Butte Station. The ruins here are interesting and unique. The site is appropriately named, as there’s a solitary butte jutting to the sky right across the road. Bart climbed it while waiting for me to arrive, and I’ve a great shot of him standing on the very top, a bit of a speck, waving back at me.
The wind comes up again, abruptly at 1:30, then, as usual, it intensifies to near a gale. We lean into it. Early evening, such a blessing to finally arrive Callao, the home of Don and Beth Anderson. Another 24-mile day. We’re both beat. Don and Beth work cattle, and this weekend is a very busy one, as they’ve corralled the calves for branding and other annual chores. But, even with the intensity of the time, so very busy, they take these two weary hikers in, set us to being at home, and feed us (rhubarb and strawberries for dessert)!
Here, this weekend, are friends, members of both their families; brothers, sisters, children, grandchildren, all gathered to help—just short of thirty in all! And we’re considered family, too. Thanks, Beth and Don, for your kindness!
“Founded in 1886, the Willow Springs Ranch has been in the same family ever since. Situated in the arid and often harsh environment of far western Utah, the ranch is currently owned and operated by Don and Beth Anderson. Beth is the fifth generation to live and work on her family’s ranch, previously named the Bagley Ranch.
The ranch is located near the small town (population, including ranchers: 35) of Callao (pronounced Cal-lay-oh), just a few miles from the Nevada State line. The nearest paved road is more than 35 miles away. It is 90 miles southeast to Delta, and 80 miles north to Wendover, Nevada. It’s also just south of the famed US Army Dugway Proving Ground and the Great Salt Lake Desert.
In 1857, the Overland Stage Company had a relay station located here, so their horses could be rested, fed and watered. Then in May of 1860, the Pony Express was founded, following the same route before making its final run in October of 1861. We have the original Pony Express station right here on our ranch, an old adobe and wood-framed building that we still use. We store some relics in there and also use it now and then when we cut up a beef.” [Don and Beth Anderson – sim_talk 2016]
Saturday—May 21, 2016
Location—Canyon/Round Pony Express Station, then on to near Ibapah
A most memorable time at the Bagley Ranch, with Don and Beth Anderson and their families.
This morning, with this weekend being one of her most busy times, Beth takes time to show us the old Willow Springs Pony Express Station. It’s right next to their home, standing so proud, filled with many amazing and historic relics from the “Pony” era. The building served not only as a Pony Express Station, but also as a Transcontinental Telegraph Station, and an Overland Stagecoach stop. Both Mark Twain and Oliver Cromwell visited Willow Springs during a stagecoach stop on their way to California. Beth gives us the tour, as she points out the cowboys (one is her grandfather) in the faded old black and white photos—while both Bart and I take lots of our own photos. Beth even has one of the old original pony saddles (a bit worn and dusty now), used daily by the riders over 170 years ago. It is amazing, just amazing! Ah, and such vibrant energy, Beth’s pride, it plainly shows through as she walks us through, her face beaming and her eyes gleaming! What a remarkable heritage, Beth. That you have taken time to share this with us, it’s a blessing, a true blessing. Thanks for your kindness, dear friend!
The day begins totally cloud-free, warm and comfortable, perfect for a good, long hike. But by eleven, dark clouds begin hovering, soon to be driven by a cutting-cold wind. And as we make the ascent to Canyon/Round Station, the wind, coming straight at us at 25+ starts driving rain mixed with sleet and snow. Strange snow it is. Bart says it’s called “corn snow,” pure white, flat nickel-size wafers with a small central pellet-sized kernel. I’ve never seen or heard of it before; strange what Nature throws at us, time to time. At the station site, and waiting for Bart, wet and cold, I take shelter, to huddle in the lee of the station’s rock ruins. I’d made a gallon cache of water here (which we don’t need), and Bart goes straight to it!
After a short descent, we begin the climb up and through Overland Canyon. I’d hoped for shelter from the driving wind here, but the storm continues to intensify, the wind driving bitter cold rain, sleet, and snow. Finally at five, the storm relents as we crest Overland at Lower Gold Hill Road, to begin the long downhill to Ibapah.
Finally, we’ve put the Deep Creek Mountains behind us (after first seeing them four days ago), as we take shelter and pitch in the juniper—at 6,000 feet.
“We, of our time, have played our part in the perseverance, and we have pledged ourselves to the dead generations who have preserved intact for us this glorious heritage, that we, too, will strive to be faithful to the end, and pass on this tradition unblemished.” [Eamon de Valera]
Sunday—May 22, 2016
Location—Utah/Nevada State Line, then past the western extent and out of the Goshute Indian Reservation.
A very cold, windy and rainy night on the south slope of Deep Creek Mountains. I managed to get a bit of sleep, but it was a cold, restless night. I am just not prepared for these sorts of severe weather conditions. My clothing, in addition to a very thin, lightweight wind jacket and pants, a Dollar General emergency clear plastic poncho, consists only of what I wear daily, shorts, white dress shirt, cap, socks and shoes. My sleeping bag-turned-quilt is a very lightweight 45-degree summer-use one. In my tent, fly lashed down tight, on my Therm-a-Rest NeoAir mattress, all my meager clothing on, I’m good down into the mid-thirties, but at a level of comfort that most would not want to consider enduring. These choices, the makeup of my 6+ pound pack is of necessity. At my age, and in order to continue, to consistently hammer the near 25-mile days, I have had to drastically reduce my overall packweight. Truth is, I can no longer lug a heavy pack, my back and legs just won’t let me. So, that’s my plight. Oh yes, though he is so blessed and fortunate, the old guy is whining again!
We awake to total overcast and the cold conditions continue. I occupy/distract myself by imagining the old stagecoaches, bound for California, lumbering down the rutty, rock-strewn trail, which to this day remains most evident just below Lower Gold Hill Road. The old Pony Express/Overland Stage route, the original Overland Road, follows along the creek below for nearly two miles. At the paved Bureau of Indian Affairs Highway, which leads to Ibapah, the Pony Express Backcountry Byway ends.
We’d been told about the Ibapah Trading Post, but looks of it, it’s been closed for a very long time. We’d allowed for this, as we had been told the store was closed, so we’re fortunate to be carrying ample food that will get us through to our next food cache in Long Valley.
The day tries fairing up the least as we turn down the lane to the Lyle Bateman Ranch, another Utah Century Ranch, as is the Anderson/Bagley Ranch in Callao. It’s Sunday morning, church time, and no one is home. We linger until noon, then learn from a neighbor that Lyle is out of town. Dang, missed him twice now, when I passed through last month (but met his son, Luke), and again now. Lyle is involved with the Pony Express Trail, current activities, and has his own museum right here on his place. A true disappointment that we missed you, Lyle. We water-up, and with the Goshute Indian Reservation to get through yet today, we move on west.
Leaving Ibapah, we pass the Deep Creek Pony Express marker, and a short distance west, and at an abrupt turn in the dirt road, we reach the Deep Creek Pony Express monument. The old buildings remain and for Bart and me, it’s picture time again.
A little after two we reach the Utah/Nevada state line. Almost miss it, a white post (like a fencepost) next the fence beside the road. I take a photo of Bart; he gets one of me, standing proudly, one foot in Utah, the other in Nevada.
It’s a heads-down-and-hammer twelve miles into and through the Goshute Indian Reservation. At a sharp turn in the road, a two-track heads southeast. We take it to a fence corner where the old pony trail comes out of the reservation. Here is a BLM concrete pony post. I’d buried/cached three gallons of water here, and again, Bart finds it with no effort. We pitch right next for the night. Spectacular views back east as the sun begins to set, turning the snow-capped Deep Creek Mountain to brilliant, blazing color.
“Deep Creek Station was the last station in what later became the State of Utah. It was probably a home station, at least for a portion of the Pony era…The name ‘Deep Creek’ refers to the fact that the creek ran in a deep wash or gully, not to the depth of the water itself…The stone monument…was constructed…as part of the celebration of the 75th anniversary of the running of the Pony…The original bronze plaques on the monument are still intact.” [Patrick Hearty – The Pony Express Stations in Utah]
Monday—May 24, 2016
Location—Old Lincoln Highway south of Tippett, then over Rock Springs Pass, down to Schellbourne Road, there to begin the ascent up Stage Canyon toward Schellbourne Pass.
