Nevada Series: Backroads and the West End of Hastings Cutoff

We made our way to the end of the dirt road, where we came to a knob overlooking the South Fork of the Humboldt River.
We made our way to the end of the dirt road, where we came to a knob overlooking the South Fork of the Humboldt River.

Apps have their place, but I had to buy a print version of a Nevada road atlas.

And so we headed out to our local C-A-L Ranch store . I parked our eight-passenger family wagon, went in and went over to the sporting goods department. I snagged one of Benchmark’s Nevada atlases off the rack and two Crunch bars at the register as a precursor to our latest family adventure.  I had been wanting to check out the West End of Hasting’s Cut-Off, a “shortcut” on the California Trail used first by Lansford Hastings and James Hudspeth in 1846, who guided wagon trains from Fort Bridger, Wyoming. It was deemed successful enough that the Reed-Donner Party would later use the route for their infamous and tragic westward expedition.

In 1850, Hastings Cutoff was deemed too dangerous. But we weren’t worrying about greasing wagon axles, rationing food and water, getting ambushed, or emigrating to California. We weren’t even heading out of Elko very far, which was the beauty of this afternoon outing. We headed west out of Elko; pavement turned to dirt pretty quickly at the get-go, and the fun began. Our kids enjoyed the washboard roads, making funny noises, which kind of gave them “shook up robot” voices, as the road narrowed, dipped and banked sharply.

After consulting our new Benchmark map and realizing our low-clearance vehicle shouldn’t go certain places lest we strand ourselves, we decided which route we would take off the main dirt road. The main dirt road was relatively maintained, but as soon as we turned off it, the two-track soon proved a bit rough, filled with two foot deep wash outs, jutted out rocks and weathered juniper roots. I carefully made it to a plateaued area and parked our car. We would all hike a quarter mile farther where the road ended on a hill top.

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Along the way, our kids began rockhounding, collecting a pretty good array of unidentified rocks, which they loaded up in their little pockets, weighing themselves down like ships with disproportionate ballasts. They still hoofed it like pros.  My oldest boy found some spent rifle casings and stowed those treasures away too. These outings are never about how much we do, wearing cool hiking gear, or testing the limits of the human spirit. It’s all about the time and memories made—unidentified rocks, spent rife casings, historical trails and kids out on the lam.

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Heading back out towards pavement. A sea of almost endless junipers awaits.
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