The Jarbidge Mountain area, in far northeastern Nevada, is considered one of the most remote areas in the lower 48. So naturally, I wanted to check it out, but was a little intimidated by some skirmishes between local ranchers and federal land managers. So when Lang Elliot, in the midst of his sound recording tour of the western US, mentioned that he also wanted to check out the Jarbidge, I arranged to meet up with him in early July. According to NevadaWilderness.org, “The name Jarbidge translates from the Shoshone to mean ‘monster that lurks in the canyon’ or ‘weird beastly creature’.”
I approached the Jarbidge Mountains (a term I’m collectively using to refer to the area, which encompasses the Bruneau Range, Buck Creek Mountains, Copper Mountains, Elk Mountains, Fox Creek Range, Ichabod Range, Mary’s River Range, Salmon River Range and Wild Horse Range) from Elko. Most of the peaks here are between 10,000 and 11,000 feet, with the canyons up to 5,000 feet lower, creating a diverse and dramatic scenery. All roads leading to the Jarbidge are long and unpaved. Which was another reason I was hesitant to check out this area by myself; it was a long, long way for repairs, in case of a flat tire or vehicle breakdown. Having another vehicle along might come in handy.
The Jarbidge Mountains are one of the wettest parts of Nevada, typically receiving 7-8 feet of snow each winter, and the roads and trails of the high country typically don’t open until June or July. Last winter was exceptionally wet in northern Nevada, and the road over Coon Creek Summit had just been opened for a few days before we arrived. But the extra moisture meant an eye-popping abundance of wildflowers, especially on the south slopes of the mountains.
I took the main road through the Jarbidge Mountains, and met up with Lang in the tiny town of Jarbidge. There I found him, like usual, sampling the pie at a local eatery. I was surprised to find I was an hour late – the town has adopted Mountain Time for its standard, instead of Pacific Time like the rest of Nevada. We then drove back over the pass to an area he had previously scoped out in Copper Basin, where he wanted to set his mics out. The area turned out to be thicker with brush and downed trees and noisy streams than appeared at first glance, so he didn’t get the recordings he was looking for. But I was quite happy with a lovely dawn chorus of towhees, robins, and black-headed grosbeaks.
After breakfast and the dawn recording session, we drove back north over the pass, to check out recording opportunities in a different habitat. South of the pass, it’s mostly aspen, chokecherry, and wildflowers. North of the pass, it’s much more timbered and wet, and there were still patches of snow on the road. We drove around and checked out some snow-lined meadows, then set up camp in a grove of subalpine fir and lodgepole pine, with lingering patches of snow in the shadows.
Although less than 5 miles from our previous camp, the sounds of the pine-fir forest were quite different from the aspen-lined south slopes. We were greeted by hermit thrushes, house wrens, robins, juncos, and ruby-crowned kinglets. Everywhere was the sound of rushing water and the whisper of the breeze through pine and fir needles. The dawn chorus was absolutely lovely:
We ended up spending a several days in the Jarbidge. Although remote, it’s not unpopulated, and we ran into quite a few people driving around in pickups and ATV’s, enjoying the scenery, fishing, or touring through the town of Jarbidge. I wouldn’t call it crowded, especially given that we were there over the 4th of July holiday, (US independence day, for my non-American readers), but given the distance from any towns, there were more people than I expected. However, I would consider it a nice place for nature sound recordings, and I hope to get back there soon.
On our last morning, we headed north into Idaho, on our way to Montana, with Lang in the lead. He quickly left me in the dust, and as soon as we hit pavement, near the Idaho border, I discovered I had a flat tire. I was hoping Lang would quickly notice that I wasn’t behind him, but he was gone. I jacked up the car, removed the flat tire, and just about had the spare tire on, when some nice burly guys in a BLM pickup showed up and offered to help. Not wanting them to feel useless, I let them put the spare on. After thanking the guys, packing the car back up, and driving another 15 miles down the road, I finally ran into Lang. Lang had had many flat tires on his western journey (at least 9 that I’m aware of), and I have a sneaking suspicion he was waiting as long as he could, just to make sure he wouldn’t have to change another tire.
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