Reese River/Jacobsville Station is six or seven miles west of Austin, Nevada. The current XP Bikepacking Route bypasses this station, so I set out to see if (1) the site was worth visiting, and (2) whether there was a viable route to Jacobsville Station that would enable a rider to view it without having to make a ten-mile detour out to the station and back to the XP Route.
Currently, the XP Bikepacking route turns southwest from US 50 onto Nevada State Highway 2/722. The highway here dead straight for ten miles through the Reese River Valley (named after Simpson's guide, John Reese, by the way) until it crosses the Shoshone Mountains through Railroad Pass. It is a well-paved, nearly deserted highway, and is a great way to make easy miles. So good, in fact, Jan Bennett posted a video of her 65-mile ride from Austin to Middlegate along this route, which you can see here. (For reference, the Austin to Middlegate section is Mile 1873 and 1931 on the XP Bikepacking Route.)
The problem with this route is that it goes south to cross the Desatoya Mountains (which lie between Austin and Middlegate), whereas the XP Trail and Old Overland Trail head west into the middle of the range (at Smith Creek) and turn north from Basque Summit along Edwards Creek until it turns west again (and parallels US 50) at the bottom of Edwards Creek Valley. As a result, the XP Bikepacking Route skips five station sites between Austin and Middlegate. So the question was whether the trail is blocked anywhere between Austin and Middlegate where the XP Trail and Old Overland Trail rejoin the XP Bikepacking Route. If the route is in fact open the entire way, the rider can choose whether (1) to stick to the highways or (2) to follow the original XP Trail more closely and see some or all of the station sites.
Austin to Reese River
The first part of scouting the trail in this section is the route from Austin to the Jacobsville/Reese River Station. There are essentially three ways to get to the Station from Austin:
- West on US 50 to the Jacobsville Park and Ride: from there the station is an easy 3/4 mile trail ride to the north.
- West on US 50 to the intersection of Nevada 2/722. There is an opening in the gate here and trail, which on Google maps anyway, seems to be clear to the station site.
- West from Nevada 305: this highway starts just west of Austin and runs north to Battle Mountain. A few miles up are signs marking where the Pony Express trail crosses the highway. Maps indicate some trails running southwest to the station from there.
Of these three, I suggest the first. It is a fast downhill and level run for six or so miles to the Jacobsville Park and Ride along US 50, which is not busy in this section. Once there, you will see a Nevada State historical marker, as well as a Lincoln Highway marker. To get to the station, there is a gate just past the northeast corner of the parking lot. Like most of the livestock gates in this area, one end is held by a loop of wire over a vertical pole. It is easy to unhitch the gate, a little harder to close it again, but not too hard. Just remember to re-close the gate, even if you'll be back in fifteen minutes. The trail runs from the other side of the gate, and is clear and easy to follow all the way to the station site.
I did not scout the trail from the intersection of Nevada 2/722. I did visit the site, and there is a gate there. The trail itself is something of an arc to the north, and to be honest, seemed very unappealing after the quick ride along the same stretch of US 50. As a result, I did not scout it and cannot guarantee that passage is clear all the way to the station. Here is a map of this route.
As for the last, most authentic course from 305, I tried and could not find any passage from the highway along here. The southwest quadrant of this area is fenced off as Lander County water treatment, and the are signs posted warning against contact with effluent. I tried to follow the Pony Express Trail from the highways signs west, and ran into a fence with no gate. It may be possible to find an unblocked trail north of where the Pony Express signs mark the trail, but I didn't scout that area. Google Maps did not show any promising trails, and this route would add a few unnecessary miles to the day's ride. Also, it looks like this area is part of a ranch, so it seemed likely there could be barriers further along the trail. Here is a map of a possible route, though again, I found the east end blocked by fences.
Jacobsville/Reese River Station Site
Honestly, there is not much to see at the town and station site. Mostly remnants of brick and the remains of an old corral. The station site is marked by a burnt tree (like the trail markers in this area). The area is nice with a view over the river. But there is no station or ghost town to visit.
