Elephant Mountain gets its name because it looks like the top of a charging elephant's head--see photo above. It's pretty obvious when looked at from this angle at Leonard Creek Ranch or from nearly anywhere on the Pine Forest Range. It is a distinctive part of the desert skyline along with Pinto Mountain.
Having seen and loved the view of this mountain over the years, we decided to hike up it in early spring 2017. Views of the Black Rock Desert, Black Rock Range, Jackson Range and Pine Forest Range were outstanding!
Elephant Mountain is roughly 5,931 ft in elevation and is located in the Black Rock Desert Wilderness Area. It is actually the highest point in the Black Rock Desert Wilderness Area.
Dogskin Mountain, despite not having the best name in my view, is a fantastic Reno area high desert hike accessed from near the end of the Winnemucca Ranch Road. Winnemucca Ranch Valley lies directly east of the little granite-topped peak and beyond the Virginia Mountains. On the day pictured here Coco and I climbed via McKissick Canyon, just beyond the ranch headquarters. You follow a road up and then a short cross country to the peak. On the way down just followed the ridge line.
We've mostly played out here in the winter. But one word of caution, in the lower canyon we once came across a bobcat trap set nearby the road. So be careful if you’re with furry friends!
The Fort Sage Mountains, and their highest point, Stateline Peak, have intrigued me for a while. Stateline Peak straddles the Nevada/California, and likewise the mountains form a Granite barrier between the northern Sierra front heading toward Susanville and the desert mountains spreading eastward toward Pyramid Lake and the Smoke Creek Desert. Driving north on 395 right before Doyle, California there are good views of the peak, but I climbed from the far side, starting in the Fish Springs Valley. When I made it out this fall, unfortunately, they had burned in the recent wildfire so it was a bit of a different hike, but grass was already growing back there were hints of green and yellow dotting the black. The summit had not burned over and it had snowed the night before, making it the first snow that encountered of the 2017-2018 winter. Hopefully a sign of much more to come!
The Virginia Mountains are a mountain range in Washoe County, Nevada—not to be confused with the Virginia Range to the south that contains historic Virginia City. The Virginia Mountains rise directly from the western shore of Pyramid Lake. To the north they abut the Honey Lake Valley, Sand Pass, and the Terraced Hills, to the west by Winnemucca Valley and neighboring Dogskin Mountain, and to the south by the Pah Rah Range. The highest peak is Tule Peak (8,724 feet). This peak and the southern part of the mountain range can be seen from many places in Reno looking to the northeast. The mountains are at least partly an anticline—a geological fold that slopes away from a crest—and are formed mostly of Pyramid sequence volcanic rocks. Pyramid sequence rocks are common in Northern Nevada and their center of distribution is the Virginia Mountains but they are found in the Pah Rah Range to the south, the Lake and Nightingale Ranges to the east, and the Fort Sage Mountains to the northwest. Especially in the southern part of the range there are important instances of Oligocene ash-flow tuff (tuff is a rock type made up of consolidated volcanic ash ejected from vents during a volcanic eruption). The tuff seems to come from calderas well to the east. Tuff from calderas in the Desatoya and Clan Alpine Mountains has been identified.
The southern part of the Virginia Mountains, directly to the north of the Pyramid Lake Highway, contains the easily recognizable Painted Hills (which seem to also correlate to the tuff deposits). This area is popular with OHV enthusiasts. There are also existing rock climbing areas, and it contains the well-known Monkey Condos formation, Big Momma and Needle Rock. In early 2015 pronghorn antelope were seen in this area. Mule deer are also found in the range. Raptors are also common. The main vegetation types are pinion-juniper woodland, low montane shrub land.
Major drainages include Cottonwood Creek to the north. Hardscrabble Creek draining into Pyramid Lake and Paiute Canyon. The Pyramid Lake slopes of the Virginia Mountains are part of the Pyramid Lake Tribal Lands and there is a day use fee and certain areas are closed to visitors. There is private ranch land on the western, Winnemucca Valley side of the mountains although hiking access is easy to find.
Benchmark Maps. Nevada Road and Recreation Atlas: Third Edition, Revised. Santa Barbara: Benchmark Maps, 2012.
