Remembering a pal

We’re here, we’re gone—we come, we go—we live, we kick the can. An old pal of mine just put a boot to his bucket, and I’m wondering if he got a great picture of it, perfectly lit with lenticular clouds in the background, before he sent it down the hill.

Mike McCurry lived for many years here in Reno before moving to Tucson, where he died recently at the age of 70. He had one main passion in this life, and that was photography. He was a terrific lensman who knew his stuff, and with his camera, Mike stirred the eye and soul of many. Especially memorable to me were his pictures of cars and the desert.

When you saw McCurry’s photos of classic American cars, you knew he loved them. Mike was not a man who left town during HAN. He had a sweet spot for old Chevrolets and Fords, and his photos of his favorite models were irresistible to those who share that particular fancy. My guess is that many hundreds of Mike’s posters that beautifully fetishized cars like the ’63 Corvette and the ’56 Chevy still hang in garages, offices, and “man caves” around America.

McCurry loved the desert just as much as those beloved cars. He was a genuine desert rat, the kind of guy whose idea of a great weekend is to load up the ice chest, check the air in the second spare, and hit the back roads of the Great Basin, always on the lookout for that next little Eden up the canyon or around the bend. I met Mike about 10 years ago, and whenever our paths crossed, our initial greetings would quickly give way to animated exchanges of our “field notes,” as we raved and drooled about our favorite discoveries. I remember one time when I blew him away with news of my visit to a very special spot called Three Forks, in southeastern Oregon on the Owyhee River. The Owyhee was one of those places that really melted Mike’s cookies.

Once I saw Mike’s posters of Great Basin wonders, I had to reach for the wallet. I now have a “McCurry Room” at my house, featuring three of his excellent desert shots, all of places within 120 miles of my living room. One poster is a dazzling shot of the fabulous Fly Geyser in the Black Rock Desert. Another is of a gorgeous little stream high in the Granite Mountains, those jagged peaks looming over Gerlach. And the third is of the Shaman’s Head, an amazing rock formation that looks exactly like the profile of a gnarled old Apache medicine man that Mike found in one of his favorite haunts, the Lava Beds area between Gerlach and Lovelock. With his superb posters, I’m able to pay proper homage to this area where I’ve lived for 28 years.

I reckon he died in a hospital. Maybe at home, if he was lucky. In a way, it’s too bad a sidewinder didn’t get him while he was fixin’ a flat on a 112 degree Arizona afternoon. Just after he guzzled his last ice cold beer.