INCIDENTS OF My TRAVELS to
NEVER SEEKING ADVENTURE YET ADVENTURE FINDS ME
Black Mountain where Continental Lake and Baltazar Hot Springs on Nevada Route 140
Spring 2021, in an effort to reclaim an almost lost vacation time I decide on a 5300 mile road trip in one week. With mostly back roads of travel I find some interesting destinations.
"Traveling makes one modest-you can see what a tiny place you occupy in the world."
Gustav Flaubert 'Flaubert in Egypt'
I was deviated from the main highway hours ago, and since then a hundred miles of back roads have passed. Surprised, because the highway was heading in my general direction but the wise GPS says, "No, this way is quicker." I heed to the suggestion without question. Since then, there has been nothing but fenced off grazing lands to my left and right, with even less grazers in vies and I wonder if those barb's intentions is to keep us out than the livestock in. Snowy-capped mountain ranges surround me at every turn that I never quite cross. Only an undulation of a straight road that runs unperturbed toward the hazed horizon where mountains meet the gold-green-tan sage patchwork of earth that is my world.
My Mini Cooper is low on fuel. With only 350ish-mile capacity in its sparse 10-gallon tank, I found a while ago that my little car is better suited for urban travel, not for the expanse of western deserts where gas stations are sporadic and hundreds of miles in between. I am getting within a hundred miles of capacity now. I kowtow at Google Maps for wisdom, careful not to blank the map in my search for nearby gas stations, I find that Denio Junction, a brief 60 miles away, has the only gas station anywhere near me and , coincidentally, the point where I am to turn westward on route 140 toward the Oregon State line.
I continue on, rolling road undulating as it has now been for forgotten hours. Hypnotic and accompanied by the soft roar of rubber on asphalt. This is my world now, all else forgotten. I lose myself in the tedium of it. My blank glaze only interrupted with the occasional glances to my dashboard, hoping my fuel depletion is not as accurate as my gauges indicate.
The problem with travel these days is that one is more dependent on GPS to get from here to there. You enter the desired location into it, it then gathers current satellite data, does millions of calculations per second (using Einstein's Theory of Relativity formula to compensate for time dilation from your current position on earth and said satellites. Without which, the stated position would be several feet away from accuracy). All this to provide the best route from here to there. It points and you blindly go.
In the old days, where you had to be more conscious of your surroundings, and with the aid of a paper map, you were the master of your driving fate, derive alternate routes if necessary, and detouring to interesting points along the way. GPS in urban settings are ideal. Traffic back up, alternate route calculated...In the vast barren land of northern Nevada not so much. Worst still, with limited data service out there your map is running off silicon memory stored the moment you put your destination and the route calculated hours ago. Any deviation and the map disappears, the animated thinking wheel gyrates aimlessly looking for signal (three dots dancing on the blank screen as assurance that you are not forgotten) for what seems like hours and, with small prayers to the digital gods, hope that I am not abandoned in the middle of all of this. Futile and lost, I lament the loss of the tracking skills of my Cro-Magnon ancestors. With brief data coverage, I try to imaging which cardinal direction will be my best path. Which will take you further away, and which leads you to imminent danger. The mind wanders in possibilities in the desolation of poor mobile carrier coverage. My only gauge is the bright orb in blue overhead, traveling to my southwest and my base instinct can only guess that I am on a northerly road, not west toward my intended Oregon. Damn my comfort and foregoing getting that paper map!
Halfway through the book 'Here, There, Elsewhere' by William Least Heat-Moon and I am officially freaked out. In what I have read so far, the author and I have traveled individually to most of the same places in our exploits. And the remaining half promising more similarities.
A friend's suggestion for me, his reason being that this travelogue writer's books uncannily displays our story telling style similarities. I find that he was not wrong, but with humility that I am compared to a superior scribe. I find Heat-Moon's tales provoking, engaging, and inspiring. His monologues answering questions as if in anticipation to my queries. He fills my descriptive deficits, inspires my vocabulary to be more considerate, exact. He is now my figurative travel companion where we meet each other in our random travels to remote and unheard of locations. With only a few years, even decades, of separation from meeting. Nevertheless, his presence there is no longer shocking.
Of course Wm H L-M has been here, after all, so am I!
In the book so far we have shared a tour of the Yucatan Peninsula pyramids, ten years before my romp through its jungles (we both experience the isolated indigenous tribes at their full uninterrupted nature, something lost with the advent of global communications). He hunted craft breweries during their beginnings in Oregon and Washington while I seek more established locations in my travels. Wandered the newly established Katy trail in St Charles Missouri when surrounding landowners threatened to shoot all trespassers, I now travel this trail without fear.