Another cold night camped at the fence corner, Goshute Indian Reservation. We’re out and trekking along the old trail west before eight, a straight two-track across Antelope Valley (Hey, I actually see four antelope!). Long straightaways always seem to take an inordinate amount of time. No exception here, nearly four hours for the hike across Antelope Valley. Now comes the 2,000 foot climb up and over Rock Springs Pass, the highest point along the entire Pony Express Trail, higher even than South Pass in the Rockies, or Carson Pass in the Sierra Nevada. As we climb, and along for a distance, comes the original Lincoln Highway of 1913. When the climb turn steep, the old highway (and the Overland Stage) turns away to skirt the mountain to the south. By two we’re standing in the pass. What a long, uphill pull. It’s hard to imagine how the pony riders managed to climb some of these unbelievable boulder-strewn canyons—let alone, make good time!
A short downhill and we arrive Rock Springs, a fine little babbling brook that emerges from a rock outcrop just above. We take of the cold, clear water. Four more miles and we’re down to Spring Valley. A short crossing and we begin our second climb for the day, up Stage Canyon, into the Humboldt National Forest, toward Schellbourne Pass. We pitch in the forest for the night, up a short two-track, where I’d truck-camped while passing through caching water last month.
This is our first day not to have passed at least one old Pony Express Station.
“The pony rider was usually a little bit of a man, brimful of spirit and endurance. No matter what time of day or night his watch came on, and no matter whether it was winter or summer, raining, snowing, hailing, or sleeting, or whether his ‘beat’ was a level straight road or a crazy trail over mountain crags and precipices, or whether it led through peaceful regions or regions that swarmed with hostile Indians, he must be always ready to leap into the saddle and be off like the wind!” [Mark Twain – Roughing It, 1872]
Tuesday—May 24, 2016
Location—Head of Schell Creek, then on to Schellbourne/US-93.
You’re probably tired of hearing this: Another rainy and very cold night below Schellbourne Pass. This swirling-around cold front that has nearly the entire state of Nevada in its grips will just not go away.
Another long climb up to Schellbourne Pass, also well above 7,000 feet elevation. The sun makes a brief show. I stop and quickly spread my wet tent, soggy sleeping bag, and other of my wet gear over the sagebrush in hopes the sun will have time to work its magic. And what a blessing, all my gear is dry for a change!
A long, steady downhill to Schellbourne Ranch, past the site of Schell Creek Pony Express Station. There’s a Trail’s West Rail T-Iron here, but that’s it. At the ranch, I’d hoped to again see Harry Collins, Ranch Manager. But no luck. I’d stopped at the ranch and met Harry on my drive through last month. We water-up and, reluctantly, move on. From the ranch our descent continues on to Schellbourne/US-93.
At the highway, and looking back toward Schellbourne Pass, we see it totally engulfed in the dark shroud of a quickly approaching storm. The sun abruptly disappears again as the wind begins whipping and the rain comes once more. Decision time: Should we continue on as the thunderheads build all around, or pull up here and call it a day? Though early, we decide it wise to try and find some sort of shelter. Across the highway we see the old, abandoned, Pony Express Motel and Convenience. We head right over—to find the motel room doors all open. In Room #3, which still has all its windows intact and is remarkably absent of trash, there’s a clean mattress and a chair. And in Room #2, another clean mattress. I drag the clean mattress from the cluttered room over to the clean room, arrange things, and we’re in! Hey, even the motel door closes and locks. No time, the storm is full upon us. Strong wind, driving more cold rain, sleet, and “corn” snow. In our makeshift room, which is holding a bit of warmth from earlier today, we’re dry and comfortable. What a blessing to be in and out of it this day. Thank you, Lord, thank you!
“Schell Creek Station…was a Pony Express relay station and a frequent target of raids in 1860. The original station site is several miles east of the highway on private property. No ruins or buildings associated with Pony Express use are visible there.” [National Park Service – National Historic Trails]
Wednesday—May 25, 2016
Location—Egan Canyon Pony Express Station, then on to near Butte Valley Road.
We no sooner made it into our room at the abandoned Pony Express Motel than the storm hit from all sides. Cold rain, sleet, and snow. Trucks pulled in out of the rest area across the highway all night, but not the least problem. I slept warm and dry for the first night in quite awhile. Just a wonderful, restful night at Pony Express Motel!
We’re out to a mostly clear, blustery morning, moving west before eight. We’ve another very long straightaway across Steptoe Valley, to Egan Canyon. Once in the canyon, the rain comes again, steady and very cold. At the old Egan Cemetery, both Bart and I attempt to get some pictures of the old grave markers, weather-worn wooden crosses, the picket enclosures. But not much luck. It is believed there are soldiers and a pony rider buried here.
Continuing west, through the desert dust now turning to mud, the cold, miserable rain finally lets up. Slogging along, we make a wrong turn, to end up bushwhacking a quarter-mile back to our “road.”
Just below Overland Summit, beyond Egan Basin, Wild West and Egan Peaks, and descending toward Butte Valley, comes more thunder and rain all around, the rain falling in sheets. We quickly pitch in the pinyon pine just as the cold, wind-driven rain returns.
Oh my, these relentless, swirling storms, this cold, wind-driven rain, seems, it will never end.
“Egan Canyon, a twisting, narrow defile on the Pony Express route west of Schell Creek Station, was a worrisome ride for mail couriers, and for good reason: this is where US troops and Shoshone warriors clashed over two captive Pony Express station employees. Speculation abounds as to who lies buried in the small 19th-century graveyard beyond the head of Egan Canyon…” [National Park Service – National Historic Trails]
Thursday—May 26, 2016
Location—Long Valley Wash, then on to Ruby Valley.
Another very cold night, but I did manage, with dry gear (and a blanket), to keep warm. Bart found an old felt mattress cover in one of the motel rooms. We cut it down to blanket size, and I’ve been carrying it with me. With my dry sleeping bag and the blanket over me, I’m keeping warm; another blessing for this tired (cold) intrepid.
Past the Egan Cemetery, the trail continues through the Cherry Creek Range and on to the Butte Mountains. We’ve another long straightaway across Butte Valley (no butte that I can see, anywhere). There was a pony station here, known as the Bate’s/Butte Station. It was established in 1859 as part of George Chorpenning’s mail route and continued to serve the Pony Express. In the spring of 1860, Indians burned Butte Station. When Richard Burton visited the site on October 5, 1860, he described it as a 15 x 30 foot, two-room structure, built of sandstone, wood, and mud. As we continue on, there’s much evidence of wild horses here, their amazing piles of manure all along, but no wild horses to be seen today.
In Long Valley, at Long Valley Road, I’d cached three gallons of water and six days of food for both of us, to get us on to Austin. No problem finding the cache, but my, does it take a while to dig it all up. Thankfully, this important food cache had not been disturbed; the food is all here, and it’s all good!
A bit further west is the more recently discovered site of the Mountain Springs Pony Express Station. Here there’s an old stone-lined dug well. Quite impressive work! Lots of photo ops. The station was located right across the road from the well. This station site had previously been believed to have been located some two miles on further west near a reliable water source.
Another day to deal with the weather as another storm passes, bringing more cold rain and snow. We camp for the night just before beginning our crossing of Ruby Valley.
“I ________________, do hereby swear, before the Great and Living God, that during my engagement, and while I am an employee of Russell, Majors, & Waddell, I will, under no circumstances, use profane language; that I will drink no intoxicating liquors; that I will conduct myself honestly, be faithful in my duties, and so direct all my acts as to win the confidence of my employers. So help me God.” [Pledge of the C.O.C. and P.P Express Company]
Friday—May 27, 2016
Location—Cracker Johnson Springs, then on to just below Overland Pass/Telegraph Canyon.
We camped, last, in the low stand of juniper just above Ruby Valley. This morning we’ve Ruby Valley to cross, which we begin in a cool breeze, and with the comforting warmth of the sun to our backs.
Across the valley and near where the California Trail Hastings Cutoff rounded the southern extent of the mountain, was the location of the Ruby Valley Pony Express Station. A Trail’s West Rail T-Iron is all that exists here now.
We enter the Humboldt National Forest to begin our climb through the Rubies. Near the old Cracker Johnson cabin site is where I’d placed our next water and food cache. Bart continues his winning streak at finding them. This cache is next an out-jutting bolder on the side of a hill, and he goes right to it!
In the valley of the South Fork, Humboldt River, we’ve another long valley crossing, from here to begin the climb up to Overland Pass and into Telegraph Canyon.
We pitch for the night below Overland Pass just above Corta Springs. No rain or snow today; maybe the system has finally moved on!