Henry, Christopher D., James E. Faulds, Craig M. dePolo, and David A. Davis. “Geology of the Dogskin Mountain Quadrangle: Northern Walker Lane, Nevada. Text and references to accompany Nevada Bureau of Mines and Geology Map 148. Available at http://www.nbmg.unr.edu/dox/m148text.pdf.
Sierra Club. “Virginia Mountains FAQ.” At http://nevada.sierraclub.org/gbgroup/VaMtsFAQ.html.
Wikipedia. “Virginia Mountains.” At http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virginia_Mountains.
———. “Tuff.” At http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tuff.
The Sweetwater Mountains are a large mountain range that straddle the border between Nevada and California to the southeast of Topaz Lake and generally east of Highway 395 between Topaz and Bridgeport, California. The geology of the Sweetwater Mountains is complex and as of a 1983 study, “incompletely described." Surface rocks are mainly made up of Miocene rhyolite and andesite. The mineral types are in some places sorted into “rock stripes.” According to Wikipedia, the range consists mainly of a pluton--a distinctive mass of igneous rock--that has been surrounded by volcanic flow from the Little Walker Caldera. The highest peak is Mount Patterson (11,673 ft.) closely followed by Mount Wheeler (11,664 ft.). Other main peaks include the East, Middle, and South Sisters. Smaller peaks like Desert Creek Peak at the north end of the range also stand out although it is not comparable in elevation to the larger peaks to the south. According to an information sign found near to Mount Patterson:
The rocky alpine areas, also known as “fellfields”, may appear barren, but alpine plant populations have established here. This is a place of extremes, including both the weather and the growth site. The Sweetwater Range is unique in Western North America with regard to the geologic processes that shaped it.
The Sweetwaters form a part of the barrier between the Sierra Nevada and the Great Basin and although they are part of the Great Basin they lie only 20 miles east of the Sierra crest. As such they are distinctive in containing flora typical of both types. The 1983 study sited here reports that 94% of alpine flora in the Sweetwaters is found in the Sierras, while 75% is found in the Great Basin. The rolling alpine area is cut by steep drainages, notably Sweetwater Creek, Desert Creek, Deep Creek, Frying Pan Creek, Jackass Creek, Cottonwood Creek, and more. Lobdell Lake (actually a reservoir), serves as the gateway to the highest alpine regions for hiking and 4-wheeling.
The slopes of the Sweetwater Mountains serve as habitat for a genetically distinct subpopulation of sage grouse knowns as the bi-state sage grouse. The historic range for this population is the Mono Lake region. According to blogger and birder Aaron N. K. Haiman, this is the most southwesterly of all sage grouse populations. This population has been proposed for inclusion in the listing of threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.
The Sweetwater Mountains contain important mineral deposits and mining districts. Due to mining activity and to the lack of cliffs, the highest peaks of the Sweetwaters are accessible by high-clearance 4-wheel drive during at least part of the year and on a fall hike to Mounts Patterson and Wheeler the author found OHV and Jeep visitors fairly common (although saw no other hikers). This is also a hunting area and the range is surrounded by ranches and used for grazing. Most of the range is part of the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest.
To see more photos of the Sweetwaters click here.
Bell Hunter, Katherine, and Richard E. Johnson. “Alpine Flora of the Sweetwater Mountains, Mono County, California. Madroño 30, no. 4, supplement (October 1983):89–105.
Benchmark Maps. Nevada Road and Recreation Atlas: Third Edition, Revised. Santa Barbara: Benchmark Maps, 2012.
Haiman, Aaron N. K. “The Bi-State Sage Grouse.” abirdingnaturalist: Preserving and documenting nature for future generations. Blog post, January 14, 2014. At https://abirdingnaturalist.wordpress.com/tag/bi-state-sage-grouse/.
“Mars with Flowers.” Informational sign below Mount Patterson. Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest.
Nevada Department of Wildlife. “Habitat Characterization, Assessment and Monitoring for Conservation of the Bi-State Distinct Population Segment (DPS) of the Greater Sage-Grouse.” N.d. Prepared by Bi-State Technical Advisory Committee. At http://www.ndow.org/uploadedFiles/ndoworg/Content/Nevada_Wildlife/Sage_Grouse/Technical-Advisory-Committee-to-the-EOC-D-Bi-State-Sage-Grouse-Habitat-Characterization.pdf.
