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  • Writer's pictureJason Sheck

Monitor Pass and Leviathan Mine Road

The Sierra received A LOT of snow this past winter, with some parts even receiving record amounts. Early spring was basically late winter, and that means there has been a lot of snow at higher elevations. One of the fun parts of being in the SIerra in the spring is watching the mountain passes open one-by-one as the California DOT works long days to clear snow and make repairs to winter-damaged roads. Monitor Pass, being on the very east part of the Sierra, often opens earlier than Tioga, Sonora, and Ebbetts, and I've always enjoyed the views from the higher parts of Monitor Pass. In addition to the pass being beautiful, one of the roads that connects to it is Leviathan Mine Road. Leviathan Mine Road has been on my list for several years - even before I had the Jeep. The road itself is mostly gravel and accesses a old sulfur surface mine that operated from 1860 to 1960. At some point in the past, it became a US EPA Superfund Site. Between driving through Markleeville, spending a little time on Monitor Pass, and seeing this mine, this trip was worth it.

What did I learn?

I had aired-down for Leviathan Mine Road portion of this outing, which didn't turn out to be necessary. When I tried to use one of those "new" gas station air pumps where you set the PSI and let the machine work, it was nothing but a struggle and a waste of time. So, always bring your own air compressor, even if it means airing-up in the back parking lot of some casino in Nevada.

It was a little too early for wildflowers, but the views were still amazing. The "lake" you can see on both sides of the road isn't a lake by the middle of summer - that water is just stuck there. In the background are 10,000'+ peaks. For this part of the Sierra, those are some pretty high peaks.

As Leviathan Mine Road starts north from Monitor Pass, It climbs quickly and turns into a gravel road. As it crests, you can see the Sierra behind, and the road dropping quickly in front toward the mine.

A shot of the road as it starts climbing up and around the mine from the south entrance. It's an easy road for a Jeep or other high clearance vehicle, but some stock SUVs and cars might get hung up or damaged on washouts and ruts along the way. From what I've read, the side roads and offshoots are what makes Leviathan Mine Road fun, I took one side road and about a quarter mile off the main road I ran into overgrowth that I didn't want to drive through. And that's saying something - the Jeep already has countless pinstripes from willows, sagebrush, aspen trees, and pine branches...from bumper to bumper. So, I had to back up a LONG way to turn around and continue on my way.

The picture isn't great, but you can tell the mine has constructed some kind of collection and treatment system, probably to satisfy EPA requirements.

As I worked my way north from the mine, the road improved and it became clear I was on the haul route they use to bring containers to-and-from the mine. I eventually connected with US HWY 395 just south of the Minden/Gardnerville area, and made my way home.

Note: My original trip across Leviathan Mine Road was back in June, and these photos were taken on that trip. We actually returned to the area in early August in Bri's Jeep with my parents. As we left the area we stopped along Leviathan Mine Road, where Leviathan Creek and Mountaineer Creek come together. While we were stretching our legs and taking in the views, a fisherman came back from his afternoon of fishing. After some small talk, he explained that he never fishes Leviathan Creek because of the mine, but regularly catches fish in the Mountaineer Creek. So the mine's reputation is well-known in the area...

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