View Larger MapOn Sunday the Jerz family decided to hit the road. Our destination: Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park located 23 miles outside of Gabbs, Nevada. The trip was fueled by a sheet of paper The Girl brought home last week that had some facts about the ichthyosaur fossil found in the area (prompting the state park designation). We needed something to do, there was a paper denoting the recent focus on the place by a local third grade class, so it was decided. The weather looked grim on Sunday, but Christy was quoted as saying, “Let’s brave it,” so we braved it.
A few preparations were made: I packed us a lunch, grabbed the old running shoes, and got the camera ready to go. At about 9:00 am on Sunday, we departed 7-11 on Mount Rose Street and hit the highway.
Getting there is pretty easy. Take I-80 to East Fernley. Get on US 50 and head to Fallon. After Fallon, you’ll pass the burned down Salt Wells Villa and Sand Mountain on your way to Middlegate Junction (US 50 and SR 361). Turn south on SR 361 toward Gabbs. Just about two miles before Gabbs is a turnoff on SR 844, which leads right to Berlin (there is about 2 miles of dirt road at the end and into Berlin).
The park consists of some old buildings, including an office/gift shop, a ranger’s house, and some other structures. Since we were there on a Sunday, the office was closed. The landmark building is an old mill that’s in decent shape. Howard Goldbaum has a couple of great 360 degree QuickTime movies of the mill and town. About two miles up the road is a campground off to the south, another cabin, currently inhabited by a second ranger, and a structure built to protect the fossil quarry from the elements.
On this day, it was a good thing the structure was there. It was really cold and there were snow flurries and wind. It was so cold we barely cared to walk around the town at all and sat in the car to eat lunch instead of grabbing a picnic table to enjoy the outside. Tours are scheduled at 10 am and 2 pm on weekends in the off season, and we arrived around 12:30. Luckily, a ranger showed up a few minutes after we arrived and opened the building for us. Another group showed up right after he did (while we were in the car) and went inside, indicating to us that we could go in. We did and the ranger showed us around a little. Inside the building is a dig about 60 feet long and 30 feet wide. Inside that area are remnants of seven fossils.
After looking around for a bit and picking out each of the pieces indicated on the guide, we decided that it was too cold to hang around and explore outside, so we hit the road. On the way back, we planned on hitting the shoe tree before driving on to Fernley for dinner with some friends.
As we got to Middlegate, I had to get some gas so we pulled in there. At $3.99/gallon, Middlegate was not screwing around. At US 50, we turned east and drove for about two miles to the Shoe Tree. The old ClimaCools would not go without a fight. It took several throws by myself and The Boy, all unsuccessful, and one throw by Christy to get them into the tree. The rain from the day had caused the dirt in the wash to become really slick and I had a really hard time getting out of it. A really hard time. Once the shoes were safely hooked to the tree, we hit the road.
We were ahead of schedule, so I made us stop at one more place: Grimes Point, home of ancient caves and petroglyphs. Grimes Point is located just a few miles east of Fallon on US 50—almost directly east of the Fallon Naval Air Station, current home to Top Gun. We took a loop around the little trail and checked out a few of the markings. They’re pretty interesting and the kids enjoyed seeing drawings that have been there for hundreds of years. One of the better parts of the trail is a little marker that explains Lake Lahontan size and depth. At the point we were standing, at one point in time we would have been under 400 feet of water. It’s tough to grasp something like that, especially considering the aridness of the surrounding area, and the fact that without the Newlands Project, there would be little to no green in the town that calls itself “The Oasis of Nevada.”
On the way out, we decided to quickly check out the ancient caves in the area. About a half mile up a dirt road from the Grimes Point parking is another small lot with a map of the trail leading to the caves. We were all tired and had little time left, so we picked Burnt cave and headed for it. We found it soon thereafter and looked around for a minute before heading back down the trail to the car. The view of the basin is pretty cool, even from the short walk up a hill to the cave. You can understand how the ice age brought about a body of water the size of Lake Lahontan with all the flat areas in between the over 300 mountain ranges Nevada has within its borders.
Once we got back to the car, it was home free from there. We stopped and visited with our friends in Fernley and enjoyed the evening before cruising back into Reno with still another day off due to the holiday. It was also pretty rewarding for a group of people like us, who almost never venture out into the world and experience things like we did on Sunday. Now we just have to pick the next spot on the map and get there.
The full photo set can be found on Flickr. I’ll be adding more, specifically of some buildings and petroglyphs as I get the time and energy to edit them.
Ryan Jerz is an all-around good guy who shoots photos and video, builds websites, and works at the University of Nevada. Ryan formerly taught digital production at Nevada's Reynolds School of Journalism.