10 days, 10 states: Ruby Mountains, Nevada

-“Shine on, Ruby mountain, from the valley to the sea. Shine on, Ruby mountain, shine your sweet love down on me” -Kenny Rogers, Shine On, Ruby Mountain-

The first time I ever heard of Elko, Nevada was when I was eight years old. As a big-haired tot growing up on the island of Maui, a place where the weather page is nearly always stuck on “warm and tropical”, I was obsessed with the multicolored national weather page of lands far, far away.

During certain months of the year, I would notice on the national temperature map there was always this dark blue, maybe even violet circle hovering in the middle of Nevada–a place that looked eerily colder than the rest. Smack in the center of that cold, violet bubble was always a town I had not visited until today: Elko, Nevada.

As school got harder and life got faster, my fascination with the great blue blob of Elko, Nevada slowly faded away. That was until three months ago when I found myself at a California wedding in the company of a couple of ranchers from, where else, but Elko, Nevada.

“Elko, huh. Isn’t that the really cold place in Nevada?” I confidently slurred, the pour-your-own sangria bar having a noticeable effect on my social willingness to engage.

“Nah, last year it was only -18 at the coldest. I love Elko, though. I wouldn’t live anywhere else”, offered the rancher in his tightest pair of Wranglers.

“Wouldn’t ever leave Elko, eh? And why’s that?”

“Well we’ve got the Ruby Mountains“.

As a map obsessed child who could rattle off every world capital by the age of 3 sort of guy, I was taken aback at the prospect of there being an American mountain range with which I was unfamiliar.

The Ruby Mountains.

As the wedding ended and the weeks wore on, I did what any self-respecting travel blogger would do and I Google searched them. Even after some research, I simply couldn’t shake the allure of these mystery mountains in the middle of the cold dark blob.

%Gallery-138739%Striking out on the road for 10 days, 10 states, 10 great American sights, I finally decided I would go and pay a visit to these Elko mountains of lore and drive from Lake Tahoe, California into the high desert hills of northeastern Nevada.

80 miles long by 12 miles wide, the Rubies I found out are known as “The Swiss Alps of Nevada”. As I stand in the glacial confines of Lamoille Canyon, a 12 mile scenic byway that cuts a deep wedge into the mountain range, it isn’t hard to see why.

The white, snowy peak of 11,327 ft. Ruby Dome stands in stark contrast to the yellows of the fall leaves dancing amongst the canyon. Numerous hiking trails depart from the canyon road and connect back in the mountains with larger treks such as the 43-mile Ruby Crest Trail. Though the mountains are reputed to be rife with wildlife ranging from mountain goat to bighorn ram, the only creatures I encounter on my foray up the canyon are a herd of deer bounding through the autumn chill.

As an early season snowfall has brought plenty of the powder to the upper peaks, I am relegated to wandering the empty streams of the lower elevations of the canyon. Though comparable in beauty to the forested trails of my last stop on the trip, Lake Tahoe, I find that I have this trail refreshingly all to myself.

With the onset of winter I imagine that these mountains are going to be fairly empty and sleepy while the cold blue temperature blob parks itself over Elko for the winter.

Empty, undoubtedly, but as I would come to find out, these mountains are anything but sleepy, even in the depths of winter. Although there are no chairlifts and exactly zero ski resorts, who would have guessed that the Ruby Mountains are one of the premier places in the western US for the extreme sport of heli-skiing.

That’s right. Heli-skiing. In the Great Basin of Nevada. With an entire range of peaks that top out over 11,000 feet, that makes the Rubies higher than any groomed run found in all of Lake Tahoe.

As is typical of finding myself in a new place, I am struck with the overwhelming urge to suddenly do everything these mountains have to offer; I am drunk on the adrenaline fueled urge to mountain bike, to rappel, and to hunt, which is strange because I don’t actually hunt.

As is the case with a 10-day road trip across the country, however, my mobility does not afford me the time to linger. For this reason if I bump into you on the street and you ask me where I’m headed next, I’d say that I’d love to go back to Elko, Nevada?


Because it has the Ruby Mountains.

Follow Kyle on the rest of his journey as he explores “10 days, 10 states, 10 great American sights”.