Just Horsin Around
Area: The Virginia Mountain Range is located just east of the Sierra southeast of Reno, Nevada. Most mountain ranges in Nevada have a north-south ridge. Uniquely, the Virginia mountains generally run southwest-northeast and consists in large part of volcanic rock. Another feature is the Jeffrey Pine tree due to the fact that the Virginia mountains have acidic soil. Most of Nevada has alkaline soil. The area has a rich mining history and is home to Virginia city and the famous Comstock Lode.
Hike: The hike starts on Lockwood Road at Long valley creek. Just south of the bridge a jeep road veers off to the right. The jeep road heads south thru a colorful canyon and swings towards the west. At about the one mile point there are building ruins from the original Washington Hill settlement dating back to around 1860. Take a side trip and explore the ruins which lie to the south of the trail. When you return to the trail continue on to the west. The jeep road now turns to the southwest and our trail veers off to the right staying on a westerly path. On the topo maps this intersection appears to be where two creeks come together. We take the right creek which starts off as an ATV type path but quickly turns into a horse path. The trail follows the drainage up the sandy creek with a distinct trail made by the many wild horses in the area. Jeffrey pines are scarce but all over the hillsides. Interesting rock outcroppings are everywhere and the occasional wild horses silhouetted on the horizon make for an exciting atmosphere. The horses keep there distance but are curious. Mine tailings from various prospects are quite frequent and at about the 2 mile point more ruins are seen. These ruins are at the confluence of two creek beds. Look for lizards around the ruins. Our trail takes the creek bed to the right. While these are known to be dry mountains, on a year when there has been some winter precipitation, the canyons are brightened by wildflowers.
The hike becomes steeper now and about half a mile past the second ruins there are sweeping switchbacks first left then right and again to the left which follow what appears to be an old wagon trail which is faint but can be made out on the hillside in front of you. There is no use of cairns in this area, so topo maps or GPS certainly come in handy. As we top out the terrain dramatically changes to shrubs and sage brush. Panoramic views of the Sierra lie in front of you. The hike now becomes a bushwhack as we are doing a loop around peak 5577 to enjoy the views of the valley ahead. This is a great place for lunch on the basalt boulders that lie all around. The bushwhack continues as we head northest for peak 5413. You can generally find horse or other animal trails to show you the way. Going up and over peak 5413 in a northeast direction we find an old wagon road which starts are descent. Stay on this old wagon road as it circles the mountain. Views are 360 and rock outcroppings abound. Washington Hill lies directly to the south and is evident by the intense mining activity that still takes place today. The only difference is that it is now a rock quarry. Washington Hill used to be the highest point to the east of Reno and could easily be seen from the city. As they continue to mine, the mountain can no longer be seen from Reno. Continue on the old wagon road after enjoying the views and it eventually comes out to the sandy creek we came in on. Follow the sandy creek to the east and return to your vehicle on the old jeep road.
WARNING! Hiking and outdoor related sports can be dangerous. Be responsible and prepare for the trip. Study the area you are entering and plan accordingly. Dress for the current and unexpected weather changes. Take plenty of water. Never go alone. Make an itinerary with your plan(s), route(s), destination(s) and expected return time. Give your itinerary to trusted family and/or friends.