Wheeler Pass Summit - 09/20/2018 Trip

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This page last updated on 10/06/2018
(Fig. 01)
Description of Wheeler Pass and Wheeler Pass Road: The areas bordering both sides of Wheeler Pass are a very beautiful, quiet and serene high mountain desert environment located inside the boundaries of Toiyabe National Forest and the Spring Mountain National Recreation Area (SMNRA) (Fig. 02). The landscape in this area boasts of north-south mountain ranges up to 13,000 feet in elevation, separated by long narrow valleys ranging from 5,000 to 7,000 feet in elevation. The highest point in the county is the summit of Wheeler Peak in the Snake Range at 13,063 feet above sea level. The elevation of the “cross-over” point at Wheeler Pass is 7,700 feet (Fig. 01). Since I was last here some idiot has seen fit to shoot the sign at the summit full of bullet holes. Wheeler Pass Road runs east-west and north-south approximately 23 miles as it crosses over and through the Spring Mountain National Recreation Area (SMNRA) (Fig. 02). It is accessible from three locations; WP-1 on (Fig. 02), the town of Cold Creek on the east side of SMNRA, WP-2 & WP-3 on (Fig. 02) from the town of Pahrump on the western side. When approaching from the Pahrump side, the majority of this gravely dirt road is fairly well maintained and though a 4WD vehicle is recommended in places, it accessible with pretty much any type of high clearance vehicle. However, coming from the Cold Creek side is another story. The beginning of the road is well maintained, however, the last two to three miles up to Wheeler Pass sees a lot of land slides that leave many large rocks and boulders on the road, turning it into more of a trail than a road. Not only does this make driving extremely slow, it necessitates a high clearance 4WD vehicle for safe passage.
(Fig. 02)
(Fig. 03)
Trip Notes for 09/20/2018: Today's trip to Wheeler Pass was with fellow hiking partners Jim Herring, Bob Croke, and Rod Ziance. Even though I have visited this area on at least four occasions since 2011, it was the first time for any of them. It is only the second time I have actually followed it all the way over the pass and down to the town of Cold Creek. As a result, I have three other pages with pictures and detailed descriptions of the sites in and around this area. For links to other pages, go to a summary of Wheeler Pass Road trips here ... Wheeler Pass Road - Summary Page. Today we approached Wheeler Road from WP-3 in Pahrump, behind the Preferred RV Resort next to the Golden Nugget Casino. About 10 miles out you come to the intersection of Wheeler Pass Road (left) and Clark Canyon Road (right). Pictures along Clark Canyon Road on the way to the mill site (Figs. 04 & 05). Click on the map in (Fig. 03) to enlarge. From here it is about 6 miles to the Younts (Clark) saw mill site. We spent some time walking around the mill site studying its remains and trying to envision what it was like 150 years ago.

(Fig. 04)
(Fig. 05)
(Fig. 06)
History of the Younts (Clark) Saw Mill: [The remains of the Younts (Clark) Saw Mill is located at the end of the Clark Canyon Road. This mill supplied wood to the Tecopa charcoal kilns as well as lumber to the Bullfrog mining district surrounding Rhyolite, Nevada, some 70 miles to the north. Prior to the railroad being completed the wood was hauled by wagons up to around 1905. There is evidence indicating that this site was in operation before the 1900’s. All that remains today is the large boiler that produced the steam that ran a large piston, which then turned a series of heavy steel wheels, connected by belts that eventually turned a large saw blade. It appears that some of the belt assembly is incomplete and that some of the machinery parts may have been carried off by collectors or thieves years ago. A stamping on the base of the boiler indicates that it was made by the Pacific Iron Works of San Francisco in 1876. There is another stamping on one of the large belt steel wheels with a date of 1880.]  From this site we headed to the Tecopa Kilns. 

