Pahrump, Shoshone, and the China Ranch

no more saguaros, now Joshua trees and smell the sage! The drive from Laughlin up the hill to Highway 95 toward Vegas is steep, but not really very long and we rolled up the hill in the morning sunlight.  Another possible stop on our route was Boulder City, where a soil scientist friend had promised a cold drink and a copy of his presentation on the Spirit Mountains.  Again, it was not to be.  I only heard about the RV search at Hoover Dam after we had already decided to re-route around Las Vegas traffic as much as possible and skip the drive across the new bridge at the dam.

toward Las Vegas The drive to Pahrump was short, just under 160 miles, and the road was great.  We managed to skirt the worst of the Las Vegas traffic on the south side of the city, staring in awe at the miles and miles of low brown stucco homes covering the desert.  Highway 160, west from Las Vegas, is part of the Old Spanish Trail and winds through the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area and crosses the beautiful Spirit Mountains at Mountain Springs.  Once through the pass, the wide desert vista of the Pahrump Valley opens up to the west. As Mo drove the smooth, even highway, I started checking out the Streets and Trips listings of Camp Club USA parks in Pahrump.  We called a couple of places, discovering that once again, no one had cable, but the Charleston Peak Winery RV Park was on our list, and had an opening for our club, 1/2 price at 20 bucks once more.

Laughlin to Pahrump (30) There are many RV parks in the area, and we toured around town checking them out the next day, but still were happy with our choice, especially at the price.  Once settled in on the high fan above town, with an unbroken view of Charleston Peak to the east, we were especially tickled.  The swimming pool was closed for the evening, but it was just a few hundred yards to the tasting room at the “only” or “first” winery in Nevada.  I am still not sure which, but I suppose I could look that up eventually.  The winery said one thing and the chamber said another, so which is true?.

sunset on Charleston Peak Seven tastings are offered for free, and even though they no longer grow their own grapes except for a very small vineyard, they made some award winning cabernet from Sonoma grapes. The original vineyards planted were destroyed a few years ago by wild horses.  Mo stayed with Abby and I enjoyed sitting in the unpretentious, intimate little tasting room with award winning wine while Mo settled for a glass of chardonnay in the MoHo. 

Laughlin to Pahrump (50) The evening was much cooler than any we have experienced in a couple of weeks, with a wild, blustery wind blowing across the desert.  I’m not quite sure why, but even in that wind our slide topper didn’t seem to flap too much.  Maybe it’s a different kind of construction than some.  So  far it hasn’t been a problem. Charleston Peak was brilliant snowy white against the dark cloudy skies to the east, with the western skies clear enough for a gorgeous sunset.

today's explorations Sunday was our day to relax and explore more of the area south and west of Pahrump.  When we traveled to Death Valley in 2004, we had a rented car, (pre MoHo days!) and spent a lot of time exploring the park.  It was time for something different, and with the help of the excellent Discover Pahrump brochure, we mapped out a route.

West of Pahrump, Highway 372 changes to 178 when you cross into California, crossing a small range of mountains and opening up to another valley.  The tiny community of Shoshone lies in the heart of the valley, a pleasant stop for folks traveling farther west or north into Death Valley.  It was a nice stop for us as well, and with the price of gas, we were glad we had filled up the tracker back in Nevada and a mere 3.69 per gallon.  Shoshone is full of crusty characters, and has a history of fascinating people.  The museum there is tiny, but wonderful, with a special section devoted to Death Valley Women, with photos, newspaper articles, and stories.  In the back of the museum are the collection of bones once thought to be mammoth bones, but later identified as several different animals probably washed into the Pleistocene lake from several different areas.

remnants of a different era in Shoshone, CAShoshone lies at the edge of the ancient lake, and the area is riddled with soft sediments from the old lake bed, then uplifted and eroded into washes and gorges and mesas, surrounded by more wild volcanics, ash flow tuffs, and even obsidian. Suddenly in the cliffs, we saw caves that were obviously man made, and got out to explore.  Later, the museum volunteer pointed me up a  dirt road west of Shoshone to view more of these man made caves.  Near town, in addition to a very strange and wacky looking cemetery, we found what was left of hand carved homes inhabited by desert dwellers in the 20’s and 30’s.  They looked ever so much like homes carved out of the volcanic tuffs in the Cappadocia region in Turkey.  Certainly not as old, and not as artistic, but the idea was the same.  Carve out a safe home, warm in winter, cool in summer, using what is available.

apartments in the desert Apartments carved in stone in the desert near Shoshone, maybe a little over 80 years old?

click here for many more photos of the area around Shoshone and the cave homes.

DSCN8382 Apartments carved in stone in Cappadocia, maybe over 1200 years old? 

Click here for more photos of the fantastic home in the Cappadoccia region of Turkey

After exploring the cave apartments, we continued up the wash toward the volcanic hills.  The road ended after a few miles, but yielded a wonderful array of blooming wildflowers.

