Come Hell or High Water, Getting the hell out of Dodge - Caliente, Nevada

Caliente, Nevada

Apr. 01, 2003 By Fidel Gonzales
Traveling for the sake of traveling through Southern Nevada's highlands

CALIENTE, Nev. -- Sometimes, you've just got to say screw it. Screw the super markets. Screw the idiots merging into traffic on the expressway. Screw the endless hours of work for a freaking pay cut you earned as a kick-in-the-ass thanks.. Screw swapping out the thick sludge in the oil pan of that old Jeep. Screw the boss. Screw the kids' baseball game. And, screw changing that tire tube on the crusty-old dirt bike. Screw it!

POWERING DOWN: Charmingly odd, just shy of a ghost town, Caliente leaves a lot to be desired for those city slickers seeking the bright lights of Vegas and the meager big-buck sustenance Sin City supplies the lonely. Like the old Union Pacific powering down the center of town with the country's freight in tow, so goes the occasional group of kids pulling the "ultimate" wheelie down the open field adjacent the train tracks through the center of town. Activity is sparce but equally as meaningful to the observant eye. The town is alive.

Every once in a while, you've got to pull your head out from the rear fender and get on with life, toss the sleeping bag, fire wood and over-loaded ice chest in the back of the pick-me-up-truck, fire up that diesel and get the hell out of Dodge.

Pardon the pun if you happen to be driving one, but we're braving the ultimate freedom here, what I call living life, the Ultimate American Road Trip, the infrequent moment in life when you look yourself in the mind's eye and say, "Let's get it on!"

The Virgin Of Caliente

The first time I made my way up to Caliente was sometime last year, when I was coerced into getting off my ass, out of the office chair to attend the 2002 Best In The Desert Nevada Trail Ride, an event that is soley for a myriad of a hundred-plus invitees, people who love to ride. "What the hell was I doing there?" I asked myself.

Well, to tell you the truth, I love riding. I just don't peel my backside off the office chair often enough. Hell, I ride just enough to keep me from going insane like the next guy. What made me special enough to go on this ride?

WHERE THE TRAIN NO LONGER WAITS: Progress locomotives through the town faster than the lunch special at any of the half-a-handful cafes that divy up the town's grub come lunch time. It's a common sense, look-you-in-the eye approach to life that consoles you in Caliente. A man's just as easy with poking fun as he is with being serious. The same goes with the daily chores. Working hard is just as much a part of Caliente's thousand-plus citizens as is stopping to share the town gossip or the solitude of the evening thunderstorms.

Well, that first ride turned out to be nothing more than a bunch of buddies getting together for a ride some kick ass terrain. Wild horses, snow, sleet, cattle, rain, new freinds and some of the best riding I can recall tearing through. A quick stop come lunch time was the icing and well-deserved brake on the cake. The entire weekend's ride was nothing but class.

It all begin at the VFW with a stout breakfast and some early morning bench racing. When the dung became too deep, a rider would make his way to the staging area a few blocks away to grasp a handful of throttle and make his or her way to the trail. Awesome.

Anyway, let's get back to this pre-winter trip to Caliente that we took in the old Ford. At the time, the truck was completely stock, proving that it doesn't take a big buck truck to enjoy yourself off-road. The point is to get out and live a little.

And if you got kids (I don't), there's no better education than to travel and experience life up front and personal. How do I know this? My old man piloted his kids through some incredible life experiences here in the Land Of The Free and the Home of the Brave...

You see, come hell or high water, life is worth living. Enough said.

