What state has the most mountain ranges? Is it Montana, Wyoming, or California? No, it's Nevada! With 314 separate mountain ranges, Nevada has the most ranges of any state in the Continental United States. We'd pictured Nevada as a region of great deserts. While this is true, laced throughout are long ribbons of picturesque mountains. Some rise to heights of 12,000 feet above sea level.
We selected to explore three mountain ranges near the remote center of Nevada. The Toiyabe, Toquima, and Monitor ranges run north and south. The town of Austin is located at the north end of the mountains, and Tonopah is at the south end. These mountains are situated in the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest. Three designated wilderness areas are here, as well as three wilderness-study areas.
Our journey of exploration began at the northern end of the mountain ranges in the old mining town of Austin. We stabled our horses and camped at the roping arena near the town's west end (775/964-2301 or 775/964-1113).
Austin is located on Highway 50, named "The Loneliest Road in America" by the late award-winning journalist Charles Kuralt. Distances could prove Kuralt correct! Nearest towns are 110 miles to the west, 70 miles to the east, 89 miles to the north, and 117 miles to the south.
Wander up Austin's main street and soak in the authentic Western atmosphere of better days gone by. This isn't a commercialized tourist town. Visually and historically, the town is a genuine gem!
Austin began in a mining boom back in the 1860s. The weathered International Hotel is the oldest hotel in Nevada. It was built in Virginia City, Nevada, in 1859 and was moved to Austin in 1863.
The Toiyabe Range
Driving east past Austin, we pulled across Austin Summit and then to Bob Scott's Summit, where we stopped for a day ride. Bob Scott's Summit (7,195 feet in elevation) is located at the northern end of the Toiyabes. After trailering for a number of days, we were eager to unload the horses and stretch their legs.
From the summit, we rode our horses south, through a gate, and generally followed old four-wheel-drive roads going southwest. I rode my 7-year-old Missouri Fox Trotter, Buddy, and Charlene was aboard her 9-year-old Fox Trotter, Scout. It was exhilarating to be riding horses "on top of the world"!
Our route took us through open hills, with pockets of cottonwood stands. We rode up toward distant ridges and gained more elevation. From the ridge, we could peer out 100 miles to the rippling horizon. What vast country! We felt as small as pine needles on a forest floor.
Wildlife here includes elk, deer, black bears, wild horses, bighorn sheep, mountain lions, bobcats, and numerous bird species. Our most interesting wildlife experience was witnessing the yearly invasion of Mormon crickets (actually a type of katydid).
For about two weeks, tens of thousands of brown, plump insects march relentlessly over Austin and its surrounding area. Crickets were here, there, everywhere! Much to Buddy and Scout's relief, they weren't interested in horses. However, squashed crickets were cannibalized by their fellow crickets.
The Arc Dome Wilderness is a 115,000-acre primitive mass that drapes across the Toiyabes. We wanted to explore trails out of the South Twin Trailhead, but heavy winter snows and subsequent spring rains had created washouts.
A backcountry U.S. Forest Service ranger told us to keep South Twin in mind for the future. There's camping space and water at the trailhead. The ranger told us that after a short switchback at the start, the trail follows the South Twin River into some beautiful country with the 11,775-foot Arc Dome Mountain looming as a riding backdrop.
Other trailheads in the Arc Dome Wilderness include Peavine and Tom's Canyon trailhead on the south end of the wilderness. The same ranger told us not to trailer past the junction of these two canyons. Both canyons are scenic and offer easy riding.