Nevada – The Silver State

Nevada

I thought it might be fun to set my books in Nevada, which is in the West and still pretty wild. You can still gamble, carry a loaded pistol, and go into a silver mine, and they still have saloons with swinging doors, boardwalks, and horses. – Carol Lawrence

Nevada usually brings to mind the bright lights and thrills of Las Vegas where millions go to try their hand at the casinos and see spectacular entertainment. It is guaranteed you’ll leave either overexcited from nonstop stimulation or depressed if your luck ran out at the roulette wheel – but whatever happens at Vegas, stays in Vegas.

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I lived in Nevada less than a year but I developed a real love for this barren, lush, bright, quiet, noisy land. Unfortunately I was severely allergic to something there and was sick from day one. I believe it was juniper, but whatever it was, the allergy became life-threatening and I had to leave my job as Field Manager for the Tuscarora Field Office with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). It was a wonderful job that allowed me the opportunity to manage over 3.1 million acres of public land with a base in Elko. In the short time I was there I oversaw programs in mining, ranching, wild horses, biology and so much more. I had an exemplary staff with the obligatory one or two problem employees thrown in to make life interesting. In one memorable day I flew over the Carlin Trend, a five-mile wide, 40-mile long geologic feature that is rich in mineral deposits, including gold, in a small aircraft and later that day I went 2000 ft. underground at one of the local gold mines. It was a day I will never forget and it left me with a deep respect for miners.

Nevada is largely desert and semiarid, broken up by many north-south mountain ranges and boasts world class recreation areas such as Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, Valley of Fire State Park, Great Basin National Park, Humboldt National Forest, Lake Mead National Recreation Area and Death Valley National Park. There are 68 designated wilderness areas protecting almost 7 million acres. Over 86% of the land in Nevada is managed by The U.S. Federal government, both civilian and military. The infamous Area 51 where supposedly alien remains and a crashed space vehicle are stored lies in remote southern Nevada. The base’s primary mission is unknown but it is most likely an area that supports the development and testing of experimental aircraft and weapons systems. The stealth bomber was tested there and I can imagine anyone seeing this black triangular aircraft could well imagine it to be a UFO.

Area51

The Nevada Test site, 65 miles NW of Las Vegas, was the site for the first nuclear bomb tests. I worked with a woman who was a small child when the first test was conducted and she recalls the mushroom cloud was visible from her school and the teachers took the kids outside to watch.  Many of her classmates died prematurely with cancer and other illness over the years and she has to go every year for medical testing. The field trip from hell.

And then, there are the legal brothels in Nevada. I did a work detail in Ely and I was so tempted to go visit the local “house”, purely for curiosity purposes. I wanted to see what they wore; probably not as exotic as I imagine. I decided against it, not wanting to see the headline, “Federal Employee Caught Entering Brothel – Just to Look around – She Says”. For a Christmas party, my field office rented a locomotive train that runs from Ely to the Ruth Mine and returns. When the train passes by the brothel the ladies come out and signal the train with hand-held lanterns swinging back and forth. An advertisement in the trains read, “Nevada’s Brothels – servicing the Old West since the 1800’s.”

The Ghost Train, Nevada Northern Railway Museum (steam train), Robinson Canyon near Ely, Nevada USA

Ghost Train, Ely, NV

What I will remember the most about Nevada is the overwhelming beauty. We used to take a Sunday drive on the 12-mile Lamoille Canyon Road, a National Forest Scenic Byway, where it was common to see white mountain goats defying gravity as they leapt from one narrow ledge to another.  Hiking in Red Rock Canyon and seeing the formations etched by wind, water, and time was awe inspiring. I also remember the warm, wonderful people who I met there who made me feel so at home and supported me through my illness. I was sad to leave. I needed more time to wander the roads of this amazing land and see the mountains, rivers, deserts, forests and possibly aliens.

