Friday, June 05, 2009

Gerlach, Nevada (before Burning Man)

I’ve not been able to keep up with everyone’s blog and I’m afraid this will continue through the next ten days or so. The next week and a half are going to be very busy with a number of things happening and some important meetings that require a lot of preparation. So send prayers and well wishes my way! I knew six weeks ago that through mid-June, my work life would be hectic and it has been. I haven’t been able to write nearly as much as I’d like. I haven’t even finished the first of my Summer Southern Reading Challenge books. But I did do this memory piece about a road trip I took in 1989 when I lived in Nevada. The two photos of Pyramid Lake were taken in October 1988, the train shots were all taken in Gerlach. The photos are all copies of slides.

Gerlach and the Black Rock Desert have lost a lot of their appeal. In the past decade, thanks to the hedonistic Burning Man Festival, tens of thousands of people head there every Labor Day weekend, probably more people in a few days than use to make it out there in a year or so. In the late 80s, that wasn’t the case.

I’m not sure all of what drew me to this dot on a map, a hundred and some miles north of Reno. I’m sure most of the appeal was that so few people I knew had been there. Another attraction was the rumor of hot springs. And finally, there was their high school basketball team. I’d seen them play that winter; they were creamed by the Virginia City Muckers. Our high school boys, used to playing in the thin air of 6200 feet, ran these lowlanders to death. Making it worse, the Gerlach team had only seven players. A couple of these guys were so uncoordinated that I felt sorry for them. By the end of the game, they only had five left on the court, their best two players having fouled out. The Muckers second string, guys who normally sat on the bench, got most of the playing time and had no problem running up the score. For some reason I wanted to see where this team was from so in the late spring of 1989, I drove to Reno, picked up a woman I’d been dating and the two of us headed out of Reno, following the Truckee River along I-80 to Wadsworth, and then staying by the river, took Nevada 447 due north.

We headed north toward Nixon and the Pyramid Lake Indian Reservation, stopping along the south end of the lake. It’s a barren looking body of water that is essentially a retention pond. The pristine waters start out as snow in the Sierras, melt into Lake Tahoe, and then flow out of the north end of the lake, cascading down the Sierras, flowing through downtown Reno and through the river district, home of the infamous Mustang Ranch. At Wadsworth, the river turns north and the waters gather in Pyramid Lake where they evaporate in the hot desert sun. The waters, by the point they’ve reached the lake, are full of minerals. Over the millenniums, the rising and falling of the lake level coupled with the minerals that are left behind when evaporation occurs, has created unique formations. Also because of the mineral content, there is little life around the lake. Carolyn and I had met on another trip to this lake, with a mutual friend, back in the fall. We were out searching for a few cottonwoods in bloom. At one point, late in the day when the light was soft and warm, she caught me taking her picture. She smiled and I snapped another. We started seeing each other soon afterwards. Although nostalgic, our stop on the south shore of Pyramid Lake was brief, for we had another 80 miles to go to get to Gerlach.

Although the famed Highway 50 through Central Nevada has been dubbed the Loneliness Road in America, Nevada 447, north of Nixon, is one of a dozen or so blacktopped roads in the state with a much lower traffic count. We saw only one car heading south as we drove north, and when we returned that evening, we saw no cars heading north. There’s not a lot out here. The west side of the road is the reservation; on the east side is Winnemucca Lake, which is dry. Along the way, we see a couple of ranches and a few scattered cows. This is harsh land to raise livestock, taking 40 acres or more to support a cow. As the afternoon progresses, the wind begins blowing and at places it sounds like the car is being sandblasted. Five miles south of Gerlach is the only other town around, Empire. It’s a company owned town at the site of one of the nation’s largest gypsum mines and the main source of employment in the region. Five or so miles north, along the Southern Pacific lines (the Feather River Route) is Gerlach. To the northwest is the Black Rock Desert. We stop and ask about the hot springs and learn they’re not currently open due to construction. A little disappointed, we walk around town and the rail yard and spent some time looking out on the desert.

