When you turn off Interstate 15, north of Las Vegas, and drive eastward to Valley of Fire State Park, you will at first wonder what all the fuss was about, the glowing reports you’ve heard of fantastic shapes and colors sprayed across the rocky landscape; as you start, the scenery is unrelentingly boring for mile upon mile. Browns, grays, and duller.
Don’t let that stretch of highway fool you. You’ll finally round a corner, about 25 miles out from the freeway, where your surprise will be sudden and complete. From there , it’s all unlimited discovery.
We are prone to speak of the resources of this country as inexhaustible; this is not so. —Theodore Roosevelt
The magic of steam locomotives is kept alive in many places, and none are more accessible than the Nevada Northern Railway in Ely, Nevada. Your ticket to the museum includes the grounds and the shops, where you’re (mostly) free to roam, and imagine, as I did in September.
Eastward across Nevada, following Highway 50 to Ely, Ulrich and I stopped briefly in Austin and Eureka. Just enough time to scratch at the surface of both towns.
Whoever said money can’t buy happiness simply didn’t know where to go shopping. —Bo Derek
The Fallon Electronic Warfare Range is located in the southern part of Dixie Valley, not far as the crows fly from Middlegate, Nevada. It’s open to the public (with some understandable restrictions) because the Navy doesn’t drop real bombs there—as the name implies, it’s computerized.
On the day we visited the roads were soft following a heavy rainstorm. If we got stuck, help (if any) would be a long time coming. We had our chance the next day. I’d added GPS coordinates to my Garmin hand-held, Ulrich had photos from Google on his laptop…now all we had to do was locate our targets.
I’ll bet the Navy pilots find them easier than we did.
We stopped at two locations on the Range, and probably missed a couple more. If Nevada seems large on a map, wait until you get out and walk around. We used up most of our day at just those two spots.
Highlights for me: The emptiness. Lean, spare scenery in every direction. Lack of insects (until dusk, anyway). The quiet. And the questions that come to mind out there—who operated the equipment, and when and where did they serve? The stories they could tell.
In Middlegate, Nevada, a camera functions much like a comb—you’re never quite sure what you’ll find until you’ve drawn it over the surface a time or two.
Rain almost robbed us in Middlegate.
Escaping the Reno metro area (and earning Bonus Miles for taking an alternate route*), Ulrich and I motored east on Lonely Highway 50. Middlegate was to be our base while we visited the Navy’s electronic bombing range in nearby Dixie Valley.
A rainstorm had preceded us; dirt roads in its wake would be impassable for…days. We had two.
But the porous soil drinks rain almost as fast as it falls, and so we kept our date with surplus targets in Dixie on our second day there.
Better yet, we met Martin, from Switzerland, who was walking across America. We stayed a night in the Rawhide House (and got the door mostly closed). Ate some good food (Martin commented that, in America, “everyone can cook.”)
Listened to Paul Smith sing the blues. Felt unhurried, and Welcome.
Places like this used to be called oases. This one still is.
*When asking for directions, remember: the person(s) you query may have moved there five days prior to your arrival. But they won’t tell you that. And do yourself a favor: don’t use an outdated map.
While I’m in the Southwest during September…I think I’ll look for a plate of bacon and eggs instead.
A bachelor’s life is a fine breakfast, a flat lunch, and a miserable dinner. —Francis Bacon