Nevada Highway 50 MTB Road Trip: Caliente’s Hot Lines

A week ago, I embarked on a journey across Highway 50 in Nevada, seeking out mountain bike trails. We’ve come to call this trip the “Nevada Highway 50 MTB Road Trip.” This is the third installment.

Previously: Nevada Highway 50 MTB Road Trip: Carson Valley’s Clear Creek Trail, Nevada Highway 50 MTB Road Trip: Kingston and the Toiyabe Crest Trail, and Nevada Highway 50 MTB Road Trip: Ely and Cave Lake Trails.

Conveniently located a few hours from St. George, Utah and its magnificent MTB trails, is Caliente, Nevada. As we diverted off the gem that is Highway 50, I didn’t know what to expect. It was already dark by the time we pulled into the Caliente Hot Springs Motel and Spa – it sounds fancy, but don’t worry, it’s very approachable – and after a long day, we were all cooked, heading to bed immediately. Come morning, we were filled in with the day’s agenda.

Caliente is looking to bounce back from an economic slump. The quaint town sits at an elevation of 4,300 feet, making it pleasant year-round, with only two months of solid 90º weather. However, the population was 1,130 at the 2010 census, making it the least populated incorporated city in Nevada. It gets its name from the nearby hot springs, which draws tourists looking for a place to soak while on the road. Coincidentally, it’s the reason why I first came through this small town a few years back. It was then that I noticed the beautiful Spanish Mission style train depot, built by the Union Pacific Railroad in 1905. This depot, along with a few other buildings are on the docket for an extensive facelift, in an attempt to bring in more tourist capital.

Another boom or bust town, Caliente wants to bring in more outdoor recreation to the area. An ol’ timer said to us as we were leaving a café: “Y’all mountain bikers? We need more of y’all. Right now we only get dune buggies and motos and they don’t spend money” – or something like that – we were all kinda floored. It’s like he knew what we were hoping to hear.

Right outside of town – a three-mile pedal to be exact – Caliente recently opened a trail network in an area controlled by the BLM. Working in conjunction with the BLM, they wrote a proposal to build 1.5 million dollars of MTB trails. Right now, this zone crisscrosses with moto trails, yet each use has different designations. Looking at the difference between the condition of each trail, it’s easy to see why: the MTB trails are buffed, while the moto trails are all chewed up. Luckily for the BLM, the motos stay off the MTB trails. Mostly, anyway.

We linked up with John, a BLM employee, who has lived in the sleepy town of Caliente for four years. John took us on a spin on Wild Horse and Muy Caliente, two trails in this network. While we barely scratched the surface, I can say that we were all surprised by the descent that awaited with its rocky features, big drops, and jumps aplenty. The only bummer was it was over almost as quickly as it began. Thirsty for more, we began to ask John about the trails. As we hid from the sun in the shade of the van, we all expressed how surprising the trails were as John exclaimed, “there’s more on the way.”

Back in town, the city had constructed a dirt jump park, with a flow trail in the hills above town. Kids played on bikes and scooters as we tried our best to clear all the jumps, with only James making any headway. Meanwhile, Kurt, Mark and I pedaled up to the flow trail to shoot the cover image for this story. The juxtaposition between the green belt of the valley and the dry, arid hillsides is commonplace for desert trails, yet it gets me every time.

The following morning, we loaded up the vans and headed back towards Highway 15 and our vehicles that were still parked in Carson City, Nevada. It was a somber feeling, as we all knew it was almost time to say goodbye. On the drive west, I found solace thinking about what we had accomplished on this trip and knowing I will be sure to swing through these towns again the next time I drive home from Moab.

Thanks for following along on this trip and a special thanks to Kyle from Visit Ely Nevada for pulling this together! Check out my Strava for a sampling of Calient’s trails!


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