Thursday, January 25, 2007
Getting Weird in Gerlach
Maybe it’s the climate or the location but whatever the cause, it’s clear that life in the tiny hamlet of Gerlach, which sits on the edge of the Black Rock Desert, is a little different from the rest of the world.
Of course, the best example of how that uniqueness can manifest is the “Burning Man” celebration, which is held in the desert near Gerlach in early September.
The Woodstock-like, week-long event attracts thousands of people and includes the burning of a 50-foot wooden figure.
Another of the area’s more off-beat attractions is “Guru Road” or “Dooby Avenue.” The road is essentially a dirt trail lined with large boulders into which clever, pithy, and thought-provoking phrases have been carved.
Bizarre visual art made from animal bones, scraps of wood, and assorted trash highlight some of the sayings.
Guru Road was the work of the late DeWayne “Doobie” Williams, a retired Gerlach resident who spent more than 15 years carving his philosophical musings in stone and assembling whimsical displays. Williams, who earned his nickname, “Doobie,” because—unlike some—he did inhale, decided to pass the time by carving his observations on rocks. Since the work was hard on his hands, he soon shortened his nickname to “Dooby,” to save a letter.
His inspiration for carving words in stone apparently came after hiking through High Rock Canyon, located north of Gerlach, where many early emigrants carved their initials and the date of their passing.
Williams began placing the carved stones along a road on the eastern side of the Granite Mountains, located a few miles north of Gerlach. His initial efforts honored his relatives and friends with their names and brief messages but soon he began to wax poetic.
“The human race is like a watch, it takes all the parts to make it work,” he carved on one, while on another he wrote: “To crush the simple atom all mankind was intent, and now the atom will return the compliment.”
Others opined: “The time we enjoy wasting is not wasted time” as well as ““Before you kill a snake think hantavirus” and “There will be no work in heaven no one is going to screw it up."
Williams’ large, folk-art sculptures are what usually catch the attention of travelers driving on State Route 34, which is parallel to the dirt Guru Road.
For example, he erected a wedding chapel (which has been used for several wedding ceremonies), a stump-and-bone tree (with the saying: “Tree planted by Dooby, please don’t pick the fruit”) and a tribute to Elvis Presley. He built a small structure that has old television screens for windows and named it the “Desert Broadcasting System.”
Other exhibits address weightier issues such as nuclear weapons and the Vietnam War.
Following Williams’ death in January of 1995, the Bureau of Land Management granted the Williams family a right-of-way to ensure the continued existence of Guru Road. Friends, admirers and family maintain the signs and sculptures.
A few years ago, the Black Rock Press imprint of the University of Nevada, Reno, published a limited edition book about the road, which includes photos and text by poet Gary Snyder, who discovered Williams’ rock garden in the late 1980s.
Unfortunately, the book is out-of-print, although it might be in some libraries.
Guru Road is open to the public and easy to find. Drive four miles north of Gerlach on State Route 34, until you spot an official-looking green and white street sign on your left, which says “Guru Road.” Then, turn onto the dirt road and start reading the rocks.