Exploring Carpenter Canyon from Pahrump, NV

This is the terminal end of the Carpenter Canyon jeep trail, which is about 300 yards beyond where the U.S. Forrest Service signage suggests you stop. I expected to see travelers today, especially since it was the Veterans Day holiday, but on the way up we only came upon a lone motorbike that was heading down the mountain. This group (an informal Razor Club) arrived at noon, but we did not hear or see them until we returned from our fishing exploration. Good people from Pahrump, several of whom where veterans.

In the 1970s I developed an interest in U.S. Geological Survey topographic maps (i.e., topo maps). Hunting and fishing with my brother Neal often involved these topo maps. While the first satellite global positioning system (GPS) had been created by the US military, civilian use did not materialize until 1993. Civilian access to the Internet also occurred around 1993, but cell phone GPS was not available until 1999. Until civilian GPS became available, topo maps were the best way to explore the outdoors.

Orienteering can be described as the art of using a map and compass to navigate from one known location to another known location. Europeans not only used orienteering for basic countryside travel, but they also originated the sport of orienteering in the early 1900s. In an orienteering contest, the goal is to navigate through a set of specified way-points until the final destination, often miles away, is reached as quickly as possible. For outdoorsmen, navigating to geographic locations for hunting, fishing, or simply exploring is a wonderful way to give purpose and, dare I say, direction to your adventure (similar to what Geocaching and Letterboxing do for others who love exploring the outdoors).

Bjorn Kjellstrom’s signature Orienteering book was published in 1955 and revised in 1967. Kjellstrom was a Swedish Orienteering Champion. His book and my Silva Type 15 orienteering compass (now the Ranger 2.0 Compass) opened a whole new vision for enjoying the outdoors. (Trout table crafted by Bruce Vincent.)

Thanks to USGS topo maps I discovered Cold Creek (as of this writing I have 34 blog posts that relate to Cold Creek), explored and fished the alpine lakes in the Ruby Mountains (four posts), and laid down a new backpack trail up Beaver Dam Creek (4 posts) all the way to Split Pine Hollow just 300 yards west of the Utah/Nevada boundary. I love maps of all sorts and hold fond sentiment for USGS topo maps, but I have reached the 21st century by subscribing to Gaia GPS on my iPhone. I was impressed by Gaia’s performance when I explored the Mary’s River drainage south of the Jarbidge Wilderness Area, although it was not entirely necessary. To read more about Gaia click on this Elko County blogpost and scroll down near the bottom looking for the subheading Gaia GPS App.

The only business that sold USGS topo maps in Las Vegas when I started orienteering was Mercury Blue Print & Supply on South Main Street. It was purely coincidental that it was owned and operated by my future father-in-law. You could order specialty topos directly from the USGS, but Mercury Blue had the largest selection of maps, by far, anywhere in Clark County. I would like to say I often shopped at Mercury Blue just to see the lovely young lady who would become my wife, but the truth is she did not regularly work in the shop.

I purchased this Charleston Peak quadrangle from Mercury Blue Print & Supply in the mid-1970s (note the 1957 survey date).
The only building at Cold Creek in the mid-1970s was the Cold Creek Field Station. I have read that in the 1930s it was a “dude” ranch designed for “women” who needed six weeks of residency to qualify for a Nevada divorce. Eventually the ranch transferred to the federal government for use as living quarters for U.S. Fish and Wildlife and Bureau of Land Management employees up through the 1970s. The building is gone and the vacated land is now a group picnic area. (Courtesy of Cold Creek Wild Horses blog.)

I used topo maps to explore quite a bit of the Spring Mountains (which includes Red Rock Canyon and Mount Potosi), so named for its numerous springs. The range also has at least eight small creeks such as Cold Creek, Willow Creek, Deer Creek, Pine Creek, Oak Creek, First Creek, Trout Creek, and Carpenter Creek. I have visited the water of all these creeks except Deer Creek (which might be intermittent) and Carpenter Creek. Today, on Veterans Day, I finally added Carpenter Creek to my list.

