Color Across Northern Nevada
Fall in the Great Basin might just surprise you.
By Kippy S. Spilker
What do you get when you combine wide open spaces with stunning fall foliage? There’s no punchline, and it’s no joke that the Silver State has a lot to offer leaf-peepers. With gorgeous October colors awaiting, a road trip was in order, so Senior Graphic Designer Alexandria Olivares-Wenzel and I grabbed our cameras and hit the road.
OXBOW NATURE STUDY AREA
Our first stop on the trip was at this riparian wilderness quietly tucked near downtown Reno. Although the visit proved a little early for the prime colors, it was a fantastic way to spend a morning along the Truckee River. This 22-acre conservation area has miles of trail loops and offshoots, tables, benches, and limited wheelchair access. Climb a platform which looks out over the preserve, and you might be lucky enough to watch a hunting hawk or two.
WATER CANYON RECREATION AREA
After 2.5 hours traveling east of Reno on Interstate 80, we found ourselves in Water Canyon Recreation Area. Not only is this a great place for spotting beautiful fall color, but it also offers plentiful opportunities for camping, hiking, and biking. The grounds include fire pits, grills, picnic tables, and even a few covered shelters. We took a short photo hike to build our appetites, and then it was time for lunch at Winnemucca Pizzeria.
LAMOILLE CANYON SCENIC BYWAY
Arriving in Elko, we immediately headed out to scout the famous Lamoille Canyon. The sun was setting, but we could tell we were in for a treat the next day. We headed back to Elko for a great dinner at Odeh’s Mediterranean Restaurant.
As the sun rose the following morning over the Ruby Mountains—otherwise known as the Swiss Alps of Nevada—we began the 12-mile drive up the Lamoille Canyon Scenic Byway. Twelve miles doesn’t take long, that is unless you find yourself stopping every few hundred feet for photos. At the end of the road is a parking lot with restrooms, picnic tables, trails, and stunning views.
While we didn’t get as far into the Rubies as I’d hoped, we did make it to Harrison Pass and were rewarded with not only golden colors, but reds and oranges as well. We met a friend at Luciano’s back in Elko, where we ended our long day with a delicious meal and great conversation.
Day three of our adventure found us heading north on the unpaved Charleston-Jarbidge Road for the beautiful 50-mile drive to Jarbidge. When you come upon the Copper Basin in all its autumn color explosion, I dare you not to stop. You won’t often find reds and oranges in Nevada’s natural fall foliage, but I don’t know that you will find a view like this anywhere else. The sight of layers of mountains as far as you can see and hundreds of acres of quaking aspen—with almost-comically-tall, perfectly-shaped subalpine firs jutting up among them—is something to be experienced.
Eventually we tore ourselves away from the Copper Basin and made our way—carefully—down the more-than-15-percent grade into the small town of Jarbidge. Easily the most isolated town in the Silver State (and perhaps the continental U.S.), there are about a dozen year-round residents operating two saloons, a restaurant, trading post, gift shop, gas pump, and post office. With 113,000 acres in the Jarbidge Wilderness Area, this is an outdoor recreationist’s dream.
Refreshed by a comfortable night’s sleep at the Outdoor Inn, we filled to-go mugs with fresh coffee from the restaurant, stopped in the gift shop, and made our way back to Elko. After a quick bite to eat, we headed back to Lamoille Canyon to photograph the Milky Way in Nevada’s famous dark skies.
ALL GOOD THINGS…
Four days on the go from sunrise-to-sunset (and beyond), fresh air, and exploration started to take its toll on us, so on our last morning we treated ourselves to a leisurely breakfast at the Coffee Mug Family Restaurant. As much as we saw on our trip, there was still so much we just didn’t have time for, adding to our growing travel list for future autumn trips in the Silver State.
Enjoy more photos from the trip, below.