History's Train
PARKED UPON THE ROCKING CHAIR OF TIME: Along side of the train tracks and a stone throw from the Caliente Train Station, stroked into the town's relics, you'll find fresh interpretations of Caliente's history, whatever you can make of it. The town's people will tell it to you straight, but you've got to listen.
Locomotive Moving
So it seems, a proud and highly nostalgic part of the town is the railroad, Union Pacific, which, according to the seal above, proudly serves five of the finest states in The Union. To hear the click and clack of the railroad tracks added a great deal to the legendary wave of the conductor as he piloted the engine southward. RIGHT: Little over a 150 miles from Vegas, the trip to Caliente barely nudged the Ford Power Stroke fuel tank from full. TOP RIGHT: Mana, the dog, stands watch to nothing more than a couple of kids on the other side of the tracks playing catch with a couple old mits and the occasional crack of the baseball bat. BOTTOM RIGHT: Looking northward into town, Old Glory flies above an empty set of tracks. BOTTOM LEFT: Down the tracks a piece are the bright lights of another world.
Good Things About Caliente
  • The Best In The Desert (BITD) Nevada Trail Ride is held there each year.
  • Caliente frequently hosts SNORE and BITD off-road races.
  • The town welcomes and supports desert racing, off-roaders and hunters.
  • Excellent riding: frequent water crossings, scenic terrain, lots of open spaces, hill climbs, sand washes, tight woods, wide open .
  • The town's people are conservative, as one of many locals once said, "Republican's or ultra-conservative Jeffersonian Democrats," and they dig riding.
  • A deer hunter is just your average Joe.
  • An abundance of wildlife, including deer, elk, wild horses, cattle, mountain lion, and much more.
  • The Ford dealership also sells dirt bikes, sport quads, utility quads and has a damn good parts supply for each.
  • Riding consists of sand washes, pine forests, flat-out jaunts across the plains, water crossings that'll kill your mount, and a day that is only limited by your ability to cover ground before the sun goes down.
  • The midnight thunder storms are awesome.
The Way In
THE ROAD TO FREEDOM: Heading north out of town, just before you cross the bridge an pass the car dealership on the left, you'll see a sign to your right for the Caliente Hot Springs (top left photo), a place with budget accomodations that is good enough to shower after a long ride. Just before that, back over your right shoulder in the picture top right, is a road and a propane dealer. We took this road, vearing off to the right as it leads along side abandoned railroad sleeper cars. This lead us to a trail system that is too extensive to explore in just one weekend. I"ve probably logged over 200 miles of dirt in the Caliente and Panaca area, a town just north about 15 miles. The scenery, riding and general off-roading opportunities are immense.
RELICS OF YESTERYEAR: Just off the side of the road within the first few miles is an old Jeep Wagoneer. Unfortunately, the stout drive train was ripped from its underside but the body was in excellent condition. The more familiar you become with the area, the more surprises you'll find in the way of relics and awesome scenery. Perhaps the coolest thing I've so far scene are wild horses, summertime swimming holes and water falls, which are excellent for them summer getaways.
NOTE: For the first few miles of this leg, there are a lot of houses along side of the road. Go slow and keep the dust down. Earn their respect by showing them respect. It's a good way to make friends and keep our riding areas open.
Things You May Not Like About Caliente
  • They don't brew beer in Caliente, yet.
  • When the lights go out, you better have brought fire wood.
  • The people don't kiss your ass in Caliente.
  • Dave Pearson, riding a Kawasaki KX500, lives a few miles up the road in Panaca and can easily kick your ass on a dirt bike in his own back yard, even if you're name is _______ (fill in the blank).
  • Women only out-number the men 592 to 531. And when the Nevada Trail Ride or some other off-road event comes to town, you're SOL. Odds are not in your favor.
  • Lodging leaves a lot to be desired.
  • After hours dining is obsolete. Dining in general is no five-star affair.
Deep Water
EASY GOING : On a stock Power Stroke, the first deep water crossing you come to can easily be forded in 2WD. Wading through the water, it's about hip high. Take it slow, sending the wake out in front of you as a buffer. Any stock 4x4 ought to be able to make it, even a stock Suzuki Sidekick or similar vehicle, just stay to the center and take it slow.

During the 2002 BITD Nevada 2000, this spot caused a lot of grief for trucks, buggies, motorcycles and quads. For the trucks and buggies, it was more a matter of going to fast, splashing the ignition or sucking water into the intake. For the motorcycles, just tuck your legs in tight over the tank and go just fast enough to create a wake around you. As for quads, I don't know what to tell you. I know guys like Jimmy Stephenson wish they had attached a snorkel for this paticular spot. Him and many other quad riders were out of the race because of this spot. Not only is it deep, but there are a few soft spots to the sides, where it may be a bit shallower, but it's an easy place to get stuck. Test the waters by wading in it or look for a bypass off to the right.

