OCTA CA / NV Chapter Outing
Black Rock Desert
06-24-05 through 06-26-05
with Don Buck and
Dave Valentine of the BLM
Story and Photos by Steve Knight
The Black Rock Saga-June 24-26, 05
The afternoon started innocently enough with Don Buck’s 23 intrepid travelers heading out to Black Rock Spring for a two day outing to continue our BLM survey we started at Rabbit Hole Springs 2 years ago with Dave Valentine, the BLM archeologist. The adventure turned out to resemble a Gilligan’s Island movie more then an archeological project.
We all met Friday afternoon at Bruno’s in Gerlach where we encountered Don having his flat tire repaired. Must have been a wagon nail he ran over while previewing the project area. We crossed the dry (remember this magic word) playa in a cloud of dust, turned right at the intersection and arrived at Double Hot Springs. Five miles further South brought us to Black Rock Springs (BRS) at the foot of Black Rock Mountain, a prominent marker for emigrants crossing the playa from Rabbit Hole Springs along the Humboldt, Applegate and Nobles Trails.
Along the way we communicated between cars on the CB and soon heard a call of distress. It seems a traveler from Indiana was stuck somewhere south of BRS. As soon as we set up camp around 5 PM some of us formed a rescue party, now known as the First Rescue Party. With Dave Book in the lead as our tracker (note, he is with Washoe County Search and Rescue and highly knowledgeable about the playa), along with David Valentine, Ralph Theiss in his Scout, Steve Knight, Harold Drake, and others we finally found Marvin Miller 6 miles away stuck in the playa mud in his Chevy 2 wheel drive dually pick up. The bad news was he was buried up to the frame, the good news is if he had kept going, he would have made the Quinn River and buried the truck for the remainder of the summer or forever.
It was a race between the sun going down and the lightning storm all around us to get the Chevy unstuck. However, when Dave Book backed his 4X4 part way out he promptly became part of the problem so Ralph came to the rescue with his Scout and buried his also. With the lightning all around us we dug out Ralph and headed back to BRS in the dark along with Dave Valentine in his BLM truck. It soon became apparent that the storm had hit with full force between us and camp. As we drove along the playa the water got deeper and the mud thicker, soon we drove into a small stream that was not there 3 hours ago. Dave’s truck came to a sudden stop with a bang as the air bags deployed as we nosedived 3 feet into the river. Now we were stuck (truck number 3 if you are counting). Ralph behind us found that he could not go anywhere in the slick mud and since he was not stuck yet decided that staying there for the night was the best idea. Dave Book had stayed with the other stuck vehicles out in the playa already, so now five of us were on foot. Luckily, I had brought my GPS and had marked where BRS camp was 3 miles away, our only worry was how long it’s batteries would last. So away we walked, the mud was slicker then pig snot and we soon had a new appreciation for the emigrant’s hardships, crossing several streams now 1 foot deep with rushing water. Finally around midnight we stumbled into camp, exhausted, wet, muddy but relieved. But, the storm had also hit camp! The lower camp site had 6 plus inches of water on the ground and in the tents including Dave Valentines’, who found a dry place to camp in my camper.
In the morning, it was a surprise how wet everything had gotten and how much standing water there was. Dave Hollecker’s project to replace the plaque was now located in a foot of water, it better resembled a Coast Guard channel marker. The campers said it was a huge storm and rained several inches while we were gone. We assembled the second rescue party just as Ralph motored back into camp. We walked the 3 miles back to the trucks, which we also marked on our GPS carrying shovels and supplies, as the roads had disappeared from the rain. We were able to contact Dave Books by ham radio and had him walk the 3 miles to Dave Valentine’s truck where we were successful digging it out of the ditch. This was a must do project as Dave had the dinner goodies still in his truck. Books said the Fallon Navy rescue team had landed their chopper next to his truck early in the morning, saying they received a rescue call during the night. Dave (we had 5 Dave’s on the trip) turned them away, telling them we had a highly qualified rescue party only miles away coming to rescue him soon (I think both Moses Schallenberger and George Donner said the same thing). The second rescue party was soon headed back to camp with one of the wagons freed and the other two left until the desert decided to release them. As a footnote, both wagons (trucks) were dug out the following Wednesday.
