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unearthing nowhere

Out there, beyond the road’s end is the beginning of it

Nowhere doesn’t come with a street address. In the American West Nowhere abounds. You can occupy these phantom corners of the globe and never even know you are there. If you have the courage of your convictions, you may take up residence at a Nowhere place of your own choosing.

I have come close to living Nowhere. For a spell I resided in Yuma. I was offered a place on the fairgrounds to park my trailer. Strictly speaking Yuma isn’t Nowhere, but as they say living in Yuma may not be the end of the world, but you can see Nowhere from there. Nowhere near Yuma is less bleak than one might imagine at first glance.

I have had an extended stay in Queen Creek, Arizona. There was a lot of Nowhere near here. Real estate developers noticed and covered much of Nowhere with tens of thousands of homes transforming this emptiness into Somewhere. Not too many of the curmudgeons practicing the fine art of the desert hermitage life felt as if this was the right thing to do with such a glorious piece of Nowhere.

Mood enhancing skylines in the middle of Nowhere

Cherry, Arizona gets as close to Nowhere as you’ll get and still find that this piece of emptiness on earth somehow was named on a map and has been identified with a road sign. You can even look down on this piece of desolation using Google Earth and satisfy your own curiosity regarding what a place in the middle of Nowhere named Cherry might look like.

Getting stuck in the middle of Nowhere can be a misery worse than having a low paying job washing dishes or being on the receiving end of an unannounced visit from a disapproving mother-in-law. I was heading west across Montana in my 1981 Volvo, a good hour from outside Missoula up on top Lolo Pass running along a paved road known as Highway 12. This byway traced the path of the Lochsa (Lock-Saw) River, the very same trail Lewis and Clark picked while making their way into the unexplored west. Clark described this piece of Nowhere as being “steep and stoney our men and horses much fatigued.” Nowhere is obstacle strewn.

This particular Nowhere appeared up on Lolo Pass the moment my alternator failed. I flagged down a car heading west asking if they could send for a tow truck. Two hours later a car passing from the east stopped to tell me that a wrecker was headed from Kooskia. Once I was hooked onto the tow truck then hauled down the mountain to the repair shop, I could officially declare that my being trapped Nowhere had come to an end. Parts for a Volvo alternator aren’t common to anywhere near Nowhere. Parts gratefully would arrive in three days, I was convinced the parts would never arrive, I mean what’s the rush, right? Buddy of mine lived in Lewiston, not too far away. I used all three days recounting how I was convinced that this breakdown had the potential of leaving me lost in Nowhere forever.

In British Columbia I woke up one morning near the middle of Nowhere atop Rogers Pass on the Trans-Canada Highway. Overnight, in the cloak of darkness a grizzly bear had ripped the entire backside of a camper off a pickup truck scaring the hell out of the occupants and but for the mercy of God sparing them their lives. I slept right through the whole darn thing. Flirting with Nowhere in the Canadian Rockies is not to be embarked upon without some consideration to life and limb. The story told in the campground was chilling and by all accounts the grizzly was the biggest damn bear any had ever seen.

Sunrise near Searchlight, Nevada

Nowhere isn’t such a frightful place in every instance. Last week I made a roundtrip between San Francisco to Denver. For three days I traveled with my wife and each night we sampled various flavors of Nowhere. There was one parking lot in front of a closed restaurant located by a forlorn interstate off ramp, another near a piece in the Mojave Nature Preserve to be followed by a snowbound truck stop in a frigid New Mexico. I turned around immediately in Denver. Lot of Nowhere had been in my diet. Drove over two hundred miles on packed snow- and ice-covered roads. Seems like you’ll only find slick highways while you are out in the middle of Nowhere. Almost like nature has a rule about testing a traveler’s courage, testing must be taken while you are out there where there are no named places. The most a misbegotten soul could hope for, to give you some shred of certainty, is the solitude of every now and then a mile marker post.

I had holed up in a field in Ely for the night waiting out a little snow flurry. Morning was clear as a bell. Lot of Nowhere near Ely. White Pine County doesn’t just have Nowhere written all over it, but there are ghost towns, Cherry Creek is one. The haunted abandoned bones of this abandoned mining camp will touch a sensitive Nowhere seeker to the core of their own inner solitude.

Further west I spotted mustang, I counted eight, most were dark bay, then there were a pair hued chestnut and one palomino, a fine long maned horse that wasn’t about to chance my getting any closer.

Burro discovered along highway in middle of Nevada…

Another hour westbound and I slammed on the brakes pulled off the side of the road beneath Woodpecker Peak. Yonder of my truck to the south all alone in Antelope Valley there was a wild burro grazing. This is a glorious animal. Smarter than a seditious Republican and twice as stubborn. I had to raise my voice to be heard, but I spoke with appreciation. Asked questions too. Explained how he was just the second wild burro I’d ever found, and like the first was located smack dab the middle of Nowhere. My burro friend twitched its ears, looked at me several times, gave me a long look too, pretty much concluded I had to be about the stupidest human encounter it had ever had to put up with. I mean this burro understood things, could survive out here on this harsh environment, find food, chase predators off, have fun, go explore, see places, find water, dream of partnering up with a prospector, enjoy exploring, have a relationship with someone completely unsuited to being around other people. I mean the hopes and dreams burros hold deep in their braying heart is a dear and fervent manifestation to roam beyond the barbwire, beyond the cattle grates, to set out each day a free and unburdened beast, no cart to pull, no load to lug, this was a burro enjoying all that is right and good about living free.

For twenty minutes I shared my thoughts with the burro, and the time spent speaking was divine. The encounter altered the quality of my day, I am still under the sway of this burro’s palpable dignity, the inner mortal compass. There I stood, eye to eye, as equals in a way, within me I had a tangible sense of this Nowhere idea being something the two of us could form a bond over, that like me the burro was just as ready to strike out on his own path to go over that next mountain range, to discover what fortunes might await his new next day out there, way out there, beyond the limit, over the horizon in the middle of Nowhere.