When Nolemana and I lived in Twin Falls, Idaho, we made a number of trips through Nevada to California where our folks lived. We drove at night, we drove in the day. We drove through enough desert in Nevada to fill up my lifetime quota of desert, sand and sagebrush.
Heading East and West along Interstate 80, we would always see a sign for Pumpernickel Valley, just East of Winnemucca, and we’d smile at the name. How did it get a name like that? Where were the pumpernickels? Did they bake bread there? But because of time constraints, we never got off the freeway to find out more about either the name or the town (if there was one). But everytime we passed the sign, we’d wonder what was there at the end of that beckoning road. There was some part of me that always wanted to drive down that road, and because we never did, there’s always been a sense of “I wish we’d done that” in my life.
Time passed, and we moved to Oregon; I mostly forgot about Pumpernickel Valley. But every once in awhile I’d think about that undriven road and that unfinished part of my life would rise to the surface.
Then yesterday, while reading Lika’s “Holoholo” post and seeing the photos she took of the barren hills, I remembered that sign and the road that seemed to lead nowhere.
And ho! Today I get Internet!! I get GoogleEarth! I quickly pulled it up, and shazam! There was an aerial shot of Pumpernickel Valley! I could see exactly where the road led. Nowhere. I could see the scenery. Desert. And more desert.
Here’s the sign for the turnoff.
You know, it’s amazing the small kine things we just forget, but all it takes is a photo or something to bring it all back. When I saw this photo, I remember the hours of driving through the Nevada desert, coming up to an exit, and seeing those orange da kines gradually closing off the left lane. I never could figure out why they were there. I mean, how much traffic is there in the middle of the desert, anyway? Yet at exit after exit, this is exactly what we’d see.
Even though I’m living in Oregon now, thanks to GoogleEarth, I can now take a virtual drive down Pumpernickel Valley Road. So I decided to do just that. And this is what I saw.
The freeway exit to Pumpernickel Valley:
Further down the road. The freeway is visible in the upper right-hand corner.
Ho da dry! What seemed like miles and miles of nothing but barren desert.
It’s hard to imagine any kind of life in this place. I think of snakes and tarantulas and scorpions.
I like how I can make place marks with GoogleEarth. This is a closer view of the one above, where the road splits and veers off South.
I decide to follow Pumpernickel Valley Road. And I do. Clear to the very end, where it abruptly ends. That’s it? Why would the road even go out there?
End of da road:
So I turn around in my virtual car, and holoholo back to where the road splits. I decide to take the other road and see where it goes.
More desert. What a surprise.
More desert, still heading Southwest.
Oh! Try wait! Oh my gosh! Crop circles! Okay, okay, not official kine crop circles; circular fields of irrigated wateva. Out in the middle of the Nevada desert. Who in the world could possibly stand to live out there, much less farm it?
My imagination runs wild. Aliens growing some kind of pakalolo where no one can find it? Heh heh. But I just did! How about some deranged farmer whose wife kicked him out of the house and threatened him with bodily harm if he ever showed his face again? Nah. Let’s see. Okay. The government is trying to signal aliens. Nah. I know! A farmer was going to try to eke a living out of the land and decided to plant some alfalfa in nice straight rows. But somehow, the steering wheel on his tractor jammed up, and it could only go ’round and ’round. Not wanting to waste the alfalfa seed, the farmer just decided to keep going.
I zoom in closer and move the map sideways. I see something over to the left of the crop circles.
Buildings! People actually live out here! The buildings are not too far from the crop circles.
Just left of the buildings, I see what look like lakes:
I tilt the map to see if I can see anything else.
I tilt the map again, zoom out, and find out that Pumpernickel Valley really is a valley, though not like any valleys I know from back home in Hawai‘i or here in Oregon.
I Googled some more, and found this:
Nevada Geothermal Power Inc. through its wholly-owned subsidiary Nevada Geothermal Power Company has a 100% leasehold interest in 6720 acres/10.5 square miles of geothermal lands in Pumpernickel Valley, Nevada. Sierra Geothermal Power Corp., a TSX Venture listed comapy has an option to earn a 50-per-cent joint venture interest in the Pumpernicekle goetheral land under lease to NGP. Under this option, Sierra Geothermal is required to make certain cash payments and to issue common shares to NGP as well as to undertake C$5-million in project expenditures over a 5 year period.
- 3D resistivity survey outlined a 4 square mile geothermal anomaly
- A near-boiling hot spring occurs on the Pumpernickel geothermal leases
- The chemistry of several hot springs, which occur along a one-mile interval of a prominent fault, indicates probable source temperature of 150 – 200 degrees C (300 – 425°F)
- Geothermal fluids at 150°C – 180°C (300°F – 355°F) are currently used to produce electricity on a commercial basis at other locations in Nevada such as Steamboat, Brady’s Hot Springs, Beowawe and Desert Peak
- Previous work on an adjacent property dates back to 1974; Magma Power drilled a 920-meter (3071-foot) offsetting the hot springs about 150 metres/492 feet
- The temperature on bottom was reported to be 135°C/275°F with the last 90 metres (300 feet) having a gradient of 160°C per kilometre.
