November 1, 2012
After the Night of the Wind, we drive the remaining few miles to Nevada. Grand, unpopulated landscapes. Geology laid bare. There were unusual clouds, blue sky and rainbows. At the border, we entered Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge. What wildlife is this desiccated landscape a refuge for? We guessed hoofed animals. We soon see a few wild horses and then a small band of feral burros. But it’s really a refuge for pronghorn antelope.
The gray, tan and brown burros watched us with wariness and curiosity. At least one of the pack members always kept an eye on us, sometimes all of them stared in our direction. The wild horses we saw earlier did not pay any attention to us. Both the feral horses and burros are often relocated to keep their numbers down.
I love burros. There is something whimsical and appealing about them, their big ears, white muzzles and round white bellies, their torsos highlighted by back and shoulder stripes. But burros are also strong and tough, small and powerful. Their reported willful nature only adds to their charm. Even when domesticated, they seems to retained some of the independence of the wild. I had a small stuffed burro as a child which I liked very much.
We picked up a brochure at an information board and discovered there were primitive campgrounds throughout the park. I am learning that national wildlife refuges often have free campgrounds and these are not marked on most maps. At least, in Nevada. We decide, rather than stop here, to instead “make some miles” and go beyond the refuge. Down the road a piece, still in the refuge, we pass large signs for “Wholesale Opals Direct from the Mine”. Being a jewelry maker and a want-to-be rockhound, we decided to check it out and turned down a dirt road. The two opal mines were closed for the season but the diversion led us to the Virgin Valley Campground.
By then it was sunny, warmer and the wind was less aggressive. We were both immediately attracted to the place. No one else was there, always a big plus. It opened in all directions to vistas of hills, rock formations and mesas. Along the dirt road were wetlands and several ponds. Part ghost town, the campground had abandoned buildings made of pink sandstone blocks and a free-standing chimney. One old homestead dwelling is built into the hillside with a sod roof.
To our complete surprise, it also had a pool! Partly natural, partly enhanced by “The Friends of the Refuge”, it was clear, sparkling and emerald green, beautiful against the browns and golds of the desert. I assumed it was very cold and stuck my hand in to determine just how cold. But – oh my god – it was warm, fed by a naturally heated spring! Not hot, mind you, but pleasantly warm, about 80-90 degrees. The old building abutting the pool (possibly an old spring house?) had been renovated into a changing room. This all seemed like luxury in a remote, primitive (free) campground.
We choose to stay the night and take advantage of the bright sun, the drier air and the wind. All of them allies in drying out clothes, sleeping bags, pillows and the camper interior after our week of wet weather in Oregon. Swimming in the pool in the afternoon was heavenly.
As night descended, the temperature plummeted from the day’s high of 60. We burrowed deep into our sleeping bags and woke up with frost on the inside walls and an outside temperature of 13 degrees. We were warm at night except for our only exposed heads. Chris calls having a cold head when camping a “popsicle head” or more succinctly, a “headsicle”. This can be taken care of by having a proper sleeping hat, but the one I have doesn’t stay on when asleep.