After turning east to start the long journey home for the holidays, we began looking for good campsites and pit stops along the way to make the most out of the journey. When looking in Northern Nevada, we came upon a little talked about free campground in Virgin Valley of the Sheldon National Antelope Refuge. After falling in love with outback terrain of Southeast Oregon, we thought that the rugged Virgin Valley of Nevada would be a great place to spend the weekend. Not to mention that the campground supposedly had a warm spring pool complete with spring fed showers and world class opal digging, all for the same price as admission… FREE!
Now, even if this did all seem too good to be true, the drive from Paisly, OR to the Virgin Valley would have been completely worth it. It was without a doubt some of the most breathtaking driving that I have ever done, and we’ve driven some pretty cool roads. But alas, after finding the gravel road marked and making our way a few miles down it, the legend turned out to be more true than we ever could’ve asked for. The campground is a little rough around the edges, but is completely free, can accommodate any size rig, and has at least two dozen spots if parked properly. There were clean toilets, tables, fire rings, and everything else you’d expect from a free NFS campsite, with one exception… The warm spring pool was perfectly charming and the shower room was a fantastic addition. Inside the shower room is where we read about why this incredible hidden gem is so nicely built up and well maintained; it is nothing less than the hard work and passion of a dedicated volunteer group. To whom we would like to extend our most gracious thanks.
We set up at a nice site in the middle of the campground, which was easy considering there was only one other group of campers with a M/H and a toy hauler. Then we set off for the warm pool; which was, warm. The pool was around 85 degrees in November, which would have been more enjoyable if it weren’t for a chilly breeze. The showers were open inside the building, with a latch and occupied sign on the door - so I think it is intended to be single use, which wasn’t a problem for us with the lack of other guests.
The next day was going to be our only full day in the valley, so we decided to set off for some hiking. Although the opal mining here is supposed to be incredible, we learned that any good chance at finding an opal would be paying to dig at one of the handful of commercial mines nearby. Not wanting to do that, we settled for the slim chance that you’ll find one sticking out of the surface somewhere in the refuge. So off we went to wander the refuge, looking for shiny rocks and high vistas. The pamphlet for the area explains that while there are no designated trails, hikers may walk openly around the refuge so long as we didn’t disturb the flora or get bit by a rattler.
During our day of hiking we did not find any opals. We did however, find a bunch of other neat rocks (lots of obsidian), climbed to the top of a rocky peak, and saw dozens (and dozens) of jackrabbits. I thought they were pretty cool animals and I will never again mistake a regular rabbit for one of these high flyers. After a long day of walking, we hit the warm pool again and then settled in for a clear November evening of stargazing.
Possibly one of the few faults this campground has is that there is absolutely no cell/internet signal of any kind, but really that’s a positive too. Although it always pains us to only be able to stay at places like this for the weekend because of our need to work during the week, there is something truly special about finding yourself in these magical places without any connection to the outside world. We navigated the area with a compass and paper map, we learned about the flora and fauna from the people around us, and most importantly there wasn’t a single distraction to take our attention away from the land that surrounded us. I’m not sure why anyone within a four hour drive of this place would ever camp anywhere else, but I sure am glad that they don’t.