a solitude for damn few

Imagine a place where for each square mile there is just one person. Where in an entire county of 9475 citizens the largest town is populated by 3944 of these remote beings. White Pine County, Nevada measures 8,987 square miles in size, this gives each citizen just under one square mile of space on which they may live, breathe, and dream.

Before moving to Mumbai, India you may search your passion for cohabitation because in each square mile you will share life with 76,790 other human beings.

Winnemucca Basque Restaurant

Most of Nevada’s land is owned by the Federal Government. Homesteading while legal isn’t practical. Water scarcity, a short growing season, and Jack Rabbits make farming impractical.

Mining is a boom and bust business. Commodity prices jumping up or down can open or close a productive mining claim in a day. In the late 1920’s the Great Depression shuttered the mines and emptied the boomtowns.

Home on the Range

The mythology of the cowboy delayed the inevitable need for better range management. Federal officials kept trying to buck the power of the western ranchers in Washington DC, and for decades lost vote after vote. Years of overgrazing caught up with the politics and mismanagement. Too many ranchers found it harder to fatten their herds of livestock then and now. There have always been too many rancher’s intent on running too large a herd trying to do too much with too little rangeland. That right there explains most of White Pine County’s emptiness.

Saloons where you go to forget where you are

A visitor drinking whiskey in a woebegone saloon in Wells, Nevada had the pleasure and company of a local while the gent explained how an enterprising citizen might make a go of things. “The First thing,” the unshaven gent explained, “you’ll have to own something outright.” I nodded agreeing with the comment. It’s best to act interested while saloon hopping the least visited corners of a state. “You see, there would not be enough profit off this land to pay on a loan and have enough left over to make ends meet.” I nod again, the gent seated in the stool waits until this fact sinks all the way into my thick skull. “Second thing,” I was confused because I’d thought we’d already discussed the second thing, no matter, don’t interrupt is a creed to follow while you go solo whiskey drinking out here where you could go missing, “Second thing, you’ll need land with deeded commercial agricultural water rights. If you owned land outright and had legal access to water, then you might just be able to grow a big enough hay crop to scrape by.” Nothing about this patron’s painted picture looked like anything worth giving a second thought to.


Yonder is hayfield irrigated by pivot

Most hay ranch irrigation pivots are scaled to cover about 140 acres, forecasting how fat a hog a grower might cut is tricky business, an average yield of 4 tons per acre at today’s price on the commodity exchange pays $200 a ton. You’ll use expensive electricity to pump water, fertilizer, herbicides, pesticides, tractors, harvesters, and the cost of shipping your crop to market. You’ll get to wear a cowboy hat for all that hay bucking, make your nut and then some, but there will be drama, and you’ll know what you are made of after a lifetime of putting your back into this work.

In the state of Nevada Reno and Las Vegas are where most of the 3 million people live. Only about 400,000 quirky types choose to strike out into the Great Basin Desert to make a go of things. Listening to their own inner voice, the loner’s coming out here are by most measure offbeat, and the longer they spend living fifty miles out some two track tumbleweed infested dirt road the more likely they are to acquire a peculiar self-sufficient eccentricity that with the passage of time will verge upon untreatable non-psychotic rural lunacy.

Waterways stir a sense of abundance

Here in Nevada’s outback you’ll find various kinds and types. Hay ranchers, cattlemen, Basque sheepherders, taxidermists, miners, saloon keepers, mechanics, geophysicists, air force pilots, tow truck drivers, brand inspectors, veterinarians, motel operators, road repair crews, shop clerks, waitresses, insurance salesmen, nurses, doctors, dealers, gamblers, drunk Christians, sober atheists and that doesn’t include the painters, plumbers, carpenters actors, dancers and hard rock turquoise prospectors.

Working hayfields, living well beyond the reach

Unless you like loneliness you’ll need a wife or husband. To keep a partner, you’ll need to be nicer than your naturally inclined to be. Limiting spitting, cussing and spousal criticism will go a long way toward that end. You’ll want to be supportive to everyone and everything except for maybe the rattlesnakes. Get a dog, buy a burro, see what tomorrow has in store for you. Get your hunting tag, acquire a meat locker, get out in that field with your brush hog, and whatever you do don’t stir up the yellowjackets.

New roof, paint, windows, place is ready to go

People that have found their half acre of happiness in Nevada know that east waits a Mormon dominated Utah they’ll never stomach, west an overcrowded California full of numbskulls all doing their bumper to bumper thing, south is Mexico, tequila and the pickup truck is as unlikely to make it round trip as the wife and dog are, while further north might offer some promise Idaho is pretty much a crap shoot so might as well stay right the hell where you are. People aren’t stuck in the Great Basin Desert so much as they realize almost any direction a Nevadan bitten with wanderlust may choose to go explore, at the end of that journey they’re sure to find that they still don’t fit in. Never did, never will, Nevada’s empty piece of solitude is a sure fit for damn few.

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Rhys Thomas
2 years ago

This entry I kept having to read aloud to family nearby. Nice word pictures and photo pictures plus very believable summations of the Nevada condition. Thanks, hombre.

Dana Smith
2 years ago
Reply to  Rhys Thomas

Many thanks Rhys
We roll into Panaca, Nevada tomorrow…
We were in Moab today
Edward Abbey altered a piece of my imagination
That is part of where this impulse comes from

jennie madrigal
jennie madrigal
3 years ago

Thanks Dana

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