The American West holds a special mystique like no other part of the country. It has always represented wide open spaces, big adventure, and big dreams, and we love every chance we get to turn our modern day horse loose on an unfamiliar western trail and explore. There are still places where one can explore a new trail, climb the back of a mountain, or venture into territory that has changed little since explorers, mountain men, and Spanish missionaries first wandered through, and one of the best places we know to discover part of the old west is Elko, Nevada. Recently, Moxie and Rick made a visit to Elko for a little western adventure of their own.
Located in the high desert of northeastern Nevada, halfway between Reno and Salt Lake City, UT, Elko is framed by the majestic Ruby Mountains in the distance. With a beginning that was much like many other western towns, as a railroad stop for a ranching community, Elko has evolved into a thoroughly modern town. Today Elko is still close to its ranching roots, but it also happens to be home to the largest gold mine in the U.S., and the 4th largest in the world.
You can find pretty much anything you need in Elko whether it's an ATV part, a custom-tooled leather saddle, or something from a unique store called The Clothing Co. on Idaho St. The Red Lion Casino is an excellent place to stay, as we have done on several visits, and they’ve got you covered with comfortable, clean rooms, a couple restaurants on site, plenty of gaming options where you can try your luck or you can just hang out and plan the next day’s ride adventure. We also tried an excellent restaurant at the Star Hotel which served enormous, plate sized steaks in western flare with a heavy dose of Basque family style dining. As much as we enjoyed exploring the town, we couldn’t wait to try the trails.
Saddle Up – The Merritt Mountain Trail
The first riding area we tried was called the Merritt Mountain Trail. It’s about an hour out of town and the trail begins at the start of Gold Creek Road. Thankfully, there are information kiosks with route maps and GPS info. For the first several miles, the trail is passable not only to ATVs but road-legal passenger vehicles as well.
Before long we were winding our way up a gravel road towards a high desert meadow called Sunflower Flats. Each turn carried us higher, and the trail narrowed as we worked our way across streams and meadows and towards the tree line. Though most of the trail is rather smooth, there are challenges for riders of every skill level, and you can expect off-camber turns, hill climbs and descents, seasonal stream crossings, plenty of rocks, and ledges. There's plenty to keep it interesting, but it’s not so difficult that most riders cannot pass safely.
Everywhere you look, the mountains dominate the landscape. With each turn, the mountain peak looms closer and it becomes a quest to make it to the top, while all along the way, the views are captivating. It’s thrilling to zip through the tree line, past the last of the snow, and to finally crest the top of Merritt Mountain. Everyone in our group had an ear-to-ear grin as they removed their helmet; it was an incredible view and an incredible ride. (Note: because of the high elevation, EFI equipped machines run a little better as you climb higher into the mountains.)
The second area we explored was called Spruce Mountain, and as with the Merritt Mountain Trail, the Spruce Mountain route featured excellent riding with plenty of elevation changes. One unique feature of this trail is that you can find several old caves and gold mine shafts where former prospectors pounded away, sinking holes into the mountain in their gold fever. Some of the shaft locations are nearly inaccessible even today and the trail leading up can be treacherous even on an ATV. We can’t imagine what it must have been like lugging mining equipment halfway up the mountain. Any miscue was sure to be ugly! The landscape is beautiful, however, with rocky, snow-capped peaks watching over green valleys and meadows down below.
Greater Elko County
While the town of Elko was the center for our riding adventure, the community of Elko County and surrounding towns are also very supportive of all types of outdoor recreation. There is plenty of history and you can visit tiny towns like Jarbidge which has a year round population of 21 residents.
The former gold mining settlement of Jarbidge has groceries, gas stops, and the mandatory western saloon which serves plenty of hot, brown food, but while there check out the Jarbidge Wilderness Area. You can ride your ATV or Side x Side right down the streets of Jarbidge (under 25mph of course) just as residents used to do with horses. Jarbidge also lays claim to one notorious event: in 1916 the last U.S. stagecoach holdup took place in Jarbidge as that chapter of the west faded into history. Jarbidge Canyon follows the Jarbidge River from Murphy's Hot Springs to the South Canyon Road, a distance of approximately 21 miles. Along the way you’ll pass through deep canyons, the Jarbidge town site, and you’ll end up just about ¼ mile from town. You’ll also see mining and hunting cabin roads leading to such places as the Indian Princess, vacated ranch houses, and forested creeks.
Lamoille is an unincorporated community but it is home to the Pine Lodge which is a unique, three room hotel noted for its food and museum-like collection of animal mounts. The Lamoille glaciers carved out the beautiful Lamoille Canyon, one of the most beautiful in the west, and one of Nevada's crown jewels. As expected, outdoor recreation is king here regardless of the season and there is fishing, canoeing, hunting, horseback riding, and of course, ATV riding. Plus, it’s all free!
Elko offers the rare chance to ride the great American West as it used to be. The area offers just about every type of terrain an ATV rider could ask for and the groups that worked to build the trails such as the Elko Convention & Visitors Authority, the BLM, and the Forest Service all welcome you to their area. They even provide an excellent guidebook and very detailed maps to help you plan your riding adventure. There is plenty to discover in Elko and Elko County and while the area is known as the gem of the Nevada trails, we think once again they’ve struck gold.
Elko Area Highlights
Year Round ATV & UTV trail riding
Western Folklife Center
Northeastern Nevada Museum and Pony Express Cabin www.museumelko.org
California Trail Interpretive Center - Hike thru accessible trails with pioneer wagon encampment and Shoshone Indian Village to experience the westward journey. Also learn the history behind the Donner Party disaster.
Sherman Station Visitors Center
Annual Balloon Festival
National Basque Festival
Silver State Stampede Rodeo
Numerous RV Parks & local camping
Elko Convention and Visitor Authoritywww.elkocva.com
US Forestry Dept.: 877 444 6777 www.reserveusa.com