“The area’s rich soil [Ruby Valley] provided excellent opportunities to raise food and hay for the other stations along the route. A band of Shoshone and the army also established camps near the station at various times. Camp Floyd’s Company B of the 4th Artillery Regiment arrived at Ruby Valley in May 1860 to protect the mail route during the Pyramid Lake War and remained there until October.” [National Park Service – Historic Resource Study]
Saturday—May 28, 2016
Location—Diamond Springs Pony Express Station, then on to Garden Pass/SR-278.
A lovely campsite last, just below Overland Pass/Telegraph Canyon, with splendid views back across Valley of the South Fork, Humboldt River. The panorama: A magnificent wide-angle scene of the snowcapped peaks of the Ruby Mountains as they glistened brightly in the brilliance of the angular evening sun, taking over the entire horizon and casting their glow to the heavens; just breathtaking! And in that magic time, it was all ours to take in and to marvel.
We begin our day today with a 600-foot climb up to Overland Pass, named Cho-Kup Pass by Simpson on his expedition through in the spring of 1859. I’d managed to break camp and get out early, so here, now, I’m sitting a vantage looking down on the steep, winding road I just climbed that lead me here. Way below, and a fair distance, squinting the least, I can see Bart methodically laboring as he pushes his cart up the rocky old road. On his stroller he’s carrying a heavy burden, our water for today, our remaining food to get us to Long Valley, his camera gear, and his heavy pack. I watch for the longest time as he laboriously makes his way. Thanks, Bart, for helping me keep my pack burden to a bearable weight, thanks!
More impressive views from the pass. History is here, a cross, a BLM “Pony” marker, and a small, non-impressive pile of rocks, which I’d long ago come to know (on the Oregon, California, and Mormon Pioneer Trails) as being the markings for a grave. Bart arrives, sets his tripod, and takes many photos. I move on through the pass and down into Telegraph Canyon, a long, gradual descent. At the base of the canyon, the beginning flats of Diamond Valley, is the old Jacobsen Ranch, now still active, owned and managed as the Thompson Ranch. Here was the Diamond Springs Pony Express Station. And here, for us to see and enjoy this day, the most impressive Pony Express Monument, complete with a stunning and glistening bronze of the traditional “Pony” rider. Interesting and heroic Pony rider history occurred here at Diamond Springs:
“Rider George Scovell had a narrow escape…Scovell rode a sturdy Pony Express horse with a curious, question-mark-shaped blaze on its face. He named the horse for its blaze, calling him “What?” Near dusk on October 19, 1860, horse and rider were picking their way warily down Telegraph Canyon west of Chokup Pass (today called Overland Pass…). I remember well how uneasy he seemed to be, his ears working forward and backward, and I could feel him try to halt. Suddenly a swarm of arrows zinged out of the trailside brush. Horse and rider lunged forward and pounded three miles down the trail to Diamond Springs Station; Scovell carrying two arrows in his leg and What? pierced by 11 more. Upon delivering his rider to the safety of the station, What? collapsed. Scovell sorrowfully put him down with a shot to the forehead…George Scovell buried courageous What? next to the station and then quit his job. It was the last ride he ever made for the Pony Express.” [What? Pony Riders Charlie Cliff and George Scovell©]
Mandy, wife of the new ranch owner, is home today and she shows us the old station site, and permits us to water-up. Thanks, Mandy, for your kindness! Ahead now is the very long Diamond Valley crossing, over 12 miles. The day has turned most pleasant, cool, cloudy, with just a bit of gentle rain. Once across, and at the base of the Sulphur Springs Range, we arrive the site of the Sulphur Springs Station. Sulphur Springs was likely not a Pony Express Station, but rather, an Overland Stage stop, as it is believed to have been built in 1861. Nothing remains here near this intersection, no ruins, no monument, nothing to mark the station location. In October of 1860, the following note was recorded by Sir Richard Burton, “Shortly after noon we left Diamond Springs and carried on to our lunching ground, a rushy water, black where it overlies mud, and bluish green where light gravel and shells form the bottom; the taste is sulphury, and it abounds in conferval and animalcule like leeches and little tadpoles.” Sulphur Springs are actually located some 1-2 miles from here. They are fenced in and nearby there are a number of various ruins. We did not try to find the location, as I’d not set a waypoint for it.
This evening we wish to reach the Pony Express Interpretive Site located where the trail comes out to SR-278, but first we’ve got to climb Garden Pass, and from there, to work our way back down to the highway. The climb, which begins on a very smooth, well used two-track soon turn to a very rugged, rocky ascent. Near the top, the trail drops into a narrow, sharp-sided dry wash with nothing but loose sand in the bottom. This proves amazingly slow and rough going for Bart. It’s been a long, hard day, over 23-miles to the highway. On our way down, I give a call to the Sheriff’s Department in Eureka (Got two bars on my phone!). I’d stopped there on my way through last month while caching water for us, and met Deputy Hicks. I learned that the department gives rides to and from Eureka as a courtesy and that all I need do is give them a call and they’ll come get us when we reach the highway. So, I call, the Eureka Sheriff’s Department, the dispatcher answers, and in no time, Deputy Santoya is on his way to get us. Wow, how’s that for a plan coming together!
It’s nothing short of remarkable how this day has worked out. A very long, difficult 23-mile hike up to Overland Pass, down to and across the wide flats of Diamond Valley, then up and over Garden Pass, before reaching SR-278. What a fine ending, to reach Eureka, the Sundown Lodge here. Then to lavish ourselves to a much needed hot meal just across the street at the Owl Club. Yup, a remarkable and memorable day!
“Many sources generally agree on the identity of Sulphur Springs as a station. However, a station probably did not exist at Sulphur Springs until July 1861, when the Overland Mail Company began running its stage through the area. The station may have served as a stop for the Pony Express during the last few months of the enterprise’s existence. Ruins of a log wall, stone foundations, and pieces of various artifacts in an area near Sulphur Springs possibly served as the station site.” [National Park Service – Pony Express Historic Research Study]
Sunday—May 29, 2016
Location—Garden Pass/SR-278 (Eureka, Nevada)
We’ve managed over the past number of days to cover enough additional miles to get a day ahead of our (itinerary) schedule. So, today, here at the Sundown Lodge in Eureka, we’re going to take that day off, rest, get rejuvenated, and prepare for the final 200+ miles of this desolate, high plains desert crossing, o’er the Pony Express National Historic Trail.
For those of you who’ve been following this old intrepid’s wanderings about, you are familiar with how my daily mileage totals are calculated. For those of you new to my travels, here’s the deal: On this Pony Express Page, there’s a link to open my tentative itinerary schedule. This schedule, like all others in the past, was not intended to be cast in stone, rather, it’s simply used as a guide to halfway predict my whereabouts, any given time. Once the itinerary daily destinations have been established (along with the associated mileages for those scheduled days), I make no adjustments as I trek along; it’s just to troublesome and time consuming. So, as the days pass, and as my journey progresses, and should I manage to reach the scheduled destination for a given day, that data is recorded at the beginning of that particular journal entry. Some days it works, some days it doesn’t. For those days that it works, the mileage listed is correct. For days otherwise, should I not reach the evening destination (that mileage click), the mileage is listed as 00.0 (as is shown for this day). For days, like yesterday, where the final few miles of one itinerary destination (that mileage click), plus the next (that mileage click), are both reached, the total for both those days is shown, like yesterday. Make sense? It’s really no big deal. I just like to halfway keep track of my trek mileage totals during any given odyssey, and this is the easiest way—especially after a long, tiring, day.
We wasted no time at all last evening. No sooner are we settled in our room at Sundown Lodge, than we’re right over to the Owl Club for a good, nourishing, hot meal. Ramen and peanut butter keep us going out on the trail, but in town? The choices here at the Owl Club are a lot better, a whole lot better! Most eating establishments, Sunday night doesn’t work out to be prime rib night. But was I ever in luck last evening—prime rib at the Owl Club; oh yes, prime rib. My momma didn’t raise no dummy! And it was as good as any I can remember. Ah, and to further reward our diligent effort, trekking the daily long, hard desert miles through the sage and dust, and to celebrate the least, why not a tall draft for us both!
Back in our room, I lounged, to lavish and soak my weary old bones in the tub filled clear to the top with the most soothing hot water.
Passing through Eureka last month, I’d met Millie, Director of the Senior Center; Patty and Andy at the (impressively restored) Opera House; Wally Cuchine, the resident (expert) artist, who has the most remarkable private collection of area/era art in his home; Ree, Director of the Eureka Museum; and Deputy Hicks at the Sheriff’s Department. Most places are closed today, but I do make the rounds. Thanks, all dear friends here in Eureka, for your kindness and hospitality!
