One of the things that makes four wheeling so much fun is seeing new and unusual places. The driving itself, while an experience in its own way, can be secondary to what you see while off road. The destination can be as fascinating as the drive.
One of the more fascinating areas in the southwest is known as the Great Basin. Encompassing parts of California, Oregon, Nevada and Utah, the Great Basin covers more than 184,000 square miles. What makes this area unique is that its rivers and lakes have no outlet to the sea (unlike other waterways). All the water stays inside the basin.
A good place to start exploring the Great Basin is in Mineral County, Nevada. Located in the southwest part of that state, Mineral County contains Marietta Wild Burro Range. BLM manages this 68,000-acre range for the protection of roughly 100 wild burros. (I know, I know: sounds like a lot of territory for a handful of critters. But this is sparse desert range requiring many acres to support the browsing needs of one burro.) Suffice to say, it’s fascinating—though rugged—land for exploring.
Nearly 66,500 acres are public land. Among the sights worth visiting are Teels Marsh and the ghost towns of Marietta and Candelaria. (Marietta has a few hardy souls in it yet so it might not really qualify as a ghost town.) Also located along the western edge of Mineral County is the Excelsior Mountain range. You may consider making it a camping trip.
A good loop would be to take in Teels Marsh, Huntoon Valley, an overnight stay in the Excelsior Mountains and back through Rattlesnake Flat to Garfield Flat and out to Mina, NV on US95.
Mina was a major depot for the Carson & Colorado Railroad and later the Southern Pacific. It was the northern terminus for the Tonopah and Goldfield Railroad which serviced the gold mines in Esmeralda County, NV. Mina was the nickname for Wilhelmina, the daughter of a railroad executive. The town would never have existed if land speculators had not driven up the price of lots in Sodaville (4 miles south) in hopes of selling to the railroad for a big windfall. 4
What you’ll encounter in the Great Basin
Plant and wildlife are different in this area of the Great Basin from the southern area containing the Mojave Desert. In this area the Creosote bush gives way to the Greasewood bush. The wood of the Greesewood is so hard that people used to use it for arrow points. In fact the transition line from Creosote bush to Greesewood defines the dividing line between the Mojave Desert and the Great Basin Desert. Much of the area is covered by shadscale and sagebrush too. The dominant rattler is the King Rattlesnake who just wants to be left alone and will not bother you. Antelope share Teels Marsh with the burros and wild horses. It is easy to spot the Great Basin Collared Lizards but less likely the Chuckwalla Lizard despite being the second largest Lizard in the United States.
Despite decades of experience in this hobby—and having traveled many of the same trails countless times—I’m always amazed at what I see and encounter. The same is true for the Great Basin Desert. On top of that, Mineral County is mostly unknown by 4WD enthusiasts. You could have the area nearly to yourself.
Bear in mind, though, that you are in the desert. Towns are sparse. Hawthorne, Luning and Mina are the only communities of significance, and they are miles apart. Conditions are hot and dry, so pack accordingly. Spring and fall are the best times to visit the area.
As I mentioned, a chunk of Mineral County has been set aside to protect the wild burros. Make it a goal to spot ‘em. Government officials say that burros usually don’t let you get very close. Pack binoculars and a telephoto lens. The Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act of December 1971 provides federal protection against harm and harassment.
Is that a burro or a mule?
Speaking of burros, here’s some trivia for your next campfire. Do you know the difference between a burro and a mule?
Burro is just another name for a donkey. A male donkey is known as a Jack (also sometimes called an ass); the female is a Jenny.
A mule is what you get when you cross a Jack with a mare (female horse). Though rare, you could find a mule that’s a product of a male horse and a Jenny. Those are known as hinnies. (Mules are sterile, by the way, so someone has to keep creating them. How’s that for an occupation?)
Other than for trivia, burros occasionally show up while driving in the southwest. Burros were often used by miners many years ago. Their strong, sturdy bodies made them ideally suited to carrying out heavy loads in the hardscrabble, desert conditions. Most of the mines are long gone, but you can still encounter a wild burro on occasion.
As you can see, a destination can be as much fun as the off-road driving itself. Next time you’re in the mood for some four wheeling, check out an area you haven’t visited before. If you live in the southwest US, consider Mineral County, Nevada, and other parts of the Great Basin. You can test your 4WD skills and see a new part of the country. And you may even spot a burro or two. Just take a picture – it is illegal to harASS then.
Ask your buddies to top that!