He even wrote an homage to his walking stick, inherited from his grandfather. Much like my trusty felled branch I now call 'Xi-Rok' (old man with a broken twig), so named by the Mayan children who chided me as I ambulated with its support through the Guatemalan jungle. Meant in jest, the name sticks. Now my constant travel companion.
This is just the first half of the book. Coming chapters promise further known locations.
The most eerie discovery in this book is the chapter named 'The Old Land of Misfortune', where he has been to the isolated Denio Junction back in 1997. I suspect that nothing much has changed in the intervening 24 years, I suspect not much since 1811 when Wilson Price Hunt's miserable expedition through this area, looking for an overland trail to the Pacific Ocean for John Jacob Astor, gave it the nomenclature of 'Misfortune'.
I 'wake' from a daze when I realize that I have passed the town unnoticed. My Google Maps app is rerouting me a return U-turn while chirping away suggestions to turn around to regain the calculated path. It did not seem like a town, a few structures on one side and fewer shacks on the other. The only sign of life was fenced in dogs and wandering sheep grazing.
With the Oregon state line within 3 miles of here, I find this crossroad with just a few buildings in sight.
This cannot be Denio Junction. The salvation I have been imagining for the last hour and a half. I see no stores, and specifically no gas station. Nothing. I turn around after the intersection and my app seems happy, telling me to turn left at the only stop sign I have seen since leaving the highway. It states that the gas station is to my left but all I see is an unpopulated and closed motel/diner whose lot has a collection of World War II cannons, an old walk in phone booth, and other detritus on an open plot. Under the diner's overhang sit two large potted plants where gas pumps should be. Google Maps tells me this is my gas station.
It cannot be. My heart sinks as I sit there in the middle of the road for minutes, no traffic to obstruct for days it seems.
I look at my gauges; I have a good 40 miles before depletion. Not quite as far to the next town shown on the map. I drive up and down a bit more hoping to find...someone...anyone to give me guidance. But like most of this week, I am truly alone in the world.
I roll back southward, from where I came from, and Maps to turn around...recalculating...recalculating. I fear turning it off for it might never return with a working map. So remote that the satellites may not even register. Then I see it! in the middle of the 'collectables' stands a single older gas pump, circa 1980s, the kind you still have to pull a lever for. I drive up to it and sure enough it was active! Wired with an ad hoc credit card reader that would make one pause in the populated world, a note hung notifying the user that if they intended to pay cash they are on their honor and drop the money at the diner's mail slot, envelopes provided. No receipts given return on Monday for one.
I slide my credit card the suspect slot and grab the hose. Though not necessary because the pump was already unlocked and ready to fuel. I start to feed the hungry maw with whatever octane the lone pump offers, Thirsty rats cannot be choosy of whatever they are fed.
As I stand there, no jacket in that cold breeze of the plateau and warm sun on my face, I wait for the slow pump to complete. I inspect my surrounding and see the place for what it is. An American oasis. A place of refuge for weary travelers. Halfway from two distant points. Though I might be here off season or merely because it is a weekend, the motel remains empty.
Then suddenly, out of nowhere, a green jeep station wagon rolls up to take the opposite side of the pump. A family of three, eventually the father steps out to start pumping gas into his vehicle. He was a cowboy, the hat gave it away, with Asiatic features. An odd sight I thought. Unexpected. But considering him seeing a large jacket-less Latino in a small European vehicle in this Nevada vastness, I am sure the sight of me was equally perplexing. Perhaps the reason he was reticent to exit his vehicle at first when he showed up.
The first humans I see in a few days I spark a conversation. How is it going? You live in these here parts? What is there to do? He is a transplant from California, the family keep to themselves but there is a bar up on the state line where truckers can go. Otherwise not much happens in Denio...my pump releases the latch, my car full and I hang the hose up. Waiting there for a bit until I remembered that no receipt will be offered.
I say my goodbyes, the kid already curious from the back seat waves me farewell.
I drive up to the diner to inspect it further. In Heat-Moon's book he stated that he ate at the diner, probably here, where he asked his server to pronounce the name of the town. "De-nye-oh" she states but then proceeded to admit in a hushed tone that those who live here call it "Denial". As I ready myself for a couple hundred more miles of road before dusk I notice that her statement was more prophetic than admission of current perceptions. Above one of the World War II lawn ornament flies a Trump "No More Bullshit" flag. Months after the claim of malfeasance proven wrong and the election conceded Democrat, Denio remains in denial of the decision.
For more information of this location visit the following: https://deniojunction.com/
About the Author
I have always ended up in unexpected places. So I present a collection of my tales told over the years. Places that due to circumstances I might never go on my own accord.