There’s an old song by the Dreadful Greats called “Strange Occurrences in the Desert,” which suitably sets the tone for this columnar postcard from always spacious and occasionally specious Elko County, “where 99.99 percent of Americans ain’t” (and that’s pretty darn accurate; I did the math).
First snapshot—Humboldt River Corridor. From Elko west to Winnemucca, the Humboldt is running full, wild and sloppy. It’s up to its rim for 150 miles, and there are plenty of places where it’s flowing over into the fields. Elko County is positively seething with springtime. The plants are eatin’ up the sunlight, the bugs are eatin’ up the plants, the fish are eatin’ up the bugs, the birds are eatin’ up the bugs and the fish, and the mammals are eatin’ up everything they can grab.
Second snapshot—Owyhee River Canyonlands. Me and my compadre, Dr. Nolan Voyd, find ourselves at the intersection of Long Gone and Way Out There, staring at this big map erected by the Bureau of Land Management. We’re trying to figure out how to get to a place in ultra-southern Idaho called the 45 Ranch, which is where the South Fork of the Owyhee swallows up the Little Owyhee, and it’s supposed to be seriously paradisiacal. At least it sounds like a good place to eat lunch. All we gotta do is make sense of this map, which is easy enough while you’re standing in front of it. It’s the execution of whatever game plan you concoct that gets a little tricky. Because, out here, in this Zone of Signlessness, you’re never quite sure if this right turn is the right right turn, or if it’s that right turn up there on the bluff.
An hour later, we’re lost. Not a surprise. We know it’s not our fault; as songwriter Bill Morrissey once noted, “the map was broken.” But that still doesn’t put us any closer to kickin’ back and goofin’ at some splendid oasis. I tell Voyd, “Man, what we need is to run across some local out here who knows this turf and can get us straightened out.” He scoffs. We haven’t seen another human being in at least two hours, and the chances seem strong that that zero figure will hold for the rest of the afternoon.
We decide to head thataway, as opposed to thisaway, and, weirdly enough, we eventually spot a trailer and a bunch of horses. Hmmm. Could this be … ? We pull up and a classic buckaroo pops out. Voyd’s cheerful opener: “So where the fuck are we, anyway?”
The cowboy’s crackerjack response: “You know, I’ve been out here 12 years, and I still haven’t figured it out.” Touche, dude! We chat for a minute, and, of course, the guy knows exactly where the 45 Ranch is. Goddamn, some days you ask and you do indeed receive. After 14 axle-bustin’ miles, we finally get to the 45, and it is, as rumored, real nice. One thing we agree on while chompin’ down lunch on the shady porch—this place is in severe need of a hammock.