On a recent morning, driving to Carson City on business, I drove the U.S. 95 north, from Pahrump to Highway 50. Traffic is noticeably lighter than it has been in the past.
Typically, this time of year, the road is packed with RVs filled with tourists. The majority of these tourists are Europeans that fly in and then rent an RV to explore the Old West.
This year, however, they can’t get here from there because travel is restricted between the USA and Europe. The travel restrictions mean no European tourists, tourists who form the lifeblood for small towns along the Death Valley National Park trail. United States residents are also not currently able to travel to Europe without a mandatory 14-day quarantine, with no guarantee that they will be able to come back to the states.
On the return trip, I like to time my drive south it so that as I come into Tonopah, it is just before sunset. Although some find this drive barren and sparse, I find it quite beautiful. As I leave the Tonopah summit at sunset, the view of multiple mountain ranges is majestic. Each is distinctive in their hue and color. There are these immense views, covering vast distances, with the setting sun seeming to highlight all of the diversity and vibrant color of the various ranges. It is a dramatic and awe-inspiring view.
Entering Goldfield from the north, I pass onto the newly constructed section of U.S. 95 built to create room for the new mining operation. Virtually all of the 95 highway from Tonopah stretching to Goldfield is being resurfaced with a layer of chip seal. As I exited Goldfield, a new truck stop is under construction.
Next up is Beatty, as I continue south. It is very noticeable how few cars are parked in front of the hotels in Beatty, as Beatty is usually a hub for tourists heading into or out of Death Valley this time of year. The lack of tourism, though, is not putting a halt on new construction and renovations.
There is a new barbeque restaurant being built. The old Exchange Club building at the main intersection (that was most recently a hardware store) is currently under renovation. Owner Ed Ringle wants to reopen the casino first, and then to have a coffee shop in the other part of the building. At the intersection of Highway 95 and McDonald, builder Terry Fisher’s tiny homes construction project is well underway.
At the Amargosa junction, Fort Amargosa, the gas station/convenience store that last year experienced a fire and burned to the ground, is in the final stages of its reconstruction.
As exciting as all of this ongoing development is in our smaller rural towns and outlying areas, the vastness of these areas and the sparseness of the population illustrate the stark contrast between the urban areas and the rest of Nevada. Driving the 95 through this vastness also offers an opportunity to reflect on the current situations in our more densely populated areas.
Mesmerized by these incredible views and vast spaces, it is difficult to connect with the COVID-19 pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement.
It’s not that those items are not important – however, this is social distancing at its finest. Sometimes it almost seems that there are 600 miles between myself and the next person, not just six feet and a flimsy mask.
If you are sick and tired of all the bad news that continually bombards us now, grab your face mask, fill up the gas tank, put a case of bottled water in the ice chest, and head out north on the 95 to explore.
You won’t run into thugs trying to riot or block your path (never a good idea in a rural area where everyone seems to carry a gun).
You won’t encounter someone experiencing a meltdown because you are or are not wearing a face mask.
Some days, it’s just a good idea to find a big rock to sit on out in rural Nevada, admire the emptiness, and just let all of that go.
Tim Burke is a businessman, philanthropist, educator and Pahrump resident. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org