Campground Review – Water Canyon Recreation Area: Winnemucca, Nevada (or BLM for Beginners)

Posted May 29, 2017 – Narrated by Carmen

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Water Canyon

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     *see our 5-Bambi rating legend at the end of this review.

All solar-ed up, Beauty and The Beast turned east in search of Wilderness …

Gorgeous view of The Ruby Mountains

Okay, we’d never been there, but around some campfire somewhere someone told us Nevada has a lot of that stuff…Wilderness. Also, Nevada was on our route to Yellowstone National Park where we will meet family in June for a reunion. What better time to face our fears and uncertainties about a full week of off-grid, back-country camping? Would a Nevada Wilderness Adventure put hair on our LIB chest? Or, would we become a BLM rescue operation?

According to the BLM (Bureau of Land Management) our first opportunity for wilderness camping along Highway 80 would be the Water Canyon Recreation Area in Winnemucca, Nevada. At our speed, that’s a two day trip from Wilton with an overnight stop in Fernley. The sun was setting late as we pulled into the Fernley Walmart parking lot. Batteries were fully charged… Yes! You don’t need wilderness to dry camp…

…We took hot showers, popped some corn, watched a film on the big screen and raised our glasses to toast our technician, Vinnie Lamica (The Professor) in our best Thurston and Lovey Howell impressions.

Next morning we stocked up on provisions for a full week of dry-camping (no potable water source – no electricity source – no sewer – no camping fee) and drove through the most remote region we’ve seen in The West, until …

… Whoa there muleskinner! Well, lookee there … Winnemucca ain’t no dusty, ramshackle cow town. Boy, howdy. There’s a Welcome Center, golf course, two pools (one indoor and one out), a recreation center with tennis courts, restaurants, hospital … and our GPS said our destination, Water Canyon Recreation Area is only four miles away. Well, okie dokie. This is gonna be one cushy place to test our mettle. First, we stopped at Winnemucca RV Park where, for a five-dollar fee, we topped our fresh water tank and emptied our grey and black water tanks. Our GPS showed us to be only five miles from where we hoped to camp that night. It was 80 degrees and sunny. On the way up the hill, hoping to find an available campsite (all campsites are “walk-ins only, meaning “no reservations” and all sites are free), we shot the shite about how it will take vigilance and determination and grit not to go down the hill to town on beer and ice cream runs. But at least – if we run out of fuel and water or have an accident – we were a comfortable distance from support.

Sure hope we like the place, but first we gotta get past these here cows …

Bovine greetings at the entrance.

Oh yeah … We’ll stay.

Water Canyon Recreation Area, known as “Little Lamoille” among the Winnemucca BLM staff (for the Lamoille Canyon area of The Ruby Mountains), is a two-mile lush riparian area bordered on both sides by fenced-in pasture land. Officially, you are only allowed to stay 3 days in a row, but our experience proved that if they aren’t busy no one bothers you if you stay longer.

The dirt and gravel road winds steeply up into the Sonoma mountain range.

Three vault bathrooms and trash receptacles are spaced at about half-mile intervals and are the only services. Each site has a picnic table and fire ring.

The sites are large (ours was at least 50 meters long) and spaced about ¼ mile apart. Throughout our stay, Sunday to Sunday in late Spring, the area was occupied at roughly 25% capacity for, approximately, half the time. Our site was fairly level. We needed only one leveling block under the curbside wheels.

Our campsite

Our campsite viewed from the closest campsite
Our campsite viewed from the hill above
If you look closely, you can see Beauty and The Beast

When we arrived, the stream gushed with Spring melt..

… and kept it up for the entire week because three days later … it snowed!!! A light snow, not enough to stick but enough to make a mess. Then, two days of thick cloud cover kept the solar panels from completely recharging our batteries – so Jim drove The Beast downhill through icy mud to buy gas for the generator.

Okay, that was gnarly. But we wanted to test system (new LIB Rule: Be careful what you ask for) AND we did learn more about our new solar capabilities. This minor crisis didn’t deter us from our goal of one full week … surrounded by songbirds, wildflowers, wildlife – even elk – wild horses couldn’t drive us away.

Spring Wildflowers

Hiking

Then, the storm passed. The sun came out and … Cha-ching! Our batteries and our usage returned to normal levels.

Because we chose a campsite with direct sun, our new solar system generated a significant amount of power.

Water conservation goal was a success. Our goal was to last 7 days on less than 59 gallons of fresh water (our fresh water tank capacity). We exceeded that goal and one week later we still had ⅓ tank left.

We’re learning tricks of water conservation. We know we can do even better.

Verizon worked most of the time, wavering between 2 bars LTE to 3 bars 3G.

Gnats were active in the early evening but they didn’t bite. Probably due to cool conditions we didn’t experience mosquitos or biting bugs. But locals say the bugs can be a real nuisance up there during warmer weather.

I am and always will be a Girl Scout, and “Leave No Trace” is my motto, so we tidied up our site as clean and pristine as we found it.

On our way out of town, we stopped again at Winnemucca RV Park to refill our fresh water and dump our grey and black water tanks … and by then, we’d worked up a powerful hunger!

Sunday evening The Martin Hotel opens it’s Basque Restaurant for dinner at 4 PM. This is a destination restaurant with a relaxed European atmosphere along with an eclectic menu of Basque specialties: freshly baked bread, fresh game, and complimentary wine for the table. When you walk in, glance toward the bar and you will probably see a buckaroo or two.

LIB Tips We Learned While Dry Camping on Solar:

  1. Pick a sunny site.
  2. Bring back-up fuel. Cloudy skies do not collect much solar energy. Fuel up the generator!
  3. We saved gallons of fresh filtered water by capturing unused water from the shower and kitchen sink in a pitcher. Usually, about a quart of water is wasted before the temperature is quite right. We immediately transferred that water to the kitchen countertop for use.
  4. The biggest source of inverter drain is the convection/microwave oven, electric space heater and hair dryer – so, we plan to use those appliances in the morning.

We give this BLM a Four Bambi Rating because it has clean and private spaces, provides hiking and mountain biking trails (though one bridge was down and needed repair), seemed safe and patroled by BLM, and has services and plenty of other activities nearby. Our only annoyance was road dust. The two-way dirt road is heavily travelled on weekends and fair and sunny weekday evenings. The area is also approved for ATV‘s. It’s also important to keep in mind that Water Canyon Recreation Area is primarily a day-use area frequented by the local Winnemucca community.

Our “BAMBI” rating system for Public and Private campgrounds and resorts explained:

bambi-1 – One Bambi: Should’a boondocked.

bambi-2 – Two Bambi’s: Better than a Cracker Barrel or Walmart.

bambi-3 – Three Bambi’s: Adequate for a short stay.

bambi-4 – Four Bambi’s: Great place! Met our expectations for an extended stay. Needs minor improvements or is not ideally situated for all our preferred recreation (walking, cycling, swimming, kayaking) without driving.

 – Five Bambi’s: Destination Camping at it’s best! Critical as we are, there’s nothing we’d improve, and you can bet your sweet Bambi we’re going back!