NEWS: Big plans for small-town Nevada

IMBA envisions building up to 150 miles in Caliente, Nevada, over the next decade

Caliente sits at 4,400 feet in the middle of the barren, Nevada desert, two hours northeast of Las Vegas.

Caliente sits at 4,400 feet in the middle of the barren, Nevada desert, two hours northeast of Las Vegas.

Caliente, Nevada, isn’t what most mountain bikers think of when fantasizing about their next ride destination. The one-time mining and Union Pacific depot town of 1,100 sits two hours northeast of the glittering lights of Las Vegas in the middle of the Nevada desert, at 4,400 feet in elevation. Its proximity to four state parks, and well-worn tourist stops like Reno, Lake Tahoe or Cedar City means a lot of people pass through Caliente—named for nearby hot springs—but visitors rarely stay for more than one night.

“It’s one of these classic western desert towns. It has a really wide main street with old railroad boarded-up buildings. It looks like what I imagine Moab to look like 50 years ago,” said Patrick Kell, IMBA’s southwest regional director. Restaurants are few, coffee shops are non-existent. There is no bike shop.

But, Caliente’s wild card is that it’s surrounded by 4 million acres of BLM land. 4 million. Kell looks at that number and sees potential to create a mountain biking diamond in the desert rough.

He and Joey Klein, an IMBA trail specialist, are working with the town and the county to transform Caliente into a fat-tire destination, with purpose-built all-mountain and XC trails that rise from Main Street and traverse the ridgelines above town, winding through sparse sections of Ponderosa pines and juniper trees, downhill shuttles that descend the from the hills towering over town, a pump track and bike parks.

The Union Pacific depot in downtown was built in 1923. It now houses city administration offices.

The Union Pacific depot in downtown was built in 1923. It now houses city administration offices.

In the next decade, Kell envisions creating a network of up to 150 miles of trails in the area surrounding Caliente. That may sound like a stretch, but trailbuilding from scratch can actually be easier than lobbying for new trails somewhere with history, and, inevitably, baggage.

“There are no existing trails so there’s no drama. No dealing with old trails that have to be fixed, old favorites that have to be re-routed,” he said.

Plus, the potential tourist draw in an economically downtrodden town means the community is almost wholeheartedly behind the plan. The city council, county commission, Nevada State Parks and BLM have all given their blessing.

The big question now is money. Last year, county commissioners earmarked $5,000—which IMBA matched—for IMBA to come up with an initial plan. Most of that went toward Klein’s work creating a concept and potential trail maps. The next goal is to come up another $40,000 to complete a more detailed trail design that can be used for permitting purposes and a tool to pursue larger grants for construction. The project could cost several million dollars if it’s built out to the extent Kell sees fit.

The group’s initial goal it to get 40 miles of trail designed and permitted this year, Kell said. Although Nevada certainly isn’t synonymous with mountain biking, Kell thinks a project of this size could help put it on the map.

“Nevada doesn’t have the same draw as Sedona or Utah, but what if you build a world-class trail system?”

The ridges above Caliente rise up to 9,000 feet in some areas, providing an opportunity for high-alpine singletrack.

The ridges above Caliente rise up to 9,000 feet in some areas, providing an opportunity for high-alpine singletrack.

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