COLUMN: Return to Jarbidge Wilderness offers the ultimate in social distancing

Susan and Lee Barton take a break during a hike, with the Jarbidge Range behind them. (Submitted photo)

As we sat outside enjoying the view and the stillness, I asked my husband, Lee, “How do we describe this to people?” – to which he replied, “It’s so quiet you can hear the deer talk.”

We had been watching three pair of deer (does and fawns) as they grazed near the aspen/conifer forest about 200 yards away and, yes, we could hear them talking!

In July, we returned to Northern Nevada for a second three-month tour of duty at a U.S. Forest Service Administration Site. Our first tour was in 2017, following the winter of “snomageddon.” The winter of 2019-20 was much drier and we saw the effects of the drought conditions in both flora and fauna.

The station is located near the Jarbidge Wilderness in Northern Nevada at an elevation of 8239 feet.

Formerly the summer residence and office of the district ranger and Forest Service staff, the compound has several buildings – the office, ranger’s house, bunkhouse, barn, shop and generator room. Today  visiting Forest Service personnel use the ranger’s house, which we kept tidy as we never knew when someone was going to stop by.

One of the great advantages to living there was being off the grid – no phone, no internet. Just peace, quiet and beauty.

The office originally was one room and a garage. Later, the garage was remodeled into a kitchen and bathroom. These three rooms became our abode for the summer. We enjoyed all the comforts of home: propane appliances included a modern stove and refrigerator and a water heater for a hot shower every night. As summer turned to autumn with the days growing shorter, we utilized the generator for lights. The propane heater kept us toasty warm, even on Sept. 7 when the low was 21 degrees, and we woke to a skift of snow!

Because of Covid we didn’t have large groups visiting as we did in 2017 when trail crews, teams of Forest Service personnel or environmental groups used the facilities while working in the area. That we didn’t have many visitors was fine with us, after all we were there to social distance. We did have a variety of non-government visitors: people enjoying the great outdoors, either exploring the area for the first time or returning to a favorite spot.

The area is noted for hunting and starting Aug. 1 with archery season, the peace and quiet was disrupted by the arrival of hunters, many asking the burning question, “where are they?” – usually meaning elk.

While our “critter count” was down from 2017, we did see a variety of animals including antelope, deer, elk and moose. While there are moose in the area, Nevada currently does not have a season for hunting moose. Lee has a great story about a cow moose and his horses.

One morning while brushing my teeth and gazing out the bathroom window, I saw what I thought was a cow (the bovine variety) then looked again and realized it was a young bull moose. “Bull moose in the north meadow” I shouted and grabbed my camera. Lee went to the office window looking north, then grabbed his camera and slipped outside. Between the two of us, we got some great pictures as the moose ambled through the compound, gracefully jumped a fence, and then settled in at the horses’ mineral block. What a thrill! He was a young bull and we wondered if this could be the calf we saw in 2017.

Other critters we enjoyed watching were the variety of birds in the area. The most colorful were the mountain bluebirds. Vultures did their daily dance, the “buzzard ballet,” above the trees. A pair of rough-legged hawks made their nest in those trees, keeping the vultures (and all other birds) away until their youngster was ready to take to the skies. We saw all three take flight one day and it wasn’t long before they were gone, and the vultures moved in. A variety of hawks flew around us, including Swainson’s and Red-tails plus kestrels and we think we saw a Peregrine falcon. We were also blessed to watch Golden Eagles on several occasions.

Due to the lack of moisture from winter snows and spring rains, the wildflowers were waning by the time we arrived in early July. We still enjoyed acres of sulphur (yellow) lupine, foothills (purple) lupine, three varieties of paintbrush, all kinds of penstemon and many more flowers covering the hillsides and along streams. Two wildflower books helped identify close to 30 different wildflowers. A visiting Forest Service botanist helped identify a few not in my books.

Viewing the area from the back of a horse or on foot hiking to the top of a ridge provided amazing views. Deep canyons of Slide Creek, the East Fork and Main Jarbidge had us in awe of the massive rock formations. We hiked Hummingbird Spring trail (the trailhead starts at 9,222 feet elevation), enjoying open sage/grassland and the coolness of the forest dense with pine, fir and aspen trees. The eight mountains of the Jarbidge range, all over 10,000 feet, were a sight we never tired of and beautifully framed many sunset photos.

While it sounds like we spent three months only enjoying the creation around us, we did have some responsibilities at the station. Mainly we were to be a presence at the compound and clean restrooms at a nearby campground and four others in the canyon.

Not the most glamorous way to spend the summer, but if you have ever enjoyed a clean campground restroom, thank a volunteer!

We also found plenty of fix-it jobs at the station. In 2017, Lee fixed the right-side door of a lean-to on the west side of the office. When we arrived this year, that door was firmly attached, but the left side door was off the hinges and laying on the ground! Now that door is in place and the hinges secure.

The two major tasks we took on were fixing fences and cutting back aspen suckers encroaching on the buildings in the compound.

Being a presence in the area also proved to be an advantage to a hunting party when one of their members shattered his ankle four miles into the wilderness. One hunter hiked out and drove to the station. Lee and his horses got the injured hunter out.

On the days Lee rode for pleasure, I enjoyed the beautiful weather and over three months read nine books.

The night sky simply cannot be described. We watched Saturn and Jupiter rise each evening, got up early one morning to see Mercury, also saw Venus and a comet near the Big Dipper. As if the regular night sky was not enough, the Perseid meteor shower in August provided me with a speechless (except for an occasional, “wow”) hour in the bed of the pickup. Glorious sunsets and full moons added to the sky watching experience.

Being at the station gave us the opportunity to get away from civilization and everything going on in the world while giving of our time to the Forest Service and those who enjoy the great outdoors. If you are interested in volunteering at this station, contact us and we can give you more information.

Now that we have returned, Nyssa News will also return to the Malheur Enterprise. Send me information regarding your events and activities via [email protected] or 541-372-5455.