By H Marc Lewis
In the Long-Distance motorcycle riding community, Gerlach, Nevada is sort of a Mecca, with Bruno's Country Club & Motel being sort of a "club house" for those of us in the Western States. There is only one paved road to Gerlach, Nevada Hwy 447 which runs from Fernly on I-80, up to Gerlach, and continues up to the California border just south of Cedarville, CA.
But there are plenty of dirt/gravel roads leading to Gerlach, and one of the more notable (some would say infamous) is "Jungo Road", which some maps show as the direct way from Winnemucca to Gerlach. It's about 100 miles via Jungo Rd, versus more than double that taking I-80 and 447.
I rode it on a BMW F800GS on October 1st, 2010, and found it quite easy on that particular bike, taking 2:05 to make the trip. It's been done much faster on a less capable bike by a much better rider than I (I'd mention Dick Fish's name but I don't want to embarass him). Nevertheless, I would not suggest this as a viable route for a heavy bike like a Goldwing unless the rider is very comfortable on gravel, dirt and loose sand. Loose, deep sand would be the show-stopper, and this road sometimes has that. This day, however, it was good.
For what it's worth, Google Maps says it's a 5:58 trip, versus 3:36 via I-80 and 447. My Garmin 276C said the Jungo Road route would be about 2:28, averaging 40mph. Google obviously thinks it's a 17mph road.
Aside: Jason Jonas wrote about his ride on this road in the 2003 Ironbutt Rally (in which, coincidently, I also rode) where his friend Alan Leduc crashed while riding a Goldwing and had to be air-lifted out.
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The sign on the east end, in Winnemucca. This is the first left on US-95 after crossing north over I-80. Pretty hard to miss. The first 1/2 dozen miles are paved.
Typical road surface about 10 miles from Winnemucca. There is a sulphur mine mid-way on this road, and because of all the heavy truck traffic, this portion is very hard packed with not much loose stuff. There are some potholes that are easily avoided provided you aren't riding in someone else's dust.
When you see this unique rock formation you know you're more than half way to Gerlach. The sulphur mine is just around the corner, on the left behind that rock.
Maybe 20 miles from Gerlach you get the first glimpse of "the Playa", aka The Black Rock Desert.
The closer you get to Gerlach, the rougher the road becomes. It drops into several washes which weather and rain could easily fill with soft sand, so here's where to start slowing down if you've been clipping right along. That pothole behind my bike is filled with talcum powder-like sand, and they can be fairly deep.
Just around the corner above my bike, the road narrows and gets fairly twisty for a few miles, and it's easy to overcook a corner as you've been riding such long straight sections that your speed has probably creeped upwards since you left Winnemucca. I suspect this next section is where the bikes have crashed that we've all heard about, lending this road its nasty reputation.
Gerlach, NV, from Jungo Road, still about 8 miles away. It's in the trees at the far side of the playa. There's a hot springs along this stretch of the road, right at the edge of the playa, but I looked for it and never saw any signs or clues. I guess you'd need to ask some locals...
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I rode it twice in 2007 and it is a much more 'interesting' route than Jungo Rd, with more varied terrain and vegetation and even some open cattle range. At that time it had at the western end a 1/4 mile stretch of deep loose sand that made even my Honda XR650 with full knobbies wiggle and squirm uncomfortably. A heavy touring bike would have found it nearly impassible for all but the most experienced riders. I mean 'experienced' in the sense of having lots of dirtbike saddle time.
There is a very pretty rough-camping spot about 20 miles from US-395 in a grove of willows near a seasonal creek in a notch in the rocky hills. Unfortunately it is right on the road, so privacy might be an issue. Though when my friends and I rode it we didn't see but a couple farm vehicles between the highway and Gerlach. You'd also need to carry your own water, and firewood. I think these coordinates will show you the spot on Google Maps, Google Earth or your GPS: 40.5497284 -119.9899063
The last few miles are paved, as Smoke Creek road joins NV-447 near Planet X Pottery just north of Gerlach. There is reliable fuel in Gerlach, at least during daylight hours. You'll want a GPS for riding this road, as there are lots of intersections and side roads. Turn tracking on, so you can retrace your route if necessary.
Copyright © 2010, by H. Marc Lewis. All rights reserved.