High desert cottontail irruption of 1981 stretched from horizon to horizon, east to west, north to south, everywhere you looked all you could see were rabbits. Half the early settlers crossing through Nevada figured cottontail to be a staple in their diet the other half reckoned the animal to be emergency food. I was running south out of Boise on Hwy 95 on my way to a cutoff out to White Horse Ranch when I came across my first fifty-mile-long cottontail Malthusian growth crisis.
White Horse Ranch Est. 1867
White Horse Ranch got its start in 1867 running cattle on 65,000 acres of private land. Grazing high desert is workable for a short time but not sustainable for long. Nitrogen accumulates at a rate much too slow and cattle browse off the grasses much too fast. Antelope, deer and elk, the Great Basin’s indigenous species have browsing habits that harmonize with this terrain. Times changed and White Horse Ranch changed too. The outfit is more of a hay growing operation now. Cattle are still grazed out here, but their numbers now much reduced providing modest flow of revenue to this historic working ranch.
Dustiest part of the expeditionary effort needed to make my way to the White Horse Ranch is navigating one of the roughest dirt roads twenty-five miles out to the main gate. If you go just another bit further, and since you are already out there why wouldn’t you, off to the left is another dirt road out to Willow Creek Hot Spring. This is sagebrush soaking country.
Crawling along after a long soak I negotiated the 61 hard miles of dirt road that ended in Denio, Nevada. I rested there for a day getting my hand tools out so I could tighten up all the fasteners that had come loose on my truck. Back in 1981 there was a General Store. The proprietor operated the gas station, had a United States Post Office kiosk on its premises and a functional community hall set up in the basement. You could buy groceries at the store, basics anyway, deliveries came in from Winnemucca. Against another wall they’d set up a bar with stools and two slot machines. This is where most of the drinking, gambling and conversation took place.
Modern day Denio has now got pavement, moved the Post Office into a building all to its own, and miracle of miracles continues to operate the most important institution on the northern frontier of Humboldt County, the venerable Diamond Inn Bar. It is the same building as the General Store, time has passed, names and enterprise has been reconfigured, but the mission is same as ever, there must be some gathering spot where the fever of solitude can be broken. The population of Denio has swelled to 47, by my count none are tongue-tied.
Plenty of Dirt Road
Further south out of Denio on Highway 140 you’ll turn east on Nine Mile Road and travel by pavement to Kings River Valley. Here is located the biggest hay growing region in the state of Nevada. Cold winters, annual measurable precipitation totaling eight inches, with a valley bottom elevation sitting right at 4000 feet, here is pure Great Basin Desert in its most abundant grass growing form. If Denio is too busy for you and if you want to get away from it all, this is your place, there is plenty of opportunity to fix your position completely into what I would describe as self-imposed solitary confinement.
Caldera System Runs From Nevada to Yellowstone National Park
East of Kings River Valley in Nevada’s Montana Mountains you can travel by Highway 192 back over to Orovada at the junction of Hwy 95. Halfway between, up in the high country there is a two-lane road that tracks across a one-of-a-kind geological feature, the McDermitt Caldera. It is on this piece of road that is located the world’s largest unburied lithium deposit. Geologists surveyed the caldera and calculate on over 11,000 acres of lithium ore is just sitting there on the surface ripe and ready to be harvested. Boring test holes geologists calculate the lithium deposit measures 500 feet in depth. Mining the ore would be by open pit method. Draglines, electric rope shovels, and huge wheel loaders are used to move the ore for refining. The battery making metal would be processed on site and then hauled away by truck destined for both domestic and international battery manufacturers.
In September of this year Lithium Nevada, a subsidiary of Lithium Americas notified various agencies of its intention to begin operations. Years of work has gone into preparing an Environmental Impact Statement with the Federal governments Bureau of Land Management’s office in Winnemucca. Issuance of the permit allowing for mining to start is expected to be decided early next year.
Thacker Pass Lithium Mine
Locals in opposition can’t be ignored. There are hay growers, cattle outfits, and Paiute concerned about the environmental impact this mine will have on the land, air and water. Sage grouse range nearby and our endangered. Eagle habitat is here too. Deciding one way or another about approving the operation is not an open and shut case. Open pit mining corporations are prone to filing bankruptcy once they cease operations leaving the taxpayers to foot the cleanup bill. Too often after a mine has closed things ends up in a tangled disputatious legal mess. Citizens opposition is substantial.
Arguments in favor of bringing this lithium ore to market is first and foremost to do with the climate emergency the world now faces. Geologists estimate of all the known marketable lithium ore in the world McDermitt Caldera contains 25% of that total. Tesla’s Gigafactory is 200 miles west in Reno. The Gigafactory manufactured 10 GWh of battery power in 2019 (that’s like 12 million wild horses of power) aiming for 1300 GWh by 2030 (an astronomically huge galloping herd in size and magnitude).
Processed Lithium Ready for Market
Whether or not the civilization collapsing climate catastrophe can be averted turns out to be tangled up with the McDermitt Caldera. The whole seething lot of us is up against the clock, time is not on mankind’s side. This is a consequential decision, figure Kings River Valley hay growers probably wish this whole thing would just go the hell away, leave their beloved Montana Mountains and the McDermitt Caldera right where it is.
Northern Humboldt County, Nevada is a five-hundred-mile drive from San Francisco. Remote, isolated, this is the American West, you had best bring everything you’ll need because there are practically no suppliers or services out here. The Great Basin Desert of Nevada has to be the most improbable place to have been thrust into the biggest most consequential fight man has ever had to wage in the struggle to walk civilization back from the brink. Fateful mashups of such towering consequence possess sturdy bones, circumstances are so serious a sane person would have to laugh, it’s a comedy. I don’t have plot yet, but I can see one, there is near sure to be a story worth telling, I see all kinds of trials and tribulations.