Saturday, June 12, 2010

Mega road trip - Day 11

Today we took a roundabout way through Nevada.  We started in Carlin, where we spent the night along Route 80, and then took I-80 for about an hour west to Battle Mountain.  Then we drove south on NV-305 for 90 miles through absolute desolation following a basin south between two ranges.  Then, crossing U.S. Route 50, the so-called Lonliest Road in America (it's not, we were on far lonelier roads in Nevada), we  headed another 35 miles south on a dirt road and then took a Forest Service dirt road over a mountain range (it was actually snowing with temperatures in the 40's and the pass was over 7,000 feet in elevation - quite a change from 100+ temperatures in Moab a few days ago!).

Mountains and clouds along NV-21 dirt road

Our destination was the Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park located in the middle of nowhere.  Berlin was a mining town around the turn of the 19th-20th century and some 42,000 ounces of gold was taken from the local mine (as well as silver and mercury in the form of cinnebar).  A few buildings stand including the mill.  We were lucky to arrive when a volunteer was there who gave us a great tour of the mill, how the ore was extracted, and some of the buildings.  Unfortunately, the mine is currently closed but is reputed to have 8 levels and 6 miles of tunnels.

Old mine (gold?) - Shoshone Mountains, NV

Buildings, the mill (right) and tailings piles (still with recoverable gold)

Inside one of the old buildings

Old equipment in the Assayer's Office

The other feature of the park are deposits of Triassic limestones which contain fossils of ichthyosaurs from when Nevada was the continental shelf of the supercontinent of Pangaea.  Ichthyosaurs are marine reptiles that lived concurrently with the dinosaurs but looked very similar to modern-day dolphins.  The ichthyosaurs found here are Shonisaurus popularis (named after the Shoshone Mountains) and some of the larger specimens were 50 feet long! 

We were fortunate to be the only ones there for a guided tour by the ranger of the fossils site with a number of ichthyosaurs in situ in the rock quarry.  Interesting place.

"Art" at the visitor's center showing Shonisaurus popularis

The ranger and the ichthyosaur quarry (now protected)

Ichthyosaur vertebrae and ribs

From the park, we worked our way to Reno and then north to the small town of Susanville, CA where we are spending the night at a very nice Super 8 (and $30 cheaper than the dump we stayed in last night).

p.s. After trashing last night's Comfort Inn in Carlin, NV, I would like to put in a plug for a nice hotel.  When in Moab for a few days we stayed at an independent hotel called the Bowen Motel.  It was clean, had everything we needed, was in the middle of town, and was reasonably-priced.  Highly recommended.

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