“The route [Central Overland] was initially scouted in 1855 by Howard Egan, and used by him to drive livestock between Salt Lake City and California. The trail Egan used led straight through the high mountain ranges that most earlier explorers had worked so hard to avoid. Egan discovered that a series of mountain passes and mountain springs were aligned to allow an almost direct path across the middle of Utah and Nevada. The Schell Creek Range could be crossed at Schellbourne Pass, the Cherry Creek Range at Egan Canyon, the Ruby Mountains at Overland Pass, the Diamond Mountains at another Overland Pass, the Toiyabe Range at Emigrant Pass, and the Desatoya Mountains at Basque Summit. Although many smaller ranges and two large deserts also had to be traversed, the reduction in length over the ‘standard’ California Trail route along the Humboldt River by about 280 miles made this route about two weeks faster for emigrants getting to (or from) California. After it was developed many California emigrants and returning emigrants used this route.” [Wikipedia]
Monday—May 30, 2016
Location—Old Windmill Site on Pony Express Trail/Road Four Miles East of 3-Bars Road
Just a wonderful time of rest in Eureka. Being able to stretch out completely in my bed there was such a luxury! Thanks all dear friends in Eureka. And a special thanks to Sheriff Logan, all your dispatchers and officers, just a great department!
Sergeant Sanders is right here at the front door, Sundown Lodge, at ten to load us in the department’s spacious SUV, then to haul us the 21-miles back to the trail crossing on SR-278. I’d placed a cache here, which Bart quickly retrieves, and before eleven we’re on our way up SR-278 to the Eureka Moly (Mt. Hope) Mine entrance.
Through the aid of the Eureka County Sheriff’s Department, Bart and I have been granted permission to enter and cross this private property. The old Pony trail goes right below the south slope of Mt. Hope, and we can now follow it. We would have otherwise had to hike an additional half-day way up and around the mine in order to connect back with the trail. The assistance and help we’ve received from Eureka County, the Sheriff’s Department, just a great service and benefit—and a true blessing to us both!
I had previously used Google Earth to zoom down and view the mine roads, in hopes of being granted permission to cross. This preliminary work, the setting of strategic waypoints, helped us get through. One mix-up, a mile or so backtrack, the only hitch in the nine miles of negotiating the mine roads. Mostly, we followed the service road, the large above-ground pipeline, which crosses east to west. At the western extent, we pick up Garden Pass Road, which leads us past Roberts Creek Ranch and into Kobeh Valley, where we’ve a straight shot across for nearly 40 miles.
It’s a perfect day to begin crossing this high plains desert valley, a cool, gentle breeze to our backs. And to cap the day, wild horses, a herd of wild horses! Just couldn’t get any better. Ah, and no thunderheads this afternoon. The swirling storms have finally passed on through.
Late afternoon, just before sundown, we arrive an old windmill site, right next the trail, on Pony Express Road. Our time lost in the mix-up crossing the Mt. Hope Mine property has kept us from reaching 3-Bars Road, our destination for today, but no problem. It’s been a very successful day, a great 25+ mile hike!
“Neat, clean and prosperous, Eureka is one of the best-preserved mining cities in the American West…Silver strikes [were] made here in 1864 by prospectors from Austin…Within a decade three mines alone had paid out in dividends more money than had ever been invested in all Eureka County enterprises combined, and Eureka was famous as the ‘Pittsburgh of the West.’…when Austin had already begun its decline, Eureka had a population of about 9,000 and had taken second place among Nevada cities. There were dozens of saloons, gambling houses and bawdy houses, three opera houses, two breweries, five volunteer firefighting companies, and two companies of militia as well as the usual complement of doctors, lawyers, merchants, bankers, hotels, newspapers, and other businesses. Fifty mines produced lead, silver, gold, and zinc for the smelters, which could process more than 700 tons of ore a day…Eureka produced more than four times the wealth that Austin did, yet its history is rather prim and staid compared to adventurous Austin. Perhaps it was because the principal product of the mines was lead, rather than silver or gold, and drew a less romantic breed of citizen; perhaps it was because, being richer, Eureka was simply less hysterical.” [David W. Toll – Description and History of Eureka]
Tuesday—May 31, 2016
Location—3-Bars Road, then on to Hickinson Petroglyphs/US-50
As a result on getting lost on the Hope Mine property (and losing time) yesterday, we came up 4 ½ miles short of reaching 3-Bars Road, our destination, last. An early start this morning gets us on through to 3-Bars early enough to go for completing itinerary Day-18, the Hickinson Petroglyphs/US-50. It’ll make for over a 27-mile day, but we should manage to cruise in well before dark. We pause only long enough at 3-Bars for Bart to locate the water cache. He goes straight to it and fetches it pronto!
It’s a perfect day for crossing the remainder of Kobeh Valley, a cool breeze, a bit warm, but with the low humidity, it’s most comfortable. We are so very fortunate not to be getting our brains fried out here!
We see lots of pronghorn and wild horse tracks all along the road today, especially at the site of Grubb’s Well, where there are a number of ponds. Here, the road is even under water for the better part of two-hundred yards. Here, also, are a number of old building (pole) structures, adobe walls, and corrals, and a very impressive Pony Express monument.
Late afternoon, and after first seeing a low jutting conical mountain hours ago (known to the pony riders as “The Point”), which we now pass, ahead is an out-and-around diversion we must take in order to avoid private ranch property. The two-track along the ranch fence leads us to another two-track, which ends at Dry Creek Road—which leads us around and down to US-50 and the Hickinson Petroglyphs. There are remains of an old Pony Express Station at Dry Creek, but Bart is unable to get to the site. He followed the old trail two-track a fair distance from where it crossed Dry Creek Road, but came to a posted fence across the trail.
There is no water at the Petroglyphs, though I was told there would be. I’m sure glad I came through here last month and took time to cache water for us. I’d also buried a treat, Chef Boyardee spaghetti and meatballs. Oh yes, a fine meal! After supper we’ve time before dark to visit the petroglyphs. Bart takes his tripod. We both get some fine photos.
It’s been another head down, grind-it-out sort of day, close to 28-miles, and we’re both very tired—content though, after getting the long, desolate, Kobeh Valley in our rearview. This sets us up for reaching Austin tomorrow, a 25-miler, all on US-50.
“Grubb’s Well is commonly mentioned in the published lists of Pony Express stations, and is also listed with Overland Stage stations…In July 1861, John Butterfield began his Overland Mail and Stage Express and Freight Service just prior to the demise of the Pony Express. He ran his stage fairly closely along the Pony Express route, but he built some additional stations along the route. Grubb’s Well was probably built in July 1861 for the Overland Stage. Since it was right on the Pony Express Trail it was probably used as a way station for the last few months of the Pony. Its use by the Overland continued until 1869…There are no original buildings here…Just to the southwest of the site sits a rock and concrete monument bearing another brass centennial Pony Express marker.” [Mason, The Pony Express in Nevada, 1976]
Wednesday—June 1, 2016
Sunrise comes a little after five now, and the warm sun on my tent gets me stirring. By six, I’ve camp struck and am ready for the day—another long day, which will require climbing two passes on US-50 as we head for Austin.
The Pony Express Trail doesn’t go through Austin. Rather, it passes to the north of the community, through Simpson Park and over Emigrant Pass. When preparing my maps, and while trying to determine the trail location north of Austin, it became very confusing. Looking at it from Google Earth provided no help. As was the case yesterday, when Bart was abruptly stopped by a posted barbed wire fence, there’s a similar situation here. Northwest of Dry Creek Road, the trail crosses private land on its way to Simpson Park Mountains. I was told that Simpson Park Canyon Road was washed out, so on my way through in my pickup, I avoided the area. Certainly, there can be criticism for my poor planning, and for not staying true to the trail (one of few times). Anyway, this is how it’s worked out—and today, we’re headed for Austin!
It’s another cool, clear morning as I shoulder my pack and head west on US-50, “The Loneliest Highway in America.” Indeed, the traffic is light and we’ve a safe shoulder to hike on. By noon we begin our first climb up to Bob Scotts Summit. From there, it’s down, then up again to Austin Summit. We believe this climb will be our last above 7,000 feet.