Green Pastures and Great Riding

FINDING YOUR WAY: Many of the main roads are well marked with mileage. Steering away from the main roads is where you'll see most of the action though. Although I love driving the Jeep (go almost anywhere) or huge Power Stroke (comfort) through this area, it's really best scene by dirt bike or quad. The dirt bike is your best bet. Some of the best spots are so tight that it requires you to get off your bike, twist the handle bars sideways, and push it through. It's just too tight to fit a quad through. On the other hand, there are other spots where you'll easily get closelined on a bike, where you either have to get off the bike and walk it through, ducking down from behind.

BUCK HEAVEN: This shot was taken just before deer season fired up. Although you can't see them, there are a bit more than a dozen deer just over this ridge, with one massive buck giving us the finger. There were also another half-dozen off to our left. It was amazing, and this place was only 20 miles in from town and only about two miles in from the graded dirt road. Next season, I may have to put that new .273 Winchester Model 70 to good use, but then again you could just as easily nock them dead with a rock at this secret spot.

COW CROSSING: I usuaully don't drive any faster than I need to in the Ford and sometimes get a little wild in the Jeep CJ, Cherokee XJ, bike or quad, but one thing you've got to consider is huge cow population. I've never hit one but have come pretty close during races. Hitting one is about as bad as hitting a tree, even worse if it's a Texas Long Horn, which are easily found in this neck of the woods.

NOTE: Always make an attempt to familirize the area yourself with a map of the place before you go there. Not only will you lessen the chances of getting lost, but also have a good idea of where you're going to find the landscape you're looking for.

Making Camp
THUNDERSTORMS: Just before sunset, we set up camp, lit the campfire and cooked us some campfire cuisine that set us up right for the two cases of Samuel Adams in the ice chest. Just after sunset, the thunderclouds moved. Although they never unleashed a touch of rain on our camp, the display of lightning and the eerie sound of distant and overhead thunder was spectacular and, by itself, worth the two-and-a-half hour drive north from Vegas.

TENT CAMPING: Many weekends out of the year, I live in a tent or even simpler, on the floor of the desert with my trusty North Face -15 degree sleeping bag. But with a big truck like the Power Stroke, it's Crew Cab and 8-foot bed, things have got to get better. I'm looking forward to a camper but don't want to loose the ability to navgate the huge rig through the tight and rough stuff. To get back to this spot, was really tough, especially in stock form. I cross several washouts that were better suited for a Jeep. I was pushing the limits of the 1-ton's center of gravity. With a huge 2000-plus pound camper, the truck would have flopped over like a dead fish with no help in sight. In addition, the trail was ultra tight, again better suited for a Jeep or smaller rig. I put some gnarley scratches in the bed side, but what the hell, it was worth it.
Homeward Bound Through The Rainbow
NEW WAY HOME: After two nights in the hills, we finally made our way home on Sunday, heading south on US 93 to the turnoff just south of Caliente to Rainbow Canyon. The scenic road is paved 24 miles to the nearly abondoned town of Elgin. Since I hate heading home the same way I came, I had to do some exploring on this road and see Elgin's one room school house for the first time.
OLD CHEVY HAY HAULER: Something I've got to say for the Chevy 5.7L gas motor, it never quits. Check out the photo above. This truck was overloaded with hay, moving at a snail's pace -- but nevertheless, moving. It was an old 30-plus year old Chevy C-60 that was still lugging the load.
LONG HORN: The lush vegetation was a perfect backdrop for many of the trails leading from the valley and all the livestock and wildlife that inhabit the place. Calling this place home would not be a bad thing. NORTHBOUND TRAIN: The Union Pacific careens alonside the valley walls, making for a truly nostalgic moment. As usual, the conductor waves. INSPIRED TO RIDE: It's amazing that this is only a two hour drive from Vegas. Sometime in March, I'm thinking I'll have to ride from my house in Vegas up here and do some serious exploring while the weather's still good.
RACING AND RIDING: If you're up for doing some off-road racing, look no further than the courses laid out by Casey Folks of Best In The Desert. Being a rider, he's got an eye for what makes a race or trail ride epic.
Elgin and Beyond

EMBARKING UPON EDEN: Elgin is just over 100 miles from Vegas and worth a day trip for exploration purposes. The town sprung up around 1913 and drifted off into history sometime around 1966. There are a number of families who still inhabit the town. The one room school house was established in 1920 and refurbished into a musuem in 1999. If for some reason the gate is closed and the school house locked, you can usually find the key at the Bradshaw Orchard just accross the tracks, where you can pick up on fresh-picked apples.