There’s one main establishment in town, called Bruno’s Country Club. It’s a gas station, casino, restaurant, bar and hotel. I laugh at it being called a Country Club, for there ain’t a blade of grass in sight and if they’d be golf in this part of the country, it’d be a clay court (Gabbs, Nevada, I’m told, has a 9 hole clay court). We head into Bruno’s, enjoyed a home-style meal, nothing fancy, but folks were friendly. After dinner, we took another walk around town. The air was cooler and the wind had died a bit. We then leave, driving through the night, back the way we came. At a couple of places, sand from the afternoon’s wind had nearly covered the highway, but we had no problem making it through. As it gets darker, I noticed the new moon out on the western horizon. Pointing it out to Carolyn, she reminded me that there was also a crescent moon on the horizon on that first trip to Pyramid Lake. The moon sets, the stars burn brightly and my headlights beam ahead through the night. It was late when I drop her off and even later when I make it back up on the Comstock.

For some other road trips I've done out west, check out these links:


  1. Haven't been to that part of the country, but enjoy visiting through your photos. The top one is wonderful!

  2. Many fine photos and memories recorded here, Sage. No worries about being busy. We'll be here! :)

  3. I'm with you my friend... I miss keeping up with blogs. i just can't right now.

    I miss certain people...

    I'm just sayin'.


    I have excuses... they're not good enough. I won't even go there.

    I will send all the prayers and well wishes you ask for.

    no matter what, you know where I am if you really need me... again... just sayin'...

  4. I am either getting cheap or the cost of fuel has just about killed new road trips for me. I am happy that I took so many of them when I did. $3.05 this side of the state.

  5. Kenju, I'm amazed at the folks who fly into Vegas or Reno and never get out of the city... I love that barren land.

    Michael, thanks! It's been fun to go through old slides and then to write about them.

    Lisa, thanks and hang in there, yourself. Good to see you back blogging.

    Walking Guy, Gas here was 2.95 last night--I heard somewhere recently that we again have the highest priced gas in the US... We'll have to remember those earlier road trips!

  6. Hang in there. I know the feeling.

    And thanks for sharing the memories and pics. I can't get enough of the Great Basin.


  7. Very nice pics, Sage. I used to live in Truckee and ventured into the Nevada high desert often. Although it can be pretty ugly when combined with a metropolis like Reno, when one gets outside of the more developed areas, it takes on a certain eerie beauty - almost like traveling back in time.

    I'm gonna take the bike out for a little spin today - hope you have time to do the same soon.


  8. This is a busy, busy, busy, time of year for me also...the big project of staining the deck is finally completed, thank goodness!

    We'll see you back soon, sage.

  9. I love your stories, Sage. They make me feel I've shared in your adventures.

    I've been a bad blogger myself. I think this time of year creates distractions of all kinds, but we all understand that the tide will turn.

    Good luck in the coming days/weeks. Great big prayers and well wishes headed your way!

  10. Randall, I have several more road trips photo shows planned--but most of them were on roads without blacktop--like to Hamilton or to Belmont, NV

    Mike, I love Truckee, what a great railroad town and the ride from Truckee to Reno is beautiful.

    Karen, thanks, glad your deck is done before the storms we're suppose to get over the next couple days

    Thanks Stephane. Do you happen to have a tide-table handy? I like your new profile pic.

  11. With the start of a new job, I won't be taking any long road trips, but a 4-hour drive to Orlando would be nice. We keep seeing the billboards "Disney Theme admission on your birthday!" Both my kids have b-days coming up so we may just go for a weekend.

    I love the photos. The ones of Pyramid Lake are awesome!

    Btw, I'll be thinking/praying for you this month. You'll get through it.

  12. You said, "I’ve not been able to keep up with everyone’s blog..."

    Don't feel bad, brother.

  13. Hope your construction project is going well. Our similar one is on schedule and will hopefully be open in late November this year. I took a tour a few weeks ago and was pretty impressed. Fortunately for me, I am mostly a bystander and not actively involved because those that are, are extremely busy.

  14. Scarlet, glad to hear you're got a new job--but if I was you, I'd forget Disney and head to the Keys!

    Appalachianist, Thanks, however, I do miss keeping up with folks.

    Ed, We are behind. The bids for the second phrase (which is the bulk of the project) will be openned tomorrow.

  15. Thoughtful ramblings- the open spaces. Great pictures too-

  16. I enjoyed reading about your journey and viewing your pictures. You always tell such a good story. I hope you get through you busy times.

  17. Gorgeous lake.

    The basketball team reminded me of a league team I played on once. We had seven players and one guy was pretty much only out there if someone else fouled out or didn't show up. His only instruction was "if we pass it to you, pass it right back." I guess you could call him a role player.