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Getting Dirty
by Sami Edge -- Special to the Tribune
Sep 14, 2013 | 1712 views | 0 0 comments | 21 21 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Sparks residents enjoy ATV riding, biking and hiking in the open public land on off Pyramid Highway. Owned by Nevada’s Bureau of Land Management, this stretch of land is considered off-limits to those looking to purchase the land for future mining projects.
Sparks residents enjoy ATV riding, biking and hiking in the open public land on off Pyramid Highway. Owned by Nevada’s Bureau of Land Management, this stretch of land is considered off-limits to those looking to purchase the land for future mining projects.
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ATV riders race in the dirt lot off of Pyramid Highway, enjoying the sunshine and warm weather before autumn comes.
ATV riders race in the dirt lot off of Pyramid Highway, enjoying the sunshine and warm weather before autumn comes.
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To the west of Pyramid Highway, suspended between Sparks' residential neighborhoods at the northern end of McCarran Boulevard and the growing hub of Spanish Springs, lies an outdoor refuge. It may not look like much – filled with dust, rocks and sticky mud on the exceptional rainy day – but the undeveloped land sits as a reminder of the true Nevada landscape in the midst of a rapidly growing expanse of city blocks and asphalt.

Barren and unrestricted, it’s a convenient getaway for Sparks’ families looking to engage in the Silver State’s most accessible outdoor activity: getting dirty.

Recently relocated to the Rail City area, Gilberto Izquierdo counts himself as a member of the crowd that can be found hiking, biking and four-wheeling in the Pyramid “mud pit” area on a weekly basis. After moving to Sparks about a year ago, and promptly discovering the outdoor attraction, Izquierdo bought himself an ATV to participate – and he’s been out with his family at least one day every week since.

“I had other plans to go to Kings Beach and I changed my plans, got my quad, jumped in my truck and came out here to make good time and talk,” Izquierdo said about his trip to the area on one Sunday afternoon. “(We come here) to have fun on the quad. Talking, eating, passing time with family – leaving the town.”

On this particular Sunday, Izquierdo brought along a family friend, introducing him for the first time to the local attraction that lies only minutes from their own back yards. Like Izquierdo, Mario Camareno’s first visit had him hooked.

“It’s my first time riding an (ATV) and I’m still learning … I’m thinking about buying a motorcycle to come out,” Camareno said. “No need to stay at home watching the TV, no need to go to Lake Tahoe – it’s good right here.”

Though Camareno and Izquierdo are both new to the area, their fascination with off-road fun seems to be anything but out of the ordinary. During the average evening commute from the Reno or Sparks area out to Spanish Springs it’s far from unusual to see a car or two parked on the side of the highway, it’s occupants tooling around on bikes, hiking, or riding ATV’s in what has become one of Sparks' favorite backyard desert getaways.

Pyramid Highway’s popular pull-off spot is just one entrance to a parcel of public land owned by the Federal Government and managed by Nevada’s Bureau of Land Management, which spans from the eastern side of Sun Valley westward to Pyramid Highway. According to Erik Pignata, a realty specialist for the BLM’s Sierra Front Field Office, the parcel that encompasses the popular off-roading area was put under “protected withdrawal for open space” by the federal government back in 2001, which essentially means that it is public land, off-limits to prospectors seeking to put down claims for future mining projects.

“Basically, what (the withdrawal is) trying to do is keep mining out and keep that space open as public land,” Pignata said. “It’s trying to preserve a space. Washoe County doesn’t want to see any more development on these areas.”

As one section of Nevada’s public land, the area west of Pyramid Highway is fair game for local recreational use, Pignata says. Given that visitors don’t inflict any sort of terrestrial damage that persuades the department to step in for the protection of the land, and that locals adhere to a few simple rules – the restriction of “Off Highway Vehicles” like ATV’s and – to “existing roads and trails,” for example – the BLM is happy to see Nevadans enjoying their local landscape.

“We encourage (the public) to use those public lands,” Pignata said. “That’s what we’re here for – we’re stewards to protect the use of Nevada’s land.”

Although the land is off-limits to mining claims due to its withdrawn status, it is still eligible for development projects that are approved by the BLM. Currently, there are two such projects being considered – a US 395 to Pyramid Highway connection proposed by the Regional Transportation Commission of Washoe County in cooperation with the Federal Highway Administration, and the Sun Valley Rim Trail proposed by the Washoe County department of Public Parks and Open Space.

If approved, the proposed highway connection – which is currently in the environmental impact study phase of development - will likely cut right through the informal recreational area, although the land around the road will remain designated as public space, Pignata says. If they so choose, locals can continue to use the remaining space surrounding the road for outdoor recreation.

After moving her family to the Wingfield Springs area of Sparks in early 2010, Nevada native Jessyca Gibson started bringing her three children out to the Pyramid mud area that she remembered visiting in her own youth – before most of the development began in Spanish Springs. Over the past few years, she and her husband have brought their three children out at least once every two weeks for a few hours of hiking, biking or riding their newly acquired ATV.

“This is a place where you can access off-roading without going too far from home,” Gibson said of the mud pit. “(We come here often) just to have family time, to enjoy the outdoors and take advantage of our open land without any of the development.”

Regardless of whether they’re new to the area, or Nevada born and raised, on sunny afternoons in good weather, families like the Gibsons and the Izquierdos can both be found playing in the dirt off of Pyramid Highway - brought together by a convenient oasis of fresh air, sunshine and good old-fashioned fun.
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