The Great Basin

May 18th, 2019

“A little bit of this town goes a very long way.” – Hunter S. Thompson

Nevada is a big state. It is an amazingly long drive from the Las Vegas to Reno. Karin and I did not actually start from Vegas (thank God), but we were in the vicinity. We began our day’s journey from Zion, Utah, and the GPS took us through some obscure corner of northwestern Arizona in order to get us into the great state of Nevada. Keep in mind that I have some personal history in Nevada. Two years ago, I got busted at a protest in front of Creech Air Force Base, and I was able to spend some quality time in the CCDC (Carson County Detention Center). Nevada has weird energy for me.

Well, I should talk a bit about the Great Basin, since that is the title of this essay. Nevada resides almost entirely within the Great Basin. The Great Basin is a place where rivers never meet the sea. That is the definition in a hydro-graphic sense. Nevada is surrounded by high, snow covered mountains. In the spring and summer, the snow on these peaks melt, providing streams and rivers of fresh water that flow into small lakes. Eventually, all of the snow melt, and the streams dry up. Then these lakes and ponds turn into dusty salt flats. They become places where dust devils go to play.

Karin and I had the opportunity to see both the sweet lakes and the forbidding salt flats. The lakes were small, but life-giving. They were often surrounded on their edges by cottonwoods with deep roots. Enterprising ranchers irrigate fields with the water to keep their cattle alive and well. When we drove through places where the snow melt had been exhausted, Karin asked me why the ground was so white. It was salt, all of it. We saw tiny tornadoes of dust dance over these salt flats. It was desolation like that of St,. John’s Apocalypse.

There are very few towns in the Great Basin. A person learns quickly to take advantage of every opportunity to refuel. It is not unusual to drive two hours and not find any kind of service. It is not unusual to drive for over an hour, and not see another vehicle going in either direction. This can be disconcerting to some people.

There are stretches of road that are utterly deserted. These highways are in flat valleys and they are straight as a die. It is impossible for a driver to determine the distance through these level areas between the mountains. One hundred miles looks like twenty.

It is tempting to exceed the posted speed limit. Generally, the roads are posted at 70 mph. A driver is a damn fool if he or she drives at less eighty. On these highways there is often the sense that you are hardly moving at all. Correspondingly, there is an intense desire to pass slower-moving vehicles, even if they are already going at a reckless speed. It is extremely difficult to estimate the speed of oncoming traffic, little though there is. Any car or truck coming from the other way seems to be either too close or too far, depending on a person’s perspective. Passing in the left lane can become a dangerous pastime.

There is also the hazard of cattle on the road. Most of Nevada has open grazing, which means no fences, which means a steer can be on the highway at any time. Hitting a cow at 80 mph would be unfortunate for everyone involved.

There are towns on the route which really don’t qualify as towns. Luning is one of them. The burg is little more than a collection of boarded up buildings and houses that are collapsing of their own weight. Luning is a speed trap that screams of desolation. The entire place is nothing more than a backdrop for another zombie movie.

Weather is peculiar in the Great Basin. We encountered a micro-storm while driving along. Cumulus clouds crammed the sky and raindrops poured down. In most cases, the rain never hit the ground. The moisture evaporated before it could arrive. However, on one occasion, the rain slammed into our car, and I had turn the wipers on as fast as they could go. The shower was done in less than a minute. It did clean the bugs off of the windshield.

As we got closer to Reno, we drove past the Hawthorne Army Depot. There were rows upon rows of ammunition bunkers. Every section of the highway is dedicated to some poor bastards who fought and died in an American war.  I truly feel for the guys who are stationed there. What a hideous place to be.

Was all of Nevada ugly? No. Some of it was beautiful in a rugged, brutal sort of way. Parts of the state were absolutely glorious. There was just too much of it.




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