Recently, with my son Brian’s help, I have been able to push the Fish Taco a little harder on a few Southern Nevada trails. Most of the Carpenter Canyon trail is rocky and bumpy, with the occasional large rock (or small boulder) that you need to pay attention to. However, the final two-plus miles follows a washed out ravine that is quite narrow, and at the end of the trail there are some maneuvers that require climbing out and in other smaller ravines that will test your vehicle’s approach and departure angles (on one such occasion I thought I heard my trailer hitch shackle drag, but upon examination at home there is no evidence of scraping). All that to say, I am really pleased with my slightly modified 2018 Tacoma 4×4.

I admit to another motive besides four wheeling up Carpenter Creek. In the 1950s, the Nevada Department of Fish and Game (now the Department of Wildlife) planted Lahontan cutthroat trout (i.e., LCT) in Carpenter Canyon’s Peak Spring. (Peak Spring is now known as Carpenter Creek.) I imagine that Carpenter Creek was chosen because it is a perennial stream in a comparatively dry climate that is remote from Las Vegas. Most notably, it is not in the Great Basin, LCT’s native habitat, but rather in the Mojave Desert’s Spring Mountains.

I didn’t exactly see trout in this pool, and it was quite void of cover for them. It was the first pool I fished and I just needed to get the kinks out; you fly anglers know what I mean. (Photo by Brian Vincent.)

Their “experiment” seems to have worked as the LCT have carved out an existence in this tiny creek, free of competition from the more ubiquitous brown and rainbow trout that tend to aggressively dominate the LCT, not to mention their hybridization with rainbow trout that depletes their gene pool. The LCT was listed as endangered in October 1970 under the Endangered Species Protection Act of 1969. Subsequently, in July 1975, the LCT was reclassified as threatened under the Endangered Species Act of 1973. If you would like to know more about the LCT, check out The Western Native Trout Initiative website.

Evidence that even if pools like this one held trout up near the boulders, it was not going to be generous towards the angler. (Photo by Brian Vincent.)

Based on what I thought I knew about this creek and its small population of LCT, I decided to fish as much of it as I could with my favorite 7 ½-foot fly rod, floating 4-weight line, and a size 16 elk hair caddis dry fly (“dry flies” float on the water’s surface). I say “as much of it as I could” because I knew Brian had to be home by 3:00pm to prep for work (which meant we had to start home by 1:00pm), and I was concerned that my aging body would have difficulty bushwhacking and scrambling up the narrow canyon, not to mention the bending, crouching, and kneeling necessary to avoid detection by the trout who rush into their hiding spots whenever they see unnatural movement above their shallow water-world. My son Brian’s presence eased any family concerns about me in case of any mishaps or incidents.

There were a few pools in this tight canyon section of Carpenter Creek.

I did indeed teeter a few times while stepping on boulders to cross back and forth, but I was surprised by my ability to stalk these trout. Although small, I was pleased to sight so many trout in a creek so tiny (maybe about ten in total). In these type of creeks, not all pools are fishable without frightening the the fish, so I only attempted very short casts on four pools I thought contained trout. In two of those four pools I was fortunate to hook an LCT.

The first trout hooked was small, maybe seven inches, but my dry fly dislodged within ten seconds. The second LCT was substantially larger, a good ten inches. It had a couple seven-inchers finning in the water near its flanks. All three were actively feeding at the tail end of a large, flat, pale boulder that acted like a plate which softened the water that was dropping into the head of the plunge pool. The trout were easily identified against the pale boulder from my position on the bank fifteen feet away from the left side of the creek. I recall it was my second cast that fooled the larger trout, and it was a little raucous in the water for fifteen seconds or so. I was feeling pretty confident that I would bring the trout to hand for a quick photo before it was released, but it had other plans. It sulked in a small channel on my side of the pale boulder, so I tried one more dapping-like cast but the LCT immediately ducked underneath the protection of another rock.

This is a different view of the water in the previous photo. My crouching presence might put the geography into an accurate perspective. There were a few trout in this pool, but not much cover for the angler. I am trying to minimize my profile to the fish as much as possible. (Photo by Brian Vincent.)
This is the black variant elk hair caddis, size 16, that was cast in all four pools, hooking two Lahontan cutthroat trout (LCT). I was able to keep from losing the fly to the grabby branches and leaves that wanted to protect the LCT from this angler, although on at least two casts I did have to launch a retrieval mission for it. I like this fly for several reasons: caddis are common in most streams I fish, the elk hair wing makes them very buoyant, and their buoyant, pale wing color makes them very easy for my eyes to follow as it drifts through the current.

