Labor Day weekend was approaching, and the smoke from the Rim Fire was still choking Carson City. We went south to flee the smoke the weekend before, so this time we decided to head east to Monitor Valley in Central Nevada.
We left Carson City about noon just as the smoke was starting to clear up for the day. Not far to the east, the smoke thickened, and each valley we passed through was full of smoke. We were starting to lose hope until ironically, the haze cleared when we got to Big Smoky Valley east of Austin.
The evening was coming on, so we started thinking we should find a campsite soon. We were approaching the Toquima Cave Campground at Pete’s Summit. The last time we came through this remote area, it was completely deserted. When we arrived though, all the sites that can really be called a site were taken. This is the risk you run getting a late start on a busy camping weekend. We still had daylight left, so we pressed on to Monitor Valley, hoping for something at Pine Creek Campground.
When we finally got to the turn off for Pine Creek Campground, we saw a jeep coming down the road. Either they were just going out for a cruise, or they found the campground full and left. I was pretty nervous driving up into the mountains, expecting to find the campground full. Time was running out to go find an alternative in a nearby canyon.
Entering the camp we found the first few sites packed. But just up the loop we found several sites open. We picked the site at the very top of the loop, right on Pine Creek. We setup our tent just above the creek, and I thought about how soothing the noise of the creek would be as we slept. After the shelter was setup, we went to work getting a fire built and food on the table. We relaxed by the campfire before going to bed, and enjoyed the dark starry night. I wasn’t sure how I’d sleep with the sound of the creek so near, but it ended up being one of the best night’s sleep I’d had in a while.
The next morning we headed south for the ghost town of Belmont. Belmont was established following a silver strike in 1865, and at one time boasted four stores, two saloons, five restaurants, livery stable, post office, assay office, bank, school, telegraph office, two newspapers, and a blacksmith shop. But like many of the mining towns in Nevada, it eventually experienced decline. Thankfully there are still some proud residents left in Belmont who take great care of the town.
We climbed up out of Monitor Valley to East Belmont, just over the ridge from town and where most of the mining activity took place. Our first stop was at what is left of the Combination Mill. You can see the outline of the buildings here and there is a small room in the side of the hill, but the prominent feature is the giant remaining chimney. At this mill, the sulfide silver ores were crushed, roasted, salted, and mixed with mercury to extract the silver. The big smokestacks were intended to carry the smoke and pollutants down wind and away from the community of East Belmont. I can only imagine the smell and health hazard!
Just over the ridge from the Combination Mill is the main town of Belmont. We first stopped at the center of town at a self serve visitor center. Here you can pick up a pamphlet for a self-guided tour of 16 points of interest. We leashed up the dogs, and began a leisurely stroll around town.
Only the front of the old bank building still stands. It was originally a bank, but later became a sheriff’s office with 2 jail cells in the basement. In 1874 two strangers, Charlie McIntyre and Jack Walker, drifted into town and had an altercation that ended up with a citizen being wounded by gunfire. Charlie and Jack were taken to the jail in this building. A vigilante lynch mob broke into the jail one night, and hung the two strangers in the basement. Such was justice in the old west.
We walked all over town, looking at all the points of interest. The main attraction in town, though, is the big Belmont Courthouse, built in 1875-1876. From a distance it looks well maintained and in good shape. It’s not until you get up close that you see it’s as old as it is. We arrived for a tour, but the tour guide never showed. It looks like we could have gone down the street to one of the local businesses to request a tour, but it just wasn’t that big of deal. We peeked in the windows instead, and saw walls covered in graffiti. Apparently there is one marking on the first floor that reads, “Charlie Manson + family 1969,” with a peace symbol drawn in the O in Manson. Some speculate that this inscription from the doomsday cult may be authentic. Not able to see much inside, we wandered around back and found a few jail cells with heavy iron doors. I feel sorry for anyone who got locked inside one of these metal boxes on a hot day!
Before heading south, we stopped at the spring in the middle of town, drank the cool water, and refilled our water bottles. This spring was a good stop for early Native American hunting parties, and probably a reason the town was built where it was.
Our next stop was the Belmont Cemetery. We didn’t spend too much time here, but examined a few of the older headstones. It’s a peaceful and well maintained place.
We left Belmont to the southwest, and drove through the hills to the small ghost town of Manhattan. There are a few people living here, but it’s not as well preserved like Belmont. According to this website, the church in Manhattan was originally in Belmont and moved here in 1905. The new church in Belmont is a replica of the old one. We decided not to stop and hike around, and just viewed a few sites from the car before returning to Belmont.
Upon returning to Belmont, we investigated the Belmont campground. I didn’t see any fee stations, and the place seemed to be occupied by RVs and buses, the visitors probably staying more long term. There were more ATVs in town than cars, and more often than not, there was a dog riding on the ATV as well. I think a lot of these ATVs were coming from this campground.
Wanting to get a cold drink before heading back to Monitor Valley, we stopped at Dirty Dick’s Belmont Saloon. Since we had our dogs, we couldn’t stay inside, but we enjoyed beers and sodas out on the porch looking out over the canyon. The bartender says we missed a huge Labor Day party the day before, complete with a BBQ. We’ll have to keep this mind for next year!
Once back to Monitor Valley, we took a small side road to explore a hill of interesting rock formations. We climbed around the rocks, and investigated the little canyons. This little hill would have been great to climb if we had more energy and weren’t ready to get back to camp.
Back at the Pine Creek Campground we relaxed for a while, then began our chores. The sky had darkened, and we could hear thunder off in the distance. It sprinkled lightly off and on, and we weren’t sure if the storm would pass. We built a fire and cooked dinner. The rain picked up a little after dinner, and then continued to build. Soon it was a full on thunderstorm, and we retreated to the tent. The campfire hissed and died.
Thankfully we brought some good books along. The rain continued on, never letting up. Thunder boomed overhead, and one of our dogs dogs shook with fear. It’d be a long time before she finally calmed down. We could no longer hear the creek, and fell asleep to the sound of rain instead.
We awoke to a calm cool morning. The desert can sometimes heat up quickly as soon as the sun comes up, but the temperature stayed comfortable all morning. We made up for the campfire we missed out on the night before, and took our time packing up.
After packing up, it was time for the grand finale of the visit in Monitor Valley, a stop at Pott’s Hot Springs. The rain had left the dirt road in a different state than when we arrived. There were puddles everywhere, and we had to scan the road for new ruts and washouts. On the plus side, there was no dust.
Activity in the valley had really died down by Sunday, and we were pretty sure we’d have the hot springs to ourselves. A quick scan of the area from the road with binoculars verified this. When we got to the hot tub, it was already full and ready, and we promptly jumped in for a long period of relaxation. It looks like the place had some activity over the weekend, and there was a bit of litter in the area. In some places you expect this, but it seemed to defile this pristine location. Before leaving we walked around and picked up all the trash, leaving the place better than we found it. We also drained the tub and fixed up the flume a bit. It’ll be all ready for the next visit.
As we left Monitor Valley, I examined all the other possibilities for exploration. Unexplored canyons and unclimbed mountains. The Table Mountain Wilderness on the east side of the Valley. You could spend days here exploring. A whole book could be written about this place. We can’t wait to go back.
More photos of this trip can be seen on Flickr here.
Additional information on Belmont at this site here.