Lake Lahontan was mostly dried up when I got there, with about 150 blackened cottonwood stumps out in a depression where the water once was. I was a mile or so below the Carson River damn near Silver Springs, NV. The pictures on the Internet showed a serene fisherman by a placid lakeside in 1973, but the campground looked pretty dry and dusty to me. I was disappointed. Also, there were no hot showers as advertised. This drylake was named after the ancient Lake Lahontan that covered most of North Western Nevada after the Ice age.
I had driven eleven hours from Los Angeles along the snow capped Sierra Nevada’s barely stopping for gas, coffee and a sandwich on the 395 that day. I arrived in the middle of nowhere just as the sun was going down. I had just enough time to pitch my tent in the mostly deserted campground. I had not stopped long in Bishop, or Owens Valley, or Yellowstone only because I wanted to be here by nightfall. But now I was a little skeptical of my impulse to hurry. Why did I choose the Great Basin for my project in the first place? My friend Leslie had mentioned that it was monochromatic. I think she mean it is flat, dry and desolate. Maybe the name sounded romantic, or just geologic and encompassing and difficult…I like the sort of things I can get lost in. I definitely wanted a reason to get out of LA, and I could not stop thinking about Robert Heizer’s research from the 1960’s. The beautifully drawn images of petroglyphs in his books and the controversy the books caused. Would I find what I was looking for out here?
I had driven through two Paiute reservations in Nevada that day, maybe three. And there was a Shoshone /Paiute Rez outside of Bishop, the town right before the pass that goes through the Sierra’s. I drove by Yosemite National Park and the Obsidian Dome. The backside of the Dome was visible from the road. It looked pretty enticing, but I was on a mission to make it to Lahontan by nightfall. I blew past Mono Lake also, incredibly gorgeous, but windy as hell. It must have been the front moving in. Then I followed the Walker River into the Nevada on the 208. It was quieter once I dropped into the Basin. There was no more wind like in Lee Vining. There were a lot of birds along the river, tall grasses and a few fishermen. I was glad to be in the Basin, I had anticipated this trip for two years. I had to admit that it was not as grand as the Ansel Adams wilderness but there was something out here calling my name.
It was Saturday night. I was supposed to meet my stepmother at this campground. She was driving from Salt Lake City, but the sun was going down and I couldn’t imagine anyone finding this place in the dark. I faced the tent towards the East along the edge of the lakebed. A few other campers spread out around the campground. There was a port-a-potty and a spigot with the mocking birds hanging around it. I watched the stars come up for a while, but was both exhausted and too excited to make my dinner. Then my friend John called. I guess I was not really in the middle of nowhere! We spoke for a while and then I tried to figure out my new involometer. I couldn’t make much sense of it in the dark, gave up, and crawled into my sleeping bag feeling a mixture of excitement and terror.
The cottonwoods rustled in the wind all night. And a pack of coyotes came through the camp, probably crossing the lakebed in the wee hours. They were howling and barking and making a ruckus. But I was warm and happy in my new over-priced capilene pullover and the two wool blankets thrown over my sleeping bag. I think there was a meteor shower at 4:30 AM, but I was too tired to pull myself out of the tent in the dark. The air was a lot colder than I thought. I did get up just before sunrise. And I could feel that shift in the weather that I kept hearing about on the TV every time I stopped for gas.