I was not upset by its early escape. While I would have treasured a photo of it, I was more happy that I had fooled it and that its quick get away ensured minimal stress from its encounter with the caddis dry fly. It is the stalking, casting, and hooking that produce the most pleasure for me; the playing and releasing of cherished trout always comes with a sense of anxiety for me, but mostly for the trout. For those of you interested in catch and release (vitally necessary for the survival of these LCT trout in Carpenter Creek), here are some important basic steps you should take according to the Front Range Anglers website:

  • Use single barbless hooks
  • Keep the fish in the water as much as possible.
  • Trout have a protective slime. Protect that slime by keeping hands and net wet.
  • Use a rubber net. Large mesh allows for quicker removal of hooks.
  • Avoid unnecessarily long landing battles.
  • Trout gills are particularly susceptible to poison, infection, and puncture. Never allow anything, especially fingers inside the gill plate.
  • If the hook cannot be retrieved easily, cut the line.
  • Trout are lot more fragile than warm water or salt-water fish.
  • Large trout are less resilient than small trout, be extra careful with them.
  • Adverse conditions such as water temperature greater than 65 degrees, require extra care in handling fish. If it’s above 70 degrees, you probably shouldn’t be fishing and many waters will close during this condition.

Although I have known about Carpenter Creek from the topo map I purchased from Mercury Blue when I was in college, for unknown reasons it has taken me about 45 years to explore it. For the last ten years or so I have read stories and seen photos of other angler success on Carpenter Creek. Several years ago my friend, Chan, shared his personal experience with the LCT of Carpenter Creek. Chan’s account of the angling resolved me to explore its waters for myself. I am not one for regrets, but I can say that had I driven my 1979 Toyota Hi-Lux 4×4 up there in the 1980s I believe I would have several trips to the creek already banked in my memory.

The old goat, my 1979 Toyota 4×4, parked on the backside slope of Red Rock Canyon’s southern end, near the Mountain Springs community contained within the Spring Mountain Range.
Fall leaves along the pathways. On this November 11th, the temperature at 7,000 foot elevation was a surprising 62 degrees according to the Trout Truck temperature report. I believe this moderate mountain temperature supports one of my thoughts that the LCT were introduced here partly because of their tolerance for warmer water than other trout.

Maps are very useful tools for those wishing to discover and visit destinations that intrigue their sense of adventure. Serious trout anglers pursue the “blue lines” on the topo maps for the jewels of the mountain streams. If you know where you want to go, maps will get you there if you understand their symbols and nomenclature, and more importantly if you carefully follow their instruction. Travelers and orienteers still make mistakes and fall off the trail, but reapplication of the tools will soon get you back on course.

Brian prepared for the drive home. He often wears his UNLV cap when out with me, but today he sported a Georgetown University cap as a sign that he has enrolled in its Masters Program. I am very happy for him.

I recently ran across an article on the Internet titled, “The Bible is Our Roadmap for Life.” The author used two analogies regarding the use of maps:

When the United States was in a race to put men in space and on the moon, imagine an astronaut coming into the program and saying, “I know the way to the moon. It’s straight up. I don’t need a map. I don’t need any training.”

Imagine a Seal Team that has just received orders to go into the jungle to rescue some Americans that have been kidnapped by a terrorist organization. As the leader of the operation is about to share the plan and lays a map out for the team to study, one of the members of the team grabs the map and wads it up and says, “We don’t need a map or a plan. I know the way. Just follow me.”

Men especially have a reputation for avoiding travel maps and assembly instructions. (I am certain I am one of them who falls into this category too often.) We either feel more manly because we figured it out by ourselves, or we think the corollary opinion will be we are weak minded and in need of help. This is a form of stinkin’ thinkin’ because both are untrue. I have used a map of one form or another to get to every fishing or hiking travel adventure I ever had. I have never wandered aimlessly in my truck or on a hike simply hoping I would run into something I wanted to find. At the minimum this approach would be illogical, and at worst it would be insane. For those interested, here are a few verses that touch on the Bible as a map or instruction for salvation:

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

2 Timothy 3:16-17 (the Bible is the inspired word of God)

Keep hold of instruction; do not let go;
guard her, for she is your life.

