'Tis the season of soups, roasted peppers, wood fires, strong cheese and good bread. The weather's cold and damp, but the ground isn't freezing. The leaves hang like scraps of colored glass. Since we've returned to the Flathead Valley enough precipitation has fallen to keep the ground moist and and the soil alive. It's the water and above freezing temp's that enlivens the cabbage, the Brussels sprouts, the kale, cress, tiny microbes and mushrooms. Water with warmed soil and sequestered carbon produces food and food feeds families: families of people, tiny microbes, bacteria, reptile, fish, bird and plant. Bill and I just returned from a 2,400 mile space odyssey south and home again, and on the south leg of the journey we followed, for the most part, one road, Highway 93. Hwy 93 parrallels water ways of varied volumes and influence. As it turns out Hwy 93 runs through my home town Challis, ID. I like to think that it's significant that I still live on and have just recently traveled cross county on Hwy 93; and that water has done more to shape and shift 93 than the bulldozers, graders have ever done. If you had the numbers of 93 to each other, 9 + 3 = 12, then add 1 + 2 you get 3. Three is a magical number that represents good fortune. A triangle has three sides, the Pythagoreans taught that 3 was the first real number. I associate 3 with grace, harmony and the passage of time (past, present and future). While in Nevada I spent some hard-earned cash trying my luck playing video poker and counting number 3 as being my "lucky" number. That didn't work, but then what was I thinking. The material and the immaterial...I was misapplying wisdom from the spiritual (I'll call it the "spiritual realm" for lack of a better word) and applying it to the "material" world.
We followed water ways south from Kalispell, near the Canadian border, to Yuma, AZ, near the Mexican border to find Mom's friends, hearth and sunshine. I enjoy spending time with Mom. Our relationship is changing, at least as I see and feel it changing. I feel we are becoming better acquainted, we're becoming friends. On our journey south we followed one water way, then we'd climb over a pass and drop down into another one, be it a tributary or the main stem of a river, except in Nevada. In Nevada near Jackpot we followed Salmon Falls Creek upstream to its headwaters, cattle in green pasture, and dry, high rocky ground. Granite boulders lined the way up into the higher elevation wetlands, and in the distance ,sharp, rocky peaks, not Alpine peaks, but rocky spires, defined horizons and enticed me to someday get to know them better. We drove higher, past Wells and right up along side the Ruby Mountains. The Ruby Mountains show themselves at first low on the southern horizon, yet soon they take their place in the Western Sky with the Crazies in Montana as one of those mountain ranges that stands apart and amazes. The great basins that define the Nevadan landscape give breathing room to the area's mountain ranges. Most, if not all, of these Great Basin basins spread out between parrallel ranges and occupy elevations as high as the Stanley and Copper Basins in Central Idaho. These immense spaces captivate my imagination as great oceans do. I feel a sense of silent depth that draws me to a center. A piercing light shatters the density of the earth and every rock and serpentine canyon seems light and ephemeral.
Mom and I rode in her car and Bill followed in the Prius. As we crossed and skirted these great basins Mom told me stories, stories of trips she'd taken as a girl with her folks. On one trip in 1949 mom traveled from Idaho to Missouri with her parents, her maternal grandparents and her maternal, maternal grandmother. They all traveled in a 1940's Buick. I imagined a dark car crossing wide open spaces carrying smiling and laughing faces. I remember a trip we took as kids with mom and Grandma Sullivan to Boise from Challis to attend Diana's graduation. Nana must have drove down separately. Grandma sang/taught us a ditty that she'd learned as a schoolgirl. It taught the singer and listener how to remember the letters in the alphabet generally and the vowels in particular. Marla remembers the ditty to this day. It's easy enough for me to imagine this trip Mom took with her folks in 1949 when I remember this trip with Grandma Sullivan. I remember Grandma's smile and her willingness to be kind. Grandpa Sullivan had purchased a new Ford pickup in Missouri; so on the return trip he and Grandma and Grandma Silken drove it back to Idaho, while Grandpa Burstedt, Nana and Mom traveled south to Mexico and Southern California after spending time with Aunt Willamae and her family in Missouri. Mom seemed to enjoy telling me about the trips. I sure enjoyed hearing them.
There aren't a lot of visible water ways in Nevada. The Humboldt River drains the northern tier of the state and drains westward towards the Sierra Nevadas, then it sinks. In Nevada, instead of streams of water, there are marshes, (Las Vegas) and reservoirs that hold back the water for agricultural or municipal use. Going south from Wells on 93...the Ruby Mountains rise some 11,000 ft to the left. The peaks and mountain ranges store water as snow and this annual runoff recharges the wetlands and acquifers. These wetlands provide habitat for all kinds of migrating birds. The Pahranagat Valley is a good example of a Great Basin wetland.
While taking pictures I noticed a woman crossing 93 behind me with her dog. We started talking and found out we knew each other. I was talking to Joleen Hatch Pfeiffer. Since our chance encounter, we've re-become FB friends.
Ely, like many western mining towns was built and still stands in a gulch. I like concentrated cities and towns, especially those that are confined by natural features where cliffs and rocks can be easily seen and felt from the city's streets and back ways. Ely has some interesting 19th century architecture and a Mission style train depot. Next trip south I'd like to stay at the old hotel downtown.
After Ely, we followed Hwy 93 over Connors Pass to a spectacular view of the Snake Range and Mt. Wheeler. As impressive as these mountains are, it's the basin between the ranges that draws me in. Just the thought of traversing one of these basins a foot excites me. I know and cherish the silence of high mountain sagebrush steppe and how it clears the mind.
Between the Wilson Creek and Egan Ranges 93 follows Lake Valley to Pioche, Panaca and Caliente. By the names of these towns, you can tell that the Spanish settled these areas long before the English. Even though there's no lake in this valley I can imagine the lake that must have graced this valley thousands of years ago when Nevada received more precipitation. Before descending into Spring Valley we stopped to see Cathedral Gorge.