Friday, September 14, 2012

Austin City Limits

September 11
The Great Smoky Valley mercifully came to an end, the concerted effort of both feet bringing me to the perimeter. Things were looking up from there, literally and figuratively. There is usually only one mountain to climb between valleys, but in this case there were two, Bob Scott and Austin. I'm not one to beg for multiple steep ascents, but I was willing to make an exception in Nevada.
The higher elevations have trees, rock formations, and an overall greater variety of flora. In other words, something to actual look at.
An odd tree caught my eye, the branches growing vertically instead of horizontally, hugging to the trunk like lovers. An old automobile sat in a chasm tires and engine long scavenged from the rusted hulk. Sandstone was carved like sculpture, tiny cracks not quite revealing the secrets held within. Predictability had taken a siesta.
While I was thusly occupied Dad journeyed toward some points of interest in nearby. Dr. Peter McCandless, as he is more formally called, was a history professor at the College of Charleston for thirty five years. He has published numerous scholarly articles and two books, "Moonlight, Magnolias, and Madness" and "Slaves Disease, and Suffering in the Lowcountry." He is currently working on his first work of historical fiction, "The Loyalist." Here is the tale of his adventures today, in his own words:

Wanderlust getting the upper hand, I decided to leave Alastair to the mercies of US 50 and take a little side trip to visit a couple of intriguing sites near Austin, Spencer’s Hot Springs and
Toquima Cave. This required driving across Big Smoky Valley on a dirt forest service. How
far? I didn’t know. The directions, which I’d conveniently left back at the
Cozy Mountain Motel (no relation to Bates’ Motel – we survived it for five
nights) didn’t give mileage. That seems to be a habit round these parts. It was
only a few miles to the springs, I was sure. The cave, I recalled, was somewhere just past Pete’s Summit, which was at the top of Pete’s Canyon (couldn’t resist going there, obviously).
But how far was the summit? There was a historical marker at the entrance to
the road. It said nothing about the hot springs, but described Toquima Cave, where Native
Americans of unknown derivation had put a number of petroglyphs of equally
unknown meaning. Archaeologists blame shamans wanting to insure a good hunting
season. Nowadays, we’ve found that automatic weapons work better.
But let me cut to the chase. Istarted driving down the aforesaid road, which was smooth enough in some spots but a washboard in others, with occasional large potholes to keep one’s
interest. I could hit 35 occasionally but often had to slow to 10-15 (that’s
mph, not km/h for my international audience).
The first thing of interest I saw -- sagebrush and piles of manure in the road having gotten a bit boring -- was three wild burros. They stared at me near the road until I got my camera out,
then ran for their lives -- not a bad move when you consider human proclivities
and firepower. But I got a decent picture of three asses and moved on. Just
after that incident, I came to another dirt road leading off to the left. Did it go to the hot springs?
No sign, naturally. The road went up into the hills a bit, and I could see what appeared to be rings on the hillside. Could it be the work of aliens? Of course, I don’t believe in that nonsense but it did look spooky and strange things have happened out here, like nuclear tests. I thought I might check it out later if my courage reappeared, and moved on up Pete’s Canyon.
Soon I saw my first sign: Entering Toiyabe National Forest. Very helpful. Well, at least I
might see some trees, I thought. A few miles, further on, I did. Then I saw another sign. My heart leapt. It told me that wildfires kill trees!
Funny, I’d never thought of that. Pondering this weighty knowledge, I plowed on. I climbed slowly but relentlessly, mile after mile, through an actual forest, the temperature dropping as I went. "When will I reach the summit?" I thought. Should I turn back before I break an axle or blow a tire on the rocks that were now jutting ever more menacingly through the road surface? No, that would be intelligent. It’d be so much more exciting to break down and spend days out here waiting for rescue. I should mention here that I hadn’t seen any living person since I’d left US 50. In the interests of truth, let me say that I hadn’t seen any dead person either.
Finally, I could tell I was near the summit. I just know these things. When I reached it, I found a National Forest campground, Toquima Campground. Great I thought, the cave must be near.
I turned in. Some camper can tell where the cave is, I thought. Well, I’m sure
they could have, if there were any campers. It looked like a nuclear bomb had
hit it. Perhaps it had, back in the ‘50s. I looked about for some information
about the cave on a board but the posters all told me how not to start forest
