Monte Cristo’s Castle..no it’s not a casino;)
Mike learned of this alien landscape from researching the Clear Sky Chart homepage and running into some information from the Tonopah Astronomical Society. This is one of the top 20 dark sky areas in the US and Mike was excited to check it out for a future stop in cooler weather and no moon times.
We made camp in Mina, Nevada and the the next day took a day trip down, about 30 miles to the turn off to this spectacular area…and we missed it, the directions we had received were not the best, we parked after we could drive no more..yes..a road like our road in Baja;) and walked around unable to find the area they called the amphitheater..I’d seen a video online (the only information I could find) about it so knew more or less what to look for. The temperatures were in the 90’s and it was not fun scrambling about so we headed back.We followed a hunch and took the road to the right and drove along it..we knew once we saw it below us that it was what we were looking for!
The small dirt road followed a dry creek bed up and between several hills before the amphitheater opened out around us…it was a bit rough due to some heavy Spring flooding from Hurricane Dolores but do-able..not to get the trailer in though as Mike had hoped but there were several large flat areas before the small turn off where dry camping could be possible.
From what we had read this starkly beautiful spot was part of an active volcano millions of years ago. This spot is is underlain primarily by volcanic and sedimentary rocks that are between about 24 and 11 million years old! The white and pink “tuff” is rock composed of ash, crystals, rock fragments, and pumice violently erupted from a volcano. The grey green and brown andesite is from lava flows and the white bedded sandstone is volcanic debris. Erosion during the last several thousand years has sculpted the tuffs into unusual formations and shapes…it was astounding..we had to pick our jaws up off of the ground. It had a magical feel to it..and there was not a footprint or a tire track to be seen…we were it…which way to go..so many choices!
After we trekked up the first canyon,exploring the perimeter and moving the truck closer to the entrance to the canyons it took our breathe away as we wandered about the strange formations..a set of Star Trek we decided, an alien could emerge at any time! When we came upon the castle..we knew it..
I had googled Monte Cristo’s castle earlier that day so after seeing Mother Natures version I think I like it better;) This place is actually named after the mountain range it is found in.
After a few hours we still needed to get to Tonopah for groceries and gasoline but vowed to return in the following day or two..Mike as usual was in his birks and we needed to do some climbing and rock scrambling to get further into the canyons and his shoes were at the trailer.
Two days later we came back with lots of water and lunch and headed back into the northern most canyon. We’d read that Bighorn Sheep frequented the area and I really wanted to see one. We walked as far as we could with the help of a ladder that had been left at one steep spot until we could go no more. We returned and explored another side canyon before going back to the central canyon and following the dry creek bed further and further inwards.
Initially the canyon sides grew narrower and narrower. The water over millennia has worn it’s path down through the soft rock. For the most part we walked on a bed of sand, occasionally coming to what would have been small waterfalls cascading over the rocks..but not this time of year. After the initial narrowing the sides of the canyon started to open up as we climbed higher and higher. At one point a rope had been left to help climb out of a small bowl and continue up the canyon. Zebra tailed lizards darted out of our way, as well as a beautiful yellow lizard I have not found in the books.
Eventually we reached a large open area, another amphitheater almost. We climbed the side of the closest hill and headed south as there had been a fork in the canyon and we wanted to head back down the other way. Mike turned to look over his shoulder and there galloping away was a beautiful Bighorn sheep! NOOO!!! Come back!!! He was headed up onto one of the ridges behind us, and away from us…so we started to belt out our best sheep noises we could muster. After looking after 100 or so at the farm in Ontario we had lot’s of practice;)
Well..he stopped, and turned around and started to come back much to our surprise! Either he really liked our sheep noises, or just curiosity brought him into camera range, and what a lovely creature he was! He followed us on top of the ridge for a ways before becoming bored and wandering off…it was a delightful encounter… although I did have my worries initially thinking..do these guys ever attack(?)..we were making other sheep noises…the idea of being rammed by a ram did not exactly thrill me;)
Elated we headed back down the canyon, this one narrower and steeper but not too bad to jump down from rock to rock. As we passed by the Castle again we stopped and stared. It is such a fantastic area. There have been many initiatives to get this made into a State Park since 2007 but all seem to have failed..that is sad. This spot deserves protection.
There is so much here to see and save. One canyon was full of this conglomerate rock. From the size of your fist to the size of a VW bug! In other areas huge rock formations towered above you as well as small caves and arches. What a magical spot for a Star Party!
As we left we slowed down and scouted spots we could park the trailer later this Fall. We’d like to stay a week or more once the temperatures moderate. It amazed us that there was no sign of other hikers or visitors, not a footprint other than the Sheep hoof marks and a few lizard tails in the sand.
So, if you find yourself driving North or South on the US#95 and want to see some of mother earth’s amazing art this is the place to stop. The scenery along this road is beautiful and that desert sky begs to be looked at, day or night. Do it:)
In the meantime we’ll keep you posted-Stay tuned:)