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Our Nevada travels have taken us from Boundary Peak to Wheeler Peak, and everywhere in between.
Photo: Charlie Johnston (left) and Matthew B. Brown (right) pose in the Black Rock Desert.
The escapades of Editor Matthew B. Brown and Associate Editor Charlie Johnston have been well documented in the pages of Nevada Magazine. As 2010 comes to an end, the editorial duo reflects on their many Silver State sojourns. We like to think of it as a less (or more?) dysfunctional, purely Nevada version of the John Candy/Steve Martin classic “Planes, Trains and Automobiles”—and ATVs, and helicopters, and horses, and—you get the point.BY CHARLIE JOHNSTON
As Editor Matthew B. Brown and I approach the 13,000-foot-mark en route to the summit of Nevada’s second-highest mountain (Wheeler Peak), we notice a distinct crackling, buzzing sound. It’s identical to the hum emitted by overburdened power lines.
But we are atop one of the most remote points in the continental United States—about as far as you can get from a setting that would facilitate such a noise. We pause in the swirling wind and snow to figure out what is going on.
I roll up my sleeve to give the altimeter a look and watch as my arm hairs stand on end. Matt removes his knit cap and his hair too bolts upright. We have walked, literally, into a thundercloud. While we consider the consequences of continuing and possibly becoming human lightning rods, a grinning German tourist no younger than 70 comes ambling out of the clouds on his descent from the summit. Our decision is essentially made for us.
As we continue, the crackling and static electricity subside, and we reach the crest as the weather abates and reveals stunning views of the Snake Range and Spring Valley more than 7,000 feet below. As I dig into my pack to extract a camera I am reminded that this is no vacation, it’s just another day in the office at Nevada Magazine.
After college I did like so many recent graduates before me and ignored four-plus years of expensive education to gallivant around the world. My wandering feet landed me in Australia with a little money and the idea that I would find odd jobs to support my travels for as long as I wanted.
Then came the e-mail.
Some changes at Nevada Magazine—where I had interned during my senior year at the University of Nevada, Reno—resulted in the opening of the position of associate editor, and they wanted me to fill it. Sensing hard times on the horizon, I could not pass up such an opportunity. So, three months into my grand adventure I was on my way back to Nevada. But I had no intentions of letting the adventure end.
I knew that Matt (formerly the associate editor), whom I had worked with during my internship, was just as anxious to feature exciting, off-the-beaten-path activities and destinations in the magazine as I was. In short order we carved out a niche that would allow us to explore every nook and cranny of Nevada—from remote mountain-tops to questionable bars, Matt and I quickly became an unstoppable Nevada-exploring team. “You guys are sure having fun,” former publisher and editor Joyce Hollister recently mused. Is she ever right.
Our blustery adventure to the top of 13,063-foot Wheeler Peak is only the tip of the iceberg. During that four-day trip to Great Basin National Park we also met a cross-Nevada cyclist, explored Lehman Caves, searched in deep snow for Bristlecone Pines, hiked to Lexington Arch, and enjoyed one of the best pizzas in the state at Ely’s Hotel Nevada.
A brief look through the last few years of Nevada Magazine reveals the great variety of our journeys.
A solo July 2008 trip started my magazine adventures in grand fashion. An avid backpacker, I spent months pestering coworkers to permit a story on the subject until everyone was coerced into agreement. My first stop was the Toiyabe Crest Trail in central Nevada, an epic 72-mile odyssey along a sometimes-nonexistent route in some of Nevada’s most remote wilderness. Traveling light and alone I made excellent time, covering the distance in three and a half days, including a waterless stretch of nearly 25 miles.
After completing the crest I made camp along the North Twin River before an early morning hitchhike back to my truck at the trail’s north end (while my ride was pleasant, I must take this opportunity to point out that hitchhiking is a potentially dangerous means of travel, even in the friendly expanses of rural Nevada). After some well-deserved rest in Tonopah, my next stop was the Extraterrestrial Highway and Rachel. The handful of locals welcomed me as though I were an old friend as we explored the desert, peeked into Area 51, and enjoyed a fun evening at the Little A’Le’Inn. Despite the blistering July heat, I found it hard to leave their hospitality when the two-day visit was up.
