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Monitor Valley sanctuary appeals to hunters and traditional campers.
Photo: Joyce Hollister
As I strolled around Pine Creek Campground, thinking myself alone in a cool refuge from the hot central Nevada sagebrush terrain, I ran into someone from the only other occupied campsite. Tall, slender, and polite, he was outfitted head to toe in camouflage. We exchanged greetings. It was early August—and bow season.
This U.S. Forest Service camping facility is popular with local hunters and families, mostly on weekends, but even on Memorial Day you can find a spot to pitch your tent. Located on the Monitor Valley side of the Alta Toquima Wilderness, Pine Creek flows down the eastern flank of 11,941-foot Mount Jefferson and in late summer still burbles merrily around well-maintained campsites. Because of the water, lush green trees line the creek and provide welcome shade.
Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest archaeologist Fred Frampton says the campground is remote enough that most people don’t know about it. “It’s one of the hidden secrets of Nevada,” he says.
I certainly think so. My husband and I poked around all 21 sites—the hunters’ RV generator was replenishing batteries at their elaborate camp complete with electric lights and top-of-the-line camp stoves—until we found just the site we wanted. It was comprised of a concrete table, standing grill, and fire ring with a swinging grill. Our campsite was steps away from Pine Creek Trail, which we hiked for a couple of miles before preparing dinner.
The trail leads to Mount Jefferson. You hike through a tree-filled, red-walled canyon along the stream bank and occasionally run across evidence of horses and pack animals. We forded the creek on fallen trees in several places. As you attain higher elevations, you’ll find lush meadows and wide sweeps of rock. The trail is rated moderate, although there are some rough patches. Frampton says to reach Mount Jefferson’s summit might take all day if you leave early. “It’s not an up-and-back, same-day hike for most people,” he says.
Old West buffs will find the trail intriguing. “It follows an 1860s logging road,” Frampton says. “We discovered a lumber mill and a wagon way the heck up there, [at] about 9,500 feet. My bet is they were logging for Belmont, which used to be the Nye County seat.” If you do hike that far up, Frampton asks that you take nothing but pictures. Archaeological and cultural sites are protected by law.
As if in compensation, hikers, horseback riders, and backpackers using the trail system above Pine Creek are treated to spectacular views, says Humboldt-Toiyabe Austin and Tonopah Districts Ranger Steve Williams. This summer, Williams joined a group on a horseback trip. They unloaded their horses at a spot just outside of the campground frequented by outfitters and guides who bring their clients to Pine Creek for sightseeing and hunting.
The Alta Toquima Wilderness is populated by deer, sage grouse, chukar, elk, antelope, bighorn sheep and wild horses and burros. The bighorns that live on the top of Mount Jefferson are among the very few desert sheep to live at such high elevations. Santa Rosa District recreation staff officer Tina Gast says Mount Jefferson is highly prized by bighorn hunters, and Pine Creek Campground makes a convenient base camp.
Nearby attractions include Diana’s Punch Bowl, a unique geothermal spring, Potts Ranch Hot Springs, and Toquima Cave, where American Indians painted symbols in red, black, white, and yellow. Pine Creek Campground, which offers four extremely clean no-flush toilets (one is handicapped accessible) and one group site, is a stop on the American Discovery Trail, a coast-to-coast nonmotorized recreation trail. No drinking water is available.
You can hike trails leading into the Alta Toquima Wilderness and Arc Dome Wilderness or tour Belmont and Manhattan, early Nevada mining towns. Open May through October, Pine Creek is reached by well-maintained gravel roads. For directions from Austin, Tonopah, or Eureka, visit the campground’s Web site.
And if you choose to stay at Pine Creek during hunting season, don’t be surprised if you run into campers tricked out in camo. Be sure to say hi.
Pine Creek Campground
Alta Toquima Wilderness
Arc Dome Wilderness
American Discovery Trail