Travels in the American Southwest

North by Northeast

Up early on Saturday morning to a hearty breakfast at the Monitor Inn in Belmont, Nevada. Enjoyed one last hot shower before our camping odyssey was to begin. Judy Camarillo, our hostess, made sure the platters were piled high with eggs, pancakes, sausages, home fries and toast. Fresh melon and an enormous pitcher of orange juice guaranteed we'd receive our daily requirement of vitamin C.

I'd heard that Belmont has been featured in National Geographic so I did some investigating. Sure enough, June 1974 contained not only an article on rural Nevada but included photographs, one of Rose Walter who lived in the Monitor Inn when it was a private residence. I'd tracked down a copy of the magazine and took great delight in giving it to Judy. For her, it was a trip down memory lane. Over breakfast, she told us stories of the people of central Nevada, some who were pictured in the magazine. I wish I had my tape recorder! A couple of stories: It was the 1940's. America was fighting in both Europe and the Pacific. An Indian named Johnny Blossom came home with a Purple Heart and a Silver Star pinned to his chest. He came home to Nevada where at that time, an Indian was prohibited from buying a beer in a law. (Judy paused letting that sink in, then went on.) In his dress uniform, this soldier marched into the local saloon and in a clear voice ordered a beer. The owner was stuck between the proverbial rock and a hard place. By law, this hero couldn't be served. It was the quick-thinking barmaid who drew the man a beer, set it in front of him and announced, "If he's good enough to die for us, then he's damn well good enough to drink with us." I regret that I didn't get this brave woman's name.

I asked Judy about Darroughs Hot Springs detailing my earlier visit there. Judy's eyes widened as she asked, "Are you CmdrMark?". Someone had forwarded my web page about my visit to Darroughs to her. Judy gave me the low-down on "the old crone" whose name is Lillian. A full Paiute Indian, she married Luther Darrough but was never fully accepted by her neighbors. Both Lillian and Luther managed their ranch until Luther's passing a few years back. Today, she lives alone in what is an eleven room inn containing many of the artifacts which were present when the inn was open to guests back in the 30's. Judy summed it up with, "She just doesn't like people." Apparently, a minor misunderstanding concerning an invitation to coffee led to Lillian and Judy's estrangement for five years. They've since reconciled. Lillian works hard today keeping the Hot Springs open for members and power-washes the pool weekly. She's an uncompromising, stern old woman set in her ways and queen of her home. She also has a 30-30 rifle and I'd bet she's a crack shot with it. You must pass her strict criteria to gain admission to the hot springs so all things considered, I'll still pass by Darroughs and use Spensers Hot Springs just to the north.

At 10:00, after filling water containers with 57 1/2 gallons of deliciously pure Belmont water, MSO and I headed north. I quickly learned about the difference in aerodynamics between a passenger car and a 27 foot RV. A car makes a small cloud of dust; An RV makes enormous clouds of dust. A moment of panic as the RV's smoke detector went off. I didn't smell smoke but glancing in the sideview mirror made the answer apparent. Must have left a window open in the back but to stop would mean being overtaken by the cloud I'd stirred up. Bravely, MSO ventured into the back to close the windows while I maintained speed.

We continued north, slowing to a crawl when we spied a couple of pickups approaching us. Parties exchanged waves as we slowly passed each other. I've always been partial to this tradition. On the more remote roads, as a car approaches, both drivers raise a hand in greeting as they pass. It's an affirmation that we're all in this together and acknowledgment that in the desert, the price of indifference could be death.

Thirty-three miles from Belmont, we came upon the ancient traffic sign I'd mentioned in last year's report. I knew that we'd be seeing Devil's Cauldron (Diana's Punchbowl) shortly. Three miles later, we slowly turned onto the access road. Parking the RV, we scaled the small hill to the very lip of the crater. Like last year and I suspect since time immemorial, wisps of steam danced over the water's surface as we took in the surrounding countryside.

Back in the RV and we went looking for the Center of Nevada. Earlier, someone went looking for the spot, found it and erected a small tower over it. We searched and searched for the fluorescent orange traffic-cone tower but were unsuccessful. Miles later, we joined America's Loneliest Road, US50 entering Eureka around noon. Gave this community on the east end of US50 a quick look around, snapping a photo or two of the county courthouse. Reversed course heading west on US50 until it intersected with SR278. At the end of this road would be I-80 and Carlin, but before that would be a geocaching stop at Palisade. The RV ate up the road as we continued north.

