Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Long, Lonely, Lovely Way To Elko

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.


Matthew said...

Next time you decide to take the 376, you should take the paved road to Belmont. Well, its almost all paved. It turns off about 15 miles on the 376 past Tonopah. Belmont is a really interesting "living ghost." From there, you have two options: 1) you can take the dirt road (decent) from Bemont to Manhattan, which is about 13 miles which is not long for driving on a dirt road. Once you get to Manhattan, its paved and you can take the road from manhattan all the way back down to the 376 and continue on as you did to Round Mountain, Carvers, etc. Its a "loop." Manhattan also has one of the most photographed church's in Nevada. Its in all the coffee table books. They still have a RC mass I think twice a month. You can see pictures of it by googling manhattan Nevada.

The other, more adventurous route, would be once you get Belmont, stay on that road, which turns to dirt, and drive it all the way to Hwy 50, which is a LONG dirt road, probably at least 50-75 miles. This goes through the Monitor Valley which is directly parallel to the Great Smoky. Its actually not any prettier than the Great Smoky so I don't really recommend it unless you just love dirt roads.

However, you do drive past Wayne Hage's ranch (he and his wife are both now dead so you would not get to visit the legend anyway). And, if you don't know who Wayne Hage is, that is too much to tell in these comments. I could go on for pages. Just google him. He's a hero to many rural, libertarian NV ranch types because of his decades long legal war with the federal govt. Armies of DC lawyers were involved in this case. They say you are not a "real" rural Nevadan if you don't know who Wayne Hage is. Perhaps the same could be said of Nevada environmentalists, but for opposing reasons.

Bishop Dan said...

I shall research Wayne Hage soon. He sounds like Nevada's equivalent to Idaho's cop shooting renegage poacher Claude Dallas in the folk hero category. I will never be a rural Nevadan and I hope not to be a poser. But I want to be an appreciative guest.

The delicate pink flowers scattered in the green fields of Pine Valley are wild roses.

The Rev. James Richardson said...

Dan -- I am enjoying your blog and your travel impressions immensely. I am in Virginia, but I've spent most of my adult life in NorCal and a lot of time in Northern Nevada. Hope you've seen the petroglyphs around Fallon... Anyway, keep it coming. Your thoughts on the hate groups are timely as well. Thanks. -- Jim

Matthew said...

There are lots of articles on Mr. Hage. But, he was not just a crackpot, or if he was, he basically won all of his lawsuits against the federal govt. including a 4 million judgment and another awarded after he died.

Roseline Christ said...

It must be wonderful to see this part of God's image ... the desert landscape ...

The experience with the Divine is even more profound in the desert!
Indeed, Moses made it in the seven deserts ..!

Thanks be to God!

Bishop Dan said...

Thank you all for posting comments. Great to hear from you. When I was still brand new here, Brother Geoffrey, SSJE, chaplain to the HOB, recommended a book I've been pushing on everyone I meet: The Solace Of Fierce Landscapes by Belden Lane -- best contemporary work I know on desert spirituality.

Rev. Clelia Pinza-Garrity said...

We start our work in this vast part of our state next month. I have planned several multi-day trips to the small towns and reservations just to get to know the people. These wonderful descriptions of your travels somehow calm me as I venture off into unknown territory --- I agree with you about Belden Lanes' book. Happy travels.

Karl Gustafson said...

I've always enjoyed riding the back roads (as long as they are paved). The Big Smokey Valley is one of the hidden Gems in Nevada.

Nikki Waggoner said...

I grew up in Winnemucca and remember the Claude Dallas days. He was apparently harbored by some of the neighbors, if you can call them that in the very vast expanses of Paradise Hills north of Winnemucca, and was something of a folk hero out there as well.

I was just thinking the other day that Reno was looking so green - a perspective that is hard for my non-desert friends to appreciate in the same way that I do as a native Nevadan. Sounds like you're catching on, though. We're a little lacking on what Rev. Lovejoy from the Simpsons calls the "cheap showiness of nature" but the desert is sublime, nonetheless.

Bishop Dan said...

I was doing some criminal defense in Idaho during the Claude Dallas days and knew the guys who defended him. It made one and ruined the other. Some of my clients got to know Claude on the the inside. It was quite a story.