Photo: Nik Schulz

When Clemens arrived in Virginia City in 1862, it was a mere three years old. Its mines, however, had already produced over $400 million dollars in silver, enough to bankroll the building of San Francisco and eventually help the Union win the Civil War. The booming town was lined with businesses, restaurants, saloons, and populated with well-paid miners and dancing girls. After his own hard-scrabble mining stint, Sam Clemens, newly shaved and puffing on his ever-present cigar, must have surveyed the bustling, cosmopolitan scene and thought, “Now this is more like it.”

Here he began to thrive writing stories for the Territorial Enterprise. When the news wasn’t interesting enough for him, which it rarely was, he stretched the facts like taffy, folding and molding them until he had produced a confection that bore little resemblance to the reality from which it was derived. To these colorfully fabricated accounts, he added his colorful new pen name: Mark Twain.

I found one wagon that was going to California, and made some judicious inquiries of the proprietor. When I learned, through his short and surly answers to my cross-questioning, that he was certainly going on and would not be in the city the next day to make trouble… I took down his list of names and added his party to the killed and wounded. Having more scope here, I put this wagon through an Indian fight that to this day has no parallel in history.

My two columns were filled. When I read them over in the morning I felt that I had found my legitimate occupation at last… I felt I could take my pen and murder all the emigrants on the plains if need be, and the interests of the paper demanded it.

Mark Twain, Roughing It, Chapter 42

Our legitimate occupation involved getting to the former town of Masonic in the Bodie Hills. First though we had to follow the trail south from our Desert Creek campsite to Jackass Creek and over the Sweetwater Mountains.

Heading down the mostly smooth Forest Road 067 towards the California border and the Sweetwater Mountains

Photo: Greg MacDonald

We had rigged a safety rope for surveying creek crossings but the creeks weren’t very deep.

Photo: Nik Schulz

About halfway through the morning’s off-road section, in the middle of nowhere, Forest Road 067 met up again with Desert Creek and, according to the map, followed it all the way to Lobdell Lake on the other side of the mountains. When we tried to do the same we ran into dead ends on both sides of the creek. As we tried a third option I eyed the compass suspiciously—it showed us heading northeast. Lobdell Lake was due south. We stopped, checked our coordinates and determined that we were again officially lost.¹

A couple of guys on an ATV point us in the right direction.

Photo: Greg MacDonald

After turning around we ran across a couple of guys on an ATV that, when asked if they knew the way to Lobdell Lake, pointed us towards rocky road heading straight up the side of a mountain. “Be careful. It’s about this steep,” he said holding his hand at a 45˚ angle.

Greg making his way up the Sweetwater Mountains in his Gen1 Montero

Photo: Nik Schulz

The road was indeed steep with one side nothing but loose rock. Our trucks, with open differentials, struggled here and there in the rough terrain but mostly climbed the slope without issue. About halfway up I stopped to move a rock that I didn’t think would fit under the axles. Walking up to it I noticed that its peak bore a thick coating of freshly scraped metal. I gave myself a mental pat on the back for my prudence.

The views at the top were worth the climb and staggering in every direction. We got out to take some hero shots of the trucks and soak up the scene.

Stopping the trucks

Natalie, happy, atop the Sweetwater range

Photos: Nik Schulz

Continuing on…

…and up…

…and over the mountains

Photos: Greg MacDonald

Finally on the road to Lobdell Lake

Photo: Nik Schulz

Once we reached the other side of the mountains and Highway 395, we headed to Bridgeport for supplies. After stocking up the coolers we got back on the road and took Hwy. 182 about 3 miles north to Masonic Road (Forest Road 046), an easy, graded dirt road into the Bodie Hills. Our goal was to spend the night at the former Masonic town site but it lacked good camping options so we pushed further into the hills.

Near Masonic Mountain Greg surveys the surroundings for a good place to spend the night.

Photo: Natalie Menacho

A few miles further on we saw a spot where the road crossed a long meadow. There among the sage, at 8500 ft. elevation, we found a gorgeous cow pasture. We dug a firepit among the cow pats and set up camp as the setting sun set the clouds alight. Greg, in turn, set his lantern-fuel-soaked campfire alight, which roared miraculously to life at the mere touch of a match. It was a fine evening.

I pull off into what would be our campsite for the night, a cow pasture at 8500 ft.

Photo: Greg MacDonald

Greg is close behind.

Photo: Nik Schulz

Natalie looks for a mostly cow-pattie-free tent site.

Photo: Greg MacDonald

We watch the sunset…

Photo: Nik Schulz

It’s gorgeous.

Photo: Greg MacDonald

Later I check our progress for the day and make time estimates for the next day’s leg.

Photo: Nik Schulz

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 . . .
 ¹ Back at home, looking at some 7.5-minute USGS maps (that I actually didn’t realize I had in the truck) I noticed that our Benchmark Nevada atlas (which I love) was incorrect in this case. Forest Road 067 doesn’t follow Desert Creek to Lobdell Lake. It runs along the ridge about 1/3 of a mile to the west, the route we ended up taking.
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Other posts in this series:

Part 1, Arriving in Carson City 150 Years Late
Part 2, Virgina City to Desert Creek!
Part 3, Down Jackass Creek Without a Paddle
Part 4, The Ghost Towns of Bodie and Aurora
Part 5, Twain Lost and Found