A longer-than-anticipated drive up U.S. Highway 93 took me to Elko and the foot of the Ruby Mountains, where my next backpacking excursion, the 37-mile Ruby Crest National Recreation Trail, waited. Every step of the well-marked trail increased my excitement, as some of Nevada’s most beautiful, pristine wilderness unfolded before me. The end of the trail marked the end of my trip, and after another pleasant hitch back to my truck, I returned home.
That first trip set the tone for all to come: excitement and variety. Later that summer, I was invited to attend Burning Man, and since the magazine was short on photos of the annual counterculture/arts festival and considering a future story, I was sent on assignment—it’s a tough job, but someone has to do it. The trip was inspiring and thought-provoking and produced some of the most exceptional photos I have ever captured. I have been making the annual pilgrimage ever since.
Sometime near the end of 2008, Matt and I decided a feature on modern mining in Nevada would be a good fit for the magazine. Some interviews and industry photos would have sufficed, but that really isn’t our style. So in January 2009, we found ourselves in a cramped elevator descending thousands of feet into the earth’s crust.
A day at Nevada’s biggest gold mine, Barrick Gold Corporation’s Goldstrike, gave us a deep appreciation for the laborious work that goes into the production of gold, and the conditions gave us an ever greater appreciation for our comfortable offices. Since no January trip to Elko would be complete without a visit to the town’s annual National Cowboy Poetry Gathering (January 24-29, 2011), we finished our excursion with a handful of performances and a few obligatory Picon Punches.
By the following spring, our vision for Nevada Magazine was clear: to give readers an experience and encourage them to get out and explore the state as we were doing. To that end, I arranged a spot on the annual Reno Rodeo Cattle Drive. The 100-mile, five-day drive kicks off a week of rodeo festivities in The Biggest Little City and is—without question—one of the most unique, exciting vacations to be had in the Silver State. The days and nights spent on the trail with the herd and among the cowboys and other tourists rank among some of my fondest memories, work or otherwise. Before the drive, my equine experience was limited to basically sitting in a saddle as a child and occasionally feeding a friend’s horses in college. With the help of the wranglers, my horse, Sarge, and the 300 or so cattle, I could have almost passed for a real cowboy when we came riding into Reno on the final day of the drive.
Our numerous trips through Nevada have helped boost in Matt and me an already-developing passion for photography, so much so that shortly following my arrival at Nevada Magazine we became the default staff photographers. While some photo assignments aren’t as lengthy as those above or various camping trips to places such as Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge, they have provided many great memories. Among our assignments have been the residents of Reno’s Riverside Artist Lofts, the Triple-A Reno Aces baseball stadium, the wares of homegrown clothing company Reno eNVy, Las Vegas mega-resorts, ancient American Indian petroglyphs, state parks, historic buildings, tattoos, military bases, delectable foods of practically every description and taste, ghost towns, and countless others. From the hour-long shoots to full-day photo tours, each has—like the weeklong adventures—given us a broader perspective on our subjects and the state as a whole.
These are only a sampling of the adventures we have had during our time with Nevada Magazine. Whether it’s ATV off-roading, piloting engineless glider planes, riding hot air balloons, myriad running events, whitewater rafting, snowboarding, or snowmobiling, there is barely an activity we have not enjoyed in the Silver State. And as far as we’re concerned, the adventure has only just begun.
More than anything, our travels and vision for Nevada Magazine remind me almost daily that our jobs, like our lives, are what we make of them. In the words of perhaps the greatest writer to ever call Nevada home, Mark Twain: “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” Although harbors and sails are in short supply in the Silver State, I like to think he had the right idea.BY MATTHEW B. BROWN
Two stories that have stuck with me during my tenure at Nevada Magazine are the “1908 Great Race” (May/June 2008) and “A Distinguished Drive” (July/August 2009). Both celebrated centennials of famous automobile expeditions across America. For both drivers (George Schuster and his American team won the New York to Paris auto race in 1908, and Alice Ramsey was the first woman to drive across the United States a year later), Nevada represented a sometimes lonely, yet always exciting, part of the voyage.
