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Reflections on Nevada

By Richard Moreno
The atomic bomb tests at the Nevada Test Site in the 1950s, like this one in October 1958, are part of the narrative in one of the short stories in Claire Vaye Watkins’ book, Battleborn.
Courtesy of the Atomic Energy Commission

Several years ago, I wrote a column on what I considered insightful quotes about Nevada, written by some of the state’s best-known authors and essayists. I included quotes from the likes of Mark Twain, Dan DeQuille, Robert Laxalt and even Hunter S. Thompson.

Since then, the number of books about the Silver State have multiplied and a whole new generation of writers and poets has appeared with their own unique observations about the state, which continues to amuse, perplex, bewitch and fascinate people.

The following are a handful of intriguing passages about Nevada that have appeared in more recent literary works:

• “I walked for a long time around the streets of Elko. It’s a small, western, Nevada town that was at one time a cowboy town. Now it’s mostly just run by mining. It has a main street with shops and bars and restaurants. It has a couple of casinos and is set off the highway and surrounded by sagebrush and hills. It was an all-right place, it seemed.” — Willy Vlautin, Motel Life

• “Beyond the Jumbled Hills, in the wide Emigrant Valley of southern Nevada, bracketed by the Timpahute and Pahranagat ranges, lies Groom Lake, just one of the many dry lakes that dot the desert reaches of Nevada and California, an expanse of white, hard alkaline soil — caliche soil. Rocky Mountain sheep and wild burros often wander onto its surface, and for years the bare weathered horned skull of a sheep sat here, a Western cliché as accent mark … The land sat like this for centuries before the asphalt and metal buildings, the wooden barracks and hangers, arrived, turning it into the Shangri-la, the Forbidden Temple of black, or secret, aircraft.” — Phil Patton, Dreamland

• “Their stepfather points to the desert. ‘There,’ he says. A flash of light across the basin. An orange mushroom cloud erupts, rolling and boiling. Seconds later, she hears the boom of it, like a firework, and the trailer begins to sway. Impossibly, the heat warms my mother’s face. ‘Make you think,’ her stepfather says softly in her ear. ‘Maybe there’s something godly out there after all.’ ” — Claire Vaye Watkins, Battleborn

• “Mountain City is one mile long, limit to limit. Birch and golden willow shade the yards and porches of low framed houses and trailer homes, and rusted chain-link fences separate laws from sage. In the meadow below town, the east fork of the Owyhee meanders north, past willows and ryegrass and fence posts and wire, and above everything, like a low, uneven wall, rounded hills rise up and circle the town, obscuring the view of higher mountains.” — Gregory Martin, Mountain City

• “They had embarked together on a trip across Nevada, moving toward the Sierra. Nothing much had happened. True, they had met a Shoshone who had told them a story about the progress of the soul in the form of a coyote; and it must be admitted that they had visited a ranch house inhabited by angels, and at Pyramid Lake heard the music of death and resurrection — but it was Nevada, they were never too far from a bar, so why worry?” — Stephen Nightingale, The Thirteenth Daughter of the Moon

• “In Nevada, it’s always about trains, drinks, connections missed and made and wholly imagined.” — Gailmarie Pahmeier, Where Do You Go From Tonopah?

Rich Moreno writes about the places and people that make Nevada special.