Sunday, May 19, 2013

Camping in the Toquima Range

Last weekend I bundled up the kids and a mountain of camping gear and headed to the middle of Nevada to join a US Forest Service Restoration Project. I had never explored that area and was happy to have an excuse to look around more.

We met the group at the Toquima campground, which we reached after about 1.5 hour drive time after leaving the pavement of US 50. (By the way, if you're going through Eureka, check out the indoor public swimming pool, it has a climbing wall above the deep end, which makes it so much fun to climb and fall!).

I'd like to say the trip was uneventful, but we shredded a tire on the Monitor Valley road. As I was getting out the instruction manual of how to change it (it's been awhile!), a Jeep with two very helpful gentlemen from Las Vegas came along and changed the tire quickly. A nearby rancher filled up the low spare tire. Thank you, thank you!

We got to camp late enough that we just had time to set up the tent, eat, and head to bed, but the next morning we had time to play. Our friends had brought their kids, so Desert Girl and Desert Boy were delighted to have some friends to play with!

The four little ones--sort of looking at the camera!

We listened to the safety briefing and then divided up into groups. I was with the kid group, and our first order of the day was a short hike to nearby Toquima Cave.

 Actually, Desert Boy had some time to practice throwing atlatls, digging piles in the dirt, and shooting off some stomp rockets. Desert Girl and Rose repeatedly climbed the same miniature pinyon pine that was the perfect size for them. And I couldn't resist taking photos of the multitude of flowers in the area (but I limited myself to just two for this blog post).

 Shockley's buckwheat--most of the year a nondescript looking plant, but for a few weeks the bright blooms make it look so voluptuous.

 Even though it was mid-May, the spring parsley was already putting out seeds, nearly finished with its flowering phase. It, too, will rest in obscurity until late next April.

 With the kids dressed and fed, it was time to take the quarter-mile trail to Toquima Cave. On the way, the girls couldn't help but share a few secrets.

 Before long, we were in front of the huge gate that protects Toquima Cave, a well-known rock shelter in archeological circles. The gate helps protect the cave from vandals. Fortunately, you can still get good photos through the chain link.

 Propitiously, the other parent with us was a Forest Service archeologist who knew lots about the cave, so we learned a lot. If you don't happen to be there with an archeologist, check out this nice brochure about the cave.

The pictographs were made between 1,500 and 3,000 years ago. The Western Shoshone have an important relationship with the cave, and some still come to leave prayer offerings, which may be feathers tucked into cracks, packets of sticks tied to the gate, and more.

The site has lots of pictographs--more than 300, and they include four colors: red, white, black, and yellow. I found the yellow especially striking. Whenever I'm in a place with rock art, I try to feel what it was like when the art was made thousands of years ago. I still have never quite been able to capture even a small portion of that, and I'm left wondering who was there--young or old, men or women, hungry or well-fed, happy or distraught? The view from the rock shelter entrance is quite calming to me; perhaps it was also for long-ago visitors.

 Western Fence Lizard near the entrance

Then it was time to pack up and head to another cave for some restoration work. This other cave (which I won't name to help protect it) is remote, but used to be shown on maps. Over the years, many people have written their names in it. Names that are older than 50 years are considered to be historic graffiti and are protected, but any writing from the last 50 years is considered nuisance graffiti and our goal was to remove it. 

 In the middle of the photo above is the graffiti "R. Maxwell 1998." I'm guessing that R. Maxwell didn't know about the Federal Cave Resources Protection Act of 1988, which states that anyone who destroys, disturbs, defaces, mars, alters, removes, or harms any significant cave can be imprisoned for up to a year and/or fined.

We didn't have the materials to remove the etching in the calcite formation, so we used some mud to obscure the illegal writing. Here's the after photo:
What do you think?

 Volunteers were also using spray bottles, toothbrushes, and rags to remove some obnoxious spray paint from the cave. Given that you have to belly crawl through pack rat feces to get into the cave, I was surprised by the amount of graffiti in the cave.

 Desert Boy came into the cave with me, and we took a little trip to the back of the cave, which was longer than the map indicated. On the way, we saw some really interesting bedding planes.

 We also saw some impressive aragonite formations.

 Desert Boy led the way out of the cave, easily slipping through the narrow squeezes that had us adults squirming to fit through.

 Back at the spike camp, the girls had taken a break from their outside pursuits and were enjoying a video (with Desert Boy taking a peek--he looks a little worn out from all the caving!).

We next had a couple adventures at hot springs, which I will save for a separate post.

Then it was time for dinner...

...and hot chocolate! 

Soon the kids were asking to go to bed, and I bundled them into their sleeping bags (they somehow squirm out more times than not), put some extra blankets on top, put in my ear plugs (I find I sleep better!), and went to bed.
There's nothing like a good day of outside fun to make for a deep sleep!

Our brief taste of the Toquima Range has me yearning for more. We saw so many canyons, so many snow-covered peaks, and great valleys on either side. We will have to go back--but with two spare tires next time!


jhami said...

Looks like fun!

Mae said...

Great activity to get the kids involved in. How did you find out about this opportunity?

Desert Survivor said...

I learned about it from my local grotto (caving club). If you're interested in caves, you can learn lots more and find local grottoes at:

Others learned about it via the Forest Service's Passport in Time--their volunteer program. They have a website listing current projects at:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

blogger templates