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by Ted and Sylvia Blishak   June 1, 2012


"Two roads diverged in a wood, and I -- I took the one less traveled by"     Robert Frost


In Part 1, we recounted a conversation with a waitress at a Basque restaurant in Alturas, who assured us that "There's nuthin' out there" when we told her we were going to take the road from Cedarville, California, to Carson City, Nevada. On the first leg of the trip, as far as Gerlach, she was correct in a way—no traffic jams, no cell phone reception, no strip development, no shopping malls. It was an empty, soul-changing wilderness of huge proportions and varied scenery, however. Gerlach looks more like a ghost town than your typical tourist destination. However, it is headquarters for a large eight-day gathering of vacationers on the nearby Black Rock Desert each September. The area is without cell phone signals, structures, or plumbing and the desert must be returned to its pristine condition when the revelers depart.

  Black Rock Desert  
  The Black Rock Desert looks white. Called "The Burning Man," the cult event attracts people—from everywhere—to an other-worldly atmosphere where most of the conventions of society are left behind.  
  Burning Man office sign  

A brochure describes the event as:

"An Experiment in Temporary Community, where transactions of value take place without money, advertising, or hype. The sale of products and services is prohibited...the experience is characterized by laughing and singing, there are impromptu celebrations, parties and other social events. The line between work and play is blurred."

Burning Man Office

Participants (limited to 50,000) bring, and remove, everything they will need—food, water, tents, and garbage bags. Many bring, or construct on site, temporary artwork.

The event culminates with the burning of a huge wooden effigy of a man. What significance does that have? Guess you have to be there...

In the center of Gerlach is a small oasis of a park.

  Gerlach water tower  







Gerlach water tower sign
Gerlach Water Tower
Sign for Water Tower Park
  Gerlach building   Gerlach saloon  
Gerlach building
Gerlach saloon

The Black Rock Saloon offers a hot lunch. Over the bar hangs a primitive-style painting of a well-endowed blonde. "That's Dolly Parton", the bartender explained. "She came through awhile back looking to buy a ranch."

The Black Rock Desert is an ancient lake bed on which temperatures often exceed 100 degrees. Dehydration is a constant process, and in order to avoid becoming ill, drinking a gallon of water a day is recommended, accompanied by salty food to keep your electrolytes in balance. Failure to do so may result in symptoms such as headaches, cramps, stomach pain, chills.

The Friends of Black Rock organization provides a brochure. There may be "nuthin out here" but in the brochure are photos of rattlesnakes, kit foxes, kangaroo rats, and a horned lizard which, when challenged, can squirt noxious blood out of its eyes. Another photo shows a man standing behind the cab of a pickup as he lassos a wild mustang—reminiscent of the Clark Gable/Marilyn Monroe film, "The Misfits".

The flat Black Rock Desert is where the World Land Speed Record was set on October 15, 1997. A unique vehicle called ThrustSSC achieved a speed of 763 mph and became the first car (looking more like a land-bound airplane) to officially break the sound barrier. The car was driven by Royal Air Force fighter pilot Wing Commander Andy Green. It was powered by two afterburning Rolls-Royce Spey turbofan engines, as used in the British version of the F-4 Phantom II jet fighter. The vehicle was 54 ft long, 12 ft wide, and weighed ten and a half tons.

  ThrustSSC   ThrustSSC  
ThrustSS on display in Coventry, England
South of Gerlach lies the company town of Empire.
  Sign for town of Empire  
The town sign for Empire needs updating.

In 2011, the population dropped from 350 to zero.

Gerlach may look like a ghost town, but Empire has officially become the real thing. The United States Gypsum Company shut down its mine and drywall plant here.


U.S. Gypsum Plant

US Gypsum Plant is enclosed by a cyclone fence

Orders for home construction materials—in this case, drywall—were victims of the recession.


US Gypsum Company sign

Gypsum Company sign

The photo and quote below appeared in the UK's The Daily Mail Reporter on June 15, 2011:



Ghost town

This Empire gas station is one of the many businesses in the small town that are closed for business due to the recession. In fact the only thing remaining of the town, which was once home to the United States Gypsum Corporation, will be an eight-foot chain-link fence crowned with barbed wire sealing off the 136-acre plot and a sign saying Welcome to Nowhere - which has never proven so true."

The last man out of town was Mr. Lonnie Dyck, the Plant Manager. One thing he really enjoyed doing while here was taking his pickup out into the wilderness to explore. "You'd get on top of the mountains here, and you could look for a 360-degree vista, and you might be the only person in 400 square miles. It's kind of an awe-inspiring thought to know that you're one of a very few number of people in this area," he told Robert Siegel in a PBS interview.

"Not only is nuthin out here, but—we've officially reached nowhere!" Ted remarks as we head south. We begin to feel insignificant, even miniaturized, in this huge territory.

  Scrub desert   Scrub desert with mountains  
Sign for Pyramid Lake
Finally we reach the sign announcing Pyramid Lake
  This lake, fed by the Truckee River, has no outlet. The hot, dry atmosphere has caused the level to decrease, instead. 3943 Our first glance at this surreal lake.  
Pyramid Lake
Pyramid Lake
  Two ancient shorelines are still visible from the time when this lake was deeper and part of huge, prehistoric Lake Lahotan. Part of a wildlife refuge, it is a nesting area for white pelicans.  
Pyramid Lake
Our feeling of becoming miniaturized increases. The people in the lake look about the size of ants.
Pyramid Lake wind caution sign
The caution sign explains a strange warning the waitress in Alturas had shared as our journey began. "I heard that it can get very windy on that lake, with waves and whitecaps. And sometimes people swimming or standing on the shore just..........disappear!"
  Nion building   Reno view  
Building in Nixon, population1048, the capitol of the Paiute Reservation
Our journey through the wilderness ends abruptly with a glimpse of Reno
Carson City, Nevada
Genoa, Wally's Hot Springs Resort
A block off the main street, Carson City retains a quiet, small-town ambience
We began our trip in California at the Surprise Valley Hot Springs Resort. Appropriately, we end up here in Genoa, a few miles from Carson City, at Wally's Hot Springs Resort.
  Wally's Hot Springs Resort   Wally's Hot Springs Resort  

With similar activities to balance each end of the trip, we drive into Reno for a traditional Basque dinner at the Santa Fe Basque Restaurant. After the traditional Basque cocktail, Picon Punch, we're seated at picnic-style tables with community seating. A couple of farmers join us, as does a cowboy wearing a suede vest. They chat about their common interest—sheep.

First we enjoy a salad with oil and vinegar and dressed with delicious spices. Next comes a bowl of vegetable soup served in a big bowl, family style. A hearty stew follows, then a generous platter of savory navy beans, another of French Fries.

But we're just getting started. Now the main course, T-bone steak, arrives. This generous menu is accompanied with red wine, and hard cheese for dessert.

We've (fortunately) finished this delightful repast before the talk about sheep husbandry turns serious. Preparing the sheep for consumption is the next subject. The cowboy brings up a very important point.

"Once you've slaughtered the animal, you've gotta get the guts out. If you don't get those guts out within 20 minutes, the taste will be ruined."

"Wasn't that lamb stew we just ate?" I ask Ted as we dash for the door.

"Yep, you gotta get those sheep guts out," the cowboy continues as we head for the door.

Our trip began while we listened to an memorable remark ("There's nuthin' out there") at a Basque restaurant in California.

How appropriate for it to end on another outrageously unforgettable sentence at a Basque restaurant in Nevada!

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