We did a trip following much of the Pony Express Trail and the old stage routes from the Bay Area (one Pony Express leg stops in Martinez, a block from my old office) to central NV, basically following US 50. We travel that road a lot, but haven't spend enough time lingering at nearby sites. It was a great trip, 5/22/13 to 6/4/13. I'll put info on the two NV parks in separate posts.
We're not particularly Pony Expess fans, but I decided to pay more attention to the history of the routes I was traveling, which led me to pay more attention to the layout of the land (why are we going in a big arc instead of straight ahead??) and in turn made me more curious about the stuff I saw along the way, from bars to shoe trees to ghost towns to place names. And boy, do you gain an appreciation for the effort put in by travelers in the nineteenth century (and even earlier); I may kvetch about the stiff springs in my van, but can you imagine the pain of springs in a stagecoach from the Rockies to the Pacific? Wonder if they had washboard....
Main stops were at Indian Creek Reservoir (BLM) near Markleeville, Fort Churchill State Park (NV state park; basically between Dayton and Fallon not far off 50), the Desatoya Range near Cold Springs, NV, just off 50 before Austin), Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park (NV state park; south from Austin near Gabbs), and then back to Mammoth and eastern Sierra.
Indian Creek Resevoir is a great campground; nice segregated tent sites and pretty big regular sites with plenty of space between them. It's adjacent to a resevoir (duh) with big hulking trout. Honest; we saw 'em but they eluded us because, as the locals noted, at that moment they were more interested in sex. It's also adjacent to an airport (little used, except that when we were there they did some practicing on water pickups by Chinook for firefighting. So you could fly in. It's first-come first-serve(yah), and has good showers. $20. A few hiking trails lead out to small lakes and/or the East Fork of the Carson, and there are quite a few nice 4x4 roads nearby (Leviathan Mine springs to mind). A good bar in Markleeville, rafting on the Carson (while the water lasts), and hot springs at Grover's. And a Snowshoe Thompson memorial. The BLM seems to be doing a better job with campgrounds, and this is a good example. You can also find some boonie camping in BLM land SE off the Carson near the turn to Monitor Pass, but you need a map to make sure you're on public land.
Midweek the place was mostly empty. The reservoir gets use from locals, and it also attract some nice birds (saw white pelicans, eagles).
The Pony Express stopped right nearby at Woodfords, coming up from Gardnerville and the Carson Valley.
From there, we went out 50 towards Fernley and Fallon. I made a short trip up to Virginia City, and found it hadn't changed much since I was there as a kid. We wanted to stop before getting out to a rendezvous in the Desatoya Mountains, so I selected Fort Churchill State Park, a place I hadn't been to since the sixties. More on Ft Churchill below; although intended to be just a stopover I stayed a few days.
Then up past Lahontan State Recreation Area, which was sorta crowded but not as bad as it sometimes gets. For some reason even though it was Memorial Day the hordes of people didn't appear; maybe I'm just use to a California standard. We were on our way to a rendezvous in the Desatoya Mountains, the last range before you hit Austin. That takes you past such worthy stops as Grimes Point (petroglyphs), Sand Mountain (now a fee area for those who used to crash there), Middle Gate (great bar; make sure you look at the ceiling. Found to my regret they run low of gas on big weekends, probably ditto for diesel), the new shoe tree (going strong but someone had hacked down the old one...heard various stories about it, probably none true), and old US 50 (more below).
As 50 arcs NE you are attempting to do a run around the north of the Desatoyas; the Pony Express and stage routes variously split them; they are sort of like a Y and there's a path up through the forks of the Y. That's were we met up with folks; there's a big flat landing strip area to camp in. Tons of offroading nearby, including to the old stage station, over the top to hot springs on the far side. Amenities exist in nearby Cold Springs, near the site of the Pony Express stop where the Indians from Pyramid Lake killed the inhabitants, with due provocation. You see the old telegraph line ruins from the road; Cold Springs has a small campground and restaurant and the owner is VERY nice, and full of tips for local travel. Quite a few antelope, but didn't see horses. The turnoff is not marked, but discernable from Google maps. About a few miles of easy dirt in; buses make it.
While we were there a front was moving in (last year at the same time it snowed there); from over the Clan Alpine Mountains a big dust cloud seemed to blow our way; looked like we were in KS.
My companions spent several days offroading in the Desatoyas; I headed south on 361 from Middle Gate to Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park. More in a separate post.
From Berlin, drove south to 95, through Hawthorne to the north side of Mono Lake and then to Mammoth. A tip: don't go to Hawthorne on a Sunday expecting to get anything done; the whole town was closed except for two gas stations. There look to be some awesome offroading/boondocking opportunities along this route. Met some jeepers who'd been all over the area near Lucky Boy Pass out of Hawthorne; love to get more tips on that area. Should have taken that pass over to Bodie, but it's a long stretch of dirt and I couldn't get info on road conditions (see above) and hence didn't wanna do it alone.
I'd also like to know of camping ideas off 167 going west to Lee Vining; looks like some interesting spots if you can avoid blowing pumice dust.
We spent some time at Glass Creek Campground outside Mammoth. For those who haven't been it's a free USFS camp right at Crestview, and aside from fishing also provides access to the tons of offroading around Mammoth. It was a bit of a dump IMHO, used by a long of long-termers. The USFS has now tidied it up into sites, which is nice, but now there's a 21 day limit. Has a few restrooms but is otherwise dry. Free firewood all over too, and you can get cell (we were out of range for days in central NV).
On the way home over Sonora I stayed at Obsidian Campground near Sonora Junction, which is pretty nice. In the aspens with a nice creek nearby. Too hot to take a dip in Travertine Springs, which the BLM has gussied up a bit since I was last there (a restroom; less junk laying around).