Train trek, part 2

On the Amtrak Number 5, running from Denver to Reno, the train runs alongside four different river channels, with its longest riparian associate being the Colorado. The second longest, a partnership of about 270 miles, is the Humboldt.

The humble Humboldt. Truly Nevada’s river in a way that the Truckee, Carson and Walker aren’t. Those streams, while crucial to Nevada for all kinds of economic and aesthetic reasons, begin in the high mountains of California, which means they’re genuinely bi-state rivers (not that there’s anything wrong with that). The Humboldt, though, is the longest river entirely contained in Nevada, beginning just outside of Wells and running along the corridor of I-80 until it glugs to a halt in its sprawling sink just south of Lovelock (a sink that is startlingly full right now). Riding the Amtrak, you get to see the Humboldt far more intimately than any trucker on the highway ever would.

I awoke on the train Memorial Day morning, somewhere between Battle Mountain and Golconda. The first thing I noticed: This spring, the Humboldt ain’t so humble.

As great of a water year as this has been for the Truckee, Carson and Walker rivers, it’s been just as good, maybe better, for the Humboldt. In fact, the Humboldt has been spilling over its banks in various sections for the past six weeks. So a lot of ag land near Winnemucca, for example, is now more suitable for minnows than cattle. And a kayak race that was supposed to take place recently in that town was called off due to the water level being too high for participants to safely cruise under bridges.

All this hydro-vitality in the Humboldt Basin means a whole new playground is available for those who like to goof around in the water. Folks with motorboats can now romp with abandon at a fully stuffed Rye Patch reservoir, about 20 miles past Lovelock. Any boater who’s up for a change of pace from Boca, Lahontan and Pyramid, Rye Patch awaits. It’s actually quite a scenic place in its own totally desertified way, with the 9,000-foot peaks of the Humboldt Range looming over the lake to the east and the gigantic blue sky all over the place (a sky with a size that more than matches Montana’s.)

It’s more accurate to describe Rye Patch as a swollen river, since that’s what it is, with the Humboldt backed up for about 12 miles, engorging it to the size of Idaho’s Snake. In those 12 miles, there’s a whole bunch of unspoiled, unused shoreline quietly awaiting any boat campers willing to head upstream to take advantage. The payoff comes when one rises to a calm, warm morning with the lake in classic glassy state, its 40-80 foot beige/tan bluffs on either side—and no other humans in sight. A water-skier’s dream. Added bonus—no wet suit necessary. Added bummer—better have a Deet product. There can be gnats out there.