Travels in the American Southwest

Leaving Belmont, NV for Devil's Punchbowl

On the road from Belmont at 9:45 under blue skies and a pleasant 70 degrees. Passed through the real ghosttown of East Belmont where a smokestack, foundations and an occasional wall remain. On and on along the well graded dirt road I drove, skirting the Toiyabe National Forest as I headed north through the Monitor Valley. Seeing Fire Creek Ranch confirmed that I was on the correct dirt road. Thirty-three miles from Belmont, I came across a traffic sign indicating the distance to Belmont, Tonopah (79), US50 (38) and Austin (74). Out in the middle of nowhere, an ancient sign. It obviously measured distance using roads which receive little if any traffic today!

Three miles past the traffic sign, I knew I was in the vicinity of Devil's Punchbowl (also known as Diana's Punchbowl and Devil's Cauldron). Off to the right was a small gray rocky hill completely devoid of any vegetation, unlike the 'Lush for Nevada' mountains I just passed. I drove the mile or so (at 10 m.p.h., the road is extremely rough!) to the base of the strange looking hill. Grabbed the camera, water bottle and walking staff, slid past the barbed wire fence and started hiking up the rocky slope. I figured that I could get a lay of the land and perhaps locate the Punchbowl. At the crest of the hill, I froze. In front of me was what can only be described as a crater. I had unknowingly climbed to the very lip of the Punchbowl. Slowly moving to the very edge of the 100' wide crater, I peered over. Oh wow! This trip just keeps getting better and better! I remember seeing something like this in Yellowstone, but not nearly so grand. Seventy-five feet below me was a pool of crystal clear blue-green water. Wisps of steam scurried across the surface. The sun's rays lit the interior of the Punchbowl, the water shimmering and changing hue as I moved around the lip of the crater. I could see deep into the water making out the rock and the inky depths where the hot water percolates through subterranean channels. Awed by the magnificence, I slowly backed away from the edge. I looked around taking in the view of Monitor Valley with the Monitor Mountain range rising in the east and the Toquima range to the west. Other than some dirt roads crossing the valley and disappearing up the mountain range's canyons, there was nothing to indicate that anyone has ever been here before. I felt like John Fremont or Lt. Simpson, two noted early explorers in Nevada. Had I not known better, I would have thought I was the first to ever gaze upon this marvel. I shot picture after picture...If only to convince myself that this magical place exists and wasn't the result of a particularly vivid dream. Walking back down, my footing slipped ever so slightly on some loose rock. To prevent a tumble, I jammed the walking staff down for support. Caught my balance, then listened as the sound of the metal walking stick tip striking the rock resonated beneath me. Uh oh. Part of this strange hill sounded hollow beneath the surface. I gently tapped the surrounding rock. Click: solid. Click: solid. Click-ick-ick: Oh man, it's hollow under here! While I was sure the ground wasn't going to choose just then to give way plunging me into the boiling waters below, I quickly but gingerly scurried to the van parked at the base of this strange hill. On the road again, the temperature a balmy 81 degrees. I passed the Monitor Ranch where I headed west into the Toiyabe Forest. I set my sights on Toquima Cave, site of ancient pictographs.

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