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  • Writer's pictureJason Sheck

The Old Toll Road and Lagomarsino Petroglyphs

Updated: Jan 17, 2021

With the warm and sunny weather we've been having, people have started calling this time of year "Juneuary". One upside of the late arriving winter storm pattern is the Jeep trails outside of Reno and Carson City, NV have very little snow, and some have no snow at all. Considering the weather was warm and dry, I was open to something more challenging than the Iowa Hill and Shirttail Canyon outing from last week so I started looking for a route. The Virginia Highlands area caught my attention because it's a short drive away and many trails show up on in that area. I looked at some of the of the petroglyphs other travelers had posted and decided this route was our next outing.

After stopping to a pull a stranded Subaru out of the snow near Mt. Rose Pass (driver claimed to have slept in his car for 2 nights while stuck), we headed down into Reno and made our way toward an old gravel toll road that was once used as the primary route from Reno to Virginia City. For an unpaved road that's been around for over a century, it was in good shape. There were limited rocky sections and some rutting and small erosion/washouts. I would say with some careful driving you could make your way up this road in a 2WD vehicle with SUV-type ground clearance. The lower the clearance, the greater chance of dragging on a rock or needing to have a spotter help you avoid striking your undercarriage. We chose to air down from 36PSI to 24ish PSI on this road because we knew we were headed to an even rougher road.

After stopping a few times to take some pictures from the toll road, we crossed through the Virginia Highlands community and turned for the petroglyphs. The road was well-traveled, rocky in some places, muddy in others, and sandy in still others. I guess that's what you find in the desert of Northern Nevada. The weather was in the low 50s but the sun made it feel very warm. We considered the nice weather our chance to take some of the Jeep's top off and let the air blow through out hair. The Jeep has a 3-piece hard top with panels removable from over the driver's and passengers head. We saw a number side-by-side ATVs on the road, and a couple other vehicles (Tundra, LandCruiser, and 3 Jeeps). The road never got too difficult and we didn't find ourselves sliding out of control or needing to use momentum to bounce over or through obstacles. We did use 4WD-Lo for the long rocky climbs. This allowed me to move in between the rocks more slowly than 4WD-Hi would have, in order to avoid damaging our undercarriage. I am sure damage is in inevitable but the Jeep still feels new to us - it has 1200 miles on it. Overall, the trail would likely damage vehicles with limited ground clearance. Even higher SUVs and cars like Subarus would have likely hit their lower body members a few times, because of the approach and departure angles of those vehicles. The Jeep's low gear range made the drive more enjoyable.

Getting to the petroglyphs required crossing the Long Valley Creek a few times. The crossings had hard bottoms and the water was barely moving so passing through them did very limited damage the creek bed and the Jeep had plenty of traction. According to the signs posted near the petroglyphs. there were over 2000 of them in this location and they were created over the last 10,000 years. Overall they're pretty abstract, but standing where ancient people once stood is always interesting to me. What were they thinking as they left messages, were they worried about anything, was it hard living, how long did they live, what did the area look like that time? Bri thinks the markings could be ancient graffiti.

What did I learn?

Capturing the grade, size, and difficulty of a section of trail is very difficult on camera. Almost everything we photographed seemed larger and more difficult in person. We've experienced this same effect hiking, and for me, while skiing. Nothing looks as exciting in a picture as it does on the trail. Also, if Bri wants to film while standing up through the opening in the Jeep's roof she should really get a GoPro. Link (old toll road) Link (trail to petroglyphs)

Heading up the toll road.

One of the few mudholes we crossed. I bet this creek is much drier in the summer months.

A view of some wide open spaces atop the mountain next to the petroglyphs. The climb up was nearly 16% and very rocky. 16% always feels steeper when the dropoff next to the road is 40%, is one lane wide, and there is no place to turnaround or pull off if you encounter oncoming traffic.

We had to hike up the hillside to get the best views. The lighting was perfect and we didn't see a single rattle snake.

Rocks everywhere...

...and more rocks.

Crossing Long Creek, a video of the crossing can be found here:

Another crossing of Long Creek.

View from Geiger Grade area on the way home.

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