Camping

Camping“From West of Casper, WY to outside of Sacramento, CA free camping on public lands can happen almost anywhere you can find a place to put your sleeping bag down. I wouldn’t necessarily suggest a hammock as there aren’t very many tall things to tie off to out in the high desert.

Mile 1530: Goshute Reservation

Still from video about Native American tribes of Utah
Still from video about Native American tribes of Utah

“While the Pony Express is seen as an achievement of the times from those who wrote history, there are stories of death and destruction that follow in its wake. The Pony Express, and numerous pioneer trails, crashed through what was once a peaceful, subsistance way of life for the people of the Goshute.
 
The route passes through the reservation lands of the Confederated Tribes of the Goshute Reservation, right after you pass through Ibapah, Utah, right before the Nevada border. The white man was not kind to these peaceful people. My time in this area of the route might be my most memorable. The land is vast, arid, rugid, and incredibly tranquil. Many times I found myself considering what might have been different those before us had saught out a more peaceful way to exist along side people who had been here for centuries before.
 
This hour long video covers the 5 Native American tribes of Utah as they currently stand. The video starts at the Goshute, but I would highly suggest going back to the beginning, grabbing a cup of coffee, and settling in for a quick history lesson. That these people found a way to thrive is worthy of more recognition than I fear they will ever recieve.”

Mile 1565: Rock Springs

“Another station, Rock Springs was added on the shortcut or summer express route. It cut over the southern tip of the Antelope Mountains with the intent of reducing distance and time. Nothing remains of Rock Springs or Spring Valley Station.”

William E. Hill, The Pony Express Trail: Yesterday and Today, p. 214
Mile 1578: Schellbourne Rest Stop

“I would very strongly caution against assuming that highway rest stops out here will have any supplies. This stretch of the route passes through some of the most remote lands in the world. Still. To this day.

The Schelborne rest stop is nothing more than a large parking lot to house vehicles and tractor-trailers during foul weather. The only facilities here are composting toilets, like what you find in national parks. There is no water and there are no vending machines.

There is no shelter other than those toilets, which will be in demand at all hours due to the distances between towns along that highway.

There is signage talking about the Pony Express through the area though. It’s worth stopping to read it!

Across the highway, if you are using Google maps, you will notice Schellbourne Station. It is an abandoned gas station/restaurant/motel. All of the doors are gone, windows are busted out, and rooms are littered with squatters trash. Simply put, you cannot rely on this rest area for anything other than hitching a ride into town and a toilet.

Behind the Schellbourne station there used to be a RV park. It is overgrown and there is very little good space to sleep. It is also right along the highway and is loud at night (ask me how I know! hehe).”

Mile 1588: Route Deviation to Ely, NV

Detour, Ely, NV
Detour, Ely, NV

Just past Mile 1588, the Pony Express trail veers to the right from the road. The Pony Express Bikehiking Trail map deviates from the original route. This adds approximately 60 miles to the route. Following is Jan’s explanation:

“This is an area of the route that I struggled with a great deal. It also proved to be quite an experience to bikepack it solo!

Once you leave Salt Lake City there is no food resupply directly along the route until you hit Austin, NV, nearly 400 miles away. While I was at the Bikepacking Summit in Gunnison, CO a few years ago I ran this section by a number of exceptionally experienced bikepackers and the consensus was to simply make it a part of the route. If folks wanted to bypass it, that was up to them. Because of the remoteness of this section all felt that it was prudent to direct folks to resupply and let them make the decisions themselves if they wanted to continue along the original route instead.

Simply put, if you are of the opinion that you can haul enough food to make it 400 miles across the desert then these route deviations are not necessary. Your daily mileage and comfort level will dictate this. I would encourage you to take into consideration your daily mileages on a fully loaded bike, at elevation, in an extremely arid environment. Especially in the middle of the summer. I definitely don’t want to sound alarmist, but this area of the country is not an area to take lightly.”

Mile 1735 – 1830: Desert Stations

Posted on the Pony Express National Trail Facebook page:

“You may not be able to get out on the Pony Express, so we will bring it to you! Read along to take a virtual visit to five historic station sites across 53 miles.

https://www.nps.gov/poex/learn/historyculture/upload/Rugged-Men-Rigorous-Rides-508.pdf

(Photo/NPS/Exhibit from Garden Pass/Click the link for an accessible pdf version of the full exhibit).”

Comments give more information about access to the mining area where Sulphur Springs Station is located. Note that this station is off the Pony Express Bikepacking Route if you take the detour at Mile 1735 to restock at Eureka.

Mile 1737: Route Deviation to Eureka, NV

Detour, Eureka, NV
Detour, Eureka, NV

Just before Mile 1738, the Pony Express trail veers to the right from the road. The Pony Express Bikehiking Trail map deviates from the original route. This adds approximately 35 miles to the route. Following is Jan’s explanation:

“The pass that you will cross before Eureka is difficult. Do not underestimate the time it will take for you to make it to the top, and then the technical nature of the descent on the back side.

[And to reiterate]

Once you leave Salt Lake City there is no food resupply directly along the route until you hit Austin, NV, nearly 400 miles away.

