High desert hooligans: From here to Fernley

“Jesse is a dirty hooker,” my daughter Steph shouts over the blaring car stereo. “That’s going to be the theme of this trip.”

My son Jesse, 16, pushes his feet into the back of her seat.

We haven’t driven far from Sparks. My 18-year-old daughter’s writing in her journal: “We are at mile 3.7 and we’ve become restless. We wonder: Do they have cars in Ely, Nevada? Do they have electricity? Do they have all their teeth?”

The smartass offspring and I are on an odyssey across the Silver State.

We lived in eastern Nevada for two years in the early 1990s, moving there from Wisconsin—a place I’ve called “home” though I haven’t lived there in more than a decade.

My kids grew up singing the Nevada state song. They appreciate wide open spaces and the post-rain smell of sage.

We’ve driven our 2005 Chevy Aveo (named Gabbo after the evil clown on The Simpsons) across the nation. But we’ve not seen Ely since these two were toddlers.

“Those are your memories, Mom,” Jesse said when I suggested the trip. “Not ours.”

My goal was to fall in love with here.

“I believe we can be adequate to the earth if we are adequate to our neighborhoods,” writes essayist Scott Russell Sanders in Staying Put: Making a Home in a Restless World. “My nation’s history does not encourage me, or anyone, to belong somewhere with a full heart.”

We buy Nevada Adventure Map and Stan Paher’s Illustrated Nevada Ghost Towns & Mining Camps Atlas at Sundance Bookstore on Keystone and Fifth and peruse them. My road-trip companions buy in.

“Because you seemed so excited,” Steph later explains. “We didn’t have the heart to say no.”

Expectations of fun run low as we exit Interstate 80 in Fernley. My son looks out the window and quotes the TV show, The Family Guy: “Awful lot of honkies.”

Steph records this, along with an inventory of supplies: “We’ve got Swedish Fish and green tea. Our trip to Ely, though random, has begun.”

We crank up the music, sing along with Rancid—"Destination unknown!"—and take a roundabout to Nevada’s “loneliest road.”

“Highway 50,” I announce. We’re laughing when a cop car approaches, lights on. I pull over to let him pass—so he can catch the bad guys.

He pulls up behind me. I am the bad guy. Accelerating too quickly, he says. Do I know what the speed limit is? Do I know how fast I was going?

Steph and Jesse snicker.

“I’ve never gotten a speeding ticket in my life,” I say.

Unmoved, the officer writes me a $107 ticket for driving 10 miles over the limit.

I pull away slowly and proceed like a half-blind octogenarian on sedatives. Steph writes: “All fun ends when Mom’s gets a speeding ticket at mile 34.7. Will she learn from this? Probably not.”

Steph will graduate in June. She plans to move away.

To cheer me up, talk turns to prostitution, legal in this rural county.

“Jesse, you dirty hooker,” Steph says, “we’re going to sell you as a sex slave.”

After Fernley, we come to Hazen where bulldozers grumble along next to the highway, plowing the desert into plateaus for homes and strip malls.

“Maybe they’re building a big new brothel,” I suggest. “A theme-park brothel with a water park. So you can drop your kids off and enjoy adult stuff.”

“That’s just wrong,” my daughter says.

“What’s wrong with that, if it’s legal?” Jesse wonders.

“You’re right, there’s nothing wrong with that,” she replies.

Our trip to Ely, though random, has begun.

Next stop: Searching for mutant cave dwellers at Grimes Point Archaeological Area.