A group decision was made, to relocate the camp to Soldier Meadows (SM) as more storms were forecast for Saturday afternoon. (good decision). Soldier Meadow’s was an outpost and also the winter camp for Camp McGarry to protect the emigrants in the 1850-60’s. The original horse barn and some living quarters still exist, in fact the barn is still in use. We arrived at SM by 5 PM and Valentine soon had his secret meatloaf cooking in Dutch Ovens. We joined several dirt biker groups staying at SM and shared the dining and living room with them. We had lots of snake bite remedy and snacks to avoid starvation prior to dinner. I think Jim Allison was even able to conduct some OCTA business then. Mario, the SM cook from Peru prepared both the dinner table and the next morning’s fabulous breakfast before we broke camp and headed back to Gerlach and home Sunday morning. However, nature was not finished with us, when we reached the paved road just miles outside of Gerlach, the evenings flash flood had buried the road under 3 feet of mud and rock along with Elvis (you have to spend more time in Gerlach to figure this one out). By noon we were back to civilization at Bruno’s where Chuck Dodd and Dick Silva along with Don Buck were planning a new assault, mapping around Granite Springs Station. We hated to leave this new chapter uncompleted as this had been such an eventful weekend. We shared Chuck’s book about driving the Black Rock with Marvin, I think he bought a copy to show his friends back home in Indiana.
Actually, some archeological work did get done, while the second relief party was gone Allison Portello and others located what appeared to be a grave at BRS, what looked like a rib bone was showing on the surface. Dave Valentine said he will return for a closer look. I think he is arranging for a third relief party as I write this.
It was a great outing. I am sure all that attended will remember the adventure. I know walking 3 miles in the dark in the mud brought many thoughts and dreams of the emigrant’s ordeal, even for a moment.
Friday, meeting in Gerlach-Dave Valentine
Across the playa
Arriving at Black Rock
Dave Hollecker taking a break replating the marker, before the flood
Ralph and Sandy Theiss setting up camp by the sheep herder wagon
Black Rock Spring
Camping below Black Rock Spring
Dave Book now walking across the playa after getting his BLM truck stuck after the rescue attempt
Dave Book meeting our stuck Indiana traveler, Marvin Miller. Note the deep tracks in the mud
Marvin’s truck stuck on the playa. Storms in the distance
Across the playa. The green area is the Quinn River sinking into the playa
Ralph Theiss and Dave Valentine deciding weather to dig out or bury the trucks
Note how dry the surface looks. Ralph’s Scout was soon freed but didn’t get back to camp until next morning, note the storm in the distance
Saturday morning. Dave Valentine and Alison Portello in upper camp after the storm. Marvin’s tent in distance
Marvin in our camp after the rescue. He was hauling trailers out from Indiana and taking a short sight seeing tour with a gps but without a detailed map
Suspected grave site near Black Rock Spring
Soldier Meadows, winter quarters for Camp McGarry
Old cabin at Soldier Meadows
Kitchen and dining area at the ranch house
Kitchen and dining area at the ranch house
Dave preparing his secret meatloaf for the feast. The only reason we rescued his truck
Jim Allison, Joyce Everett and Terry Hardwicke
Dave Hollecker, Don Buck and Bob Black
Ralph Theiss and Stafford Hazelett
Don Buck and Bob Black
Dinner at the Ranch House
Breakfast at the Ranch House
Old land plane to make roads
Old cabin at Soldier Meadows. These and the stable were from 1860’s fort built to protect the emigrants. They wintered here from Camp McGarry located 90 miles North.
Ranch office and kitchen, dining room
Our cook, Mario, and Stafford Hazelett
Don Buck, Jim Allison and Dee McKenzie
Good morning, Joyce Everett, Alison Portello
Don’t you hate cheery people in the morning before coffee?
Flash flood damage on paved road between Gerlach and Soldier Meadows
Stranded Elvis-this was a art walking road crafted 20 years ago with lots of displays, now all buried by rock after the storm
Sunday back in Gerlach, Chuck Dodd, Dave Valentine and Terry Hardwicke planning third relief party ?
Chapter Outing Attendees:
Jim Allison and Joyce Everett
Howard Drake with Zeke Sicotte
Mac McKenzie with Jim Allison
Ralph and Sandy Theiss
Dave Valentine, BLM
Dave Book, BLM volunteer
The Saga Continues!
