October 16, 2022, Jordan Valley, OR- William Least Heat Moon would probably find a wealth of interesting things to say about the vast expanse of sagebrush that occupies the Great Basin, from central Nevada, through eastern Oregon, southern Idaho and down into western Utah and parts of Wyoming. Going along U.S. 95, I find the towns and mountains interesting, but the flatlands are just part of the woodwork, so to speak. Were I to camp out in them, for several days, I might feel differently, and come up with detailed descriptions, such as the great man has done with the Kansas grasslands, in his fascinating tome, “Prairy Erth”. Yet, as another great man once wrote, “I have miles to go, before I sleep.”
About a third of the way between Tonopah and Hawthorne, in western Nevada’s outback, there lie the remains of what was likely a mining camp. The foundations of the buildings, easily accessible to all, became for a time the hangout of a group of teens-from either of the two towns mentioned above, or from the small villages of Mina and Luling, which lie a bit north of the ruins. In any event, the colourful graffiti adds an odd splotch of brightness to the monochrome of sagebrush.
The other, and somewhat more disturbing, element that breaks the sameness (not monotony) of the landscape is salt. Saline licks and flats have proliferated across the Basin, since I was last through the area in July, 2021. They are larger, in an area south of these ruins, and newly-established along the shores off Walker Lake, to the north of Hawthorne.
This type of salinity is toxic to birds and beasts, in its concentrated form. It is also not conducive to a nice day at the beach. It is, moreover, one of the consequences of the current drought and shrinkage affecting many bodies of water, throughout the planet-not just in the American West.
In the end, it was Oregon, not California, which became part of my route. Going north, from Winnemucca, I found myself tooling along the Beaver State’s share of Great Basin sagebrush. Then, just shy of the Idaho state line, lies this tiny community, which once had two motels and a cafe. One of the motels is shuttered and the cafe was locked and empty, but Basque Station and its adjuncts-Jim’s Sinclair and Mrs. Z’s Store are open and they’re glad to see you, even if their outer demeanour is world weary. Jordan Valley is a proud exurb of Boise, 1 1/2 hours away.
Pharmacy Hill’s topography is of the ancient rocks that covered our continent in the Pre-Cambrian Era, as life itself was taking root, in the surrounding oceans. It reminds me a lot of the area between Kingman and Las Vegas, the first rocks thrust upwards by the actions of wind and water, which have cast the Grand Canyon. Here, though, the promontory stands by itself, oddly majestic above Jordan Valley. I will have more time, coming back this way in a few days, and may just hike up the Hill.
May mountain and hamlet long thrive.
Good photos. I was unaware of the salt flats forming. Just another sign of climate change…
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