Friday, December 25, 2009
Finding the 'Real Nevada'
Several years ago, a Canadian writer asked me to take him on a trip to see “the real Nevada.” In particular, he wanted to see a ghost town and wild horses.
He also said he would like to meet someone who lived in a ghost town—although, of course, if someone lived there it wouldn’t be a ghost town—because he had always wondered what it would be like to live so far from the loud noises, traffic and crowds of cities.
We set out from Tonopah on a cool October morning, driving east on Highway 6, then north on state route 376, before turning northeast onto the road leading to Belmont. We passed no traffic that day; our only companions a handful of bleached, cotton-swab clouds floating overhead.
The land was wide and open, so much so that the writer remarked that he was working on a book about the Trans-Canadian Highway, of which he said the area reminded him.
“Sometimes, you can see wild horses out around here,” I said, eyes scanning the seemingly endless miles of empty, rolling hills. “But probably not today.”
Suddenly, a small herd of seven horses led by a beautiful white stallion, appeared from behind one of those hills and began pacing our vehicle.
"“Do you want me to stop so you can get a picture?” I asked.
“No, they'll be gone before I could shoot it. Let’s just keep driving. They’re very beautiful,” he said.
“I wish I could take credit for them,” I said as I silently thanked whatever higher power had produced these magnificent animals at the moment I needed them.
For another several minutes, we watched in silent admiration as the horses raced across the sagebrush. Then, they disappeared in a hidden creek bed and were gone.
A few minutes later, we reached the outskirts of Belmont. We spotted a stout red brick smokestack and decided to investigate. Parking the car, we walked through the sagebrush to the ruins of the Belmont-Monitor Mill.
As we gingerly stepped around and over the scattered chunks of wood and piles of what appeared to be crushed red bricks, I heard a slapping noise overhead.
I looked up into the cloudless blue sky and saw a bird flying overhead. I realized the source of the strange sound: it was so quiet and peaceful that you could hear the sound of a bird’s wings hitting the air.
We returned to the car and drove to the center of Belmont. Ahead, we could see buildings strung alongside the road and, behind them, other structures—some looking relatively new and others appearing to be very, very old.
We parked the car just west of the buildings and, as we climbed out, a man with a thick, gray beard, wearing a red-checked shirt with suspenders holding up a pair of baggy, gray pants, appeared from a small, green trailer.
“What are you doing here?” he asked. There was the strong smell of sagebrush about him—as if he’d just rolled in the stuff.
“We just wanted to do a little exploring and take a few pictures. We’re writers,” I explained.
“Well, okay, but just don’t touch anything,” he said gruffly, then disappeared into his trailer.
Careful to respect his wishes, we gingerly walked the main street. A handful of crumbling brick and wooden facades stood on either side of us. Most seemed ready to topple. North of the main street was the two-story brick Belmont Courthouse, built in 1876.
We circled the ruins, each shooting plenty of photos, entranced by the mood of the place.
After a time, we both started back to the car. There was a cemetery near the entrance to the town we wanted to visit. I turned the car around and started to head away from the main street when the old man, who appeared to be the town’s only resident, appeared from his trailer and waved for me to stop.
“Excuse me,” he said, after he walked over to my open window. “Could you please tell me what time it is?”
“It’s about four o'clock,” I answered.
He thanked me and turned to walk back to his trailer. I started to drive away, then saw him in the rearview mirror, again waving to get my attention. I backed the car to where he was standing.
“Excuse me,” he said. “Could you tell me what day it is?”
So I told him.
That’s when we both knew what it must be like to live so far away from loud noises, traffic, crowds—and, obviously, clocks.