Relocating from the lush landscape of mid-state New York to southwest Nevada in the Mojave Desert has been filled with wonder and discovery.
I quickly discovered that the monotony of the desert is a fallacy. Though saddled with a preconceived notion that the weather and scenery never change, I was soon relieved of the misconception with a drive from Pahrump through Beatty and into one of Nye County’s most famous, and most visited ghost towns — Rhyolite.
My foolish expectations were quickly displaced when I learned the realities of desert life.
1. There are no ghosts in a ghost town.
Rhyolite, located four miles west of Beatty is a fascinating and well-preserved abandoned town. Less than an hour’s drive from Pahrump, the historic site is nestled and hidden behind desert hills. One of those hills sports a striking resemblance to an Egyptian pyramid, with grooved, wind-blown designs that look like blocks. Though Shorty Harris, a self-proclaimed “single blanket jackass prospector” both found and lost a fortune here, his ore discovery was the start of the town’s mining boom.
Rhyolite, the most populous of the Bullfrog District’s mining towns, settled around 1904, was abandoned by 1919. A myriad of artifacts, structures, antiques and curiosities were left behind by pioneers and miners. The famous “Bottle House” constructed of 50,000 glass bottles stands beside the ruins of the former jail, mercantile, bank, train depot and schoolhouse. Scattered about the grounds adjacent to the Bottle House, there are farm tools, household items and building materials which help visitors to envision what desert life must have been like in days past.
Twinkling in the fast-fading mid-December sun were shards of beautifully colored glass, partially embedded and twinkling from within the desert sand. A not-to-be-missed relic of the boom-gone-bust town is the cemetery located a half-mile from the museum.
Though no ghosts were spotted there, the structure of the various sites and markers provide a further glimpse at how difficult, and different, life and death were in those days. Many of the gravesites are marked with nothing more than a oblong sphere of rocks upon a mound. Those that could afford to do so “caged” the buried bodies of their loved ones to prevent desert animals from consuming their remains. Many of the markers have long since given their inscribed names to the sand, wind and time.
Local artists played up the ghostly image, by erecting ghost sculptures at the Goldwell Open Air Museum, which is open to the public throughout the year.
My visit was shortened both by the near-solstice day’s end and the shocking discovery that —
2. The wind is unrelenting.
Those that have lived in the desert for some time, seem to no longer notice it. The wind.doesn’t stop. With no basis for the assumption, when I thought of the desert from the comfort of my two-story, well-insulated house back east, I envisioned stillness. The reality is that the wind seems to always be blowing.
The locals call it a “slight breeze.” I suppose that once I’m here for a few years, I will also no longer notice the brittle, cutting, chilling breeze that has caused me to re-evaluate my once a month dusting routine. The wind causes the desert to dance.
It alarmed me in a way that finally caused me to walk up to a complete stranger to inquire whether there was a tornado warning issued that I may have missed.
He laughed after looking at my license plate and told me not to worry about the wind itself. Instead, he said, I should worry about “Valley Fever” which is caused by the wind.
The information caused me further alarm and in my panic I forgot my New York upbringing, and looked him straight in the eye, asking for further clarification.
That’s when I learned —
3. Don’t be afraid to make eye contact.
Residents of Pahrump and surrounding areas have been incredibly kind and helpful. Whether it’s my constant look of utter confusion or something else, I’ve yet to meet a single person who hasn’t been willing to give me directions or explain a term (like Valley Fever).
Complete strangers can be trusted and unlike New York, people expect you to look at them and actually talk to them.
That being said, I’ve learned from desert dwellers that —
4. Distance is malleable. Don’t trust your eyes.
In the desert, distance is deceiving. The landscape is such that a town or city that is 15 miles away “appears” to be just minutes away. It’s not the heat or a mirage, its the lack of mountains.
Much to my dismay, I’ve also discovered that when giving directions, residents no longer use road or street names or their associated numbers which delineate a destination to my GPS. As an example, Beatty is “not that far” from Pahrump on “the main road.”
I’m getting the hang of this. I no longer succumb to panic attacks when scheduling a time to meet someone and can not find my way.
Nye County is a place where time is negotiable. Much of the population is retired and as such, does not seem to be in a hurry to get somewhere. Those who are not retired don’t seem to be rushing, which is a common sight in my former home state.
That’s because many people choose —
5. The desert for dessert.
As mentioned, a large percentage of Pahrump residents are retirees and “snow birds.”
Similar to following a meal with a sweet treat, I have joined others in following a strenuous career with a softer, more palatable way of life.
I have chosen to pursue a sweeter way of life, or dessert, in the desert.