There's a reason we had to wait two full years to start our grand finale. Enter June 2011: Gracie and I embarked northward into the wilds of Nevada to conquer our very last historic marker -- HM 162, Camp McGarry. You see there's a mysterious corner of the Nevada map that's often left out by all but the most die-hard desert buffs. Soldier Meadows. Old Lake County. The Northwest Corner. By any moniker the word "forgotten" itself is piddly for this wild place. On that balmy afternoon we slugged our way up into the remarkable wilds of this lonely territory, lovingly nicknamed Nevada's "forgotten corner" - high on life and history. We hope that on this wild journey you'll see how this single historic marker has earned its title as Nevada's loneliest.
There's no such thing as a casual drive to Soldier Meadows. Nevada's "forgotten corner" comprises of a wide swath on the map, far away from what most of America would dub as civilization. Conquering any patch of this wild country requires a bit of dedication.
- 60.2 miles north of Gerlach
- 42 miles southwest of Denio Junction (SR 160)
- 164 miles northwest of Winnemucca
By Nevada standards, 60.2 miles (from Gerlach) isn't all that bad. The challenge isn't so much the distance, but rather the complete lack of fuel, services, and cell service. People new to the region are taken away by the area's immediate loneliness upon leaving Gerlach, Denio Junction, or Cedarville. You'll find a few routes into the region, but the safest comes from the south on County Road 208, known locally as the "Soldier Meadows Road." This is a long gravel path that cuts right into the heart of the northwest corner, but there's a reason why it's nicknamed, "the forgotten corner."
Three ways to Soldier Meadows:
First, a word of note! To help alleviate this shock to the system the BLM has scattered radio towers, primitive campsites, and weather-tight cabins (available on a first-come-first-serve basis) throughout the 200-square mile region. You read that right. 200 hundred square miles. People come to the area to commune with nature herself and aside from your completionist soul, it'll probably be this reason why you'd find your way out here.
Yup. Ma Nature is pretty decent company, but keep in mind that she's in complete control up here. Aside from a handful of ranches and BLM backcountry rangers, the northwest corner is definitely one of the last places left where sociaty hasn't quite taken hold. This is natural grandeur. No secondary ingredients or preservatives. Perhaps this addage applies better to this area than anywhere else in Nevada: You are on your own.
Old State Route 8A
From Cedarville, CA.
Travel (more like slugging) on SR 8A isn't a spur of the moment deal. This route from the west is by far the wildest of them all and one that requires a bit of preparation. Study it up and do your homework with this one.
- Your journey begins on the east side of the Warner Mountains in a pretty little hamlet named Cedarville, California. Grab a bite and and follow CA 299 east out of Cedarville across Alkali Valley. The best precursor you'll pass is one large mother that states "No services for 100 miles." Nope, CalTrans isn't jumping the gun here. For seven miles, 299 cuts lazily across the valley toward a lofty mountain range until the seven mile mark hits you like a brick! 299 ends immediately at the Nevada state line giving way to an unpaved gravel path signed as "Nevada State Line, Washoe County Line, SR 8A."
The most disconcerting part at this point is the lack of any signage. What was once a nice and lazy paved highway turns into a dirt road stretching up and into nowhere for miles. No pavement. No mileage signs. No taco stands. Who needs transition? All you're greeted with is the photo above. Even eight miles well into Nevada you still won't find a single mileage sign! This is the Washoe County most people don't know exists. You know to do and what not to forget. Welcome to Nevada at its wildest!
Believe it or not this remote area used to be its own county! Around 1960, Roop, Lake, and Ormsby Counties were relinquished for various reasons. Lake County comprised this area from the Oregon line south to Gerlach, but with a total population of less than 200 residents, the state legislature decided that its low population didn't warrant its own county. Instead the State extended the borders of Washoe County all the way to Oregon and eighty-sixed Lake for good. Of course this makes it challenging for Washoe County Sheriffs who can rarely get up to this part of the county. About once a month a Deputy Sheriff is assigned to keep an eye out in these parts who usually assist in towing out stuck vehicles more than anything else!
- Seven miles after crossing the state line you meet "Vya" more notable as an important crossroads than a cluster of ranches. SR 8A intersects with County Route 34 (unpaved), one of the only arteries that serves this remote region. Turning south at this junction will lead back to civilization at Gerlach in about seventy miles, while turning north leads into the southeast corner of Oregon just shy of Adel on OR 140. While you're up in these parts consider heading south for forty minutes to conquer the equally remote marker  -- High Rock Canyon that stands all by its lonesome along CR 34 at another road junction into High Rock Canyon.