Proverbs 4:13 (the Father’s wise instruction)

Incline your ear, and hear the words of the wise,
and apply your heart to my knowledge,
for it will be pleasant if you keep them within you,
if all of them are ready on your lips.
That your trust may be in the Lord,
I have made them known to you today, even to you.
Have I not written for you thirty sayings
of counsel and knowledge,
to make you know what is right and true,
that you may give a true answer to those who sent you?

Proverbs 22:17-21 (words of the Wise)

I passed by the field of a sluggard,
by the vineyard of a man lacking sense,
and behold, it was all overgrown with thorns;
the ground was covered with nettles,
and its stone wall was broken down.
Then I saw and considered it;
I looked and received instruction.
A little sleep, a little slumber,
a little folding of the hands to rest,
and poverty will come upon you like a robber,
and want like an armed man.

Proverbs 24:30-34 (more words of the Wise)

and you say, “How I hated discipline,
and my heart despised reproof!
I did not listen to the voice of my teachers
or incline my ear to my instructors.”

Proverbs 5:12-13 (a warning against sin)

For me, the Bible describes the reason for my life and its purpose. It reveals God to me in a way that I can understand His nature and will. It is not merely a moral compass, but a revelation of the Lord in a way I can humanly comprehend (Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know Him and have seen Him”-John 14:6-7). I am free to ignore this revelation, its path to eternal life in His presence, or to follow only those paths or instructions that I like, but I know those choices will get me lost eventually. Yes, I do get lost more often than I like, but I believe the trail becomes clearer to me every day.

May your journey be a blessing to you and yours.

6 thoughts on “Exploring Carpenter Canyon from Pahrump, NV”

  1. Hey hey Mark. Thanks for the shout out. I remember our conversation very well. I’m glad to hear there are still little guys in there. I was afraid after the fire a few years back that it may have ended the habitat for the poor little guys there. Great post. Tight lines!

    1. Chan –

      From the Pahrump view the burn area on the southwest side of Charleston is massive, but it didn’t seem to travel over to Carpenter Canyon.

      I was thinking of you all while I was fishing. I should have reached out to see if you were willing to be my fishing guide up there.

      My best to you and the family.

    1. Thank you, Judy. I was telling my brother-in-law about my stash of these topo maps that I often spread out and review in my hands. It’s like holding a book in my hands in which I’ve written notes and comments from years gone by. Maybe some observations on my life. I grudgingly use technology because it is convenient, but generations to come will not know the comfort of holding a book in their hands. I suppose blogging (my weapon of choice) and eBook publishing enables anyone to write about their lives without the cost of publishing on paper, but I so enjoy reading a paper, book, or magazine in my hands while in a comfy reading chair.

      May the Lord bless you and keep you!

  2. Hey Mark, been following your blog for almost 10 years now. I discover Cold Creek because of you and that’s where I started fishing and landed my first trout – a rainbow. Since then my love for fishing has grown and discover new fisheable waters from your reading including – mammoth creek, Kirch, panguitch, Cave Lake, Eagle Valley, St Mary’s River and Angel Lake. I also got to experience Carpenter Creek last year and landed a few LCT. Thank you for spreading the love of fishing with the likes of me. Keep up the great Writing and happy fishing.

    1. Alberto –

      How wonderful to hear from you. I am forever grateful you took the time to share your appreciation for trout angling, and the role this blog had in your exploration and enjoyment of the pastime I cherish the most. It is gratifying to know that folks outside my “friends and family” circle enjoy the blog and find it useful as well.

      Trout are one of the most beautiful sport fish, but their existence depends upon clean, cold streams for their reproductive success in the wild (i.e., natural reproduction as opposed to the “petri dish” variety that most fish hatcheries employ that eventually leads to confused and weakened gene pools of the unique trout species), especially necessary for threatened species like Lahontan cutthroat trout (found in Nevada streams like Mary’s River and Carpenter Creek) and bull trout (found in Nevada’s Jarbidge River) as well as species found in other states such as the cutthroat trout of the northwest and California’s golden trout and steelhead trout (anadromous form of west coast rainbows). Anglers like us must continue to support laws, regulations, rules, and best practices that ensures not just their survival, but their vigorous thriving.

      I hope you continue your pursuit of the inspirational places that our beloved trout inhabit, and that you pass on your good sportsmanship to the others whose paths you cross over the years. More importantly, I pray my expression of faith in this blog helps you find your highest purpose in life.

      Tight lines my friend!

      – Mark

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