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.