Position: 39°52’59″N 115°18’42″W
The corner of Nevada where it meets Utah and Idaho is mostly unpopulated. Here, the ruggedly beautiful mountains lie north to south and stretch along a half dozen wide, empty valleys, all arid high desert with sagebrush covering the steppe. Rains from the south, falling in grey veils to our left, brought little relief to the dessicated country. Looking right, sunlight dappled the landscape, breaking through the low, broken clouds with blue skies beyond.
Almost all this land is owned and operated by the people’s Federal Government. The few pioneers who homesteaded the region gave up decades ago, leaving a dozen ghost towns in their wake. A small number of indigenous people, the Shoshone-Paiute, mainly live on the Nevada side of the Duck Valley Indian Reservation. The majority of the other 46,000-ish Elko County residents live in one of four cities, leaving only a few hardy souls out on the range.
Climbing out of Newark Valley the rain caught up with us. The wet, twisting road finally unwound along a razor-straight line of telephone poles. In front of us the tarmac roiled. Carol slowed down. I wound down my window and peered over the side. Grasshoppers swarmed the road. A few looked up at me, grinning with all the vacant adenoidal enthusiasm of Gomer Pyle. Golly! Shazam! The heavy showers must have flushed them out of the fields, drawing them to the warmth of the blacktop. It was carnage under our tires. Suddenly it felt like our karma was out of whack. In olden times such a sight might be interpreted as a harbinger, an omen of some kind. A metaphor for the taking. In 21st century Nevada it was just weird. Biblically weird.
A spooky feeling settled on us. Even though there was more than 150 miles left in the tank, we had gassed up in Ely as a precaution. Dark, pendulous thunderheads boiled over the escarpments. The wind picked up buffeting the car. Rain now poured down the hillsides in torrents. Lightning was, thankfully, shuddering someplace else. Over there. In the distance.
Pulling over briefly to let a cloudburst pass, we searched again for the writhing puddles that might indicate more grasshoppers. In 10 minutes we found them. A cold shiver ran down my neck and between my shoulder blades. I wished I was driving so I had something else to think about.
Cops and Kids
In Eureka my phone reconnected. A billboard flashed by and I caught: “Cops and Kids Fun Shoot”. My curiosity aroused, I had to know more about a place willing to put live ammo in the hands of toddlers and call it fun. The Elko Daily Free Press provides a daily crime update and makes for entertaining reading. The area it seems is less Mayberry and more Mayhemberry. An officer’s typical week might include, murder, suicide, domestic abuse, random drive-by shootings (some aimed at highway workers), collaring meth dealers, and drunk driving accidents by the score. Not to mention juvenile weapons training. Perhaps the positive effects of fresh air and sunshine have been grossly overestimated.
Northeastern Nevada is the sort of place that makes you keep one eye on the endlessly shifting scenery and one eye on your gas gauge. Perhaps if there were more roads, or railway lines, there might be more cattle, or wheat, or something productive. In that happy absence, there is nature. If you’re looking to get away from it all, without the infrastructural challenges of Mongolia, this might be the place for you. It is quite beautiful. Just do your best to avoid the criminals.