Standing on the rock-strewn slopes of Wheeler Peak at 11,000 feet, the road we were to take was too small to see, but other roads, threadlike, rolled out into the basin and disappeared. Below were deep green circles that glowed against the native brown, nourished by the sweep of giant sprinklers that turned like the hands of a clock. The wisps and strings of rain far off in the distance hung weightless and unmoving from thick gray clouds.
We came down from the mountain and east into tiny Baker and the improbable and welcome: burgers and espresso. Four motorcycles were tethered like horses in front of what once could have been a saloon but was now a store and motel. We cruised briefly west before heading determinedly north, slipping out of Nevada and climbing back a few hours later somewhere among the Goshute Mountains.
A faded sign pointed us towards Gandy, Trout Creek, Callao and the ghost town – or so it said on the map – of Gold Hill and shortly thereafter the pavement ended and we bumped onto gravel. Immediately a plume of mocha-colored dust flared out behind us. For a few slow seconds a crow kept pace with us and it seemed he might fly alongside the whole way. Behind him bale fortresses of freshly-cut hay rose high in golden-brown squares. Evidence of a readying for the hard, grassless winter to come.
The road cut between mountain ranges, the valley wide and flat. To the right of us, ribbons of salt flats rippled and shimmered against the base of blue foothills. Trapped water. The Great Basin. The road is also wide and flat and every few miles thick groves of willows obscured houses, barns, windmills, and tractors. Patches of cattails and thick-bladed grasses gave clues to the hiding places of cold springs and the persistent trickle of water traveling down from high in the mountains. There was life amid the dust and salt crust.
The landscape subtly changed as the road slowly rose and narrowed. We edged closer to the mountains towards the west. Hills flattened by distance unfolded into craggy canyons choked with blue-green pines and gray jutting slabs of rock. Thin trails spindled off in confused lines.
Every sign we passed pointed to towns to the east as if there were nothing ahead, nothing to the west. Near Callao we stopped at an overgrown picnic area scraped out of the ground by the Civilian Conservation Corps. Wooden tables were slowly disappearing among the weeds and grass. A thin stream cut through the picnic area and then disappeared beneath the road, its water cold and clear. A scattering of gray feathers lay along the banks and a lone beer can bobbed in the stony shallows.
Through another town: a faded house surrounded by junked cars and a rusting yellow bus splashed with the words, Into the Wild, and then we were briefly back onto pavement that began and ended at a neat Mormon ward house.
We turned in earnest then, into the mountains, climbing. A sign pointed now towards the west and the town of Ibapah. Other, more mysterious signs appeared and through binoculars we could make out a lonesome gate and an empty airstrip nearly lost in a rippling, silvered distance. Was it an airstrip we saw? The map was tight-lipped. In an otherwise blank lavender space, as if topography had ceased to exist there, was printed: The Utah Test and Training Range.
At last we reached Gold Hill and its broken-down buildings, scarred hills and remnants of the mining town it once was. Not quite a ghost town, but close. A man in a white t-shirt stacked wood in his backyard and stopped to watch, hands on hips, as we drove past. Keep movin’, pardner.
A turned over garbage can identified itself in white spray paint as hailing from Ibapah. It was a long way from home. Its contents were spilled out along the roadside, bits of brown glass sparkled in the nickel-colored light. For some reason we stopped and got out to look. After several moments of contemplation, we righted the can and wheeled it to the edge of the road, feeling virtuous, though there were no witnesses to applaud our deed. The garbage can marked our turn. It marked the end of the dirt road and for all intents and purposes, the end of our trip. We turned right onto smooth pavement – 93A – and bit by bit the trappings of what we call civilization rose up against the mountains marking the horizon: a billboard; phone service and radio stations coming back to life; an on-ramp; rushing cars, Wendover.
As ever, when writing, I am indebted to Cactus Ed. When I look west, I do so through his eyes.
“…to make the discovery of the self in its proud sufficiency which is not isolation but an irreplaceable part of the mystery of the whole. Come on in. The earth, like the sun, like the air, belongs to everyone – and to no one.”
– Edward Abbey, from The Journey Home: Some Words in Defense of the American West
Find more from Bluestem on her blog: Unrefined Vegan