A million miles from Vegas

“Man, I’m gonna have to take a real vacation one of these summers,” I grumbled to myself after a boring, uneventful afternoon in the lonely high desert of northern Elko County. “Some place like London or Vancouver or Puerto Rico. Even Vegas. Hell, yes, Vegas. A full-on, five-day rube-out in Sin City.”

I was muttering in a frustrated way because it had been a frustrating day. I had planned to go exploring/swimming/goofing in the remote South Fork of the Owyhee River, but that plan had been a bust. The map showed that the road going from the high ground down to the river should have been at least halfway decent, but I sure couldn’t see it. Every road I saw headed thataway was your standard two-tire-strip number, the kind with a swath of healthy vegetation growing in between the strips. I just didn’t feel like hassling those goat tracks today, especially with thunderheads beginning to pile up and darken.

So I was hoping to regroup and rally back at the trailer, which was parked at an idyllic, little Nevada wet spot called Wilson Reservoir. There were a couple of very cold beers and a good book waiting, and I was counting on those two allies to help salvage the afternoon. Then, in the middle of the road, a very large bird. What is that, a turkey? An eagle? The mystery bird had frozen in place, making it easy for me to get a lock on it with the spyglasses. Ah, the sage grouse! A fine fellow indeed, one I haven’t seen in some time. Well, OK. Cool. (And how lucky for me that I am so easily amused.)

During dusk, another excellent bird scene. It turns out that the flamingo of the western desert, the white-faced ibis, is fond of Wilson. A medium-sized wader that can dazzle with flashes of iridescent dark green and opalescent coral when caught in the right light, flocks of 20 to 40 ibises at a time were flying into this home base from other feeding spots, providing more cheap yet high-quality natural spectacles.

Then, in the warm darkness of a deluxe summer night, the dinner show begins. Those thunder cells have now gotten serious, one to the north, another to the east. These are the best kind of t-storms, where they’re far enough away so you don’t have to worry about being soaked or smoked, but close enough to where you can still take in all the action. And action there is, as Zeus in the north and Thor in the east take turns strutting their stuff, trading mighty blast after mighty blast. Then, as the night gets inkier, an extraordinarily vivid Milky Way emerges in the wide swath of sky between the two thermonuclear thunder cells, making possible that rarity of modern English—the accurate usage of the adjective awesome. Off to the west, a still-bright quarter moon takes descending aim on a hillside, ready to turn in early for the night.

And to think I was thinking of the Luxor five hours before.