By 4:30 we’ve got our 25+ mile day knocked down. At the Lincoln Motel, I’m greeted once more by Shayla, the manager. She’d told me last month to ask for room #12. That’s the one with the tub. Hey, room #12 is vacant! Bart and I move right in. Supper is directly across the street at the Imperial House, the oldest hotel in Nevada, sporting the oldest original Brunswick front and back bars, brought to Nevada in the 1840s.
By hiking on to Austin today, we’ve once more picked up a day. Ah, and we’ll use it up right here, tomorrow, in Austin! A good soaking in the tub and this day goes in the books as a mighty fine one!
“Sometimes unusual incidents are the reason good things happen. Such is the case with Austin. The town was actually discovered in 1862 by a horse belonging to a W. H. Talbott. The horse, by accident, kicked up a piece of quartz containing gold and silver. Talbott sent the piece to Virginia City for assay. He staked out a claim and, when word got out, others followed, and a silver rush was on. One year later, 10,000 people occupied the town. A lumber mill had been built and four hundred homes had been constructed. There were schools, churches, hotels, stores and, of course, the required number of saloons and pleasure houses. Many of the structures were of adobe and brick, which minimized the damage from fires. Floods, however, were the culprit, especially those of 1868 and 1874 which ravaged the town. By 1880, the mines began to show signs of exhaustion and its total of $50 million in ore production was history.” [Henry Chenoweth – Nevada Ghost towns]
Thursday—June 2, 2016
A well-deserved (and needed) night’s rest at the Lincoln Motel in Austin. Shayla gave me a cup of detergent to launder my desert soiled (camo dirt) shorts, shirt, socks, cap. I’d gotten into some really nasty mud at Grubb’s Well Station, Kobeh Valley the other day, so I also scrubbed my shoes and shoe liners. I must keep my shoes looking sharp for my dear sponsor, Oboz Shoes, out of Bozeman, Montana. I want them to keep looking as great as they feel!
It’s up to the Toiyabe Café first thing this morning for breakfast. Then it’s right back to room #12 at the Lincoln to get my feet up and to rest—they took a beating on US-50 yesterday while climbing over both Scotts and Austin Summits.
The afternoon is spent at the Owl Club (yes, another Owl Club) right up the street, as we sit the benches and tables out front with owner, Mary, local, John, and vacationers from Canada and England. Great conversation, especially with John. Much interesting local history, like the beautiful Brunswick Bar I mentioned in my entry yesterday. The International Hotel, a landmark of Austin, was first built in Virginia City in 1860 and late in the decade was moved 180 miles east and reconstructed right here on Austin’s main street. The beautiful Brunswick Bar is believed to have been brought to Nevada by mule and wagon in the 1840s.
John tells me of the property he owns west of Austin, 80 acres. It takes in both sides of the Reese River. The old Reese River Pony Express Station, which also served as a Transcontinental Telegraph relay and Overland Stage Station, is located on his land. John talks of finding some of the old stumps from the original telegraph poles, and of an intact pole that’s still standing. John also tells of the remains of an old bridge used by the 1913 Lincoln Highway, right next the Pony Express Reese River Crossing.
Curiosity soon gets the best of me, so, and by using my (well-polished) Yogi skills, I mention to John how great it would be to see his place. Well, that did it. Tomorrow morning, Bart and I will be riding with John, out to his place in his old pickup truck—can’t wait! Ha, I thought for sure John was blowing smoke, but now, after inviting us to go with him; dang, this is going to be a hoot!
So, back to room #12, Lincoln Motel, and off to bed I go, sugarplums dancing (about tomorrow) in my head—for another good stretch-er-out night’s sleep!
“Sources give this site [Reese/Jacob’s Station] several names, but generally they agree on its identity as a Pony Express station. Named for stationkeeper George Washington Jacobs, the station possibly began on the site of one of George Chorpenning’s 1859 mail posts near the Reese River. In the summer of 1860, Indians burned the station and a new, incomplete adobe structure greeted Richard Burton when he arrived on October 13 of that same year…In 1986, the ruins of the adobe Pony Express station still existed northwest of Jacobsville…Rock foundations on the west side of the Reese River just north of the highway mark the site of the Overland Stage station…However, the Pony Express station ruins are all but gone.” [B. Scott Holmes]
Friday—June 3, 2016
Another most restful night, room #12, Lincoln Motel, Austin. Thanks, Shayla, for such good care!
This morning it’s across to the International House/Café for breakfast. Just fine food here, too. I have my usual, two eggs up, hash browns, toast. Bart goes for the steak and eggs; takes him awhile!
At eight we meet John, who loads us in his rickety old pickup and drives us the 7+ miles out US-50 west to his property on the Reese River—which runs directly through his place. There’s an impressive amount of history here, the tangible remains of some of it, from the 1850s, the Pony era and times of travel by stagecoach, up to and through the advent of transcontinental travel by automobile, the Lincoln Highway, the early 1900s. It’s all right here to see and to marvel—on John’s Reese River place!
John takes us to near the site of an old ghost town, Jacobsville. Here, still standing, an old original Transcontinental Telegraph pole, and nearby, the remains of others lying around. I wouldn’t have believed it had I not seen it with my own eyes. An old telegraph post still standing after 170 years; amazing! To John’s place now, and hiking the short distance to Reese River, Bart and I both find old pieces of telegraph wire. At the river, which is running with good volume and force, we’re shown the old ramped crossing (cut banks) used by the Overland Stage and the Pony Express in crossing the Reese. And right next the crossing, on the banks and in the river, the rotting beams and broken chunks of concrete that once comprised the original Lincoln Highway Bridge, which spanned the Reese River, likely sometime in the late teens, early twenties, last century.
Across the river, which Bart removes his shoes and socks to wade, are the remains of the Reese River Pony Express Station, complete with the familiar stainless steel (XP) post placed there just a few years ago by Joe Nardone, Pony Express Historian (and first person to hike the entire trail).
Just before eleven, motel checkout time, John has us back to Austin and the old Lincoln Motel. Thanks, John, for taking the time to show us your place on the Reese River, and for sharing so much of the informative and fascinating history of the Pony era, and Austin!
Okay folks, time to “saddle up,” it’s heads-down-and-hammer time, back out US-50, then the 14-mile straightaway (lifting to a point on the horizon) down SR-722, which parallels the old Pony Trail. We’re in the long and flat Reese River Valley now, headed for the Shoshone Mountains to the southwest. The crossing takes us over five hours. Then comes the long, steady climb to Railroad Pass (no sign of any railroad here, ever), just south of Smith Creek Summit (on the Pony Trail). It’s late evening before we reach our water cache near Smith Creek Valley. From the cache, we trek a short distance along Smith Creek Valley Road—to pitch for the evening by a cattle guard just above the valley flats.
An enjoyable and most memorable two days spent in Austin (not a ghost town yet). Thanks all dear new friends; you have a fine little community!
“By his account, Laguna Hills historian Joe Nardone logged nearly 2,000 miles, 15 blisters and five rattlesnake encounters in the five months it took him to walk from St. Joseph, Mo., to San Francisco, retracing the fabled Pony Express trail…Nardone started his adventure on April 3  at the former Pony Express headquarters in St. Joseph, Mo., where the trail and the short-lived business had started 134 years ago that day…From there, he walked the length of the trail that riders on horseback used to deliver mail from April, 1860, to November, 1861…Nardone said he has been fortunate to have the time and freedom to pursue his dream.” [Mark I. Pinsky, Staff Writer, Los Angeles Times]
Saturday—June 4, 2016
Location—Old Overland Road North of Basque Summit
We’ve another long valley to cross today, Smith Creek Valley, pool-table flat, complete with its own alkali barrens. The morning starts out cool enough, but soon the steady, oppressive heat from the merciless sun really gets to cranking. We’ve been very fortunate (so far) not to have been dealt the usual scorching desert heat, especially when crossing these bake-oven valleys. Yesterday’s crossing was over 14-miles, todays, nearly 12. In these situations, the view ahead—little to see , save the straight-arrow road, its flattened form lifting and dancing in the undulating heat, a deceiving and most fascinating mirage, which is ever-reaching toward an elusive pinpoint on the distant horizon. Indeed, it presents a really good opportunity to practice patience and tolerance!
And the distances out here are unimaginably staggering, near incomprehensible. Even on hazy days like today, it’s possible to see the distant mountain ranges over 50-miles away. That’s two hard days of hammering across this forlorn desert expanse. Looking down at my feet from time to time, I can see I’m moving. At the same time, though, I can’t help but wonder if I’m truly getting anywhere.
