Travels in the American Southwest

Heading South to Bodie, CA; Ghost Dance

With the full moon overhead and the remnants of the now burnt Man still glowing in the center of Black Rock City, I awoke after grabbing a couple of hours of sleep. Loaded the van and policed the area, picking up the odd piece of trash that I'd earlier missed. Burning Man is a "leave no trace" event and I had bags of trash that I'd collected through the week.

Was on the road a 2:45 AM, arriving in Fernley about two hours later. Topped off the gas tank and patronized a small self-service car wash to clean the layers of dust and grime off the car and clean the windows. Puddles of brown water pooled under the van. I believe the van actually rose a little having been relieved of its burden of the dust and dirt. The town was just waking up so it was too early to find an Egg McMuffin or deposit the bags of trash at the trash transfer station, so I headed south on Alt.US95 as the eastern sky lightened and the moon sank lower in the west. Crossed over US50 in the town of Silver Springs, being mindful of the local speed limits which are taken very seriously by local law enforcement. Stopped at a small deli to replenish my milk supply, grab some fresh (and still warm) donuts and the Sunday paper. Being a news junky I was getting the shakes, not having had a newsprint on my fingers for over a week! Attracted the attention of a Lyon County deputy sheriff as I climbed into the van. I figure the bicycle, wooden pallet, bags of trash and rug secured to the roof caught his eye. My rather unkempt appearance probably had something to do with it, too. No problem; He just wanted to have a look, probably thinking "tourist". As I pulled back out onto the highway, we exchanged nods; me heading south, he continuing his tour northward.

The sky continued to get lighter, the sun finally peeking over the Desert Mountains. Some low-hanging clouds were ablaze with color as the sun rose higher and the van racked up the miles. Drove past Yerrington, picking up SR338 entering Wilson's Canyon where the roadway turns west toward Smith. Running alongside the Walker River, the canyon walls soar high above the road. Stopping at a small historical marker by the side of the road, I was shocked to see that it was here that the seeds of the infamous Wounded Knee Massacre were planted. An Indian mystic named Wovoka, who was adopted by the Wilson family (at the age of fourteen becoming for a time, Jack Wilson), founded the Ghost Dance religion weaving together mysticism and christianity. This dance would usher in an age when the Indian dead would rise and the earth would swallow the invading white man. The dance spread like wildfire among the nearby tribes, eventually reaching to the Plains Indians who had suffered bitter defeats at the hands of the white settlers and US Army. It was believed that the colorful shirts with intricate designs worn during the dance would protect the wearer from harm...and bullets.

The Massacre at Wounded Knee brought a quick end to these beliefs and an end to the Ghost Dance as a religion. From 1891-1893, James Mooney from the Smithsonian in Washington documented and photographed the Ghost Dance. For more, click here but be aware that Mooney, while a talented photographer, he was less careful in his documentation of the Ghost Dance, perhaps inadvertently confusing parts of this dance with others such as the Crow Dance.

Continued south passing the small community of Smith where the highway enters the Humbolt-Toiyabe National Forest. Groves of pine trees cover the nearby mountains giving the air a scent of freshness. I rolled down all the windows and breathed deeply. At the California border, SR338 becomes CA182. Early morning fishermen tried their luck in the quick flowing East Branch of the Walker river. Arrived in Bridgeport, CA picking up US395 around 7:45. US395 has been designated a scenic highway by the AAA. (As my travels continued south, I could easily see why!) Stopped at a butcher shop for a slab of beef...Dinner when I made camp at the end of the day. Was very pleased I gassed up in Nevada; Gas in Bridgeport was $2.49 for regular, almost a buck more a gallon than back in Fernley.

A few miles south of Bridgeport is the access road to the ghost town of Bodie. The thirteen mile road is paved for ten miles, the final three being dirt/gravel. Like Berlin across the border in Nevada, Bodie is a state park. The buildings are maintained in a state of "arrested decay". A two dollar fee allows entrance and provides the visitor with a map of the community. Many ghosttowns have been picked clean by souvenir hunters, people not realizing that by taking a little momento, it won't be there for the next explorer to delight in discovering. Bodie doesn't have that problem, probably because of the well known Bodie Curse. Almost daily, the US mail brings pieces of rock, wood, broken bottles, scraps of metal and the like to the park rangers living on site as caretakers. Enclosed are letters explaining why the scraps of history were being returned. The over-riding theme: the Bodie Curse. Legend has it that there is an evil in Bodie. (Why the evil doesn't affect most visitors or the staff is unexplained.) But visitors who take a momento allow some of the evil to escape the confines of Bodie, actually following them home, it is believed.. Letters are filled with stories of lost jobs, inexplicable accidents and unbroken strings of exceptionally bad luck experienced by those who took something from Bodie. Each writer hopes that by returning the purloined item, the curse might be lifted. Of course I don't believe such malarkey - I was just, ummm, knocking the dirt and pebbles out of my shoes before climbing into the van to leave. Yeah, like when I'm, ahhh, at the beach. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Continued south, slowly descending towards Mono Lake. To the west rise the Sierra Nevada mountain range, the Paradise Glacier clearly visible in the north valleys and the north face of the slopes. As the sun rose higher in the sky, I passed Lee Vining, the east entrance to Yosemite National Park. Maybe next year. Over Deadman's Summit (8041') and I entered Owens Valley. Skirting past Mammoth Lakes, entrance to the Devil's Postpile National Monument, yet another place I to be added to my "next time" list! Up over Sherwins Summit (7000') and I descended towards Bishop, an agriculture community surrounded by a sea of green crops with the saw-toothed mountains rising high above. Bishop also serves the needs of vacationers, hunters and sports enthusiasts. A number of hotels provide a base camp for exploring the surrounding areas. The gas gauge started nearing "E" and I looked around in dismay as prices ran about $2.00 a gallon. Cheaper than Bridgeport but still more than I'm used to paying. Looked down the street when at a stop light and my eyes did a "boing"! As I got closer, I realized that my eyes didn't deceive me. Not believing my luck, an AM/PM minmarket offering gas at $1.39 - I squeezed every ounce I could into the gas tank!

Continued my trek south as the sun crossed the yardarm, suddenly starting to feel rather grubby. I'd covered close to 350 miles over the past ten hours. Rubbed my scruffy chin realizing that I hadn't shaved in the past half week. No wonder the deputy gave me a look in Silver Springs. Boy could I use a long soak in a hot tub. A couple of miles later, a sign - no, not from above but rather on the side of the road. The luck which followed me once I left Las Vegas was still at my side.

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