Trail Information (Rush Creek Spring to Terminus)


The Rush Creek Wilderness Trail (Phase Two)

View Along Phase 2

The Rush Creek Wilderness Trail is possibly the world’s first computationally derived, unofficial public wilderness trail. The trail was first "discovered" by a computer algorithm called a "virtual hiker" that traversed the backcountry of California. The results produced a tracklog that can be uploaded to a GPS device and then followed by a real hiker through the actual landscape. The Rush Creek Wilderness Trail was first backpacked by Brett Stalbaum and Paula Poole, and is now open to the public. The trail provides beautiful views of the Great Basin desert environment, plentiful wildlife viewing opportunities, and the unique experience of comparing the wayfinding abilities of a computer algorithm to your own wayfinding skills and intuition.

Phase 1 of the trail (From the Rush Creek Wilderness Trailhead to Rush Creek Spring) was opened by Brett Stalbaum December 27th and 28th of 2005. Phase 2 (from Rush Creek Spring to the Terminus), was opened byStalbaum and Paula Poole June 19th through 21st 2006.

Before you travel to the Rush Creek Area, please read

How to get to the trail head
Shinn Ranch Road is a barely maintained 4-wheel drive road starting on U.S. 395 roughly between Litchfield and Ravendale, which lie 57 kilometers (35 miles) apart by highway. Past the corral just to the east of U.S. 395 on Shinn Ranch Road is a good parking area for two wheel drive vehicles, at approximately the following coordinates: 10 T 733625 4496155 (NAD 27). From here, you will need to walk the approximately 7 kilometers up the alluvial valley to the trailhead. Alternatively, if you have high clearance 4WD, continue east on Shinn Ranch Road approximately 7 kilometers and look for a place to park off the road, wherever you can. Record a waypoint for your parking spot so that you can find it again, also noting local landmarks. Using GPS, proceed to 10 T 740340 4497120 (NAD 27). Note: the waypoints file can be found here.

Hiking the Rush Creek Wilderness Trail
The trail runs over the watershed between Five Springs Mountain to the South and Rush Creek and Cherry Mountains to the North, following Stony Creek (draining to the West) and Rush Creek (draining to the East.) The climate in this part of the Great Basin varies from below freezing temperatures and rainy or snowy conditions in the winter to well above 38 degrees Celsius (100 degrees Fahrenheit) and dangerously dry conditions during the summer months. Spring is often the best season for backpacking in the Great Basin deserts. Backcountry experience and careful study of the seasonal requirements (particularly relating to water) are mandatory for backpacking safety in this area, as is the possession of topographic maps of the area, a compass, and knowledge of their use. The Rush Creek Wilderness Trail is a virtual trail that can only be reasonably followed with the help of GPS device. Download the tracklog file(s) and then upload them to your GPS device. (The process differs by model. Ron Henderson's G7towin software is a valuable free resource - worthy of a donation. Thank you Ron.) Using the ability to navigate a tracklog (most "outdoor" GPS devices are capable of this) you can follow the Rush Creek Wilderness Trail. The Bureau of Land Management's backcountry guidelines is a useful safety primer. Because the Rush Creek Wilderness Trail passes through BLM land, it is important to review these.

Virtual Hiker Background
The virtual hiker that discovered the Rush Creek Wilderness Trail is called the StepwiseArcHiker. It seeks a reasonable hiking path by examining the terrain in front of it in various directions, and choosing the best sub-segments it can find using both one degree and three degree tracks (the least cost paths) in the various directions. In moments of indecision it produces ridiculous, unnecessary switchbacks, but otherwise produces generally reasonable walking paths. It is a feature of the C5 Landscape Database API 2.0a.

Printable Trail Map

Adobe PDF format, 11x17 inches

Map Locations (Phase Two)

Note that waypoints and track files can be downloaded here

Rush Creek Observation Point

9) Rush Creek Observation Point (10 T 746757 4497419)

Just a few meters east of Rush Creek Camp the virtual hiker produced an artifact that led up the draw to Rush Creek Spring, and then turned around and went east over a small ridge that begins the gentle sloping ascent to Confusion Ridge.

Confusion Ridge Summit

10) Confusion Ridge Summit looking West to the Rush Creek watershed (10 T 747966 4496226)

Confusion Ridge Summit

10) Confusion Ridge Summit looking East to the Smoke Creek Desert in Nevada (10 T 747966 4496226)

Some good views of the Great Basin are visible from this point, the highest point on Phase 2 of the Rush Creek Wilderness Trail at 5354 feet (1632 meters). This ridge of Cherry Mountain is so named because the virtual hiker got confused (as it often does on ridges), running past this summit and out onto a scenic point on the ridge before turning around and righting itself. Even so, the virtual hiker actually did a very efficient job of getting to this point, successfully exploiting a gentle slope coming up from Rush Creek Camp at 5000 feet (1524 meters).