Late morning, we’ve finally put Smith Creek Valley behind us, to enter Smith Creek Ranch. Soon, we meet Ephraim, Diane, and their son, Ridgley Elmer. They live in Fallon, but come to the ranch to work for the summer, as soon as Ridgley Elmer is out of school. From Ephraim, we learn, to our dismay, that Sam and Brittany, ranch managers, are attending a wedding and will be away for the weekend. I’d met them both while passing through in late April, caching water. They befriended me, and ask that I give them a call from Austin before heading their way. I did call, and got just a message—and so, we’ll miss them. The road through Smith Creek Ranch is private, but Bart and I have been granted permission to pass, along the old Pony Trail.
Smith Creek Ranch is the location of one of the finest remaining old Overland Stage and Pony Express Stations. It’s been restored (using era materials) by John. John is also from Fallon, but spends most of his time here at the station. And today, we’re fortunate to meet him. He gives us the tour, then proudly hoists the 1860, 33-Star Spangled Banner up the station flagpole—photo time, oh yes!
During its time, the late 1850s and early 1860s, Smith Creek was a very busy place, what with the Pony Express, the Overland Stage, and the Transcontinental Telegraph all housed here. At that time there were five families living here, tending the ranch and the trail. And so, here also, was a one-room sod schoolhouse, built by the families, its teacher hired and paid by them. Remarkably, the old structure still stands, so Bart and I take the short hike down to see and photograph its remains.
Leaving the ranch behind, now to climb toward Smith Creek Reservoir, then turning to take in the view—framed by the lake, the Desatoya Mountains, and the valley below, just a picturesque and most tranquil setting. Here we meet ranch hand, Joe, the quintessential cowboy. He’s on horseback, his faithful dog right by. His horse having thrown a shoe, he’s headed back to the ranch. He stops, dismounts, and spends a bit of time with us. He was not the least surprised to see us. Sam and Brittany had told him we were coming.
As we pass the upper gate to Smith Creek Ranch, we enter the canyon leading (and climbing) to Basque Summit. On the way, we must ford Smith Creek, a clear, fast-flowing mountain stream. Both Bart and I get our feet wet. Early afternoon, we reach Basque Summit, elevation 7,400 feet. Perhaps this will be our last summit above 7,000 feet!
Evening now, and descending from Basque, and along Edwards Creek, another swift-flowing, snow-melt mountain stream, and by a fence corner, Bart retrieves our food cache (no water cache needed here), and we pitch right next for the evening.
“Remains of the Smith Creek Pony Express Station are on the present day Smith Creek Ranch located on… the east side of the Desatoya Mountains. There is one adobe building with a willow thatch roof and a second building with one section of adobe and another section of rock also with a thatch roof. The first building has been identified as the location of the corral. The adobe section of the second building is the original Pony Express Station house.” [Mason, The Pony Express in Nevada, 1976]
“The station [Smith Creek] was sighted in a deep hollow…The house was unusually neat, and displayed even signs of decoration in the adornment of the bunks with osier work taken from the neighboring creek. We are now in the lands of the Pa Yuta, and rarely fail to meet a party on the road: they at once propose ‘shwop’ and readily exchange pine-nuts for ‘white grub’, i.e., biscuits. I observed however, that none of the natives were allowed to enter the station house. After a warmer night than usual — thanks to fire and lodging — we awoke and found a genial south wind blowing.” [Sir Richard Burton – 1860]
Sunday—June 5, 2016
Location—Cold Springs Pony Express Station/US-50
A mighty fine campsite last, the soothing murmur of Edwards Creek to set us to contented rest. At the cache here, I’d buried Chef Boyardee spaghetti and meatballs, along with canned peaches for dessert; for Bart, a surprise; for us both, a treat!
We’ve a long downhill as we descent Old Overland Road from Basque Summit to US-50, a drop of over 2,000 feet in less than eight miles. At the mouth of Edwards Creek Canyon are the remains of the Edwards Creek Pony Express Station. It’s an impressive rock ruins, the walls still standing, complete with the familiar Nardone stainless steel XP post. Neither Bart nor I were aware of it. Much history relative to Pony riders occurred right here, some inspirational, some tragic. Inspirational—The longest ride in Pony Express history was made by “Pony Bob” Haslam, 380-miles, from Friday’s Station, Lake Tahoe, to Smith Creek Station, then back. Pony Bob made that ride through Edwards Creek Canyon. Tragic—Young rider, José Zowgaltz was attacked by Indians and mortally wounded here in Edwards Creek Canyon.
We’re in rattlesnake country now. Bart faced off with one in the rocks at Edwards Creek Station.
This will be a short day, only 15 miles to Cold Springs, a true oasis in the desert, bar and grill, motel, cabins, the works. We go for one of the cabins—twenty buck apiece! Oh yes, we’re in. They’ve a clean bathhouse, plenty of hot water to shower. We’re settled, and by noon it’s time for a burger and fries, then to get my feet up in our neat little cabin for the afternoon—before heading back over late afternoon for supper.
“Solitary riders, with their predictable schedules, were easy targets…’Pony Bob’ Haslam reported some close calls at the outbreak of the Pyramid Lake War while making a 380-mile, round-trip mail ride between Friday’s Station at Lake Tahoe and Smith Creek Station, southwest of Austin, Nevada. During his record-breaking ride, said to be the longest in Pony Express history, Haslam evaded war parties and seems to have missed at least two attacks on stations by a margin of hours.” [Joe Nardone- Pony Express Collection/Dwight Ritter]
“I kept a bright lookout, and closely watched every motion of my poor pony’s ears, which is a signal for danger in an Indian country. I was prepared for a fight, but the stillness of the night and the howling of the wolves and coyotes made cold chills run through me at times.” [“Pony Bob” Haslam, May 1860]
“…José Zowgaltz, a Hispanic rider…was ambushed as he crossed the thick aspen bottoms of Edwards Creek, north of Cold Springs Station. Suffering a mortal abdominal wound, Zowgaltz galloped into the station…He slipped bleeding from his saddle and soon died.” [Joe Nardone – Pony Express Collection/Dwight S. Ritter]
Monday—June 6, 2016
Location—Historic Middlegate Station (bar, grill, motel), US-50/SR-361
A fine stay in the little cabin at Cold Springs Station. This modern commercial establishment is truly an oasis in the desert! Just fine food (two meals yesterday). We’re right back over for breakfast this morning at eight. After three weeks sleeping the desert floor and surviving on Ramen, packaged tuna, and peanut butter, can’t fault me for lavishing myself with a bit of such fine treatment, eh!
A short day today, on down US-50 to Old Middlegate Station, another desert oasis (bar and grill, motel), one that no self-respecting hiker trash trekker would ever pass up. We’re headed right there, but first we take a one-mile detour off the highway, over to the first of two Cold Springs Pony Express Stations. We take the wrong two-track and end up dealing with a ½-mile bushwhack to get here. Ah, and is this not refreshing—no chain-link fence to bar us from entering the ruins (too far to walk and too much trouble for the lazy riff-raff who vandalize these treasured places). And so, we’re able to enter the old ruins, each of the rooms. The living area, rock walls still standing and complete to the roof level, (which originally had a roof), the corner fireplace still intact, would have been about as comfortable a dwelling as station keepers and riders could have ever hoped for, considering the circumstances. The spring has long ago dried up, but by all appearances, was right next the station. So glad we came here—a very special time!
Back on US-50 and just across the road from the Pony Express interpretive site is the location of the second Cold Springs Station, and a short distance on down, the remains of the Overland Stage and Telegraph Relay Station(s). All are completely enclosed in high fences, gates padlocked to prevent further vandalism and destruction. I walk around, as close as I’m able to get, peer through the chain-link barrier, and try to get a few decent photos. It’s truly sad, the lack of respect for our heritage, for our historic treasures, just further testimony to the downward spiral, the demoralizing state of affairs our country is in today. Many in our nation, especially our young, know little nor could they care less about these places, about the profound, historic impact, the meaning and importance played in the westward expansion (Manifest Destiny) of America.
Ah, and just as I’m thinking these thoughts, which bring a hovering dark cloud over my head, stops this SUV. All smiles, bright eyes, and full of energy, I meet Mike and Kendra. “You need some water?” More smiles as they look me up and down. And to my surprise (and joy) I find they’re genuinely interested in my trek, what this Pony Express thing is all about. Oh my, does the dark cloud quickly disappear; I’m pumped! Young folks interested in our heritage, our unique history—well dang, folks, gotta work on my attitude!