More than a century later, not a lot has changed. The roads are better, and our vehicles travel faster and more efficiently, but the feeling of traveling Nevada’s open roads is much the same—the stretches of isolation seem only to elevate the impending adventure.
Following are my top 10 Nevada travel moments.
10. Western Hospitality
As a writer, I’ve met famous athletes, big-name entertainers, and prominent politicians, but one of my favorite interviews took place in Eddie Brooks’ Spring Creek home in 2007. Brooks, a saddle maker who has done work for the likes of President Lyndon B. Johnson and country singer Charlie Daniels, couldn’t be more representative of the western lifestyle you’ll find across rural Nevada. Brooks and his wife welcomed me into their home and proceeded to talk about Brooks’ 50-plus years of saddle making, his competitive rodeo days, and his childhood in Fort Worth, Texas, growing up on a ranch and learning from a local leather carver. Interviewing Brooks in his humble, home shop almost made me forget he is truly a master of his art—at the time, he had just sold a saddle for nearly $7,000.
9. Killer Golf Balls
As a journalist, you can find yourself in some pretty awkward situations. Most of the time it’s because you’ve been invited to partake in an activity with which you have little or no experience. Case in point: golf and Charlie Johnston. As part of our Tour Around Nevada, we visited Mesquite in April 2010. The southeastern Nevada city is well known for its spectacular year-round golf. CasaBlanca Resort General Manager Marty Rapson—even after my warnings—took her chances with us on the fairways and greens of the resort’s sister course. I can’t remember whether it was hole number one or two, but Charlie treated a chip shot more like drive, and the ball nearly struck Marty as she stood near the green. I think we made it nine holes before we all agreed that Charlie and I probably were better at eating steak dinners and lounging by the pool.
8. Hawthorne Army Depot
One of the great things about this job is we get to live vicariously through so many fascinating people and their careers. A prime example of that was our February 2010 tour of Hawthorne Army Depot in western Nevada. While they weren’t about to let us test the latest in U.S. rocket-launching technology, we did get a comprehensive overview of the various activities that occur at HWAD (Hawthorne Will Always Deliver). The itinerary included a look at the WADF (Western Area Demilitarization Facility) site and a bird’s-eye view of the terrain that has been used to train troops being deployed to Afghanistan. But the most interesting part of the day was our visit to “mini-Kabul,” the depot’s simulation of a typical Afghanistan city/town. It was surreal to be among these training grounds at their most peaceful, and imagine a day later them buzzing with war-bound soldiers.
7. ATVing in Elko
I was first thrust into true-blue rural Nevada as associate editor in June 2007. I received an invite from the Elko Convention and Visitors Authority to participate in an introduction of the “Gem of Nevada Trails System” in northeastern Nevada. The event marked my first time riding an ATV, as we traversed the Merritt Mountain area north of Wild Horse State Recreation Area. The highlight of that day was a Dutch-oven cooking demonstration that included a lasagna lunch and chocolate cake for dessert. The next day we were passengers, as I and another magazine employee embarked on a Jeep excursion that took us from the “living ghost town” of Tuscarora to Jacks Peak in the Independence Mountains. The journey also included a risky river crossing, a grove of aspens with Basque tree carvings, and an intriguing outdoor art exhibit called The Auto Parts Gang—a conglomeration of cowboy and Indian characters made from scrap auto parts.
Illustration by Sean Nebeker
6. Hot August…Valley of Fire
After visiting Valley of Fire State Park for the first time, Charlie and I each asked the same question, almost in unison: Why is this not a national park? We were amazed, to say the least. We didn’t care that it was August and 115 degrees. Whether it was the remnants of “The Professionals” movie set, the rock art at Atlatl Rock or Petroglyph Canyon Trail, or the White Domes Loop trail, we were going to see everything or die (of heat stroke) trying. It’s worth noting that Valley of Fire’s striking contrast of red and white sandstone can be thoroughly enjoyed without getting out of the car. As you come into the park from the west, the winding road teases you as you get mini previews of “fire.” Then, suddenly, you’re looking at miles of beautiful, burnt-orange land.
