On Highway 50, the so-called Loneliest Road, I was headed west from Eureka to Austin. It was there at Hickison Summit, about 20 miles east of Austin, that I first got a clue that things are a little buggy in the central part of the state this year. There’s a campground/picnic area at Hickison, where you can acknowledge and celebrate the nice petroglyphs there, and I was feeling the need for chips, salsa and grape soda.
I pulled into one of the campsites, got the goodies and took them out to the picnic table in the shade of the piñons and junipers. That’s when I noticed the crickets. Big crickets. The Mormon-style brush-gobblers. The kind that don’t make pleasant noises at night. Not a totally dense swarm of them, but a lot more than several, amblin’ through the campground. Full-grown and ready to make millions of eggs. I tried to ignore them as I sat there, eating and reading. A cricket crawled onto my foot. I looked down and stared at him, reminding myself there’s no reason to flip out. After all, he is an herbivore. He looked back at me, or so I imagined. He was a bug big enough to have a face.
As I pulled into Austin, I could see that the number of crickets at Hickison was small change by comparison. Austin has been overwhelmed by these arthropods. They were easily found on each side of the main street. At the gas station, they were hangin‘ around like six-legged troublemakers. The town didn’t look like it had been ravaged by bugs. In fact, it looked the same as it always does—pleasantly ramshackle and historical—except for all these big bugs crawling around. The crickets hadn’t shut the town down, or stripped all the plants or anything remotely shocking or disastrous. They were just there, buggin’ people.
Driving west from Austin on 50, there were places on the highway where large groups of crickets gathered, busily cannibalizing their comrades, who had been squashed by vehicles minutes before. Many of them were, of course, about to meet the same fate. With my windows down, I could clearly hear the sound of their popping copper bodies. When I got to Fallon, I found an excellent coin-operated car wash called, Fallonically enough, Top Gun. I needed a place with good water pressure, and this joint had it. It’s not easy blasting the guts of hundreds of crickets off the front of a trailer. My right hand ached from the nine-quarter session.
What will happen, one wonders, if the cricket plague of central Nevada turns west toward the ag mecca of Fallon? Or if the Big Bugs of Red Rock and Antelope Valley ever head south toward Reno? What will happen when people who buy homes in the soon-to-be-built Winnemucca Ranch Insta-burb discover that their new dream pads are located in an annual Cricket Ground Zero?