A couple of hours later, we stopped at Palisade, one of Nevada's many ghosttowns and site of the City of San Fransisco train wreck which occurred back in 1939. The crash claimed two dozen lives and injured scores of passengers. The cause of the wreck has never been determined; Some sources attribute it to sabotage, others blamed the condition of the tracks while others subscribe to the ever popular human error factor. This train wreck, which occurred decades ago, is today often mentioned when the topic of Yucca Mountain and the transportation of spent nuclear fuel comes up. The main reason for our stopping was that Palisade now contains a geocache - dedicated to the previous owner of the town. As I mentioned in last year's report, with the rise in popularity of of GPS devices, Geocaching has become a 21st century high tech game of hide and seek. Both MSO and I like to try our luck at finding caches hidden by others as well as hiding a couple of caches ourselves. It also helps break up long drives giving us a chance to stretch our legs and do a bit of hiking to work out the kinks and stiffness. After a couple of false starts, we were finally on the right track, finding the Palisade cache fairly easily and giving me another ghosttown to add to my web site.

Stopped in Carlin where we filled the RV with gas and continued our hunt for brothels for the upcoming web page. Sadly, I guess, Carlin's brothel has been replaced with upscale housing so those looking for service must continue east to Elko which is exactly what we did. Elko is a booming metropolis on I-80 and the Humboldt River. It was a main staging area for pioneers traveling westward to California along the Emigrant Trail. A rest area on I-80 just west of Elko is dedicated to those who dared to make the trip and a kiosk offers a brief history of the mass migration. We cruised into Elko where we hit brothel paydirt! Three business establishments, unique to the Silver State, within a block of each other made our data gathering quite easy. We chuckled when we saw a group of three guys leaving one business only to walk down the street an enter another. Maybe they were just comparison shopping!

As the sun seemed to quicken its descent, we set our sights on Beowawe which was to be our stop for the night. Beowawe is an Indian word which roughly translates into "naked buttocks". It's just conjecture but I suspect the Indians named this spot Beowawe because the hot waters were used for bathing. In the 30's, Beowawe was well known for its geyser fields. While not as impressive as Yellowstone National Park, Beowawe's geysers would spout to a height of a couple of feet with one geyser attaining a height of a dozen feet, at least that's according to a guide for Nevada written back in the mid-30's. Today, the geysers spout no more as a steam-generated electrical plant built back in the 60's altered the flow of water in the subterranean channels killing Beowawe's geyser field.

As the sun set, we picked out our camping spot, dragged out and lit the grill, then waited for the charcoal to be ready. I had planned to cook a roast using a rotisserie but as the sky slowly got darker and darker, it was obvious that the Red Oak brand charcoal wasn't going to cooperate. Despite massive applications of lighter fluid and flame, the charcoal never got hot enough to cook on. I was not my usual cheery self as I began to question my fire-making abilities. MSO tactfully suggested that since it was getting late, we simply re-wrap the roast and try cooking it the next night. Admitting defeat, we settled for pita and cheese sandwiches with a side of peanut butter and crackers. I grumbled that this was not what I'd planned for our first night of camping. After our dining experience, we spent some time looking at the stars but even the grandeur of the Milky Way didn't make me feel better about our meal.

Deciding that tomorrow would be a better day, we turned in for what I'd hoped would be a good night's rest. Sometime in the wee hours, something woke me. I strained my ears listening for the sound again. It sounded like an animal grunting. I knew that we were camped on open range and saw several head of cattle grazing down the road when we stopped to set up camp. From the darkness inside the RV, I hear MSO say, "Go see what that noise is." Huh? You talking to me? I must have left my suit of shining armor in Las Vegas. (Yeah, sure. Like I'll get away with that.) I reach over for my trusty mag-light flashlight, open the RV door and yell, "Shoo. Shoo! Get out of here!" Another grunt. Outside, I grab a pointy stick with my other hand and start to circle the RV. Nothing. And then, from on top of the RV, I hear the noise again. At that point, I'd pretty much decided that it wasn't a cow that was making the noises. I step away from the RV sweeping the flashlight's beam across the roof. There's nothing there out of the ordinary that I could see. A gust of wind blew and I shivered due to my state of dress. I hear the noise again. I climb back into the RV. "What is it?" asks MSO. I reply, " Me man. Me subdue noisy ceiling vent blowing in wind," as I closed the vent.

See Also:
Photos and More Info on Palisade, NV

Main | Trip Reports | E-mail | Next Report