By Mummy B.
Our road trip in Central Nevada led us to discover many different and wonderful landscapes and places. After a morning spent touring the town of Austin, we go back in our car for a driving tour around the Monitor Valley and the Big Smoky Valley with several points of interest on the way: the Natural History Loop.
Our itinerary of the day (time is not overestimated as it is due to several unpaved roads and paths):
From Austin, we drive through the Toyabe National Forest following the US50 to the East, it is the famous “Loneliest Road In America”. This nickname is due to an article of Life Magazine which described it as an empty and totally uninteresting road in 1986. The State of Nevada decided to use this bad review as a sales pitch to promote sightseeing in this area. Now you can even get “The official HWY 50 survival guide” in the different cities along the US50 from Carson City to Baker. And if you manage to have all the city stamps in the participating places (shops, restaurants, hotel, tourism office), you will receive a certificate “I survived the Highway 50” signed by the Governor of Nevada.
After a few miles, we turn on the NV376, and a few miles later we take a forest road (001) to reach our first stop…
Spencer Hot Springs, soothing baths in the desert
The unpaved paths leading to Spencer Hot Springs look like a maze. This isolated place is mostly known by locals. We meet only two cars there but as the place is big enough, we drive further to find a spot just for the three of us: a natural hot springs pool. What a perfect place for our picnic!
All around, we are just surrounded by desert and only the mountains draw the horizon line. Far from everything, all alone… wide-open spaces are the only distraction. We can enjoy the silence, try to listen to the noises of Nature. The temperature is not too high and it is even a bit windy, but the sun brights quite hard in the mid-day in this place without any shadowed area. As a result, we will have some light sunburns at the end of the day.
After the picnic, Daddy B. and Mimi B. just want one thing: dive into the warm water! A precious moment of complicity between them. I stay close for a while taking pictures and then I prefer to leave them alone and watch them from a distance so they can enjoy this moment without me. I love to watch them smiling, laughing, playing…
These moments, suspended in time, make the joy of being together even more intense. Each instant has the particular taste of uniqueness and it is even stronger knowing that we are together to live this unique experience. It is surely what I love the most during our different trips off the beaten tracks, this feeling that we are incredibly lucky to discover preserved places, but also that it won’t last forever but only a few hours or days and that we need to enjoy every minute.
When you are willing to have a bath in hot springs, you need to be very careful. Indeed the water temperature is not always the same and can change very quickly. So you should test the temperature before entering the water (it can easily reach 140°F) and be aware that you need to get out of it if you feel uncomfortable. As we were with a child and a dog, we were particularly careful.
Moreover the place has no facilities. There is no drinkable water or restrooms. So you need to plan your trip considering that. You also should make sure that you have enough gas before driving the Natural History Loop as there is no gas station on the way and you probably won’t meet anybody to help you as there is no stores, ranger stations or houses around.
Then we head to Pete’s Summit where there is a second point of interest.
Toquima Cave, a place of history and a great view
We almost miss to turn on the right path. Indeed we should have been more attentive to see the sign to Toquima Campground, which is close from the picnic area where you can reach a 1/4 mile path to the cave. It’s not a difficult walk so Mimi was, as usual, perfectly at ease.
For parents with a stroller, the stones steps to reach the summit need a bit of hiking at the end, so you should either have a baby carrier either leave the stroller downstairs (without any food inside if you don’t want to meet a mountain lion or another animal living in this preserved place).
Once at the top, what a great view! Pete’s Summit is more than 7000 ft above sea level and offers a wonderful panorama over the Toyabe National Forest.
The place is also known to be an archeological site. In prehistoric times, an ancient Indian tribe (Shoshones) used this place as a temporary dwelling. You can see in there a lot of pictographs on the cave walls. The abstract paintings were mostly applied by fingers. They are the precious and rare traces of a civilization that lived here thousands years ago. For Native Americans, it’s a sacred place and they are still holding ceremonial activities there. In order to protect this historical heritage, the cave is fenced off so you can only see the paintings from outside.
We go back to our car, without meeting anyone, to drive to our third stop. On the road we drive along the Monitor Ranch and a few miles ahead through dry plains to reach our goal.
Diana’s Punch Bowl, a gigantic geothermal phenomenon
When you get close to the Diana’s Punch Bowl, you are not really impressed… at first. It just seems to be a white little hill…
But after parking your car, the way up is clearly steeper than expected. And finally at the top, you can understand why this surprising hole is also called the Devil’s Cauldron.
In fact it is a very big hot spring. Hot… well… I would rather say boiling! Water temperature is so high that we can see smoke on the surface. This place is absolutely not secured so you should be very careful if you are with kids or dogs, especially because it can be very windy.
This crater, lost in the middle of plains, is really impressive and surprising. Nature offers some very strange and unusual things to see sometimes.
We drive through Northumberland Canyon before getting back to the NV376. Instead of ending the loop towards Austin, we drive south in direction of Tonopah. We enjoy the sunset on the Big Smoky Valley, which is named after the haze blurring the horizon in the heart of the valley.