THE PEOPLE : There may not be many people left in the town of Elgin, but those that are serve as a testament that they're still good-natured folks left in this face-paced world. They've even got a motocross track.

TENT CAMPING: Many weekends out of the year, I live in a tent or even simpler, on the floor of the desert with my trusty North Face -15 degree sleeping bag. But with a big truck like the Power Stroke, it's Crew Cab and 8-foot bed, things have got to get better. I'm looking forward to a camper but don't want to loose the ability to navgate the huge rig through the tight and rough stuff. To get back to this spot, was really tough, especially in stock form. I cross several washouts that were better suited for a Jeep. I was pushing the limits of the 1-ton's center of gravity. With a huge 2000-plus pound camper, the truck would have flopped over like a dead fish with no help in sight. In addition, the trail was ultra tight, again better suited for a Jeep or smaller rig. I put some gnarley scratches in the bed side, but what the hell, it was worth it.
You Don't Need Much To Make A Good Day Great
FAST AND LONELY: After Elgin, the road quickly turns to graded road. Although we did see a couple of cars for the full day it took to travel it, traffic is sparse and the speeds are fast. We cruised at 70 MPH, but the other two cars had to be going faster than that.

WATERING HOLE : It took us most the day just to travel the 35-mile dirt road from Elgin to highway 93. When traveling, I love to explore. While there were a number of excellent trails that I didn't take side trips on, there were a number of rugged ones that I explored, many of them having natural springs flowing from their canyons. The one seen in the picture was tough to get to, especially with a full-size truck with stock tires. BAD WATER: Noticing a dead cow laying next to it, we were not crazy about drinking the water. Many of these trails extend far into the heights of the mountain abound. I saved these trails, including the Ella Mountain trail out of Elgin, for another day for a quicker mode of transportation, the dirt bike and a back pack.
UNTIL THEN: When in doubt, go. You won't regret the adventure of the great outdoors, the education you encounters with its population or the experience and freindships found abound. Don't stop moving. Keep your foot on the throttle!
For More Information on Holley Performance Products 
Best In The Desert
3475 C Boulder Highway
Las Vegas, Nevada 89121
(702) 457-5775
Fax (702) 641-2431
Caliene Hot Springs Motel
Hwy 93 N. Caliente NV 89008
Tel: 775 726-3777
Toll Free: 1-888-726-3777
Fax: 775 726-3762
This place is located on the north end of Caliente and the headquarters and launching zone for the Best In The Desert Trail Ride. It's got that old Spanish styling and is probably one of the better places in town. But keep in mind, we ain't saying that it's a five star resort. The motel boasts of a number of ammenities. For starters, piping hot spring mineral awaits your day's ride in the hot tubs. How hot? Try about 115 degrees.
Beaver Dam State Park
HC 64 Box 3 Caliente NV 89008-9701
Tel: 775 726-3564
Here's a cool spot we camped and rode around once upon a time. It takes a graded dirt road to get there and is a favorite spot for many. There are actual campgrounds for those who like it a little civilized.

Kernshaw-Ryan State Park
HC 64 Box 3 Caliente NV
Tel: 775 726-3564
The Kernshaw-Ryan State Park is nestled in a canyon, where you find a picnic area, restrooms and trails.
Cathedral Gorge State Park
P.O. Box 176 Panaca NV 89042
Tel: 775 728-4460
Cathedral Gorge State Park is a long narrow valley carved by time and erosion. This forms some unique patterns into the soft clay that are worth braving, especially for exploring the cave-like formations and cathedral-like spires.
Not only is this a place for some excellent riding -- with such pro dirt bikers like David Pearson -- but it's a great place for hiking, backpacking and HUNTING! Panaca is just a few miles north of Caliente.
Check Out The Caliente, Nevada 2000 Census
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