A fair distance on down US-50, and in the stifling head of the afternoon, we reach a natural, geologic feature rightfully named Middle Gate. It’s a breach in the mountain wall through which man has passed for countless centuries. Here stands a large cottonwood tree, with hundreds of pair of shoes ungracefully hanging from its every outreaching branch. It’s even noted on maps as the “shoe tree!” Here, by the (now dry) stream that passes, was another Central Overland Stagecoach stop, the remains now forever buried under the pavement of US-50.
Two more miles, and none too soon, we reach the Old Middlegate Station (bar and grill, lodging), and another day trekking this Central Overland Pony Express Trail is behind us.
“The site location for Middlegate Station is unknown. There are several possible locations along US Hwy. 50 near the modern Middlegate bar and restaurant that could have been the site of the original Pony Express station…The next station east of Middlegate is Cold Springs Station…The original station was built of large native rocks and mud with walls four to six feet high and up to three feet thick. It had four large rooms including a storage area, barn, corral and living quarters…On Pony Bob Haslam’s famous longest ride in Pony Express history, he stopped at Cold Springs to change horses, then went on east to Smith Creek Station. After sleeping for nine hours, he returned to Cold Springs and found it had been attacked by Indians. The station keeper had been killed and all the horses had been stolen…Today, the ruins of Cold Springs Station still resemble a substantial fortress alongside the old trail. Living quarters and corral are easily recognized as well as windows, gun holes, and a fireplace. A rivulet of good cold water from the surrounding hills still flows near the site as it did when the ponies and riders refreshed themselves at this incredibly historic site.” [Dennis Cassinelli – Pony Express Stations, Part 13: Middlegate and Cold Springs]
Tuesday—June 7, 2016
Location (alternate)—Sand Springs Pony Express Station/US-50
The Old Middlegate Station, another perfect example of a desert oasis; the place dates back to the 1860s. The bar and grill opens at seven and I’m right there for biscuits and gravy. Tops my tank for the day, a 22-miler on west to Sand Mountain. The old trail through here lies buried directly under the pavement, so it’s US-50 this entire day—head down and haul.
US-50, across the Nevada desert, is known as “The Loneliest Highway in America.” Not so sure that actually applies anymore. The road is busy today, very busy, 3-5 vehicles per minute. That adds up to 180-300/hour. When you’re out here dealing with these numbers—not so lonely!
The forecast has temps climbing into the high 90s, and true to form, by noon the tarmac is bubbling. A steady breeze is a Godsend. With low humidity, and as my sweat evaporates, it keeps me cool. Yes, the breeze is so very welcome!
We’ve two summits to climb today, Drumm and Sand Springs, both well below 5,000 feet elevation. We have dropped below and will stay below a mile high now, from here on into Fort Churchill.
A bit of excitement as I climb to Sand Springs Summit. Navy pilots are making practice bombing runs at a nearby mountainside. I pull off the highway for a much needed rest and am provided a front row seat. Flash after flash, accompanied by huge rising billows of dust and smoke, followed by the sharp percussion report seconds later, then more of it, over and over. The mountainside is really getting hammered.
Over Sand Springs Summit, it’s all downhill to Sand Springs Station, which is right next Sand Mountain. Late afternoon, we’re in. Been another long straightaway kind of day, very tiring. As to the “Loneliest Highway,” the traffic just kept rolling by, increasing to 5-8+ vehicles per minute, 100-500+ per hour, far from lonely!
Here at Sand Springs Station, we crouch in what little shade we can find, offered by the interpretive signboard. Leaning against our packs and trying to cool down the least, a vehicle stops and two young folks come to the kiosk—more kindness, and much more great energy. They give us a tube of much needed sun screen. Thanks, Andrew and Jen!
Another water cache here at Sand Springs Station. I’d buried no food, but rather, had left two shopping bags with Russ, owner of Middlegate Station, enough for three or four days for both of us. Hopefully, it’ll get us on through (food-wise) to the end of this journey.
A very exciting day ahead tomorrow, as we hike cross-country over Salt Wells Basin, then to climb Simpson Pass, then down for another cross-country trek around the south side of Carson Sink.
After visiting the ruins of Sand Springs Station, we pitch for the night right at the edge of the alkali flats, Salt Wells Basin.
“Famed British explorer Sir Richard Burton wasn’t much impressed by the Sand Springs Pony Express Station when he spent a night there on October 17, 1860.’The water near this vile hold was thick and stale with sulphury salts: it blistered even the hands,’ he wrote in his diary. ‘The station house was no unfit object in such a scene, roofless and chair less, filthy and squalid, with a smoky fire in one corner and table in the center of an impure floor, the walls open to every wind, and the interior full of dust. Of the employees, all loitered and sauntered about as cretins with the exception of the cripple who lay on the grounds crippled and apparently dying by the fall of a horse upon his breast bone.’ – But while his words were a bit harsh, they do serve as a first hand account describing the type of place Sand Springs Station was during the heyday of the Pony Express…A large part of the reason that the Sand Springs Station is so well preserved is that shortly after it was abandoned it became buried under sand, where it remained for more than a century…In the late 1970s, a team of archaeologists from the University of Nevada, Reno excavated the site and stabilized the station walls.” [Nevada’s Best Preserved Pony Express Station – Nevada Appeal/Lahontan Valley News]
Wednesday—June 8, 2016
Location-Carson Sink P.E. Station/US-95
An early start today, as we have a near twenty-mile unknown path to follow, two cross-country sections, the first, over five miles across the center of Salt Wells Basin/Eight Mile Flat, then to climb up and over Simpson Pass, and from there, the second cross-country, nine+ miles across another alkali basin known as Wildcat Scarp, which makes up the southern extent of Carson Sink. Between, we’ll be faced with six miles of little used two-track consisting mostly of loose and very deep sand (which closely follows Simpson’s route and the Pony Express Trail).
Starting across Salt Wells Basin/Eight Mile Flat, we’re immediately confronted with a brittle and crusty totally barren surface of alkali, which continually collapses under my feet and under the wheels of the “Bart Cart.” In comparison, it’s very similar to working through ice-crusted snow, which gives way under your feet. Bart must turn the cart around and pull it, as he is unable to push it through the resistance caused by the collapsing crust; going to be slow going for most of this crossing.
For diversion, and near the halfway point, we’re faced with two serpentine drainages that we were unable to see before gazing into them, both with flowage. Moving along the banks, we’re able to find crossings at both. At the western extent of Salt Wells Basin/Eight Mile Flat, and just before entering the sagebrush to begin the climb to Simpson Pass, I find what I believe to be two pole stumps, plus thin, corroded strands of loose wire, remains (I’m convinced) from the old Transcontinental Telegraph. Amazing that the alkali hasn’t eaten all this up. But here they are, stumps and wire, after over 170 years!
There’s a geothermal power generation plant housed here at the edge of Salt Wells Basin/Eight Mile Flat. There are a number of wells, both in production and exploratory. This is considered but another form/source of “green energy.” And as are all of these marginally productive “green energy” projects, we, the American taxpayer, have had to subsidize it, this one to the tune of well over sixty million. We pass the wells and plant to begin our climb toward Simpson Pass, a very panoramic vista. As I wait for Bart, who is laboriously making his way up toward the pass through the loose sand, I pause to look east, the Bunejug Mountains to my left, the Cocoon Mountains to my right. From here I can see Sand Mountain, and below, Salt Wells Basin/Eight Mile Flat. And to the west, White Throne Mountain, Wildcat Scarp and Carson Lake/Sink.
We’re dealt more deep, loose sand as we descend Simpson Pass. Nearing the flats now, the two-track we’re following dips into, then climbs back out of a dry wash. Bart must remove his pack from the cart, shoulder it, then muscle the cart on up. On the flats of Carson Sink, and looking west, nothing to be seen to the horizon but a huge expanse of snow-white alkali. I’d set a number of waypoints to help us stay on trail across this vast sprawl of desolation. We’d just passed a BLM concrete marker at the edge of the sagebrush, so I know we’re on trail. Our next waypoint, Allen’s Wildcat/Turnpike Creek Freight Station, is some 4+ miles ahead.
Onto the flats we go, GPS in hand—on a beeline. There’s an occasional post, seemingly marking the way, but they’re of neither the familiar BLM concrete or Carsonite variety. We just stay our course toward the freight station, as I’ve been told there are significant rock ruins there. So, no mistaking the location. My waypoint for the station ruins is off, way off, but we’re able to locate them, just past the flats, in the sagebrush at the base of a bluff below White Throne Mountain. Allen’s Wildcat is quite large and impressive. Huge rock walls that are still mostly intact enclose the entire station, including the stock corral. A bit of shade here again, the BLM station sign. I go for the shade as Bart cameras his way by tripod around the ruins.