Yes, Mo and I did plenty of tent camping before we got the first MoHo in 2005

P1010019 Back on the highway, we continued south toward the small community of Tecopa, site of several hot springs resorts.  I say “resort” with tongue in cheek, because these places were not fancy in the least, just dusty campgrounds with faded signs that said “hot mineral baths” or “massage”. The springs are known for their healing properties, and have been used by humans for centuries, but they didn’t look all that tempting to me.  My favorite spring is still up in the mountains of eastern Oregon, in the middle of a meadow at Hart Mountain.  But that’s another story, prior to MoHo days, when Mo and I tent camped up there.

Road to China Date Farm Beyond Tecopa to the south and east on the Spanish Trail, is the desert oasis of China Ranch. The road into the valley is twisting and winds between fantastical apparitions of the badlands.  Once through the tiny canyon, the small valley opens up, green and lush with date palms and irrigation.  It wasn’t very clear about where to go, and we followed a dirt road and a sign that pointed to the gift shop.  The parking lot was almost full, but the gift shop was very small and didn’t seem to be near the date palms at all.  There were a few signs pointing to the river, but we really had no idea where to go, and of course with Abby, we needed to check on the dog friendly areas, if they existed.

nice walk on a hot day I went into the tiny, crowded gift shop, where one person was busy making date shakes, and no one else seemed to be around.  I finally asked a customer if they had any idea of what you were supposed to do in this place and she gave me the 50 cent trail brochure.  Ahha!!  No restrictions on dogs!  We didn’t even see a leash sign, but kept Abby on her leash anyway.  The maps on the brochure were fairly primitive, and even as a map maker I had a hard time figuring out where to go.  We ambled up the lane toward the date palms, trying to find a circular route which eluded us, and trying to avoid the hot badlands which didn’t sound all that great on this hot mid afternoon.

Shoshone and Tecopa (79) The palms were beautiful, graceful and gentle in the desert.  Each variety had an informative sign explaining it’s origin, something we had seen at the Oasis in Indio, but of course here everything was much more rustic and casual.  After hiking an hour or so, we walked back to the shop for a cold drink.  I kept thinking I wanted a date shake, but every time I would slip inside the line was too long, and the poor guy was still doing everything by himself.  Mo and I settled for a cold diet pepsi and some time on the shady bench outside the store.

Our trip home followed the original path of the Old Spanish Trail back to Highway 160 south of Pahrump.  There are great signs about the trail in two places, but each of them comes up suddenly with no warning, so you have to be ready to whip in or turn around to read them. It was sobering to stand in that wide open, hot, dry desert basin, with range after range of rugged mountains in every direction and envision hardy travelers following this path from Abiquiu, New Mexico to Los Angeles in 1829.   John C Fremont, another hero of mine, passed on this trail in 1844.  In 2002 it was designated by Congress as a National Historic Trail.  Our circular route back to Pahrump followed much of this path, and even I-15 follows along the historic trail for some distance in Nevada.

Charleston Peak east of Pahrump in the distanceOnce home again in the late afternoon, we settled in to reading and relaxing before our planned outing to the Pahrump Nugget Steakhouse for their highly touted best steaks around.  Sometimes Mo and I skip lunch entirely and eat a very early supper, but again, this time we were considering Abby and our opportunity to eat out required dark night skies. The casino was fairly quiet on a Sunday night, but the restaurant was full to the brim with a big bunch of bikers who were staying in a nearby hotel.  At first we though the whole idea might have been a mistake when the waitress said there would be an hour wait.  The restaurant didn’t even look full, but all the wait staff was in the back room with the bikers.  We said we would be happy to sit in the bar, actually just a couple of tables next to the restaurant, and settled in to watch all the frustration of the employees trying to deal with a lot of people with not a lot of staff.  Finally we managed to get a couple glasses of wine and then a sweet young man, who turned out to be the off duty chef, came over and took our order.  Once they figured out that someone needed to wait on us, everything went great.  My steak was perfect, and I have 3/4 of it left for our dinner tonight..  Once back home, we felt like it was a perfectly lovely day and we were ready to settle in to the slight evening breeze. 

Apr 3 Shoshone and Tecopa Our trip is coming to a close.  As I was writing this entry, the wild crest of the Sierra Nevada Mountains opened up to the west, and the snow capped ranges of western Nevada are framing my view to the north as we approach Walker Lake.  Not sure yet where we will stop tonight, but I do hope it is on a big alluvial fan somewhere in the Nevada desert, with a view for miles and no lights to be seen.

Author: kyotesue

Soil scientist/mapper working for 35 years in the wild lands of the West. I am now retired, enjoying my freedom to travel, to hike without a shovel and a pack, to knit and quilt and play, to play with photography and write stories about all of it.

7 thoughts on “Pahrump, Shoshone, and the China Ranch”

  1. Those people who dug homes into caves and rocks sure knew what they were doing … naturally cool in the summer, warm in the winter.

    I'll have to keep the campground with the wine tasting in mind for our future travels. Mui would certainly enjoy the tasting. I've yet to see an oasis in the desert; I bet they make a beautiful contrast to an otherwise barren landscape.


  2. What a lovely and informative post. Your comparison of the cave dwellings was very interesting.

    I always look forward to reading your blog. It is so interesting and your pictures are beautiful. I really like the collage of the wild flowers today.


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