Confusion Ridge View

11) Confusion Ridge View (10 T 748436 4495832)

A nice view is provided by the Stepwise Arc Hiker's tendency to run about confused on ridges.

Paula Poole takes in the scenery at Bay Camp

12) Bay Camp (10 T 748893 4495789)

A reasonable campsite near a spring and some bay trees.

More Unnecessary Switchbacks

13) More Unnecessary Switchbacks (10 T 749333 4495743)

These switchbacks are an artifact of the StepwiseArcHiker algorithm. They are produced when minute advantages are found between steps to the left and right in an oscillating pattern. The ridge that they are on looks rather severe from atop Confusion Ridge and from Bay Camp, but other than some awkward volcanic scree is no worse than any other place along the trail.

Lava Loop

14) Lava Loop (10 T 750263 4495560)

The virtual hiker passed over this small, dome shaped volcanic hill. At the top, it did as it typically does on high ground ridges: became confused. Interestingly, by following the parallel backtracking as faithfully as possible here, you will see that the virtual hiker seems to be evaluating the scenery on both sides of the ridge: one a nice view to the south then turning around, crossing over to the other side for a nice view to the north. The virtual hiker seemed to prefer the northern view, because it then strolls quite unnecessarily off the north side of the ridge through some difficult mini-cliffs and boulders, then mercifully rights itself.

Steep-Sided Draw

15) Steep-Sided Draw (10 T 750673 4494910)

This steep-sided draw (especially to the left in this photo) was crossed on a perpendicular track by the hiker because the algorithm only looks so far ahead in terms of seeking a better path, and in this case found no advantage within its cone of vision and simply cut straight across. It may be a good idea to go up to 500 or meters north here to find a gentler path around this crossing, as the east side of the draw is quite steep and challenging.

The Spur

16) The Spur (10 T 750753 4494840)

The spur to the east of the steep-sided draw offers an nice view of the Skedaddle mountains to the south and is a good place to contemplate the steep side of the draw that you have either just ascended (going east) or are about to descend into (going west).

Brett Stalbaum filtering scummy spring water at Last Camp

17) Last Camp (10 T 750924 4494665)

Last Camp is so named because this is the last point along the Rush Creek Wilderness trail where water can be found on public land. Because of the existence of a private ranch blocking access to Rush Creek near the Nevada border, the water situation is worth considering here, as it is the last point along the trail where you might find a dependable drinking source. Last Camp is accessible with some difficulty from the county maintained road that runs from U.S. 395 to Gerlach, and is thus a potential insertion and extraction point - although starting from the Stony Creek side (phase 1) is preferable. The remainder of the trail to the East of Last Camp is mild and not terribly interesting - although it left a lasting impression of being a landscape of millions of wild flowers, foxtail, crickets and funnel web spiders.

Alternative insertion at BLM Gate

Detail of Area where alternative insertion is possible. (Click to enlarge)

From the county road, turn Roughly NW toward various out buildings on the private ranch near the Nevada Border. If you explore a bit near the cattle chute, you will find a dirt road that follows the private fence toward the west. This is not a kind road! Our low clearance 4WD Tracker hit bottom a lot, and there were some nervous moments regarding the angle at which it was tilted to the side going over a hill. (That feeling that all off-road drivers know: Have I gone too far this time? Am I about to roll it?) If you keep following the fence line for some time, you will come to a double gate, one entering the private ranch and one entering public land. If you go through the BLM gate and head now north along the private ranch fence, you will come to the point where the fence heads east. Follow it to the east for a while with you GPS on, then head overland toward Last Camp. We don't really like this entrance but we did use it to explore phase two. Aways close gates behind you.

BLM Gate

The BLM Gate on the left and the private ranch gate on the right

Artifactual View

18) Artifactual View (10 T 752524 4494294)

The virtual hiker ran up-slope here to take in an unremarkable view of the county road below.

Small Cliff

19) Small Cliff (10 T 752939 4494047)

A small basalt cliff. You could scramble down, but we just walked 30 meters or so around it. There are other similar cliffs in the area, amidst a great deal of not much to see.

De Facto Terminus

20) De Facto Terminus (10 T 753322 4493577)

The Rush Creek Wilderness Trail runs into the private ranch at this point. (When I chose the coordinates for the trail, I used a BLM patent map that made no reference to this ranch along Rush Creek near the Nevada Border.) The ranch effectively cuts off the eastern side of the Rush Creek Wilderness Trail from the county road, making this a difficult area to insert to the trail, but it is possible to enter at Last Camp.

(See Photo Journal for more info)

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