The Jarbidges of Shovel County

I’ve been trying NOT to write about Jarbidge for three weeks now. But as the late John Lee Hooker once said in one of his nasty boogie tunes: “It’s in him, and it’s gotta come out."Jarbidge is a river, a canyon, a peak, a mountain range, a wilderness area, a state of mind and the most frequently mispronounced town this side of Beowawe. There is only one “r” in Jarbidge, but people have some bizarre need to add that second “r” so they can say “bridge.” Beware of this common geographical speech impediment, for by saying Jar-BRIDGE to a long-time Nevadan, you’re pretty much declaring that you’re a ninny from San Jose who just got off the freeway to take a leak.

For years, the only federally designated wilderness area in the state was Jarbidge, a wild and ironic thing to ponder once you get a handle on the aforementioned Jarbidge state of mind, which doesn’t embrace or appreciate the federal government so much as it invites the feds to put a big ole sloppy kiss on its big ole backside.

And what an extremely gorgeous backside it is. Jarbidge is where Nevada collides with Idaho and a bunch of water, and the result is a violent regurgitation of flora that consistently impresses the eyeball with its vigorous health and vibrant color. The summer ride into J-town on Charleston Road is insane, a region where wildflowers routinely cop guilty pleas to dozens of charges of blatant ostentation.

Every time I’ve driven to Jarbidge, I’ve driven my passengers nuts by stopping to look at something every two miles. Actually, I drive myself crazy with this sputtering approach. But when you’re out there, it’s obviously the right thing to do (although it does demand real trust in your starter). Jarbidge is about 100 miles northeast of Elko, with the last 57 being on gravel. Using my herk, jerk and gawk style of driving, I can usually make that 100 miles in seven hours, a cool 14 miles per. I had a guy tell me once he made the trip in four hours. I assumed he must have been involved in some kind of limb re-attachment project.

Anyway, we finally made it to the bottom of the canyon. It’s a seriously steep, almost dangerous descent to the floor, and my brakes were overworked and stinkin'. Straight ahead was the Jarbidge River, rushing with total clarity and heading toward the mighty Snake. And there, to our right, was the road sign for which locals and not-so-locals had raised their famous shovels last summer. The sign that declared that this road heading south a couple of miles to the wilderness trailhead was now part of Elko County’s domain. It’s a simple black and white sign that reads “Elko County Road 4622.” The simplicity belies its ornery, confrontational and nearly violent origin.

And underneath the number, you can almost see the parenthetical exclamation that the signsmiths in Elko must have been sorely tempted to add: (Yahoo!)