Friday, October 13, 2006

Driving Over Scenic Hinkey Summit


Years ago, a friend told me about a nice, little scenic road that passed through the heart of the Santa Rosa Mountains in Northern Nevada.

After driving the route, known as the Hinkey Summit Drive, I can say he undersold the road. Hinkey Summit Road is one of the most spectacular drives in the state.

It begins just beyond the quaint and picturesque community of Paradise Valley, on the eastern side of the Santa Rosa Range, about 45 miles north of Winnemucca.

The first few miles of the drive are not particularly noteworthy. You drive on a graded gravel-dirt road through a flat, dry high desert valley. Soon, however, you start to climb into the range via a fairly winding route.

The terrain gradually changes from piƱon and sagebrush to rolling hills covered with wildflowers (and, of course, more sagebrush). While it’s best to have a high clearance, four-wheel drive vehicle, the road isn’t particularly rough or difficult, just a bit bumpy.

Along the way, you pass a handful of small cabins and homes tucked into little side canyons. These are private residences, most used during the summer months.

A mile or so up the road, you begin to see a couple of the range’s impressive granite peaks. Just ahead is a craggy, rock mound, its rough, gray surface resembling elephant skin.

Soon, we spotted one of the most remarkable sights on the drive—a mountain slope thickly covered with blooming, yellow mule ear flowers. This combination of vivid green, gray and yellow colors seemed painted on the landscape.

The road continues to climb and the mountain peaks grow even more scenic. To one side, we viewed a virtual wall of jagged mountaintops, some still covered with small patches of white snow.

We stopped here to enjoy the view, delighting in the unspoiled beauty of these mountains. To the west, we could see Granite Peak, one of the taller peaks in the range with an elevation of 9,732 feet.

A bit farther, at Hinkey Summit, we came upon one of the most amazing geological features of the drive—a large, round hole in one of the mountains.

Measuring perhaps 30 to 50 feet across, the hole, which apparently has no name, is angled slightly so that when you stand below it you look up into the deep blue sky.

We stopped to explore the hole; my teenage son climbed to a rock ledge at its base so I could take his photo. The rocks and the opening, which is almost a perfect circle, are fractured in such a way as to resemble a large stone bulls-eye.

Opposite the hole in the mountain are a handful of buildings, which are the Martin Creek Guard Station. A bit up the road from the guard station is the Lye Creek Campground, which has 13 developed campsites and a large group picnic area.

Several spring-fed creeks can be found running through the campground, which is generally open June through October.
From here, the road slowly begins to wind down the western slope of the range. A few miles from Hinkey Summit you reach a series of narrow, sharp switchbacks known as Windy Gap.

When you finally reach the base of the gap, the road flattens out and continues west to U.S. 95. Along the way, you will pass the ruins of an abandoned mining mill site, which appears to date to the mid-20th century.

It’s a fairly quick drive to the highway, which leads south to Winnemucca or north to McDermitt and the Oregon border.
The Hinkey Summit Drive offers a unique opportunity to travel through the remote and uncrowded Santa Rosa Mountains, among Nevada’s less well-known natural treasures.

For more information about the area, contact the Santa Rosa Ranger District, 1200 Winnemucca Blvd. East, Winnemucca, NV 89445, 775-623-5025, ext. 24, www.fs.fed.us/htnf/santarosawelcome.htm.

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