5. Tales From the Rim Trail
At mile five, I felt great. Mile 10, I was feeling the burn. Mile 15, I nearly gave up. Mile 20, my feet were hamburger. Such is the torturous tale of an inexperienced backpacker on the Tahoe Rim Trail—36 miles in two days on the Nevada side of the famed trail that circumambulates Lake Tahoe. I learned the hard way that quality footwear is a hiking necessity, but my favorite memory from the summer 2008 hike came courtesy of man’s best friend(s). We had brought our two dogs, Riley and Riley. After the 20-mile first day, the two still had the energy to play-wrestle, while I struggled to walk due to the intense pain. Unfortunately, we lost one Riley not long after the backpacking trip, but his (and my Riley’s) endless energy at the end of that first day will always be an inspiration to me.
4. Lost in Sheldon
We’re lost. It’s one of the most painful truths for grown men to accept, but that was the reality for Charlie and me during our October 2009 visit to Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge in northwestern Nevada. We’re still not sure how we got off course, but the moral of the story is that remote Nevada should never be underestimated—even with a detailed map in your possession. After spending the night somewhere near the southern end of the Refuge, we eventually got on track and explored Virgin Valley Ranch, Virgin Valley Campground, and Thousand Creek Gorge. The highlight of our trip was the gorge, a nearly five-mile-long massive gash in the earth located in the northeastern section of the refuge. While vehicle access to the gorge is easy, hiking within it is anything but. The payoff, however, is the scenery—around every bend is a magnificent mix of creek, brush, and rock magnified by the towering gorge.
3. Flying Over Hoover Dam
I’ve never flown in a helicopter. I’ve never seen Hoover Dam. And I’ve never gazed upon Lake Mead. It was the perfect recipe for my 15-minute Hoover Dam Helicopter Tour, courtesy of Looktours and Stars and Stripes Air Tours, in February 2010. Beyond the amazement of seeing Hoover Dam for the first time—all the more impressive from a bird’s-eye view—I found the construction of the new Hoover Dam Bypass/bridge equally astonishing. From the sky, the Colorado River is strikingly green due to the lime in the surrounding rocks, according to Curtis Cornelius, a commercial helicopter pilot for 43 years.
2. Flattened at Great Basin
One of the great things about Great Basin National Park is you won’t find the huge crowds and congested roads you may encounter in some of America’s other national parks. The road to Lexington Arch, an impressive rock feature in the southern end of the park, takes remote to another level entirely. The isolation is a treat to tourists—that is, until you get a flat tire. Charlie and I joked that the source of our misfortune on this May 2009 day was a hiker who, while trying to take a shortcut on the Lexington Arch Trail, was scolded by Charlie for going off the beaten path. Nevertheless, we managed to get the flat changed just before a rainstorm hit the area. The flat-tire memory sticks out, but climbing Wheeler Peak, touring Lehman Caves, and an unsuccessful snowshoe to the park’s Bristlecone pine grove were also part of the trip.
1. Summiting Boundary Peak
Climbing Boundary Peak is more about the journey than the thrill of victory. Sure, it’s nice to reach the summit, but there’s only so much you can do on a rocky space that’s roughly the size of a small living room—but feel relief. Upon reaching the Silver State’s pinnacle, I laid down for a few minutes to catch my breath and get some reprieve from the furious winds that were blowing on this winter day, January 17, 2009. It’s the highest elevation I’ve been, which is appropriate seen as how Boundary Peak is Nevada’s highest point (13,141). This is my favorite Nevada adventure thus far, and the fact that we did it in the middle of winter made it all the more challenging.
As we look ahead to 2011, we’re already plotting our next Nevada adventures. Jerry Reed said it best: “We’ve got a long ways to go and a short time to get there.”