Wow. I had no idea! I snagged this photo from the website:
Edited: I took down the stock photos because I need to get permission first.
I guess that close-up Pumpernickel Valley does have its own kind of beauty.
I know that if Nolemana and I had had time to drive along Pumpernickel Valley Road 25 years ago, it probably wouldn’t have been as satisfying as my journey today. I learned about things today that I never even dreamed existed out there in the barren desert.
I feel as though I’ve discovered something wonderful. And I am going to ponder this adventure, because I’m sure there’s a very profound life analogy just waiting for me to discover.
Pumpernickel Valley. I had no idea that a seemingly whimsical freeway sign could have had such an effect on me. Still yet, all these years later.
5/12/2014: Update! Just found out here that Pumpernickel Valley was named for a “nearby bread loaf-shaped mountain”. Ho, what did we ever do before the Internet?
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Is dat da EXTRATERRESTIAL HWY? Cause I think us went thru there in a U-haul moving to NV from Colorado. As by Area 51? Went we went thru there had seriously nothing… I was like no wonda ET come out hea, nobody else does. LOL Whats da closest town, or get town or what?
Eh, eef onli i could see da pictures. Damm Army always blocking neat stuff from us. Oh well da story is great Moki. Hmmmm……you sure you never got picked up then they erased it from your mind? Nah, just joking. Mahalo for th efree ride. m/
Lika, try look da project area map above. Is Southeast of Winnemucca. And Area 51 more SE of dat.
very cool. We didn’t get up to that area on our recent trip to Nevada, but we did take a few little side roads just to see where they went. I made sure that we had lots of water just in case…
Great story and use of Google Earth.
YOu never cease to amaze me. I’m totally exhusted. Don’t like to read on my computer. Trying to stay awake as I babysit my 9 week old grandaughter. And here I sit, hungryly manuevering thru your story. Anxious to see where the road led. The pictures were incredible. I couldn’t afford to go to a movie tonight but now I feel as tho I just went to the latest sci fi flick.
I love how you express yourself and consider it an honor that you invited me to read your story.
Awesome sights! No can believe how wonderful the pics are! Post cards already! And some people believe that only Hawaii is beautiful…. NOT~!
Mahalo everyone. Kikue, I think the desert has its own beauty but I am glad I don’t live there. Too dry, too barren. But it’s fun to visit sometimes.
You never cease to amaze me with your talents! I don’t think there is anything you can’t do. I went through that whole story, more fascinated by the minute. Thanks for the ride.
Thank you! We are glad to know other people look at stuff like that and wonder. We still wonder how it got its name.
Thank you for sharing!!!!!!!!!!!!!
May God Bless,
Moss and Mary
My mother and her family traveled by wagon from Vernal, Utah to California in 1909. She was 7 or 8 at the time. They mentioned going through Pumpernickel Valley, She said they had been following the railroad tracks but the party was separated for a short time in that area. No mention of geothermal activity.
I had the same experience about the same location! Ironically I was going to Oregon. Passed by it a number of times. Always wanting to drive that road. So now I am writing a story where the title and climax of the story is Pumpernickel Valley. I found your story while doing research. I just wanted to thank you. Thanks for reassuring me that the location is special… And that I’m not the only one.
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I am driving semi, and everytime I pass that sign, I wonder, who gave it that name and why?! The name just sets it as something out of the ordinary. I came to google and found your story/research… great job! Why it has the name is still a mystery, but what lays down that road is finally solved! How fun this was!
Just driving by Pumpernickle Valley on the long journey from CA to No Dak. Couldn’t agree more – desert, desert, desert. Truthfully disappointed there’s not a better story about the name but at least reading yr blog distracted me for 10 minutes. Crazy to think of folks doing this in horse drawn carriges. Mahalo!
I used to live there. No. Seriously I did. The farm with the circular irrigation was started by my Step Father on behalf of a farm out of Fresno. I lived out at the spot off and on for a couple years. Loved it in a way that perhaps only someone who appreciates the beauty of the desert would know. This was around 1980 and back then the fields weren’t round (and looked a lot better). This place was so remote that we had our own electrical generator and didn’t even get solid AM radio signals. To get there you take the road out of Golconda and its about 15 miles if I recall correctly. The sunset across Buffalo Mountain was always spectacular, probably because of the dust. Mornings had amazing sunrises, but mostly you just worked and filled down time with hunting, eating or sleeping. Once in a while we’d chat with rancher Tony Tipton or his lead hand (Tipton Ranch used to be up the road a couple miles). Suffice it to say he was a really interesting gent to talk with (ever have someone talk about deer hunting from a Piper Cub airplane?).
The best way I can describe this existence it that you get to know yourself a little better. You learn to appreciate the rugged beauty and understand the fragile nature that underlays it. At the time we grew barley and safflower with pretty nice yields. I walked every inch of that farm carrying a shovel and/or a 22 rifle. We had trailers out there back then and at night the coyotes would chase rabbits through the complex, making a really odd and eery racket.
I can’t say I would live there again but if you want a detour the drive out there past Rock Creek is actually fairly pretty. I don’t recommend August however 🙂 Just thought it was serendipitous to find this post with pictures of one of the oddest places I had the privilege of living. Loved it.
