Ever look at a map of Nevada and wonder what you’d find, all the way up in the northwestern corner? A whole lot of nothing, you thought? Well, you’re right and wrong. Some amazing desert scenery awaits the devoted road-tripper who makes the journey to this far-flung corner of a harsh, unforgiving state.
I’m actually going to talk about slightly more than Northwestern Nevada on this page, since any visit to the area will likely include some time in the Oregon Outback. The drive starts on Fields-Denio Road, sometimes numbered on maps as Oregon Highway 205. The state highway actually ends much further up the road, near Frenchglen. If you’re driving down from Burns and Frenchglen, you’ll pass quickly through Fields (and probably won’t even notice it), then cross over into Nevada at Denio. A short spur route, Nevada 292, takes you to Denio Junction and Nevada 140, which heads west, through the Sheldon Wildlife Reserve, and back into Oregon.
I had originally planned on cutting across Hart Mountain from Frenchglen to Plush on a very long, very unpredictable dirt road. The weather caused me to chicken out, and I was forced to take the very long drive through Nevada to eventually get to Lakeview, Washington. I didn’t know what to expect — aside from a lack of any modern conveniences. What I found was some stunning desert landscapes.
Just south of the microscopic community of Fields, Oregon, Fields-Denio road stretches out along a wide, flat basin. The road looks like it’s headed straight for the surrounding mountains, but in reality, it curves slightly to the right.
I was still in Oregon at the moment, but it was definitely starting to feel like Nevada. It also helped that, after a morning filled with rain (and even some snow — in September), I was successfully avoiding the rainclouds. In fact, it seemed like I was in the only dry pocket around. I could see clouds everywhere, but they weren’t bothering me. They were only making the scenery more beautiful.
This is the first time I had ever entered Nevada without seeing a casino 6 inches away from the state line. Denio only has a population of about 47 (according to the 2010 census).
If you need gas, food, or lodging, you’ll need to keep going for a couple more miles. Nevada 292 begins at the state line and ends at Denio Junction, the intersection with Nevada 140 (which will later become Oregon 140). If you even think you might run low on gas, go ahead and fill up here. Sorry, since you’re not in Oregon anymore, you’ll have to pump your own.
Once you’re on 140, you’ll drive alongside the edge of a mostly-dry lakebed. Some oddly-placed boulders are scattered on the otherwise flat playa.
Don’t forget to look back the way you came for a view of these stark, barren mountains.
Once you turn away from the lakebed, and head west, you enter the Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge.
As you can see, this road doesn’t get a lot of attention from road crews. It’s been baked by the desert sun, but it’s still in pretty good condition.
In addition to the one-and-only paved route, there are several dirt roads that criss-cross the refuge.
One of those dirt roads turns off to the Virgin Valley Ranger Station. It passes by several of the refuge’s numbered lakes. This one is unromantically known as Dufurrena Pond Number Nineteen.
If you were feeling adventurous, you could continue down the dirt road that runs next to the ponds. It will take you across the refuge, and eventually into California, intersecting with US 395. I thought about giving it a try, but since it was such a long distance on roads I didn’t know anything about, I decided to play it safe and return to the pavement.
Nevada 140 gains some altitude in dramatic fashion as it climbs towards the state line. Not long after crossing the border, you’ll lose that elevation…
… as Oregon 140 drops down into the Warner Valley.
Remember earlier, when I mentioned you should fill up with gas at Denio Junction? I didn’t heed my own advice on this trip, and by the time I reached Warner Valley I was wondering if I could make it all the way to Lakeview. Fortunately, I didn’t have to.
This funky gas station is the center of Adel, Oregon. Inside, there’s a bar, restaurant, and general store, all rolled into one. Because I was in Oregon, I wasn’t allowed to pump my own gas, so I had to go inside and find the store clerk. While he went outside to pump the gas, I stood around and awkwardly waited in a room full of beer-drinking cowboys. Hey, it’s all part of the Oregon Outback experience.
That extra gas made it possible for me to head north from Adel, into the upper Warner Valley. I’ll tell you about my drive through the Warner Wetlands and up to Hart Mountain Antelope Refuge on a separate page.
The Bottom Line
A drive through northern Nevada is part of a much longer drive through the Oregon Outback. It’s a time-consuming drive, but if you love the desert, you should definitely try to work this area into your travel plans, someday.
Check out this time-lapse, dash-cam video of the drive through southern Oregon and northwestern Nevada: