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Each fall, the wilderness of northeastern Nevada comes alive with color, wildlife, and stunningly beautiful scenery.
Photo: A young hunter smiles after taking her first chukar in northeastern Nevada.
Dashes of crimson and amber leaves line the desert canyons like avalanches of fiery molten metal. A spark of electric splendor takes command of the sky as thunder splits its way over the sagebrush like an axe through a rotten log. As I sit feeling completely isolated, my mind wanders, and for a moment I forget how I actually came to be in this Nevada scenery.
I visited Jacks Peak, off State Route 226 near Tuscarora, to try my luck at big game hunting during a weekend that awakened my senses to the beauty that is rural Nevada. Accompanied by my grandfather, Paul McKee, I set out looking to spend some time enjoying the nature and wildlife of northeastern Nevada. While the captivating ambiance of the landscape repeatedly overwhelmed my senses, I tried to keep my vision sharp, my wits keen, and my mind on the physically demanding hunt.
My home for the weekend was a truck bed behind a dirt pile carved out of the side of the forever-long rock-strewn road leading up to the peak. Although frequently subjected to harsh winters and relatively low maintenance, the winding road still scars the mountainside, slithering its way through the majestic range. Shortly after we had constructed our camp, we quickly unpacked sleeping bags, backpacks, and food and were on our way back to S.R. 226 for a quick drive through the canyon to track mule deer. Driving the canyon was a splendor in itself. Chicken Creek and the highway intertwine as they make their way past abandoned ranch houses and old barbed-wire fences. The four-mile stretch is a great place to spot mule deer at dusk.
Jacks Peak and the surrounding areas are home to a substantial number of big-game species, including Rocky Mountain elk, mule deer, pronghorn antelope, and mountain lion. The region is also home to a large number of smaller game species including chukar and Hungarian partridge, sage-grouse, and blue and ruffed grouse.
“No one gets off their lazy butts and walks anymore,” my grandpa says as he stirs our camp dinner of stew, chili, and Fritos. “We just need to get one ridge off the road, start walking, and we’ll start seeing animals.”
Waking before the sun rose gave us just enough time to eat a quick breakfast, grab our backpacks, fire up the ATV, and drive up the mountain before daylight set in and the deer began to bed down for the day. We reached our destination, and, following grandpa’s advice, got off the roads to walk the saddles and canyons. After miles of trudging through thick sagebrush and Manzanita, we enjoyed a handful of trail mix while we looked for deer in the surrounding canyons.
The magnificence of hiking through the northeastern Nevada wilderness is something that you can’t understand without experiencing it for yourself. Have you ever visited somewhere so quiet, so incredibly silent, that your ears begin to ring? This is Nevada: so busy and full of life, yet so cosmic and peaceful that sometimes you’re almost sure you’re the only person left in the world.
Billowing smoke from a wildfire on the horizon brings me back to reality and reminds me that this place is still nature, and despite its splendor, it can dangerous.
“One more ridge,” I repeatedly thought as my stamina ran low and my body began to ache. The motto was one I had learned from older-generation hunters, referring to the distance needed to find mule deer. Sure enough, the axiom held true as I made my way over the final ridge that my tired legs would allow. There, in the bottom of a deep canyon, I spotted a deer in my crosshairs. After a few moments we brought it up to where it could be easily loaded onto the ATV, taking care not to damage any piece of the meat or hide. We use almost every piece of the deer, eating the meat, crafting the antlers into various tools, and even tanning the hide to make moccasins.
Finally back at camp, we gave our bodies time to rest as our minds longed for well-deserved sleep. As I sat back in my camp chair my attention turned to the sky. The sunset was just reaching its peak, spilling its famous colors across the desert. My grandpa has a proper way to describe these sunsets: sky blue-pink with a heavenly boarder. The term describes the dance of colors so perfectly, that while watching a Nevada sunset, you can’t help but become entranced by its beauty.
For me, this trip wasn’t about the hunt, or even about the deer. It was about exploring and enjoying this sanctuary of serenity with great company and a peaceful mind. Both the mind that craves adventure and the one that desires tranquility can find their niche here; all it takes is a little bit of time and this great Nevada landscape will be yours.