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Nature Notes: Hiking a green canyon
Nature Notes:

Nature Notes: Hiking a green canyon

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John Day Trail

There really is a trail through this thick undergrowth.

Tired of the wide open spaces of the sagebrush steppe? Too early in spring to hike the high, alpine areas of Ruby Mountains? Here is a hike through a brushy canyon so thick with vegetation it could be called a Nevada jungle.

The first quarter-mile of the John Day trail is steep as you climb out of Soldier Canyon. Be sure to look back at views of the canyon when you stop to rest.

After crossing the ridge into Campbell Canyon, the trail climbs up that canyon at a leisurely rate. Along the trail, brush and trees crowd the trail.

At this time of year, the sound of falling water is always in the air, although reaching the creek close to the trail would require some bushwhacking. In May, bird song is also continual.

This trail is not the three-foot wide, bare dirt of the trail into Lamoille Lake. Here, much of the trail is on short undergrowth. Later in the season it will be matted down by hikers, but in May it is like walking on a lawn. However, the trail is easy to follow.

This trail has no real destination; there is no lake at the end. A little over a mile up the trail you enter an open area, the first seen along the trail. That makes a good destination. Any real vestige of the trail ends here, although you could continue up the canyon. It is just an easy hike (after the first climb) through dense greenery and offering a good beginners’ hike. It is also not in Lamoille Canyon, so a good chance to get out and see other country.

To get there, drive 18 miles east from Elko on I-80 to the Halleck and Ruby Valley exit. Drive 10 miles toward Ruby Valley and turn right onto a gravel road labeled “to Lamoille.” The road into Soldier Canyon is nine miles farther along this good gravel road.

Just a mile before the canyon turnoff, the road passes a ranch where cottonwood trees arch over the road. (From Spring Creek, drive through Lamoille, turn left at the church, and follow the Fort Halleck Road.

If you reach the ranch cottonwoods, turn back a mile.)

The canyon turnoff no longer has a sign for Soldier Canyon. Look for a seasonal closing sign on the gate.

The next two miles is over private land and the road is bumpy and rocky so go slow. A sedan can make it but a high clearance vehicle will be nice.

Once the road enters US Forest Service managed land, the road gets better.

Then a very narrow road passes an area where chokecherry and serviceberry bushes scrape against both sides of your vehicle. If you meet someone here, just back out since you will not be able to pass them.

Once the landscape opens up, look for a small parking area on the right and a sign for John Day. Another mile up the canyon is the trailhead for Soldier Canyon. If you want to hike it, bring water shoes to wade the creek at the trailhead. Soldier Canyon also offers dispersed camping sites.

The ranch with the large cottonwoods was once the site of Fort Halleck, built in the 1860s. the Campbell Canyon creek no longer flows down its canyon any farther than where today’s trail crosses the ridge.

The story is soldiers from the fort dug a channel over the low ridge separating the two canyons. They then dammed Campbell Creek until it flowed through their channel, over the divide, and into Soldier Creek, to bring more water to the fort.

As you hike to the top of the ridge, look into the deep channel dug by the creek over the years.

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