Wednesday, June 24, 2009
Elko, Nevada is the largest city between Salt Lake City and Reno. With a population just under 17,000, it holds together the lunar landscape of Northern Nevada. Whorehouses sit on the edge of the city limits, where middle aged women perch on CB radios tempting truckers to come by for free coffee. The desert brings together a strange combination of people, with Basque ranchers, down on their luck gamblers, and off the grid homesteaders making up much of the local color. But the true lifeblood of Elko is the search and desire for gold.
Gold mining is the central industry, bringing in international mining operations, (mostly Australians—although if you have ever read about the tantalizing vastness of their own unexplored mineral potential you might wonder why) in the boom times, and crack pot inventors and desert rats in the bust times. All of these elements combine to make this part of world look like the future of America, another planet, and the 1960s, depending on the moment and the season.
The main motorway through Northern Nevada is Interstate 80. It is a surreal stretch of highway, connecting a line of small desert towns all fairly uninviting to outsiders and with names like Battle Mountain and Sparks. Hunter Thomson called it “A straight lonely run across nowhere, with not many dots on the map except ghost towns and truck stops … all of them empty, with no gas stations, withering away in the desert like a string of old Pony Express stations.”
We once stopped, on our way back to California, in a town called Winnemucca and slept in an old motel that was literally sinking into the ground, the floor of our room jutting at a steep angle. (It was only $20—cash) The old lima bean-shaped swimming pool in the front was drained and full of trash, its grey concrete cracking. There are a lot of these sort of things in the I-80 towns—these ghosts of happier times.
"The community started about 1900 with the discovery of gold and silver rich ore by prospector Jim Butler when he went looking for a lost burro (donkey) he owned. The burro had wandered off during the night and had sought shelter near a rock outcropping. When Butler discovered the animal the next morning, he picked up a rock to throw at the beast, but instead noticed the rock was unusually heavy. He had stumbled upon the second-richest silver strike in Nevada history. The ore eventually played out, and abandoned mines can be found throughout the area."We decided to stay in something called the Clown Motel overlooking the old graveyard. What? You think this is a bad idea? But there's free internet.
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
I spent a few days visiting my mother in Mukilteo Washington. I had big plans of going into Seattle and looking at art and other diligent activities, but in the end found that I was perfectly content to drink coffee, run up and down the hills around her house, look at the ferries that leave from the terminal all day from down town (a pleasant jog away) and sift through a few thrift stores. I found myself falling into the folly of all those that show up in the pretty summer months: "wow it's so beautiful I could live here." Forgetting how dark and brutal the winters are.
"Blackberries. Nothing, not mushrooms, not ferns, not moss, not melancholy, nothing grew more vigorously, more intractably in the Puget Sound rains than blackberries. Homeowners dug and chopped, and still they came. Park attendants with flame throwers held them off at the gates. In the wet months, blackberries spread so wildly, so rapidly that dogs and small children were sometimes engulfed and never heard from again. In the peak of the season, even adults dared not go berry picking without a military escort. Blackberry vines pushed up through solid concrete, forced their way into polite society, entwined the legs of virgins, and tried to loop themselves over passing clouds."--Tom Robbins,
Still Life with Woodpecker