fires. Actually, how to start them, but they told me not to do it. Thanks, NFS.
I decide to return to the road and go down the other side of the summit a bit.
I came to a road leading of to the left to a cliff. That must be it, I decided.
I started to drive up the road but gave up quickly as the rocks grew bigger
than my #$^ and the grade reached about 15%. I have a four wheel drive, I
thought, but this terrain is appropriate for the "Like a Rock Pickup", you know the one in the commercials. I stopped the car, got out and began to climb on foot, then on hands and feet,
and then I began to cry. At last I saw the cave, but disappointment slapped me
in the face again when I saw the chain link fence that covered its entrance. As
I got up to it, I saw the lock on the gate and the BLM sign asking me not to
deface the cave. How could I deface a cave I couldn’t enter? I thought. Of
course, I’m sure people have defaced it, including the Native Americans with
their petroglyphs. Now the question was, which marks on the walls were modern
and which were ancient graffiti? I took several photos through the fence,
hoping that I could figure that out someday.
After contemplating the cave for about five minutes I decided I’d better get back to the car. I started down, and found a path to the right I hadn’t seen on the way up. That must go to the
campground, I said to myself, very proud, for a second. Then I felt very
stupid. If I’d searched the campground a little more carefully, I’d surely have
found this path, which was level and a lot easier than the way I’d come. I was tempted to follow it, but I decided that might take me far from the car, so I went back down the way I came. The
way I thought I’d come as it turned out. All these pinion junipers and pinion
pines and rocks look alike and I was a bit too far west of the car. Having a
brilliant sense of direction, however, I soon figured that out and made my way
to the car.
I drove back towards the springs or where I thought the springs might be, seeing only one human being along the way. He was on the other side of a parked pickup, with his pants down, doing
what people do with their pants down. Deciding this was an inconvenient moment
to stop and say “Howdy!” I drove on. About ten bumpy miles later, I found a
road going off to the right, which looked like it was headed towards those
funny circles I mentioned earlier. I took it. It was less bumpy. These aliens
know how to make roads, I thought. A couple more miles, more or less, took me
to what turned out to be the springs. The circles I’d seen were roads circling
around the springs. There were no signs, of course, but I found an old fellow
with a long beard and makeshift motor home of wood, to which he had attached a
small pickup truck at the back.
I asked if the springs were here and he said, “Sure are, you’re practically in them.” I looked over beyond him and saw a pool.
“Did you take a dip?”
“Yep, just finished.”
“Was it good?”
“Mighty fine. This is a Class 2 springs.”
He went on to tell me about Class 1 and 3, but I won’t bore you with
that. Apparently, he was a hot springs connoisseur. He was off to southern California
now, he said, to the Salton Sea. I headed off to the pool. A BLM sign said they did not maintain the pool and if I scalded myself that was my bad luck. The rocks looked slimy and were, but the water really felt great, about 100 degrees (F, not C I hasten to add, or I’d have been
on somebody’s dinner table. I “took the waters” for about 15 minutes then decided it was time to go meet Alastair for lunch. I got out, dried off, and changed into dry shorts. No facilities, but no one’s around, I thought. I quickly changed, got in the car and drove off. As I turned around
the corner, I saw a couple of campers. Oops, I wasn’t alone after all. As I drove back down the road to US 50, I saw three pronghorn antelope, a pretty sight. Unfortunately, they ran off before I could get a good shot. About fifteen minutes later I found Alastair and told all these lies, but in briefer fashion.
*Now back to your normal point of view*. The old folks do tend prattle on don't they? After meeting Dad at Austin summit I headed down into town on a brilliant short cut Karen and Jerry had suggested. I was able to save at least a mile and avoid a section of narrow road with several dangerous ess curves and switchbacks.
At the bottom I found Dad again and we went to the Toiyabe Cafe for milkshakes. I stopped at the motel to let everyone on Facebook know I had reached Austin, as if anyone cared, then headed out of town and back into the nothing. I finished a few hours later at the historical marker for Jacobsville, deceased mining town number 1,548 on the Nevada Tourism Bureau Listings. I'd write a suitable conclusion now, but if you managed to read this far down I think you deserve a medal and I shan't keep you from it any longer.
22 miles/3589 total miles


Anonymous said...

Let your Dad know that I enjoyed his writting -- I will look-up some of his book!!

Thanks - Be Safe!

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