From Allen’s Wildcat on west, and for the next five miles or so to US-95, there is, indeed, a “turnpike,” albeit present-day. It’s a little-used dirt service road beside an unmaintained irrigation ditch. To get to this road, we must descend the ancient Carson Lake shoreline, then cross the old ditch filled with cattle-churned stagnant filth. From here, it’s a cruise to our waypoint at US-95 and nearby Carson Sink Station.
I’d placed another food and water cache near the intersection of US-95 and Simpson Road, and Bart goes right to it. My GPS coordinates for Carson Sink Station show it to be a little west of south a half-mile. We’ve just time before sunset to successfully find and explore it. Not much to see. The well-eroded remains of an old adobe perimeter wall, some station markers, that’s it. Back to Simpson Road, dusk descending, we call it a day. And what a day! We’re both very tired, especially Bart who has suffered a very difficult time of it through the alkali and the sand. Our reward: At this cache, more Chef Boyardee spaghetti and meatballs, energy bars (including a Payday) and a mighty fine can of pears. For us, a feast!
“Arriving at the Sink of the Carson River, we began the erection of a fort to protect us from the Indians. As there were no rocks or logs in that vicinity, it was built of adobes, made from the mud on the shores of the lake. To mix this and get it to the proper consistency to mould into adobes, we tramped all day in our bare feet. This we did for a week or more, and the mud being strongly impregnated with alkali carbonate of soda, you can imagine the condition of our feet. They were much swollen and resembled hams.” [J.G Kelly, March 1860]
“Today very little remains of this once busy station. Two adobe walls of the corral are visible, but they are rapidly melting back into the alkali. In 1960, Walt Mulcahy found faint ruins of four – maybe five – buildings beside the corral. He said all of them faced north with three in a small flat just north of the dunes and two partially in the dunes.” [Mason – The Pony Express in Nevada, 1976]
“Lemuel Allen, [in] December of 1863…moved to the south side of the upper sink of the Carson River, referred to as Carson Lake, and established a station called ‘The Wild Cat’ on the old ‘Pony Road.’ He took his father as a partner, and his mother and family when they arrived the following year. They remained until 1867.” [Nevada Ghost Towns – Wildcat Freight Station – Forgotten Nevada]
Thursday—June 9, 2016
Location—Hooten Well, then on to just past Fort Churchill State Historic Park
Circumstances are such that this day is going to prove very long and difficult. The problem is water; actually, it’s the lack of it. Here at our cache on Simpson Road just west of US-95 I’d cached three gallons. Kind young folks traveling US-95 yesterday evening stopped, then turned around and came back when they saw me holding up my empty Gatorade bottle. In the car was Marco, he gave me two twenty ounce bottles, one full, the other nearly full. So, to get us through last night, all of today, and if we stop at our designated destination for tonight at Hooten Well, to overnight there—what little water we’d likely have left at that time would have to get us on through to Fort Churchill, a combined distance of some thirty miles. With the intense heat we’ve been dealt these past few days, there’s just no way we’ve enough water for two overnights (last night and tonight) and two full days (today and tomorrow).
When I was here, early May, I should have made one last water cache at Hooten Well, but after hundreds of miles of dealing with extremely difficult travel in my old truck, I was just worn down. Hooten Well is very remote, and the roads leading to it are in much disrepair, especially from the US-95 end. I’d tried getting in from there before turning around and returning to US-95. Then, I went around and tried coming back east from Buckland Station. Simpson Road from that end was a quagmire, a total mud-bog. So, I gave up again and that was it. And so, we’ve no water cache at Hooten Well.
Today, consequently, we’re faced with this reality—in order to get through with what little water we have between us, we’ve got to trek Simpson Road all the way to Buckland Station, nearly 30 miles. That’s our only option.
Steeled to that resolve, we’re out and trekking west on this our next-to-last day along this Central Overland Trail. An added-mileage diversion presents first thing, as we’re forced down and around the U.S. Naval Reservation, which is fenced, with the gate to the road leading through locked. Mid-morning, as the dried up mud-rutted road continues to deteriorate, comes more climbing up and through the southern extent of Dead Camel Mountains. Late morning, we break from Simpson Road to follow the Pony Express Carsonite posts, which lead us along another road to the southwest, before turning sharply northwest. At noon we’re still four miles from the ruins at Hooten Well.
The day has really turned hot. There’s wind to deal with, as usual, certainly a blessing considering the heat, but it’s pushing directly at me and I am tiring. We stop for only a very short time at Hooten Well. I’d expected no water, and am not disappointed. Here, there’s a cattle tank with perhaps a foot of the most putrid slime in the very bottom. One pump stroke from Bart’s filter, and that’d be it. There are rock and adobe ruins next the ‘“well.’“ We’re not sure if ruins we photograph are from the Pony era, or from the Overland Stage.
Afternoon now, and some 20+ miles into our day, I’ve slowed down considerably. I’m holding Bart up, so I send him on. As the heat intensifies and the wind increases, I have trouble staying awake. I’ve perhaps six, maybe eight ounces of water left. With the shadows lengthening, there begins some shade from the taller sagebrush. I find a spot, climb under, and immediately fall asleep. Back out, precious time wasted; at five I’ve still three miles to go to reach Buckland Station on the north side of Carson River. I’m down to three ounces of water.
Bart had made it to Buckland Station before four, but it was closed. He then hiked on another mile+ to Fort Churchill, where he was able to find water. After waiting the longest, he watered up and decided to come back looking for me. He catches me turning from the highway to Fort Churchill Road. Oh my, what a blessing, as Bart hands me a full liter of clear, cold, water!
Camp for this long, trying 30-mile day is on Fort Churchill Road, BLM land, just past the fort, up a short two-track, a bit of shelter from the wind. A true blessing to get through this day, to be here…
‘“Rock ruins (including the Strong house and parts of the stone corral wall) remain 12 [miles] east of US 95 alternate…The site of Desert Station is located near Hooten Wells on the Rafter D Ranch…The site possibly functioned as a Pony Express station during the last few months of its existence and later served freight and stage operations.’“ [Scott B. Holmes]
Friday—June 10, 2016
Location—Juncture of CNHT/PENHT at US-50 east of Dayton
Much difficulty setting camp last, as the intense wind from the afternoon continued. Even though we’d sought shelter in a shallow cove of sagebrush by a hill above Carson River, it provided little help. Managing to pitch my little tent, then to retreat to its shelter, take a hasty bite to eat, I faded right away to contented sleep.
Morning comes clear and calm, most welcome for our final day along this Central Overland Trail, as we continue west, by the Carson River, along Fort Churchill Road. Our hike today, some 15+ miles, brings us back to US-50 just east of Dayton. Bart and I passed here along the California Trail last year as we trekked up from a village known (during the California Gold Rush era) as Ragtown. The California Trail route along US-50 was a dry-route shortcut above the Carson River that saved the gold seekers a fair amount time and distance.
Early afternoon, at the intersection of Fort Churchill Road and US-50, we complete this final day. From this unpretentious junction the two trails mostly shared the same route, up and over Carson Pass, then down to Sacramento. So here, Bart completes his journey o’er the Pony Express, and I, the western extent of it.
A call to my dear friend, Sharon, and she’s soon here (to the nearby Maverick Station) to fetch us and take us to her home. A wonderful time spent with Sharon and husband, Chuck, as they take us in, host us, let us shed the desert grime from our bodies and clothes, feed us, and provide comfortable beds for the night.
Then Saturday morning, that most difficult time as I bid farewell to Sharon and Chuck. Thanks, dear friends, for you kindness and generosity! My trusty old pickup fires right up; I load Bart, and we’re off to Reno, the bus station there, where I send him on his way. Goodbye, dear friend—it’s been a remarkable and most memorable time…
‘“In 1861, telegraph wires joining the East to the West were connected and on October 24th of that year, the Pony Express made its last run. After…the chatter of telegraph keys and the hum of wires replaced the clatter and pounding of horses’ hooves, and the Pony Express became another frontier memory.’“ [Bureau of Land Management – The End of the Pony Express]
CNHT/US-50 (past Fort Churchill), Nevada to Sacramento, California
Hiked during Odyssey 2015 CNHT
June 23 to July 3, 2015
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