Sunday, September 21, 2008

Carson River and the V&T Railroad

The autumnal equinox, the first day of fall - our nights are getting colder, but today was a beautiful day, not too hot, not too cold. I should do some laundry, and there's work to do in the garden, but Aries and I decide to leave all the household chores for tomorrow, and take the dog out for an outing. We drive a couple miles east, across our Eagle Valley, to the Carson River.

Once past the last of the houses a dirt road takes off along the river on its northeasterly course. The road used to be the route of the Virginia & Truckee (V&T) Railroad, leaving Carson City along the river, eventually leaving the river at Moundhouse and continuing up the hills to Virginia City. The part of the route where we are is the entry to Brunswick Canyon. The rabbitbrush has turned to gold, and a few of the leaves on the cottonwoods lining the river are starting to turn yellow. With the snow mostly gone from the high country, the river is only a small stream meandering through the willows and brush. Some places, it even disappears completely from its rocky bed, sinking beneath the sand.

We find a wide spot to leave the truck, and get out to walk along the road. Lots of others are out, here and there, enjoying the day as well. Unfortunately, many locals use the area to play with their firearms, and a city-owned rifle range is just over the hill, so the sound of gunfire is always with us as we walk. The river reappears, first as a few isolated pools, eventually growing to a flowing stream once more. As the river flows downhill, the old railroad bed continues a gentle uphill climb, so the farther we walk the higher we are above the water.

As the grade climbs away from the river, the road narrows. There are some in the area that want to rebuild the railroad all the way through this canyon. If and when that happens, there won't be enough room for both train track and the current public access, so we could lose this as a recreational area someday. That could be both good and bad - it's a beautiful area, if you can ignore the trash, the graffiti on the rocks, and the shotgun shells littering the road. Aries remarks that if they want to make this a tourist attraction, the canyon will need a big cleanup effort.

After about a mile and a half, we turn around and head back to the truck. Two young men are shooting at something at the base of the foundation of an old mining stamp mill as we walk by. They're quite a ways away, but we keep the dog on tight command, close to us. Before we reach the truck, they drive past us on their way back to town and we wave. Once we get back to the truck, Aries decides to drive the old railroad bed we've just walked and then farther, all the way to Moundhouse where the railroad crossed the Pony Express Trail, now US Hwy 50.

As we drive past the old stamp mill, Aries notices what looks like a wisp of smoke at the base of the foundation. We drive over to check it out - it's been so dry, there's dry grass and brush nearby, the afternoon winds are starting up - a wildfire would be a catastrophe. As we get closer, the wisps get bigger - it is a fire! Aries goes over to see, and hears a hissing sound. The bullets have sparked a fire in some trash, and punctured a propane canister underneath. As Aries pulls the burning trash off the canister, another car of shooters pulls up. I get what's left of our water bottles from the truck, one of the new arrivals donates the rest of his beer, and we put the fire out. Oh, what idiots - now I'm wishing I'd paid more attention to the car that passed us going out. Maybe it would be better to just close this area off!

We leave the new arrivals to their sport, and continue our drive. The road gets rougher and tighter - we have to put the truck in 4-wheel drive to get through one narrow cut blasted through a rock ridge. A couple of places, he maneuvers carefully past washed out areas. I hold onto my seat as my side of the truck leans over towards the river now far below. At Moundhouse the canyon opens up and the river swings east. We turn west onto the highway for the 15-minute drive home. Enough money has been raised to bring the rebuilt railroad track from Virginia City to Moundhouse. Maybe someday, the train will again be the only way to follow the river, and the route we just walked and drove.


Nancy M. said...

Beautiful pictures! I'm so glad you saw the smoke and put the fire out!

Anonymous said...

It has been some twenty years since I have been to your beautiful neck of the woods. But, today I felt like I was visiting it again through your pictures and wonderful descriptions of your walk. Thanks!


frogtailrae said...

Sounds like life in the wild, wild west!