This was a bad idea.
The thought grew stronger the farther the sun fell, altogether blocking out my belching dirt bike as the headlight stepped in.
Spewing a silty tail in my 55 mph wake for an hour now, I couldn't help but doubt my decision to abandon U.S. Highway 93 for the washboarded shortcut.
Not a single sign, light or even a telephone pole was in sight, ahead or behind. I hadn't passed one car. Only dirt road after dirt road branching off from mine. Only me slicing between the Delamar and Meadow Valley Mountains.
I stayed the course straight up Kane Springs Valley as my map said, abandoning my GPS, which kept telling me to turn where there was no road, just rocks and dry shrubs. It didn't inspire confidence, only doubt.
But in the lingering light, the land came to life.
Jackrabbits the size of Jack Russell terriers watched me pass. One, spooked by my arrival, sprinted across the road on a crash course. I could do nothing but let off the gas and wince. But it turned back in time to just graze my boot in a glancing blow.
I chuckled at the close call: "That was a first."
Just one of many.
Within minutes, I descended from the dry desert into a grassy canyon filled with cottonwoods towering over a creek, and the smell of recent rain evaporating off leaves. Little rocks on the now-paved road seemed to move as I approached. After one hopped onto my leg, I realized they were toads escaping the flooded channel. The road snaked back and forth between the narrow rock walls, descending into roller-coasterlike lulls for the water to cross over in flash floods, as was the case tonight.
I started seeing snakes on the road, also escaping the drenched dirt. A run-over rattler. A black-and-white banded kingsnake slithering by.
Soon, I passed some houses and saw my campsite - Kershaw-Ryan State Park.
Within minutes, my friends arrived despite leaving Las Vegas an hour after me in their car and taking the considerably longer paved route on U.S. 93.
What a shortcut.
So began my weekend introduction to Clark County's northern neighbor, Lincoln County, the nation's seventh largest county but home to only 5,345 people. At 10,637 square miles, that's a person for every two square miles if they weren't concentrated within the fertile areas in and around Pioche and Caliente three hours north of Las Vegas. Flush with alfalfa, hay and cattle grazing in green fields, the valley is a stark contrast to most of Southern Nevada and a welcome reprieve from the summer heat.
Although slim on accommodations, not offering a single name-brand hotel or many dining choices, the area makes up for it with recreational opportunities, silver mining history, and bountiful lands unmatched in Clark County. My ride in was a hint of that.
We stayed between our campsite and the town of Pioche, 28 miles north, all weekend and had plenty to do.
The immediate area boasts five state parks, three reservoirs, ghost towns and the 260-mile Silver State OHV Trail, an off-roading trail split into several sections. The Bureau of Land Management claims any rider could handle the trail, which we discovered was true.
My fellow dirt biker was a beginner, while I'm an experienced rider. We both enjoyed the trail and its diverse landscape that could be tackled by a four-wheeler, motorcycle or midclearance SUV. The BLM offers free maps of the trail, which winds through dry lake beds, scales tree-covered hills and crosses wide meadows.
But the most surreal site of the area is the clay caves of Cathedral Gorge State Park off U.S. 93, just south of Pioche. Although roofless, the winding channels are like caves, dark and cool because the stalactitelike walls extend straight up 50 feet or more. Sunlight rarely makes its way to the floor. The tall walls are only a foot or two apart, sometimes less, making for a narrow slit to squeeze through, forcing me to abandon my backpack halfway through.
Although Cathedral Gorge has well-kept campsites and firewood, we preferred Kershaw. Both offer showers and bathrooms with running water, but Kershaw provides one truly unique amenity. Although surrounded by dry, rocky cliffs, the park is nestled in its own lush side canyon fed by a spring. Plum and crab apple trees shadow the grass slope, spanning the distance between vine-covered cliffs. And the spring is funneled into a pool constantly receiving fresh, cool, clear water. Fifty-foot cottonwoods keep the area cool for volleyball and playing horseshoes while cooking on the oversized grills.
But you don't have to do all the cooking.
On our way back from the Silver State Trail, we stopped in Pioche, a town founded in the 1860s on the steep slope leading up to Treasure Hill, where most of the silver ore was mined. Pioche's mining reputation was matched only by its lawlessness in the 1800s. By 1870, about 10,000 people lived in Pioche, served by 144 saloons. The population has declined to about 900, and mining died down in the early 1900s, ending in the 1970s, making tourism and recreation the main interests.
But the historic Silver Cafe remains, here since 1907 serving hamburgers, steaks and the house specialty, a deep-fried beef and bean burrito covered in chili, cheese, diced tomatoes, onions and a side of sour cream.
When it was time to head back Sunday afternoon, I quickly packed my motorcycle side cases and duffel bag. Rainstorms and lightning closed in from all directions but the south, pointing me down the dirt road from which I came.
But I didn't need the nudge.
Down Kane Springs Road I'd go, slicing between the Delamar and Meadow Valley Mountains on ribbons of rubber.
The long shortcut.
Contact reporter Trevon Milliard at tmilliard@review journal.com or 702-383-0279.