Nueffer, Scott. “Sweetwater Mountains: Life and Wonder in the Sweetwater Mountains.” Nevada Magazine, November/December 2013. At http://nevadamagazine.com/home/extras/sweetwater-mountains/.
Wikipedia. “Sweetwater Mountains.” At http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sweetwater_Mountains.
The Black Rock Range is a large mountain range in northwestern Nevada. It gets its name from a distinctive black rock landform at its southern terminus that also gives name to the Black Rock Desert. The “Black Rock” long served as a marker post for emigrants and Native Americans on the desert floor. The mountain range is closely identified with the desert, especially its southern half which bisects the desert’s western and eastern arms.
The Black Rock Range is a transition zone between volcanic plateaus to the north and west and the basin and range geological province to the south and east. According to a geological study of the range, it is “poorly understood,” but “preserves a remarkably complete record of Cenozoic magmatism and provides an important window into the pre-Miocene history of the unextended volcanic plateaus of northeastern California and southern Oregon.”
The range’s most well-known peak is Pahute Peak (a.k.a. Big Mountain) at 8594 feet, but the range's high point at 8,798 feet is well to the north, at a point called Stewart Benchmark that is not marked on the Nevada Road and Recreation Atlas. This mountain also serves as the head of the very ecologically important Mahogany Creek, a spawning area for Lahontan Cutthroat trout and source for Summit Lake. Other high peaks include Red Mountain, Battle Creek Peak, and Bartlett Peak. Along the eastern face of the range there are distinctive smaller peaks along the playa including Pinto Mountain and Elephant Mountain. Major drainages include the above mentioned Mahogany Creek, Center Creek, Bartlett Creek, Battle Creek, Paiute Creek, Slumgullion Creek, Coleman Creek, and Soldier Creek. Wildlife is generally abundant and it is an important hunting area for pronghorn antelope, mule deer, mountain lions, and chukar. Other wildlife includes many raptors, sage grouse, California bighorn sheep, and much more. The range also has a population of wild horses, although many have been removed. The range is very geothermically active and there are many hot springs along its edge including Soldier Meadows Hot Spring, Double Hot Spring, Black Rock Springs, and Pinto Mountain Hot Spring.
Native Americans lived in the region for thousands of years and the range contains important anthropological sites. John C. Fremont traveled through this area in 1843. And the Applegate/Lassen wagon trail used the Black Rock as a trail marker. Historically important sites abound including Soldier Meadows, Paiute Ranch (these are private ranches), Pearl Camp, Fort McGarry (on Summit Lake Paiute Tribe land), and Stanley Camp. The range also was important sheep grazing land and there are Basque arbor glyph sites and camps. Good examples as well as a Basque bread oven can be found at Summer Camp.
The range has two wilderness areas: the Pahute Peak Wilderness, which encompasses Pahute Peak, and the North Black Rock Range Wilderness, which contains the heads of Coleman, Soldier, and Battle Creeks. It also includes the Lahontan Cutthroat Trout Natural Area, which is comprised of most of the Mahogany Creek drainage. Its east face abuts the Summit Lake Paiute Tribe Reservation, the most remote in Nevada. To its northwest is the Sheldon Wildlife Refuge.
See more photos here: http://www.basinandrange.org/black-rock-range.html
The Granite Range is mountain range in northwestern Nevada. It overlooks the Black Rock and Smoke Creek desert basins. It is very steep and marked by distinctive granite cliffs, especially when seen from its south face, which overlooks the northern end of the Smoke Creek Desert. It extends northwest of Gerlach and Granite Peak (9056 ft.) is its highest peak. With about 5,000 feet of relief between basin and Granite Peak the “frontal facets are some of the highest found in the Great Basin.” Other peaks are Wagon Tire Mountain and Red Mountain.
The general northeast to southwest trend of the fault is intersected by three relatively short northerly facing "striking segment" steps that cut sharply on the main fault. According to James Faulds and Alan Ramelli, the westernmost step is the most "profound and marks the westernmost exposure of granitic metamorphic basement, which essentially corresponds to the western edge of the Granite Range.”
Major drainages include Cottonwood Creek, Clear Creek, Mountain Creek, Negro (yikes, is this true?!) Creek, and South Willow Creek, which forms the barrier between the range and the northeastern adjacent Calico Mountains.
