Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Driving in Nevada

I have had a great love of Nevada ever since Mr. H took me across I-80 to Elko one summer. Today was a long hot stretch through the state on our way to southern Utah. Here are a few photos I took today and an essay I wrote about Elko awhile back.

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.

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