I had promised to follow up on my earlier comments about Pumpernickel Valley.
The farm was actually purchased under the homestead program for around $20 an acre if I was told correctly. It was already active when I got there in 1980 but hadn’t been operational very long. My Step Father was the manager for the farm and that is how I came to live there. As I had posted earlier, we lived in trailers and the place was far enough out that we had our own generator (and of course a well for water), large fuel stores and only went into town every couple of weeks in the summer. It was remote enough that visitors were very rare except for one or two of the ranch hands we would cross from the nearest people which was the Tipton Ranch, or the periodic visits from the Bureau of Land Management who oversaw our water and land use.
As a teen my job was relegated to shovel work, as in keeping weeds under control (nothing like facing down a half mile long patch in the hot afternoon sun), keeping the irrigation furrows running clean, cleaning frogs & tadpoles out of the spigots on the irrigation pipes and the weekly rotation of the large, aluminum irrigation pipes. For this $2 an hour was the standard pay. After a while you could move up to tractor duty and $3 an hour to disc and furrow the fields. It was so dusty that you became caked with dirt and I won’t mention how that affected blowing your nose at the end of the day.
Back then we grew both safflower and barley. If you ever have the opportunity to work safflower fields I recommend you pass as they have thistles that after walking through mature plants can draw blood. I haven’t been back since about 1981 and have no idea what is being grown out there today, but I’ve never been a fan of pivot irrigation. The other vivid memory was having to shovel tons of harvested barley stored in the metal barn into an auger. You haven’t lived until you’ve been encased in barley chaf inside of a 115 degree metal shed! Makes me itch even now.
The only other unique thing I can think of off hand was that since we were growing plants in the middle of an alkalai flat was that thousands of rabbits would turn up. We used to hunt them to try and keep the crops intact. When my stepdad ran the combine they would run out in hoards to the point that a single 12 gauge shot could nail several at a time. With those came a small number of badgers who would burrow into the field. They are the definition of mean and cranky (especially if you force irrigation water into their hole.. which I did … once).
The oddest factoid about the area is probably that in nearby Golconda where was a pig who the bar owner had registered for a social security number — Waterhole Ike. The bar served as a combination Post Office and smaller grocery if my memory serves correctly. If you look at Golconda now you won’t see much. At the time the Valmont power plant was under construction and Golconda went through a minor surge of sorts due to all the construction workers, resulting the population of like 300 and like 5 bars. Odd ratio and there was some rough and tumble that went with it.
The reason for bringing up Golconda is that this was where the road was that I would recommend taking if you actually want to visit Pumpernickel Valley.
Northern Nevada is actually a beautiful and overlooked place, but perhaps I’m partial. It takes time to learn appreciation of the rugged fragility and sometimes stark surroundings. If it is still open I highly recommend taking the drive to the top of Winnemmucca Mountain which was a radar base in the 50’s or 60’s. The view is amazing. The best story of the time was the drunk bar tender who tried to ride a bike down the front of the mountain. Not every story has a happy ending.
Similarly there are natural sand dunes just outside of town that are very cool as well.
Dave, your memories and information have added so much to this post! Thank you so much for taking the time to write them all out! You made my day!
What a very fun read!
Too many people have gone missing up in Northern Nevada. I will never forget that sweet old man and his dog who went missing in April 2011. Patrick Carnes and Lucky. What kind of evil lurks in that area to harm such innocent beings?? Has to be a local, someone who knows all the great hiding spots. Maybe even in that lake. I suspect the local law enforcement, how else do you get someone to stop on a lonely stretch of highway. I would not pull over for ANYONE if I travel I-80. Period. The murderer is still there, waiting for the next opportunity. Be careful when in the area, and always be armed.
Thanks so much for your comment. I looked up news reports about Patrick Carnesʻ disappearance and am glad I did, though it makes me sad that he was never found. It really is spooky, isn’t it? And Mrs Casida still missing, too. Very, very, weird. After reading all this, I wouldn’t ever stop for anyone on that interstate either!
The post is quite old but I found it just recently. I was driving around and the name triggered me to exit the highway and take the road the the valley. Unfortunatelly there is no road, only dust, sand, scorpions and snakes. It took a while to get there and I had to return back as there were some soldiers. Which does not correspond to whatever energy company. My guess is that the energy company is just some cover story for something different. Anyway the road (missing the road) was nice journey. 4WD car required.
Hi John, thanks so much for your comment. I really enjoyed reading what you wrote. It’s interesting that there are now soldiers there, and it certainly doesn’t correspond to any energy company being there. I loved that you added to the story!
PS: I just looked it up in GoogleEarth, and the place looks absolutely nothing like it used to. This is very weird and mysterious.
Loved loved loved all the info you shared! I just drove by “the sign” and wondered “what is Pumpernickel Valley” about…I googled it and really enjoyed your research! Thank you.
Oh wow! Thank you so much! I think this post has gotten the most comments I’ve ever gotten. I’m so happy that what I learned was helpful to you. I’m glad you commented to let me know!