Hwy 50, Day 2 - Nevada

There's dry rain in the desert, gray days with sheets of rain falling from twisting skies, evaporating back into the clouds far overhead and never reaching the ground. It creates the atmospheric tension and excitement of those first drops of a storm without ever getting wet. And continuously. All day. 
This was the backdrop as I entered Austin, Nevada, parked on the main strip, and walked my dog in front of the store fronts, old churches, and crumbling brick buildings. I'd stopped in this town for gas six years prior, pulling through in a Uhaul truck with bald tires on frozen roads as I moved from Texas to Oregon. The town had an energy, a vibration, that seemed appealing. I was glad to get back to it with some time to spare. 

The energy was still there, the presence of some possibility in an archaic town perched on canyon hillsides. Maybe because driving through Nevada involves committing endless hours to straight roads through massive basins where the next turn is visible, just ahead, 60 miles away with towering mountains always over there. Austin seems a place that anchored itself outside and above the basin life, somehow refreshing, somehow innovative. And there is an obvious undercurrent of innovation: bright new signs expounding the tourism and grandness of Austin, appeals to eco-tourists to come mountain bike and travelers to stop and tour the shops and cafes, soak up the art galleries and coffee and history and experiences. 

Except that it's a breath away from ghost town. It feels like people are there, maybe, but I didn't see a soul outside of the gas station. That cinematic ambiance of a drifter walking into a remote rustic town and all the doors and shudders suddenly closed and locked, played out underneath the constant gray tension of desert dry rain. Absolute silence save the occasional bark of an unseen dog, the cluck of a chicken, the rumble of an old engine driving a car you never see. Everything is closed or abandoned and it's impossible to tell if it's been that way for days or years. Snow drifts without tracks block many doors and buildings, even churches, places that had that feel of being someplace busy, bustling, important, and not that long ago. It echoes the decay that's becoming common on these recent road trips: small towns that used to get by on their own quirky volition now crumbling, two years of a pandemic and a widening gap in equality and cost-of-goods casting the community off into a fading oblivion. It was lunch time on Saturday and I'd hoped to stop and eat. Not a single light was on. I made a sandwich and drove on. 

Spencer Hot Springs was just down the road, what I was anticipating as another isolated piping-and-tub wallow in the shallow edge of an alkali flat. Strangely, it was the busiest place I'd stopped so far in rural Nevada. Or seemed like it. I only saw a few human figures, always at a distance, always with the quiet remove of a deer on a ridgeline, alert of your presence but wishing and trying to ignore you. It was a large area of white silty muddy slopes with a number of hot spring scattered about, none with people in them. Mobile habitats were everywhere, campers and cars and tents and buses all pushed to the perimeter to maximize distance from their neighbors. All shuddered and quiet as if abandoned but still with a guarded presence (it felt like the flaps on the tents were locked shut, keeping everything out). The same feeling as in town, the feeling of momentarily grounded derelicts doing everything to block out an external existence. All under that constant dry rain, gray skies spewing gray rain above dust colored campers sat atop gray silt and mud. Monochrome and defensive.   

The springs were barely warm and lacked the self expressive care of Kyle Hot Springs. These springs existed in spite of themselves, unused and unloved, surrounded by closed up campers full of isolated nomads. I pushed a bit further uphill to Navadrian Black Mustang Hot Spring, somehow completely clear of campers though not any nicer or warmer. For once I remembered that I don't like being wet and didn't bother to get in. Somebody had stocked this spring with goldfish, enough to keep breeding and growing, shocks of orange vibrancy that made me smile, the only color and character out there. Some prankish gesture that was now being appreciated. 

I pushed deeper into the foot hills, aiming towards geologic scars I could see on satellite images. A massive mining operation, foundations of huge structures since demolished and buried, giant carved pits hundreds of feet deep and guarded by steel bars that were a little too widely spaced for comfort. Later research would identify it as the Linka Mine, extracting tungsten and other metals during the 1940's and 50's. I used a sheltered dugout to escape the wind and add a few layers of polyurethane to that walking stick I'd been whittling, got some beans going, and ventured on. 

I wrapped up the evening with a hike around Hickison Petroglyph Area, an outcropping of sandstone in sharp contrast to everything else I'd seen today. I drove up the next canyon over, hiked around a bit more and collected a few fresh branches for walking sticks, did some science, then settled in for the night just as the dry rain finally descended and became real snow.