Trip Notes Continued: Back tracking a couple of miles, Autumn Road branches west to the right. Along this short stretch you will find some amazing geologic structures (Fig. 07). Roughly 1.5-2 miles you come to a T-intersection. Turn left onto Wheeler Pass Cutoff Road and travel southwest about a mile till it intersects Wheeler Pass Road. Refer to the map in (Fig. 03). Turn right and head north toward the kilns. After a few more miles we reached the site of the kilns. We toured the remains trying to understand how they worked (Fig. 08). From what I've read it went something like this ... "workers would fill the air-tight kilns with the pinyon pine logs abundant in this area supplied by the Younts Saw Mill and fired them, The burning took about 6-8 days to reduced the wood to charcoal. It then took another five days for the charcoal to "cool". Then they were emptied and the charcoal was shipped to mine smelters used to extract silver and lead from the rich ore from surrounding mines.

(Fig. 07)

(Fig. 08)
History of the Tecopa Charcoal Kilns: [They were built in 1875 by Nehemia (“Red”) Clark for Jonas.B. Osbourne who was operating a smelter at Tecopa, a mining camp in Inyo County California. A single Lime kiln (Note 1) was built for Osborne in 1877. Today, these broken down beehive-shaped structures are all that’s left of the three charcoal making kilns and the Lime kiln. The location of these kilns was chosen because it was the nearest wood for the smelters. A single kiln has an estimated capacity of 35 cords of wood which would produce 50 bushels of charcoal, enough charcoal to produce one ton of silver-lead ore. Evidence shows only tree limbs were cut in fuel and no extensive tree cutting was done. The charcoal produced here was carried by horse drawn wagons about 50 miles to the Tecopa Smelter.  In 1878, back in the boomtown of Tecopa, California, Osbourne designed and built a furnace big enough to smelt over 20 tons of silver and lead ore each day. It took forty-four men to keep the furnace working by cutting and hauling the ore, and feeding and constantly repairing the furnace. Unfortunately, after less than a year’s use, it completely failed and was abandoned in the fall of 1878. The three charcoal kilns here were used up until 1910. Wood for the kilns was provided by Harsha White, who operated a saw mill in Clark Canyon, and was in partnership with Nehemiah Clark. In 1950 two had fallen down. Natural erosion, vandalism, and theft of the limestone blocks has ruined much of this site. The main kiln was partially restored in 1971 and 1995. The fence is a safety measure for both the kilns and for visitors.
(Note 1) The Lime kiln was used to produce lime which was utilized in making mortar. Limestone was crushed (often by hand) to fairly uniform 1 to 2.5 inch lumps. Successive dome-shaped layers of coal and limestone were built up in the kiln on grate bars across the eye. When loading was complete, the kiln was kindled at the bottom, and the fire gradually spread upwards through the charge. When burnt through, the lime was cooled and raked out through the base. Fine coal ash dropped out and was rejected with the "riddlings". Typically the kiln took a day to load, three days to fire, two days to cool and a day to unload, so a one-week turnaround was normal. The degree of burning was controlled by trial and error from batch to batch by varying the amount of fuel used.]  (Notes con't below)

Trip Notes Continued: From the kilns the road headed north through a half dozen switchbacks that winded its way to the Wheeler Pass Summit (Figs. 09 & 10). At the summit we took a group picture in front of its 7,700 sign (Fig. 01). The views in every direction (Figs. 11 thru 13) were outstanding. It appears that the town we saw from the Pass in (Fig. 13) was Indian Springs, with Creech AFB across the highway. Before heading down to Cold Creek (refer to Fig. 02) we took time to enjoy a picnic lunch at the top (Fig. 14). (con't below)

(Fig. 09)
(Fig. 10)
(Fig. 11)
(Fig. 12)
(Fig. 13)
(Fig. 14)
Trip Notes ContinuedFrom previous experience, I knew the trip down to Cold Creek was going to be a tough, rough, rocky filled ride, and it was. There was even a place on the way down where we encountered the only wildlife we saw on the entire trip - a lizard sunning himself on a big rock in the middle of the road (Fig. 15). After completing the roughest part of the drive we actually encountered some great views to the east. It is always a good thing to get out and experience the fresh mountain air and the beauty of Nevada's wilderness areas. I want to take a moment to thank the three of my favorite hiking partners for accompanying me and sharing this bumpy adventure with me (Fig. 17).

(Fig. 15)
(Fig. 16)
(Fig. 17)

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