Tag Archives: Ruby Valley

The Secret Pass to the Ruby Valley

I took this one last picture from the campground, and shortly afterward we left Lamoille and drove north and east and then south for several hours. The first hour and more were on gravel roads with miles of washboard bumps and billows of dust, but they all passed through spectacular expanses of wild country that shared some qualities of other arid lands, but were different in the shapes and colors of the mountains, and in the varieties of plants. Soon enough these lonely roads took us over the Secret Pass to the eastern side of the Ruby Mountains.

Ivy looked over the barbed wire fence at the view above and said, “It looks like wild horses should be running out there.” We had stopped our cars on the shoulder of the highway, and all six emerged to stretch our legs and look, and take pictures. But immediately Pippin said, “Oooh, the smell of the sagebrush….”

Broom Snakeweed

She had been riding with me, and I’d had the windows closed so we could hear each other talk; the sudden breaking into our senses of the warm and sweet aroma of the deserty plants, with the pungent dominance of Common Sagebrush… that was what I wanted more than any photograph, to put in a bottle and take home with me.

As we were standing there breathing and trying to take in everything, a big pickup appeared and stopped in the middle of the road, and a gray-haired man spoke to us through the window, with his engine running. “Welcome to the Ruby Valley,” he said. He told us that the little valley we were looking up at higher in the mountains, with splashes of yellow aspen, and some other plants turning red and orange, was named Joe Billy Basin, and his brother runs cattle up there.

He himself has a hay and grain business in the valley, and he hospitably invited us to “come back anytime.” We were still talking the next day about the unusual meeting and human warmth we had experienced in those few minutes — a person who loves his place and feels such ownership of it that he can spot a few souls who are kindred enough to be obviously appreciating what he also doesn’t take for granted.

This trip across Nevada might be called a Great Basin journey. The Great Basin is an area of the western United States most often defined hydrologically as in the map below, an area where the waterways do not flow to the ocean. We had now arrived on the other side, the east side of the Ruby Mountains, which, to answer Martha’s question from my last post, are said to be named after the garnets that early explorers found.

The family are camping in Great Basin National Park, and I have been staying 2,000 feet down the mountain in Baker, Nevada. My husband and I came to this place with our children when they were small, and I am thrilled to explore again with one of those children now that she is grown up and camping herself. The campground by Baker Creek has forests of wild roses, now covered with hips, and their leaves turning yellow and orange.

Jamie drew in his nature journal a picture of the rose hips, and a dragon making a meal of them. Ivy and I explored the creek, which runs right by the campsite. I collected sand for my collection in a snack bag, and while I was taking pictures of thistles she spotted a coyote by the creek.

Our day was mostly consumed by an experience I didn’t get in this park on our last visit, a hike to the Bristlecone Pines that have grown here for millennia, and to see a glacier! Other joys of the hike were various species of conifers that we adults are always trying to learn better and distinguish from one another, the local ones in this case being Limber Pines, Bristlecone Pines, Piñon Pines and Engelmann Spruce.

By the way, the Seek app we have found of no help, unless you are someone who is happy enough to be informed that the tree you are looking at is a Conifer. Here Pippin is holding a Piñon pine nut cone, in which all the nuts seem to have either not developed, or been eaten by some insect. She foraged through many cones and nuts under these trees but never found a good nut.

The talus below the active glacier, along the three mile trail that climbs up to the glacier, is the most colorful and lovely you could ever see. I may have to do a post of only rocks, to show you what variety there is. Pippin and I could not stop taking pictures of the marble-like slabs and blocks that came in blues, purples, orange and pink, often striped and patched with contrasting colors composing the most sublime abstract designs, not modern but as ancient as the mountains.

As we climbed up the rocky trail to over 10,000 feet elevation, we were surprised to see flowers still in bloom. Occasionally drops of rain began to fall on us but we didn’t actually get wet; some of the pretty rocks got prettier by the moisture. Below, the active glacier a the top of the moraine can be seen by the lines of white to the middle right of the picture.

Above, one of the weathered Bristlecones that are thousands of years old. I wrote about my visit with my late husband to see these trees in the White Mountains ten years ago; here in the national park is the only other place in the Great Basin where trails have made viewing of them possible.

My back and knees are a bit strained from the various exertions of the last few days, but I’m eager for the mountain adventures yet to come, and grateful also for my readers’ vicarious enjoyment with me. I hope to be back soon with more!