Additional Story submitted by Stafford Hazelett
and Additional Photos by Tom Flasch
Black Rock Desert Rescue in the words of Marvin Miller
Made available by Stafford Hazelett
[Marvin Miller’s and Dave Book’s vehicles were rescued on Wednesday. Here is Marvin’s story in his own words.]
“Of course the 1st. person we ask was Bruno, He got excited and said We talkin to the wrong person. Talk to Cecil (Bruno’s son-in-law) I was told by Cecils Wife that they bought the casino and gas station from Bruno with a handshake. But I think Bruno can still be kind of like a Boss.
“So Cecil said they’d help me get out, He wanted all the details from me about the situation but didn’t want to offer me much as how it will happen. So as You know Saturday night the cloudburst at Gerlick washed out parts of the road and both Cecil and Bruno said it was the worst they had ever seen. Every morning I tryed to see Cecil at the gas station when He opened it. Saterday morning He said it would probably be a week.
“Monday and Tuesday Cecil had to go to Reno to get stuff and food. I kept askin him when he thought we could try it. Or could we just go look as it may not have rained up that way. Wednesday morning Cecil and the sherriff were at my door and the sherriff wanted to go out and see what conditions were like. But 4PM the sherriff returned and said he got another call and wasn’t out there at all. The sherriff left and Cecils boy pulled in the gas station and Cecil was talkin with him, and his boy left, Cecil said to me were going out. His boy came back with an old dodge 4by4 pickup with some strange rope in the back and another person who had a pickup w/trailer cariing an ATV. So there was Cecil, his Boy, and Me, and one hired help and one hired pickup w/trailer.
“Anyhow Cecils boy was in charge of the whole operation and Cecil ask him if He could just stay back? His boy said NO!. So we headed out to 9mile access and then accross the playa. Close to Black Rock then south. His boy, I found out had been out there earlier in the week. So it was his boy who had done the scouting and was in charge of the route. It was quite dry and we had no problem getting there. And it was very dry around my truck and had not rained any more since a little Friday Night. So they used the ATV to pull out the rope, 1000ft.
“What was the rope? You know that rocket car that went 748mph? They got the line from that parachut and it is like a rubber band. Using that old pickup they pulled both stuck trucks out one at a time on one try. Again we drove back accross the playa and arrived before dark. There was one soft spot we crossed on the way back where I started to bog down but was able to pull it through. It only took us maybe 2 1/2 hours. I paid for both and total bill was 450$. Only half of what I expected.
“Everybody that works there for Bruno or Cecil only get minumin wage, but free food and lodging, some of those persons said Oh they just want to keep you there, to suck motel money out of you, but I really don’t think that is true, They really were very nice to me. They just want to make sure that they don’t get stuck out there. And also they have other buisness to attend to. So when their schedual works and it’s dry, they can help. OK hows that for some details?”
Black Rock Survey party assembling in Gerlach. Ralph Theiss’ IH Scout at right.
Bruno’s in Gerlach
First sight of Marvin’s vehicle
Marvin’s vehicle on the playa
Marvin’s red Dodge Ram
Marvin carved out the word “HELP” next to his truck – can you see the “H”?
A light drizzle began around the vehicles with surrounding rain and lightning
BLM volunteer Dave Book backed in his truck to pull Marvin out.
Marvin walking back to Dave Valentine’s and Ralph Theiss’ vehicles.
3X view from camp – Marvin’s and Dave Book’s trucks are under the red dot.
Digging out Dave Valentine’s truck
First step – unload the truck
Dave’s truck is free
Trails West marker on the Applegate Trail
Finally, Jim Riehl sent us this comment along with a photo of his Black Rock adventure last year:
Last May, Chuck Eccleston and I made a short trip to the Black Rock after reading the excellent Trails West guide among others. We were a bit embarrassed when I got stuck in front of Black Rock. I feel much better now that I have read your Black Rock report as almost all of my sources of advice were involved in the June fiasco. If you view the attached picture, you can see that NWOCTA members know how to cope with adversity – none of this walking ’til midnight.
Member, NW OCTA
PS – Not only did we have our food with us, but a refrigerator full of cold beer and extra gas to recharge the batteries.
Jim Riehl’s solution