- Considering the Northwest Conner is laced with a spiderweb of dirt roads the BLM has done an excellent job in signing the region. Continue straight on 8A for another twenty miles onto the Sheldon Wildlife National Refuge to a road on the right signed "High Rock Canyon, High Rock Lake." 8A continues east for another 68 miles past this junction to meet the pavement at SR 140, 52 miles west of Denio Junction. Use this as a back-up plan in case the road through High Rock Canyon is impassable. Some of the hardiest four-wheel-drives have even found themselves stuck in High Rock. Don't risk the journey through the canyon if you are in any doubt about your rig, driving ability, or weather conditions. This is not the country to breakdown. If you do, help is almost always days away!
With that in mind, make a right toward "High Rock Canyon."
- From this point you face a daunting 24-mile trek to the Soldier Meadows Road. After three miles a narrow road winds up to a weather-tight cabin known as "Stevens Camp," one of several backcountry cabins the BLM has installed throughout the region. Stevens is a popular site with four established camping areas, including a large campground near the free use cabin. The cabin itself comes with a few conveniences: a vault toilet, picnic tables, fire pits, running water (must be treated prior to drinking), a wood stove, a grill, a shower, and even a hot water heater! Sometimes the cabinet is even fully stocked with canned goods and bottled water. In recent years the connections for the generator that provided valuable light and power fell victim to the elements so maintenance here is left mostly to docents and good samaritans. Stevens Camp provides a solid base camp for exploration of the area and it's no wonder that this valuable bit of shelter in this lonely land is full most of the summer. If you happen to use up any of the valuable food amenities here please re-stock them as best you can. Ordinarily, if you see a vehicle parked in front of the cabin, wave hello, be courteous, and let them enjoy their stay.
- May the Force be with once passing Stevens Camp. The brunt of this trek slugs on through High Rock Canyon with a crawling speed of 10mph. The one-lane path courses on throwing plenty of blind hills and curves your way with only one or two patches to turn around. The road cuts through chest-high grass with very few shoulders on the path. Pretty much once you're in you might as well carry on.
The road through High Rock isn't a road at all, but rather the actual California Emigrant Trail! It's here that emigrants passed beneath these towering basalt walls to California in 1850. In some places the canyon walls still hold their graffiti and the very road traces ruts their wagons and oxen left behind. Providing you can even find a spot well enough off the road, fewer places in Nevada that can hold a candle to a night's rest in High Rock. High Rock is truly one of the Seven Wonders of Nevada.
Upon leaving the canyon, "High Rock Road" levels out onto several plateaus and cuts through the Soldier Meadows Conservation Area before it meets the Soldier Meadows Road, 42 miles from our starting point in Cedarville. Turn north onto "Soldier Meadows Road" for the final two miles. What better way to do Nevada than this?
State Route 140
From Winnemucca and Denio, Nevada
The "backdoor" into Soldier Meadows might be the easiest route into the area because most of the journey will be on paved highways. Head north on US 95 from Winnemucca for 30 miles to SR 140. As the sign states, there are no services on 140 for 65 miles. Bring it on. The speed limit here will be a posted 70mph, but it's not uncommon in these parts to see plenty of schooled Pronghorn. Keep an eye out around the Leonard Creek junction (halfway to Denio) as the highway cuts through a ten-mile-long valley near Bilk Creek Reservoir. Welcome to Nevada at its wildest.
- At Mile 65, you'll be greeted by Denio Junction. Here, you have the option of heading straight (north) to "Denio" and Fields, Oregon. Denio lives well off the radar as (quite possibly!) Nevada's loneliest border town with hardly any services to speak of. We recommend carrying on north past the state line to Fields, a town not much bigger than Denio, but famous for some of the tastiest burgers in the Great Basin! Fill up while you can here in Denio Junction because the next gas is over 100 miles away in Cedarville, Adel, or Gerlach. Remember, there is no fuel anywhere south of SR 140!
- Continue west onto 140 toward "Lakeview" for another 23 miles to a crusty road on your left signed for "Knott Creek, Blue Lakes." This is the north end of the Soldier Meadows Road. The owners of the Soldier Meadows Guest Ranch have plans to place a sign at this junction to help guide travelers here. Although the road is maintained by Humboldt County this portion of the Soldier Meadows Road is often nasty during the wet season or after recent snows. Before you make your trip always call the ranch to find out the latest in road conditions. Turn here and take this one at 25mph and ignore all other routes toward "Onion Valley," or "Knott Creek, Blue Lakes."
