A Hard Rain, p. 2


A couple of weeks ago I took the turn into winter and enjoyed a snowshoe trek on Slide Mountain. But last weekend it was time to turn the other direction, up into the Black Rock Desert to explore the springtime temperatures and other thermal features of the Empty Quarter.

Judy, who transplanted herself here from Illinois by way of Connecticut, has been a Nevadan long enough to evolve into a four wheel driver. Thus we were able to approach the desert country with the freedom to explore. It is liberating for someone like myself, used to the constraints of pavement, to ignore the niceties of a proper U-turn and simply loop around into the sagebrush to reverse direction.

After driving east on I-80 for 30 miles, we turned north onto highway 447 which cuts through the Pyramid Lake Paiute reservation. Signs warn that any stopping while on the route requires the purchase of a day-use permit from the tribal store. Slowing down to view the scenery, apparently, is OK. Leaving the reservation we begin 80 miles of horizon to horizon straight road. Here, if the steering wheel were only wired to the cruise control, it would be possible to take a nap for an hour or so.

Most of the valleys of the Empty Quarter sit on what was once the floor of a vast shallow inland sea, Lake Lahontan. On its long-ago tropical shores a Jurassic Park flourished. Now the baked flat expanse of the lakebed playa shimmers in the distance, heat waves in the desert air giving a persuasive illusion of cool blue streaks of water. I told Judy that the water seemed too real for a mirage. She assured me that my eyes were deceiving me. But driving closer it became clear that we were experiencing the rare mind-altering phenomenon of the “double mirage.” The winter rains has actually filled pools of water in the sands of the playa. The “double mirage” event was soon to be followed by an equally astonishing “double Indian” encounter, but that’s another story, to be told on the next page.