From the Alvord to the Black Rock, our Soldier Meadows Ranch and Lodge Adventure
Branded in Ink recently wrapped up a website project for a guest lodge under new management, Soldier Meadows Ranch and Lodge. They are a working cattle ranch located 60 miles from Gerlach or Denio, NV that serves adventurers of the Black Rock Desert. Most folks expect to “rough it” that far out, but they haven’t experienced Soldier Meadows…yet.
For this assignment, I packed up the boys and started our trek across the Alvord Desert, through Fields, OR, down to Denio, NV, and then the 60 miles of mostly dirt road. Along the way we passed through Knott Creek Ranch, the Sheldon Wildlife Refuge, and the Summit Lake Reservation. Upon arrival, we were warmly greeted by current lodge manager, Gisselle Cruz, and her sons, Lucas and Sebastian. After being shown to one of the suites, I got to work!
This project had multiple meanings for me. I wanted to help the new management launch with a clean, professional image that showed potential guests what to experience in one of the most remote areas in the country. I wanted to feel the history of the soldiers, Native Americans, pioneers and explorers that found the hidden gems of this land and added to it’s legacy through their presence. Finally, I wanted to put locations to the stories of my husband and father-in-law to better understand them.
This was a huge project for an overnight trip, but we knocked a lot of goals off the list. As the boys played on the spacious, green lawns beneath the shade of established trees, I began wondering around with my new-to-me Nikon camera. I had a shot list from Gisselle, but also ideas for the more creative images that make stories. Part of the goal was to create stock images for social media content as well as website creation. Slowly, stories and research started to knit itself together, tightened by physically showing up on location.
I saw the stone house my husband had grown up in, the main part which was originally officers’ quarters.
I walked through the barn that once held a hundred head to be saddled and rested my hand in the window sill of Sam’s former stall.
I saw the hill where two young warriors had tried to steal the cavvy, the cavalry split to run them down, but they escaped through the middle of the meadow.
Next, I spent time in the cookhouse with Gisselle as she prepared the evening meal of meatloaf, brussel sprouts with lemon garlic potatoes. We swapped ranch wife stories from the places we’ve been and the people we knew, both keeping our hands busy with our tasks. I photographed a few rooms and helped check on kids, taking notes for website content.
Giselle, the always skilled host, introduced us to the guests at the lodge as they came back from their day. Two were engineers from Boise here to work on the roads, another gentleman was an adventurer that had been coming to Soldier Meadows for years. It was a joy to partake in a family style meal with great food and friendly conversation. I chatted with Gisselle a little more as she cleaned up from dinner and then the ranch went quiet as we all retired for the evening.
I woke early the next morning to join Gisselle at the cookhouse for coffee and to photograph breakfast preparation. A lost shoe situation put a kink in the plan, though we still arrived before the proverbial dinner bell rang. Our same dinner crew gathered around the table to enjoy chorizo in fried potatoes with refried beans and cantaloupe. Again, not only was there lively conversation about the day ahead and our lives back home, but the four boys, ranging from 15 months to 6 years, were also valued diners.
The adventurer paid up his tab as he was checking out that day and Giselle rolled burritos to send out with the engineers. I prepared my rig for the adventure us ladies were about to embark on, Fly Canyon.
Fly Canyon was part of the Applegate/Lassen Cutoff. Wagon trains would follow the California trail through Utah and Nevada until Rye Patch Dam, just off Highway 80 in Humboldt County, NV. From there, they would travel north to Antelope Springs, Rabbit Hole Springs, cutting across the Black Rock Desert and towards Fly Canyon. Kit Carson and John Fremont discovered and stayed in Fly Canyon the New Year’s of 1843-44.
Traveling the eight miles from the ranch to Fly Canyon took us about an hour in my Chevy SUV. We were loaded down with myself, Giselle, four little boys, and snacks for a small army. We stopped at each trail marker to read the inscriptions, trying to understand what life was for the pioneers. The comforts of shocks and air conditioning did not exclude us from the rocks I climbed the vehicle over and made us grateful for strong tires!
Crossing over a cattle guard at the top of a canyon, we saw our third trail marker of the morning, indicating we were at Fly Canyon! We unloaded the kids, reminded everyone about snakes, and passed out snacks. In one direction, you could look across Mud Meadows towards the ranch and appreciate how far we had come. The other, showed us the magnitude of Fly Canyon. We were privileged to walk out on the rock that once held the block and tackle for the wagons. Looking down, we marveled at the amount of rock that lay in the bottom (though I later found out that a flood had washed away the sand that the pioneers would have experienced.)
The trip back was spent reveling what the travelers of the Applegate/Lassen Trail would have experienced. We discussed the tired, angry, hungry pioneers that may not have been thinking clearly during disagreements with the native population, fueling the fire of already strained circumstances. We also wondered where the studs that had made their piles had moved off to now that the weather was warming up. We stopped off at Soldier Meadow’s privately-owned hot springs for a few photos but the view made me regret not having a soak penciled in!
Returning to the ranch, Gisselle fed us lunch and I packed up my family’s gear. My boys napped as I drove us out the dirt roads and back towards the “civilization” of Denio. I returned with a grateful heart to pavement and cell phone service! We celebrated with a fuel stop and milkshake fill up in Fields (they truly are “world famous” quality!) The drive across the Alvord was beautiful as always and while still soaking in the gratitude of the opportunity, my phone began to buzz with more business opportunities.
It’s funny how “getting away” can put things into perspective. The problems in my life were put squarely into place when compared with those that came before. I found value in what my business could provide by being capable of traveling to those kinds of locations and truly embracing the history they held. If nothing else, I know my story with Soldier Meadows, and other lodges and ranches like them, is far from over!