On December 10th we made the drive to Smith Valley for some exploration of the Pine Grove Hills. This turned out to be a good time to ride this area. It can get really hot in the summer, and can be muddy and impassable in the winter once the rain and snow starts. Thanks to a slow start to the winter weather, the conditions out in the desert were just about perfect for this ride.
Video from the ride:
We started our ride at the Wilson Canyon Trailhead, about a 56 mile drive from Carson City. The trailhead is located near the west end of the canyon just before the bridge on SR 208. There’s parking here on the south side of the road, and even a shade structure with picnic tables.
I’ve made several trips to the area now, each time trying to see something new. The goal this time was to head further south than I’ve been previously, with hopes to locate a natural arch that I had only seen a photo of. And since there were a couple riders along that were new to this area, we definitely had to see some of my favorite landmarks along the way.
We started the ride as usual, up and over the non-motorized trail to the first sand wash. From there it was a couple mile ride up the wash to some narrow canyons that the water has carved into the soft earth. This area always amazes me, and makes me feel far away from home. Utah? Africa? It’s pretty exotic looking.
After exiting the slot canyons, we continued to the south up a wash that seemed to take us in the right direction. We eventually saw the pass through the Pine Grove Hills we were looking for, and then had some fun downhill to get there. Near the end of the wash we arrived at some big rocks and an impassable cliff that stopped our progress. I believed the arch we were looking for was nearby, so we ditched the bikes and climbed the steep hill to see if we could find it.
From the photo of the arch I saw on Google Earth, I thought the arch was located right above us to the south. A couple of the guys got up the hill before me and laughed. I wasn’t sure if this meant the arch was not as anticipated or if it didn’t exist at all. When I got to the top, I was happy to see that there was indeed an arch. It was just more than a couple hundred yards away, looking tiny from our vantage point. It would’ve been a hike along a steep hillside through the brush to see it up close, and nobody seemed to be up for that. I was content to just get a photo using full zoom. I’m not sure if the locals named it, but we gave it the name Skull Arch based on the shape of the opening in the rock. It looked like a good place to bury treasure, or was at least a good landmark to lead you to an old prospector’s buried gold.
Rather than simply retrace our route back, we explored a nearby rocky hill. The hope was to find a loop around it that led us back to the north. Along the way we wandered through many narrow washes, and got to see some spectacular rock formations. There were also plenty of trails leading off in other directions for more exploration in the future.
After working our way to the top of hills we were in, we had a nice downhill that looked like it was taking us in the right direction. Luckily the lead rider stopped near the bottom for a map check. We had rejoined our route in, and were close to ending up back where we started our return trip. It would’ve been a bummer to lose all the elevation we had just gained on the loop! Many of the washes look the same out there, and the rapidly changing winter light made things look unfamiliar even though we had just been there.
We returned back through the slot canyon, and then over the biggest hike-a-bike section of our ride. There weren’t too many times we had to push our bikes, but it was definitely necessary at times to cross over to other washes. We got back to the trailhead in the early afternoon, which these days feels like late afternoon thanks to the diminished daylight hours. Before the drive home, we ended up at Rosie’s Place in Wellington for Mexican food and a couple beers. It was delicious and much needed after a fun day of exploring!
- Here’s a link to the GPX File of our route for import into your favorite mapping software: Pine Grove Hills.
- If you’d like to hike this area instead, there’s a great hiking trail leaving the trailhead. I wrote about that here.
- Music in video courtesy of Wake Eastman.