Wednesday, March 02, 2005

First A Rockhound

I don't remember exactly when I became a rockhound. Maybe it was in 1993 or '94 or so, but I do recall the incident that made me realize I was truly taken in by some greater force. Most mineral hunters can recall their special moment and enjoy sharing it with other seekers of the stone.

It was a hot day, heading up State Road 34 in the Northwestern Nevada desert, taking what we thought was a shortcut to Lakeview, Oregon,when the rented Chevy suddenly blew a tire. So, there we were, dropped off in the midst of the purple high rock canyons and low hills, stuck on a gravelly road covered with black shiny obsidian-the natural black glass with sharp edges that cuts deep even into the heaviest of tires.
A road like this is very unfriendly to vehicles which was why we were truly alone. We were alone and and incredibly stupid about the consequences of being stuck in the middle of nowhere. We did not think to carry water supplies or to figure out in advance how to remove the spare tire in the trunk in case of an emergency.

With nothing to do but wait an interminably long time for someone to pass our way, we walked the desert road. You hear stories all the time about people like us, hapless individuals who get stuck and panic and start to walk away from the car into the rabbit brush of the massive Black Rock Desert. Some of us are never seen again because we forgot to tell friends or family where we were headed. Maybe night would fall and we would still be there with no water or maybe some crazy characters might discover us and decide they wanted our luggage or, perhaps, me. Maybe, we would have to hike 40 miles or so to reach Cedarville, on the outskirts of California, the closest town to this forsaken road.

So, we walked, but in circles, hoping to hear the sound of a vehicle, to see the dust kick up in the distance, some sign that help was possible. Brian found a green mineral on a rock and showed it to me. It looked like sulphur. I found a piece of golden jasper, and then, looking some more, I came upon something beautiful and perfect, something I'd never imagined one could find on the side of that road. It was light pink and carved and so delicate. "I found an arrowhead!" I shouted. "No," Brian said. "There are no arrowheads around here!" "Oh, yeah?" I raced over with my find and all my friend could say was, "It's an arrowhead all right."
Somehow, I took it as a good sign, corny as it sounds. And it was. A few minutes after that, a truck came our way, and I waved the guys down. Nobody would be expected to believe that these guys were driving a truck filled with tires and had a huge five gallon jug of water, but it happened that way. Well, they helped us get a tire on our car and then they drove on to Cedarville, where they waited for us. We offered dinner at the lone chicken joint just out of town, but they refused.

I've learned a lot since about the responsibilities people have for one another out here in the wilderness, and so in the years that followed, we have found ourselves several times at both ends of the unplanned event. Just last summer, we accomplished the great feat of losing two tires in almost the identical spot on SR34, and again, it was not long before Metric of the Burning Man found us and managed to make things work again, and then two wonderful ranchers followed with an ice chest filled with beer and soda. Such a banner year because somewhere along the way we, in turn, helped a family with small children stuck with three flat tires out in Utah's Yellowcat desert and then soon after, an elderly couple who crashed their car into a pine tree on top of Garnet Hill in Ely.

The thing is, all of us have one thing in common and that is the rock and the lure of the rock keeps us doing the same crazy things,taking the same chances year after year.That first flat tire back some years ago, set the stage to seek the stone. For when all is said and done, you forget the terrible disorientation that sets in when you are stranded on the desert road. Instead you think about what you are holding in your hand. The sulphur rock. The pink arrowhead. Then you remember the beauty of the road, the black obsidian, the golden jasper all around peeking out from the sagebrush, the beauty of the lush hills,and you know why the Paiute and those who came before them treasured that spot in nature. You begin to long to return there, to connect with that part of the world that stirs you inside, that brings you closer to your Creator.