While I was at the Bikepacking Summit in Gunnison, CO a few years ago I ran this section by a number of exceptionally experienced bikepackers and the consensus was to simply make it a part of the route. If folks wanted to bypass it, that was up to them. Because of the remoteness of this section all felt that it was prudent to direct folks to resupply and let them make the decisions themselves if they wanted to continue along the original route instead.

Also, please note that the stations that are marked are historical stations. They are not manned stations in any way. There are no supplies available. Many times all you will find is a marker and some ruins. Little more.

Simply put, if you are of the opinion that you can haul enough food to make it 400 miles across the desert then these route deviations are not necessary. Your daily mileage and comfort level will dictate this.

I would encourage you to take into consideration your daily mileages on a fully loaded bike, at elevation, in an extremely arid environment. Especially in the middle of the summer. I definitely don’t want to sound alarmist, but this area of the country is not an area to take lightly.

Mile 1944: Route Detour to Simpson Pass

Just past Sand Springs Station (at Mile 1944), the Pony Express Bikepacking Route stays on US 50 to Fallon, NV. The road at this point heads northwest. The original Pony Express Trail runs west at this point through Simpson Pass to Desert Station (or Hooten Wells Station) where it rejoins the Pony Express Bikepacking Route.

At Sand Springs Station (at Mile 1944) on the Pony Express Bikepacking Route at Ride With GPS, Jan makes a note: “Playa is unrideable.”

Jan’s comment (on Facebook): 
 
“If one follows the route directly from Salt Lake City to Carson City, for around 500 miles, the only town directly on the route is Austin, NV where resupply consists of a minimally stocked convenience store with somewhat limited hours. Taking the difficulty of the section you rode into account, in addition to the vast distance from prior resupply, I felt that routing through Fallon was the best option. Thanks [Kurstin] for documenting your ride! I’m sure others will want to stick to the route as much as possible so this gives them that option.”
 
Kurstin Gerard Graham scouted the original trail through this section. Kurstin rode it from west to east (opposite to the track of the PX Bikepacking Route) and cut across some of the unrideable terrain just west of Highway 50.
  •  His route report is here
  • The track of Kurstin’s ride is on Ride With GPS here.
  • To get to Simpson Pass while riding from east to west, Kurstin posted another map here, which follows dirt roads through the area. The turnoff is about 1/4 before the Sand Springs Station marker. [N.B. The second map does not cover the entire detour, just the western portion which offers a dirt road alternative harder-to-follow route on Kirstin’s original map. Also, FWIW, parts of this route seem hard to trace. Suggest anyone trying it be well stocked and very confident in their riding and navigation skills.]

I scouted the route between Sand Springs and Highway 95 in October 2020. My route reports are here:

 
 

Nevada Conditions

“The stretch between [Salt Lake City] and Carson City is some of the most unforgiving terrain there is. It is also some of the most beautiful, isolated, uninhabited, desolate, awe-inspiring land I’ve ever been in . . .

My biggest fear is that someone will get out there and not be adequately prepared and end up in a very bad situation.

I rode that stretch this summer [2019] but had to adjust my schedule to account for the heat of the day. I would stop riding around 1-1:30, aiming to be at higher elevation and around trees. I would find shade and would try my best to have just topped off water, or be near a water source. I would lay down and rest for a while, letting my body cool off while consuming water and electrolytes. I would eat once I had cooled off enough to stomach food. I would nap/rest until about 4-4:30 then would go for another 20 miles or so.

My days were limited to around 60 miles.”

Nevada Route Deviations

There are two major route deviations in Nevada: one near Mile 1588 (to Ely) and one near Nile 1737 (to Eureka). These add nearly 100 miles to the original Pony Express Route, and are designed to give riders options for food and water. Following are general comments about this section from Jan Bennett (who mapped the rout) and Tim Tait. More specific details are in the Route Reports for the two mile markers listed above.

From Jan

“Once you leave Salt Lake City there is no food resupply directly along the route until you hit Austin, NV, nearly 400 miles away.”

From Tim:

“[Y]ou’ll want to hit every store stop you can get your hands on out here. It’s slow rolling in an unforgiving environment. The elevation profile is deceiving. Pace will be much lower than expected. I was working on a unloaded rig, on single day legs, and was barely averaging 15mph. . . .

I think it would be safe to say be prepared for some significant swings from that 10 mph average, for large sections. There are sections out here that just scream, especially with a tail wind, and there are sections that will absolutely crawl due to sand or large gravel… or because of massive headwinds… and how those sections stack up end up changing ETAs and time between sections/services. Frustration on miles of washboards can make for a start/stop strategy that you might not have been prepared for. In terms of water, Utah is scorching hot in the summer time. Temps in Salt Lake are regularly in the 100’s in late July/early August. Most of the west desert isn’t high enough elevation to get you into much cooler temperatures than that. Winds will strip all the fluid out of you. Me personally, in the hottest parts of the summer, I would plan on 1.25-1.5 liters/hour of cycling, and I am on the lighter side of water consumption. For pespective, I ride the west desert in March-May, and then typically don’t go back until September/October.