The range can be accessed by a 4-wheel roads, including one climbing Cottonwood Creek, as well as hiking. It is a hunting area. Wildlife includes sage-grouse, bighorn sheep, mule deer, and much more. Nearest gas and supplies can be found in Gerlach. The Granite Range contains large ranches and has a long grazing tradition, including sheep and cattle. Planet X Pottery also abuts the range.
Note: the Nevada Road and Recreation Atlas lists as part of the Granite Range the mountains far to the north and bounded by South Willow Creek that are known as the Hog Ranch Mountains according to the USGS Geographic Names Information System.
Photos of the Granite Range
The Carson Range is part of the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest and is on the western side of the Basin and Range region. It's located mostly in Nevada, but parts of it are also in California. It's located between Lake Tahoe and the cities of Reno, Carson City and Minden/Gardnerville. Luther Pass (Hwy 89) is at the south end of the range and the Truckee River (I-80) is at the north end.
The Carson Range has a lot of recreational opportunities. There are several popular peak hikes in the Carson Range including; Snow/sunflower, Mount Rose, Jobs, Jobs sister and Freel peaks. The Tahoe Rim trail runs north-south through the Carson Range. Spooner and Marlette Lakes are popular recreation areas in the range and of course Lake Tahoe, which is on the western border of the range, is extremely popular and hosts a wide range of summer and winter recreational activities. In addition, the Mount Rose Wilderness Area is in the Carson range.
Some of the wildlife you can find in the Carson Range include: Snowshoe Hare, Black Bear, mountain beaver, hoary bat, American marten, golden-mantled ground squirrel, Townsend's solitaire, pygmy nuthatch, orange-crowned warbler, western tanager, golden eagle, rattle snake and gopher snake, just to name a few. Some flora that can be found in the range include: Jeffery pine, lodgepole pine, sugar pine, white and red fir, mountain mahogany mountain alder, bitterbrush, sagebrush, paintbrush, and wild rose, again, just to name a few.
See more photos here: http://www.basinandrange.org/carson-range.html
The Calico Mountains are a range in north western Nevada that runs along the west edge of west arm of the Black Rock Desert. The range is part of the Black Rock Desert-High Rock Canyon-Emigrant Trail National Conservation Area and is approximately 30 miles north west of Gerlach off of Soldier Meadows Rd (CR 200). You can also access the range from Hwy 34 and Barly Rd. There is a road that goes over the top of the range connecting Hwy 34 to Soldier Meadows Rd, but be warned, it is a pretty rough road and a high clearance 4 wheel drive is highly recommended.
The south end of the range is what gives the range its name, containing colorful geologic formations. The highest point in the Calicos is Donnelly Peak, also shown on some maps as Division Peak. The range has two wilderness areas, the Calico Mountains Wilderness and the High Rock Lake Wilderness. The road that crosses the range separates the two wilderness areas. The Calico Mountain Wilderness contains Donnelly Peak and the colorful calico formations. High Rock Lake Wilderness contains High Rock Lake, which typically is dry—do not count on there being water in the lake—however, the lake occasionally fills with run-off from both High Rock and Little High Rock Canyons.
Sagebrush is the dominant vegetation type, with saltbush and greasewood occurring at the lower elevations. The moist canyons also contain willows and other riparian species. Some wildlife that you might see while visiting the area are mule deer, California bighorn sheep, pronghorn, mountain lion, kit fox, coyote, and sage grouse, among many others.
Click here to see more photos of the Calico Range.
Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge (Sheldon) is in Northwestern Nevada. It is located off of SR 140 and is 68 miles from Lakeview, OR, 46 miles from Cedarville, CA and 100 miles from Winnemucca, NV.
Sheldon was set aside in the 1930s for the conservation of pronghorn antelope. Currently, the refuge protects more than half a million acres of habitat for pronghorn antelope, bighorn sheep and other wildlife. Habitat types include big and low sagebrush areas, mountain mahogany, and bitterbrush in the mountains above 6,000 feet. Other important types include alkaline lakes, marshes, grassy spring-fed meadows, greasewood flats, juniper covered uplands, and aspen stands in the more secluded canyon areas.
Within Sheldon is Thousand Creek Gorge, a dramatic, five-mile-long massive gash in the earth’s surface. Thousand Creek Gorge is located in the northeastern section of the refuge and has a scenic mix of creek, brush, and rock that is amplified by towering cliffs.
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