Thursday, January 24, 2013

Open Range Trail

Preliminary Proposal

Nevada, Arizona, Utah, and possibly Idaho have the potential for a unique multi-use backcountry touring network from the Southern tip of the Nevada to the Jarbidge Wilderness (and possibly beyond).

The notoriety of the Pacific Crest Trail, the Appalachian Trail, the Great Divide Trail, and the Arizona Trail have shown that there is a significant interest in long remote trails in America.

Though similar to these trails in length, the Open Range Trail would have unique qualities. What really makes this proposed trail feel special is the open range – from horizon to horizon along most of the routes. Nevada has more open range than any other state in the lower 48. Most of the proposed Open Range Trail routes are either dirt road or trail. And being “open range,” one would expect many route options.

Possibly the biggest bragging rights for the Open Range Trail is its (verifiable) most remote location. In some places along this proposed trial, one can be over 200 miles from any big city – in every direction. And, in most places, miles from any other human being. One can see more wild land, rugged terrain, and far more stars here than most every place else in the country.

Nevada has more mountain ranges than every other state in the lower 48. Most of these mountain ranges run South to North. Which means that the potential for multiple routes and adventure experiences is unlike anywhere else.

[That's right folks; highlighter marks on a road map. This is pre-preliminary.]

...One more thing (though this quality may initially seem a detriment); traveling across Nevada on foot or bike is truly tough – even dangerous.

Trekking across Nevada (on foot, mountain bike, or even motor vehicle) is, in a way, like exploring “terra incognita.” Much of the land still looks natural. Roads and buildings are often miles apart – towns even further. There isn't water everywhere. Forget about cell phone reception. And if something goes wrong, maybe somebody will pass by in a couple of days. Just being out there is a bit of an adventure.

Because of the broad expanse of land this trail covers, there are a number of ways to tour it. Further South, one could paddle Lake Mohave. Further North, in the Winter, the only way to pass is by snowmobile (though someone could snowshoe or backcountry ski it pulling a sled full of food). Across the Ruby Crest Trail, only hiking is allowed. Across the crest of the Snake Range (in the Great Basin National Park), there are no trails. You have to pick your own route. Across the White Pine Mountain Range there is a road open (part of the year). And along the way, horseback riders can even ride the Pony Express Trail and the Hastings cutoff of the California Trail.

...In fact, a well organized tour might be able to include various travel options. If a group were to share responsibility driving a support truck, they could bring along gear for numerous sports. The Pacific Crest Trail has hikers. The Great Divide Trail has mountain bikers. The Open Range Trail allows one to switch back and forth between hiking and biking – or if you want to leave most of your gear on the support truck, you could occasionally trail run. You could even fin swim Lake Mohave – and share a support canoe.

Traveling the whole Open Range Trail human-powered would be a serious challenge. This challenge has already drawn me in. For the past three years, I have been mountain bike touring a number of the sections of the potential trail... and I can't wait to go back.

My favorite season to travel; Late Spring/Early Summer. The mountain crest trails are too snowed in except in the Summer. However, most of the Southern portion of the trail is too hot to travel through in the Summer... Nonetheless; your best bet for water is during the Spring thaw. That leaves April, May, and June for a through-tour heading South to North.

Every season has its risk. Winter brings snow further north, which can sometimes be impassible. But summer can be so hot travelers wouldn't be able to carry enough water (especially further south). July and August can see a lot of thunderstorms, which can be an issue on the mountains. September can be good in the Wilderness areas, but it's hunting season. So, Fall doesn't look appealing for travel on foot or mountain bike on much of the trail. However, quad riders (calling themselves hunters) abound in Fall. Which means Open Range Trail travelers on quads wouldn't really stand out.

The safest method I would recommend for trekking or mountain bike touring across Nevada would include a support vehicle. However, I would not recommend this vehicle for carrying critical gear. Trekkers should carry everything they need for at least a couple of days unsupported. If the support vehicle is busy elsewhere, there should be no problem with that. The point of a support vehicle on a trip like this would be to replenish food/water stocks, chase bike parts, transport mountain bikes when hiking is required on trails, and carrying additional gear such as backpacks, inflatable boats, fishing gear, snowshoes, skis, trekking poles, camera gear, or even friends.

I suggest that support vehicle piloting duties be shared. If riders/hikers share support duties, significant monies can be saved on paying for support and minor rescue missions. Moreover, one doesn't have to prearrange (impose upon) help from others. The trekkers would help each other – and sometimes even themselves. For instance; when someone is tired, they can drive their own sag wagon (after a good nap, of course – there should be plenty of time for a vehicle to catch up). And if one of the trekkers is so enthusiastic about covering the whole trial under human power, they could pay another trekker to cover for them in the support vehicle. By utilizing this option, richer trekkers can buy meals and incidentals for less well-off trekkers.

Can it be done without a support truck? Yes, of course. I've multi-day mountain biked sections of the proposed Open Range Trail that way – and I prefer this way of travel the best. But... you are out there... and it's a lot harder to get someone not involved in the trek to come help when something eventually does happen. (Yes, there's always the option of hiking to the nearest highway to hitchhike to the nearest bike store, but that might be at least a day's hike and a couple hundred highway miles away.)

In this proposal I have highlighted a number of the difficulties that can occur traveling in remote places in Rural Nevada. But that is the point. Hiking/riding across Nevada is a serious challenge. But there are a lot of people looking for a serious challenge – especially with options...

This is open range. Riders and hikers can usually skip over to the next mountain range or valley – on either side of them, whenever they feel like. This is open range, in most places; your campsite is where you lay your head. Of course, treat the land with respect. Open range implies you can go anywhere you want, and as far as I know; you can... on foot. But we need to be reasonable when it comes to motor vehicles.

The routes that I have mapped out already exist. Essentially, all I want to do is give these combined routes a name.

Of course; not all of the existing Open Range Trails follow the crests of mountain ranges. In fact, a number of the trails are actually dirt roads in the valleys. But that's OK. We can easily map this out along existing routes, now – and if it catches on, others can add more single-track dirt trails along the mountain ranges later.

That's part of the beauty of a trail network. Routes can be added and subtracted without much difficulty. The other beauty is that everyone who travels this trail will have different story to tell. Which will get people talking about the trail – to compare notes.

...And that's what I believe needs to be done next. We need to compare notes. This is a proposed trail. It needs to be scouted. Locals need to be interviewed, so we can learn from them the conditions on the trails year-round.

What will make the Open Range Trail a reality is a good trail guide, a decent route map, and a few good stories.

Without knowing it; for the past three years – I've been working on a trail guide. But I'm far from done. If you want to help, let me know. (I would like to see this effort ultimately benefit the Great Basin Trails Alliance.) The map I have laid out is pre-preliminary. But I have been along a number of these routes, and they are spectacular in their own way... I want people to see that.

What will make the Open Range Trail worth-while is the well-deserved adoration and respect Rural Nevada (West Utah, and possibly Idaho) will get from travelers. After being in the outdoors here, no one will ever think of this place as a wasteland again.


I'm presently planning a mountain bike tour from Mt. Charleston through the Desert National Wildlife Range, to Pahranagat National Wildlife Refuge, and likely on to Caliente through Delamar Valley, Rainbow Canyon, and Kershaw-Ryan State Park. The likely time-frame is late March. The ride should take just less than a week. The route is almost all dirt road. I don't know the mileage, but I'm not a high-mileage rider. So far, there will be two, maybe three riders. If you think you might be interested in joining us, email me at


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