At the beginning of April, we headed back down to the Wilson Canyon area in Lyon County for further exploration. When we rode there back in November, we had barely scratched the surface on interesting places to ride. This time we decided to build on what we learned last time, starting at the same trailhead at the top of Wilson Canyon on State Route 208.
As before, we began our ride on the official non-motorized trail to get over the first hill and down into the next wash. We hopped off the trail and into the wash at the bottom, heading south up the canyon. We had a leisurely pace, enjoying the blue sky contrasting with the rock formations that look like they could be from Utah if not for the color.
Soon we arrived at the first dry waterfall. It’s interesting to look at, but impassable on bike. Backing up just a short ways, we followed the bypass trail around the feature, and then back down into the wash.
Just around the corner is the slot canyon. Before entering, we explored a rocky side canyon on foot just to see where it went. Back on the bikes, we rode the slot canyon. The narrows aren’t very long, but it’s such a fun spot that we rode it back and forth a couple times.
After exiting the narrows, we broke for lunch and came up with a plan for what to do next. Previously, we had continued south, but I wanted to see where the incoming canyon from the east went. Since none of us had been that way before, it was easy to reach an agreement. The canyon to the east joins the main wash with a tall ledge, so we just followed the bypass trail over the hill and back into the wash.
The wash in the section to follow was hit and miss, sometimes becoming too rocky to ride. Through one particularly rocky section, we made our own route around through a maze of mud hills. It’s some of the strangest terrain you’ll ever see, changing drastically in texture and color from one moment to the next.
Higher up, we followed a nice singletrack. As we gained elevation, it started to green up. Lots of green plants, flowers, and cacti suddenly covered the hillsides.
Eventually the trail topped out at the top of a big canyon descending to the north, with great views in all directions. It made the perfect spot to regroup, refresh, and plan what to do next. There looked to be a fun trail entering the canyon, but none of us really knew what was down there or where or if it came out. I should rephrase that…I knew that water flowing into this canyon eventually emptied into the Walker River, but I didn’t know if man and bike could make the same journey.
In spite of the unknown, we elected to explore the canyon. One rider decided to go first and made the plunge down the canyon’s sandy, slippery headwall. The trail is very steep, but I thought the deep sand might provide some traction. We all watched our friend go over the edge. His back wheel locked up instantly, but he continued to accelerate faster and faster. The three of us watching from the top were like novice bowlers using exaggerated body movements to influence an errant bowling ball headed for the gutter.
He made the bottom and we cheered, but he had too much momentum to stay on the trail and flew off through the bushes. Again we tried to guide his path from afar. Like a crashing plane, he finally dove into the bottom of the wash, terminating his flight abruptly in a pile of rocks. A few long seconds later he raised a fist, “I’m O.K.!”. “Well this isn’t starting off well…”, we thought.
The rest of us walked our bikes down the hill in a more controlled manner. Our friend had some sore ribs, and his knee had sprung a leak. Other than that, though, he was ready for some more riding. We followed a fun swooping singletrack leading down the canyon. Soon, the trail dropped down into the wash and made for some fun sandy riding with the fat tires. The colors in the canyon were changing continuously as we descended. I remember thinking that this was a trail I was going to start highly recommending to other riders.
Somewhere near the middle, we entered a wide spot in the canyon. Red dirt and rock were everywhere, and it looked like we could’ve been on Mars. Tall and steep mountains with scenic rocky cliffs surrounded us. The trail continued deeper into the canyon, so we kept following it.
The canyon started to get narrow again, and we noticed that the motorcycle tracks had stopped. Soon we were in another slot canyon, with steep rocky sides. I felt that we must be near the bottom.
We were amazed at where we were riding and having a blast, but then we came to the end of the line. A dry waterfall cliff stopped us dead in our tracks. It looked possible we could hand the bikes down with some effort, so we sent a scout down to see what was around the corner. He came back a while later, and said that there was an even worse drop not far down the canyon and that it would take rappelling gear to get down it. We were done.
We knew we were close to the bottom, but there was nothing we could do. A post-ride analysis of the map showed that we were only 300 yards from the Walker River and highway! The only thing to do, though, was turn around and go back. This changed everyone’s mood pretty quickly. Water bottles were running low, and there was a long climb out of the canyon behind us. And that awful hill at the end! We started making our way back, a mix of riding and walking. We searched for a shortcut out of the canyon, but any exit we could find was really steep. We also didn’t know what we’d run into if we tried to climb out of the canyon a different way. It was better to stick with what we knew, even if we weren’t excited about it.
Not far up the canyon, my son said his bike was making weird noises. I inspected the wheels, but found nothing. About a minute later, he announced that his chain had broke. The dark clouds literally gathered above our heads, and I felt a couple rain drops. I thought about the rain jackets that we had left back at the car. We thought about our friend that had skipped the ride in favor of some relaxing beach time in California, and wondered if maybe we shouldn’t have given him such a hard time. Could it be karma?
We got the chain repaired without too much difficulty, though, and the rain never amounted to more than a few drops. It wasn’t long before we were at the top of the canyon, and at the bottom of the steep hill. This was the final push, and then it would be fairly easy getting back to the trailhead. We doubled up on the bikes at times, helping each other push them up the hill. I imagine even the motorized bikes have difficulty getting up this thing. We had a good rest at the top, happy that it was now time for a long downhill.
We arrived back at the trailhead without further incident, happy to be back and find more water in the vehicles. It had been a great adventure. Our canyon adventure had me wondering, though. Would we have gone down it if we knew it didn’t come out at the bottom? Probably not. I’m actually kind of thankful we didn’t know, because we would’ve missed all the rugged scenic beauty. Will I go back down there? I don’t know. We drove back into Smith Valley, not too hopeful that anything would be open this late on a Sunday evening. Much to our surprise, a Mexican restaurant named Rosie’s Place was open well into the night. In fact, it looked like this was the big night to go out in Smith Valley, as the place was packed. They seated us, bloody knees and all. Pitchers of cold water, Mexican beer, and huge plates of food made for the perfect end of an amazing day!