I drove north from Las Vegas. Near Creech AFB I saw a sureal silver plane gliding through the bluest sky -- not a Thunderbird -- it was a slim cylinder with narrow wings straight out from the sides. Between Indian Springs and Beatty, I saw a mystery. A Native American man in white was running south along the highway carrying something that looked like a sheaf of grain in his hand. He raised whatever he was holding toward me in a salute or greeting. A good long distance later, I saw anohter Native American man holding the same thing and he greeted me too. Another long distance, and there was another. All in all, it happened about 6 times. Some of the runners were women. They did not greet me. All were Native American. The last one was carrying a pole with something that looked like a dream catcher at one end. He raised it toward me as we passed. At Tonopah Station, I asked the waitresses who told me there was a Pow Wow and that this running and the objects the runners carried was a spiritual thing.
At Tonopah, I bought the Parhump Mirror, Nye County's Only Independent Newspaper, and learned that the ACLU has issued a report hightly critical of the jail in Pahrump. It pleased me to think I had only last weekend I read in the Lincoln County paper about the flap between the Lincoln County Commissioners and the Lincoln County Fair Board over the plans (or lack of plans) for a 2009 County Fair. The ill feelings have subsided, apologies have been given, and the fair planning is well under way. I like knowing what is happening East and West.
Outside Tonopah I caught Nevada 376 north through the Big Smoky Valley where I had never been. It was quietly, then awesomely, beautful. Driving beside the the Humboldt Toiyabe Range which curved in front of me and soared upward gave a long slow view of its snow capped majesty. I thought to myself how much I prefer highways named Nevada to Highways named I or U.S. The broad valley leading toward the blue white mountains felt somehow consoling.
Carvers is the city to note in the Big Smoky Valley. It is a picturesque town. The Carvers Cafe is a small but elegantly rustic place. The waitress was perky and polite. The view from the parking lot was mountain beauty brought to earth by the caterpillar tractor parked beside the simple car wash across the highway. Yes, this was all value added to the cup of coffee. But $2.09 for a small sytrofoam cup of Maxwell House! A grande Starbucks is a dime cheaper in Las Vegas!
Near Eureka I turned east on Hy. 50 and wondered if Hy. 50 really is the loneliest road in America. It is pretty lonely alright and it is longer than Nevada 376, but mile for mile 376 is lonelier. Hy 50 had more traffic and there are actually towns along it -- some of them pretty substantial, like Ely, Fallon, and oh yes the state capital Carson City. Still, I passed through not a single solitary town on Hy 50 on this trip and I was on it long enough to feel the lonely seeping in. So I truned on my cd player and listened to a bit of Leonard Cohen:
Ring the bells that still can ring.
Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack -- a crack in everything.
That's where the light gets in.
A subtle allusion to something Dame Sitwell once said about William Blake.
Then I turned north again on Nevada 278 through the Pine Valley. I didn't see many pines but it was positively verdant. Wallace Stegner said to appreciate the West "you have to get over the green thing." Not entirely, you can drive through the Pine Valley in May. Perhaps its all those miles of gray-green bushes that make these green fields and pastures such a joy. There is irrigaion equipment operating in the fields, but the green is not just there. At first I couldn't see what was greening the land. Eventually there was a winding little creek which grew into a sensously curving river, the South Fork of the Humboldt, I think it was. I had no idea such a river flowed through the center of our state. It was magnificent. All this close at hand, while the snowy grey blue Ruby Mountains looked down from the distance, and I thought of Shoshone Mike who led the last "Indian uprising" in Nevada in the early 20th Century. He and his small clan were trying to get back home to the Rubies when they were tracked down and killed by law men out of Winnemucca. The whole tragic story began when some members of Shohone Mike's family had killed a few cowboys in Idaho who had wantonly murdered Mike's son. Later they killed some white men in California who they mistakenly believed were hunting them.
Eventually I came to I-80 near Carlin, and as I passed the dramatic rock formations just beside the road east of East Carlin, I realized I had been unfair to highways named I. Dear old I-80 celebrated in the Buckaroo Girl, Adriene's album Highway 80, has much to offer -- like these rocks outside East Carlin and the broad shouldered hills West of Fernley.
Now here I am in Elko at the Gold Country Inn. The only thing that could be better is if it were Cowboy Poetry Festival. But I'll be back for that when the snow is on the ground.
And yes, I know this is not the shortest way to Elko from Las Vegas. I have already driven the shortest way. And I will go home that way, via Ely. But this trip I wanted to see these valleys in Springtime. I'm so glad I did.