There were so many things to choose to do on Mother’s Day from watching the River Fest in downtown to Arts in Bloom in the Sparks Square. My husband and son chose to get permission to take me to The Fly Ranch, north of Gerlach (map), not far from the Burning Man entrance.
We drove on I80 east past Painted Rock (home of the Mustang Ranch Museum and what we call the Men’s Day Spa), one of the entrances into the Reno Tahoe Industrial Park. Getting off at the Wadsworth exit you are on tribal lands until you practically get to the town of Empire which is a company town owned by the US Gypsum company. This mine is the longest continually operating mine in the US. Traveling through the canyons on the east side of Pyramid Lake you can track the history of the land that is etched upon the canyon walls. It is a fascinating landscape with a unique combination that displays the history of volcanic lava flows, ash and ancient shallow sea floors (just to name a few).
Eventually you come to the town of Gerlach, population around 500 people, home of Bruno’s Country Club, the famous Italian restaurant where arguably the finest raviolis in the state are made. Although we didn’t stop this trip, if you have not eaten there you should. A great day trip is to travel to Gerlach, visit Planet X Pottery studio and end the day at Bruno’s. Continuing on Route 447 through Gerlach, you will pass the entrance to Burning Man as well as Soldier’s Meadows Ranch (a working cattle ranch and lodge), and pass private hunting preserves all bordered by the Black Rock Desert which is the second largest flat region in the northern hemisphere and home to Burning Man.
The Fly Ranch was homesteaded in the late 1800s by Fred Gerlach. Fred was the son of Louis Gerlach, who the town was named after. Later it became part of the John Casey estate and is now owned by a local corporation. Once you enter the ranch (only by permission or by contacting the Sierra Club or Friends of the Black Rock Desert, who occasionally get permission to enter and hike around the geysers), straight ahead are a cluster of geysers that at first look like bad yard art. If you can’t get permission to enter the Fly Ranch, the geysers can be seen from the road. Bring a pair of binoculars and be prepared to be amazed. They stick up in an otherwise flat field, spewing warm water on a constant basis.
The geysers are not actually natural. They were created in 1964 when the Western Geothermal Company drilled a test well site while exploring for potential places to tap steam generated power. (Think it might be time to start thinking about this again?) Either it was never plugged or improperly plugged allowing superheated groundwater to continually sprout from the ground. Over the years, calcium carbonate deposits caused the gradual growth of “tufa” mounds, porous rock that built up at the rate of several inches per year. Single celled, blue green cyanobacteria, ancient oxygen-producing microbes leave blue-green streaks on the flanks of the mounds, creating a moist and mineral-rich environment. I am awed considering this environment resembles the setting where life first evolved on earth about 3.5 billion years ago when these same cells began to flourish in the sunlit parts of the oceans. Over time these cells captured the energy of the sun to make food, releasing oxygen as a waste product. Little by little they turned the atmosphere into breathable air, opening the way to the diversity of life that followed. For more information about this see the December 2006 issue of National Geographic. This is just one of the several national publications that have featured the geysers.
Hiking around the Fly Ranch we find a “dead” geyser as well as a “baby” geyser forming nearby. Around the ranch the owners have created reservoirs that hold water with a temperature about 105 degrees farenheight, not as hot as some of the nearby geysers in the area. I have to laugh thinking about one of the Burning Man participants that might come see the geysers during the festival. The geysers would surely fit right into the modern and wild art that is displayed during the festival.
Driving home I can’t help thinking how lucky we are to have so many beautiful and diverse places to explore not far from home. What a great Mother’s Day present.