Reese River to US 50
As stated above, while it is easy to make the short ride from the Jacobsville Park and Ride to the Jacobsville/Reese River Station, the site lies a little over three miles from the XP Bikepacking Route cutoff down Nevada 2/722. So while it is not too long of a detour, it would add another ten miles or so to the day's ride.
The Pony Express Trail and Old Overland Route run northeast/southwest through the Station. And if you look at Google Maps, you can see the Old Overland Trail marked as running south from US 50 about two or so miles west of the Station (as marked on this map). So I set out to scout (1) the trail running between Jacobsville Station and the point at which the Old Overland Road crosses US 50, and (2) access to the Old Overland Road south of US 50 (because if it wasn't accessible, there would be no reason to ride west from Jacobsville).
I mapped out a route, but was unable to stay on it. At times it is very easy to follow. Other times, it is hidden in the underbrush. In a couple of sections I was so busy dodging underbrush that I strayed from the path marked on my GPS. As a result, I ran into a fence which I thought blocked the trail from that point. After searching around, I found an open gate in the northwest corner of the fence. Rechecking my route, I saw this was where I should have been if I had stayed on the route.
Further west, and just before the point where the trail crosses the Reese River, some group (horse riders, I suspect) have erected a directional aid. It is a tall (15 foot?) pole, painted white, with cross pipes pointing out the direction of the route. By following that, I came to where my GPS also said was a crossing of the river. Unfortunately, the crossing was submerged. But even more discouraging, the bush on the other side of the river was so overgrown I couldn't see a way through. The crossing here is not bad — just a couple of feet — so I could have taken my shoes off and made it. But with no path on the other side, I decided not to bother.
Instead, I rode and walked further down the river until I found a place narrow enough to step across. Once on the other side, I made toward what looked like a trail marker (burnt tree). On the way, I stumbled across a stainless steel Pony Express Trail marker. I have not seen this marker referenced on any maps, so I had no idea it was there. Also, there were no clear trails leading to or away from the marker. I was walking my bike through greasewood at this point, lifting it over plants. But it's there if anyone wants to visit it.
After this section, the rest of the trail is much easier to follow. But there is one hitch: There is no gate allowing access to US 50 at the point the Old Overland Trail meets US 50 from the north. I had actually scouted and discovered this fact on a previous trip. It turns out that about 1/2 mile east of this crossing, there are gates allowing access both north and south of US 50. These are marked with wooden poles standing about ten feet high and painted white (also installed and maintained by horse riders, I assume). So to cross US 50, you need to turn off the Old Overland Trail and head due south to the north gate, cross through, and then either (1) cross through the corresponding gate south of US 50, or (2) ride the short distance west on US 50 and go though the south gate at that point to continue south on the Old Overland Trail. (By the way, there are highway signs marking the trail at this point. Good photo op.)
As I'll detail in my next post, the Old Overland Trail is clear from where it crosses US 50 until the west side of Smith Creek Valley. So the decision you, the rider, needs to make is whether (1) you'd like to stick to the highways in this section, which are fast and uncrowded, and make good time, or (2) you want to stick closer to the trail and see as many station sites as possible.
I cannot wholeheartedly recommend the trail between Jacobsville/Reese River Station and US 50 because I do not know if the river is hard to cross earlier in the season when there is more water everywhere. It might possibly be a difficult crossing. On the other hand, it seems reasonable to assume that the Annual NPEA Pony Express Re-Ride would lead to some folks cleaning up this section of the trail every year to facilitate the ride; as the ride was cancelled this year, no one performed any trail maintenance. When the re-ride resumes (planned for June 2021), this may be a much easier section.
The safest bet for someone wanting stay close to the original route would be to ride out US 50 the Park and Ride, do an out0-and-back to the Jacobsville/Reese River Station site, then continue west on US 50 to the Old Overland Trail, go though the gate, and continue south through the Reese River Valley toward Smith Creek Pass and Dry Wells Station.