 

Wyoming – Land of Freedom

Wyoming

The mountains knew the definition of freedom. They provided a place where he could find his mind. – Daniel J. Rice

In 2004 I accepted a position as the Assistant Field Manager for the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in Pinedale, Wyoming. I had worked my whole Federal career in the USDA but I had come to realize that if I wanted to reach a higher grade I would have to leave the good old boy regime of the Natural Resources Conservation Service. I was pleased to see that about half the managers in the BLM were women and I liked the mission of protecting America’s public lands. It would be a move I never regretted and it was a turning point in my career that allowed me to reach the level of management and responsibility I felt my skills and experience warranted.

It was hard to leave North Dakota. I was content there, maybe too content. I have known people who worked their entire careers in one job and while there is nothing wrong with that, I have never wanted to be complacent. I like challenging myself to be the best that I can be and to keep learning and growing.

Devil

Devils Tower Monument

Having lived in North Dakota for three years I was used to wide open spaces but the vast sage brush plains of Wyoming are framed by the Rocky Mountains, which overlook their domain like stony guardians. Some of the most beautiful land I have ever seen is in Wyoming. Millions of people come every year to look upon the wonders of the world’s first national park, Yellowstone, Devils Tower National Monument or to ski on the slopes of the majestic Grand Tetons. It is the least populated state in the U.S. and the second least densely populated. It was the first state to allow women to vote. You can breathe in Wyoming and freedom surrounds you.

The Old West is alive and thriving in Wyoming. I will never forget seeing a local ranch moving its herd of horses, hooves pounding, through the streets of Pinedale as drovers in long yellow slickers and cowboy hats yelled and whistled to keep them running between the store fronts lining the streets. I lived in Sublette County where there are no stoplights. Wilderness was only a street away in any direction. It wasn’t unusual to have to wait at a stop sign while a big bull moose crossed the street in front of me and occasionally a mountain lion would stake out a claim on the local park until it could be relocated to a safer area. More than once I was transported to another time when a cattle drive crossed the road with cows mooing and drovers shouting. Herds of feral horses and burros roam the deserts, a living remnant from miners and ranchers.

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Horse drive through Pinedale, WY.

Wyoming is rich in natural gas, oil, coal and methane deposits and it never ceases to amaze me to think these petroleum products come from the decayed bodies of dinosaurs that roamed millions of years ago. It was common to have crocodilian and fish fossils along with giants ferns unearthed during the drilling process and it gives me pause, when people talk of climate change, to think that the semi-arid sage brush deserts were once tropical rain forests and swamps. The Wind River Mountains have rose and fell at least twice. The earth is a dynamic, living entity that belches and flexes, throwing landscapes and climate into an ever changing flux.

Wyoming gave us the artist Jackson Pollock; news commentator and author Dana Perino; Vice-President Dick Cheney; Olympic gold medalist Rulon Gardner and legendary sportscaster Curt Gowdy. Native Americans still maintain a large presence on the Wind River Reservation which is shared by the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribes. Wyoming is rated number one for states to retire in as it does not levy an individual or corporate income tax and does not assess any tax on retirement income. Food for human consumption is not subject to sales tax and property held for personal use is tax-exempt.

Yellowstone

Old Faithful Geyser in Yellowstone National Park

Whatever you long for can be found in Wyoming. Want to fly fish? Try the Green or Snake Rivers for world-class angling. Do you like hiking? The bare granite peaks of the higher elevations of the mountain ranges attract climbers, hikers and scientists who study the icy glacier lakes. The doomed Challenger astronauts trained in the rugged mountains above Pinedale. Wyoming has hot springs, geysers, deserts, forests, grasslands, antelope, mule deer, grizzlies, elk, bison, prairie dogs, pygmy rabbits, sage grouse, skiing and snowboarding. It has everything.  I lived there for four years and it was some of the happiest years of my life because I grew, not only as a manager in a challenging field office, but as a person. It is a state steeped with history and the romance of the Old West and it is easy to reinvent or just refine oneself in this magnificent place called Wyoming.

Wild horse