To complete our move from Alaska to the Ozarks my wife and I hauled our most valuable items (a totem pole from Wrangell, whale bones and glass balls from the beaches of the Alaska peninsula, guns and pictures) in the back of a 99 Toyota Tacoma that we shipped down on a barge from anchorage to seattle, and then drove it south to Arkansas. When picking the route I had only one goal- to traverse as much of Nevada as possible, on the back roads. Nevada is like Alaska- vast and wild. We drove from Portland south to Winnemucca and then on to Area 51 before cutting east into Utah. We didn’t encounter much, just that feeling of isolation and timelessness that radiates from a frontier. It was hot, windy, desolate, weird and kind of scary- just what I was hoping for.
We did have a very memorable stop about halfway between Winnemucca and Groom Lake. There was a crossroads with some cool signs and an abandoned farm complex and we stopped to get some photos. A man in a pickup truck drove up quickly, slowed and yelled through his window that I needed to check out the desert bighorns. Desert bighorns? I had not even thought of these animals since I was a child, watching a documentary in the 1980’s about their imminent extinction. Sure enough this super nice man, who appeared out of nowhere, steered me toward a big herd of sheep moving down a rocky ravine toward some dilapidated structures. I went closer. After crossing some twisted, old barbed wire fences I came upon a white concrete block structure with “KEEP OUT” spray painted on the side. I paused, realizing that this was a good way to get shot, but then heard laughing coming from a patch of high sage brush to the left of the building. I approached slowly until I found three scantily clad thirty somethings in a tiny, old swimming pool- weird. I got their attention and asked them if it was OK for me to get closer to the sheep and they just laughed and said “sure!”
Turns out this was one of Nevada’s many abandoned hot springs. One of the gals, Sydney martinez, works for the Nevada Department of Tourism. The three of them were on a tour of Nevada Hotsprings. The sheep were there to get a drink. I squatted in the prickly undergrowth and waited till they arrived. Desert Bighorns once numbered up to 3 million before manifest destiny knocked their numbers to maybe 18,000. Strong conservation efforts brought their numbers from the brink of extinction in the last few decades. I felt very lucky to get a close encounter with such an amazing species!!
Here’s to the wild backroads of America! There is some spectacular atmosphere, geology and wildlife in those western deserts. Read Desert Solitaire by Ed Abby, summon the ghost of Hunter S. Thompson, carry extra gas and water, and head out there- it is awesome country.
Click here to see Natural Habitat Adventures’ trip to this region.