Newcomer savors Nevada's best-kept secrets

On Nov. 17, I made a horizontal job move between two Swift Newspapers properties: The Union in Grass, Valley, Calif., and the Appeal. Some friends were aghast that I was going to the sticks and -- worse -- the desert. But they don't know Northern Nevadans' best-kept secrets.

I've been a big fan of your area for years. Californians view Nevada as a wasteland of sage, cacti and jack rabbits. But as an outdoors freak, I know you have the most peaks over 10,000 feet in the United States, and I've hiked the wild rose-choked creeks of your mountain canyons, soaked in isolated hot springs in Austin and Soldier Meadows, and plumbed Lehman and Goshutes caves.

I've climbed Arc Dome, Boundary, King Lear, Rose and Wheeler peaks. I've sought out Indian rock art of Pyramid Lake and Lagomarsino and the pornographic tree carvings of lonely Basque shepherds in the Desatoyas. I can't wait to hit "The Loneliest Highway in America" and the Extraterrestrial Highway again. I saw three vehicles in as many days during a solo four-wheel-drive ordeal through legendary High Rock Canyon and hike up Little High Rock Canyon, emerging into the Black Rock Desert on THAT Sept. 11.

In Grass Valley, I own a house on 14 isolated acres on a dirt road with woodstove heat and a low-yield well. I was lucky to find a rural Dayton rental facing the Bureau of Land Management flood plain of the Carson.

My surroundings couldn't be more different now. The pines and oaks have given way to a rare pinon, rabbit brush and, yes, sage. I can hike for hours out my back door on BLM land -- and look back over two miles and still see my house. The Steller jays I fed in Grass Valley have been replaced by impossibly tropical-looking magpies. A covey of 100 quail has supplanted the wild turkeys, squabbling over my chicken scratch.

Nevada highway signs warning of animal crossings exemplify the difference between the two states. The most exciting animal depicted on California signs is a leaping buck. Here, I pass a mustang sign as I head over the hill on 50, a bear sow and her cub near Spooner Summit, and a bighorn sheep at Walker Lake. California cattle-warning signs depict a shuffling, dejected cow; in Nevada, a prancing bull tosses his tail.

I admit to being part of the recent, unrelenting diaspora from the Evil State to the West. We're the reason Carson's 100-year-old, gracefully crumbling buildings and ranches are giving way to endless suburbia and strip malls. I expected resentment as a "damned Californicator," as a Reno pal growls, and moral superiority like that of Northern Californians toward Southern Californians and Sierra foothills residents toward newcomer "flatlanders." Instead, folks have been remarkably welcoming and helpful (especially the merchants).

Case in point: Hiking on a BLM road near my place, I ran into a guy in a pickup who warned, "See that gate? That's my ranch so don't go past it." He then took a closer look at me and said,"Well, if you're just walking, it's OK. Here's my name and number; you have the right to trespass." I doubt that that would happen in California.

I'm trying hard to become a real Nevadan. I don't blink twice anymore at the slot machines in Scolari's. I no longer flinch when I pass bullet-riddled BLM signs and the one in my neighborhood: "Congested area. Discharge of firearms prohibited." I'm struggling to adopt the ranchers' view of mountain lions, mustangs and "God's dogs" -- coyotes -- as threats. I' m not surprised when the waitress asks, "Smoking or nonsmoking?" I'm even remembering to pronounce it "Ge-NO-a."

But one thing puzzles me. What is it with the raising of rabbits and cats just past the Lyon County line? Why are the Moonlite Bunnyranch and the Kit Kat Ranch most active at night, and what effect on the husbandry do the flashing red lights have?

Pat Devereux is the news editor of the Nevada Appeal. Contact her at or 881-1224.


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