At about 19 miles south of the highway you'll find an important crossroads with our old friend SR 8A and a sign directing you to "Summit Lake, Soldier Meadows" to the left and a right turn toward "Sheldon, Swan Lake, Catnip Res, Cedarville." If you called the Guest Ranch prior to your trip, good for you and continue on, my friends! If you didn't, shame on you because this might be your last chance to turn around.
- From here the Soldier Meadows Road winds its way closer to the "Summit Lake Indian Reservation" before making a quick left to hug the shoreline for about two miles. The clear water of Summit Lake is plenty inviting and that's exactly what gets people in trouble. Summit Lake is completely off-limits to the public as stated by the liberally posted "No Trespassing" signs. Summit Lake and its inlet, Mahogany Creek, are the nuclei of the Lahontan Cutthroat Trout Natural Area where the Cutts have bred naturally and have grown undisturbed in this remote location for eons. In fact, Mahogany Creek and Summit Lake highlight the the only dependable and natural watershed of the native Lahontan Cutthroat Trout. After five years of natural spawning here many of the fish are transplanted all over Nevada, including Pyramid, Marlette, and Walker Lakes.
In especially wet years Summit Lake completely floods the road creating an impassable barrier out of Soldier Meadows! A simple phone call to the ranch will not only save you time, but will save the owners from having to tow you out of the area. The Guest Ranch owns the only reliable tow truck in the area for a hundred miles. Do your homework.
"We've pretty much become the person they (Sheriff/BLM) call when this happens."
Straggle on for another twelve miles and pat yourself on the back. You'll pass the marker before arriving at the ranch's entrance gate. After the long, dusty drive in 2011, we stopped at the ranch for a hardy meal and some even hardier conversation which opened up onto Owner Lisa preparing us for our trip out. She had stated that the lake had flooded the road and was completely impassable to even the most hardcore four-wheel-drive rigs. In this case we had to either turn back the way we came or head out using the High Rock Canyon route. Now that's how you Nevada!
"Soldier Meadows Road"
From Gerlach, NV.
This third route will most likely your way into Soldier Meadows. This journey is a long one, but this southern portion of the road is lovely if you take it at around 30mph. Soldier Meadows Road (noted as County Road 208 on the map) is mostly gravel with a few patches of gnarly washboard near Wagner Spring and a few sandpits nearer the Black Rock playa. After leaving the playa, the road itself becomes a boundary line to a handful of awesome wilderness areas. Here, hikers can either park directly off the road or stray away into a few side canyons on the wilderness boundaries. If you plan it right, you can have an entire mountain range to yourself. Now let's get there, shall we?
- From Interstate 80 and Wadsworth, head north on SR 447 north for 77 miles to Gerlach. (This rounds out to 107 miles north of Reno.) If you haven't done so already, this gives you perfect opportunity to bag the two Gerlach markers here -  - Olinghouse and  - Gerlach. Getting to Gerlach alone isn't exactly a "hit-it-quick" trip meaning once you're out here - you're in it for the long haul!
Gerlach coins the nickname, "Where the Pavement Ends and the West Begins." One trip out here and you'll see why. This tiny outpost of 350 people is the largest settlement in this 200-square mile region east to Winnemucca and north to Lakeview to and Cedarville! Top off your tank here, pick up a spare gas can and prepare to head north ... way north.
- Head north through Gerlach for 1 mile to a well-signed road fork of two paved highways. The left fork lists mileages to "Cedarville, Alturas, Lakeview, Squaw Creek and Wall Canyon Reservoirs" via Washoe County Route 447. The right fork provides mileage to "Vya, Granite Creek, Black Rock Desert, Denio, Winnemucca," and of course, Soldier Meadows. Your decision here should be obvious. From this point the mileage to Soldier Meadows is "60" while the "Pavement Ends 24 miles" away.
- Make the right turn here onto County Route (CR) 34 and take in the view for 12 miles as the highway hugs the lakebed of the Black Rock playa. A handful of access points cruise down to the lakebed for recreational use to "Twelve Mile Access." Here, the road bends north away from the playa to yet another obvious road fork.
The sign above is a recent courtesy of the owners and man, what a great invitation into this wild country! This wide gravel path will be your route for the next three hours. An over-ominous sign on your right warns of "Minimum Maintenance, Travel at your own risk." Fear not. Bring extra water, food stuffs, a full gas tank, a spare tire, and a mind filled for exploration! Just know that you are venturing into extremely remote country as stated by the BLM plaque on your right -- "You are on your own."