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Road wisdom

Signs of the times in Goldfield
Photography by Christopher Smith
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Photography by Christopher Smith

What we learned from our ambitious, panoramic, statewide ramble

So, eight days, 10 towns, six RV parks, 1,700 miles, and (*counting on fingers, giving up*) innumerable bathroom stops later, we’re back, safe and sound in our cubicles after Desert Companion’s Great Big Road Trip. And, now that we’re back and we’ve had time to pause, reflect and sleep 19 hours straight, here are some of the lessons we’ve learned from the road — about Nevada, about travel ... (trenchant pause) about ourselves.

Never pass up a bathroom stop on the road, no matter how basic. The person who does the RV’s sanitary dump that night will thank you.

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Carve out at least an hour to spend by yourself each day. This is non-negotiable. Otherwise, you won’t notice that you’re carsick or homesick until a remedy is out of reach and — too late! — you’ve already murdered your travelmates.

Have a schedule; break it. Pre-planning frees you to be on your way to things, instead of wasting time tracking them down. But being open on the way frees you to enjoy the surprises.

There are some less-obvious advantages to living in a big city besides mixology bars and a rich Tinder pool. Like health care. In rural Nevada, we met people who have to drive an hour and half to see their doctor, or be airlifted here or to Reno for emergencies because their local medical clinics have closed.

On this trip, we had some of our first in-depth interactions with our state’s natives, and we feel fortunate for the experience. From the Ely Shoshone, to Thunder Mountain Indian Monument, to the Pyramid Lake Paiutes, all had compelling stories to tell, urgent issues that they want the rest of the state to pay attention to, and strong feelings about white settlers’ invasion in their land and lives.

Underlined for us at every turn was a collective concern for conservation — not just in the Shoshones’ and Paiutes’ plea to have left intact the water flows that feed their sacred ecosystems, but also in the desire of hunters and fishermen to see wildlife preserved; state employees’ commitment to educating residents on cultural artifacts and natural landscapes; and activists’ risk in confronting huge corporate interests that they see as spoiling their communities. It’s not an “environmentalist” thing; it’s a Nevada thing.

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There are plenty of stereotypes about rural residents, but here’s one generalization we can make with confidence: They were unanimously kind, open and patient when faced with our intrusion. We might never go hunting or talk politics or go to church with them, but we didn’t meet anybody we wouldn’t have a drink with.

Quiet is a natural resource that influences the pace of life. It was a fond refrain of rural residents: quiet, quiet, quiet. One of the things they love most about living in rural Nevada is the quiet. Quiet has packed into it other values: yes, a little bit of leave-me-be, but it also seems to us that the absence of the urban psychic noise that manifests itself in our everyday functional paranoia and protective jadedness gives rural residents an edge in openness, perhaps even hospitality.

Roots mean something in a restless, transient world. Social media has turned us all into brand ambassadors for our own romantic consumerist escapades — Look at me, I went here, ate this, did that. “Experiences” become a commodity; likes and follows, the currency. In tension with this, many of the people we met found themselves drawn back to their hometowns, their home state — a decided journeying back and inward rather than a fidgety broadcasting outward. Steve Hernandez trained as a chef in San Francisco but returned to Fallon, where he grew up, to open up The Slanted Porch restaurant. John Arant, owner of The Martin Basque Restaurant in Winnemucca, told us he actually bought the historic place to have a reason to return from Maine to his home state of Nevada. “It’s a different country out here,” he said. And after seeing just a sliver of our great state over eight days, we have to say: He’s absolutely right.

As a longtime journalist in Southern Nevada, native Las Vegan Andrew Kiraly has served as a reporter covering topics as diverse as health, sports, politics, the gaming industry and conservation. He joined Desert Companion in 2010, where he has helped steward the magazine to become a vibrant monthly publication that has won numerous honors for its journalism, photography and design, including several Maggie Awards.
Desert Companion welcomed Heidi Kyser as staff writer in January 2014. In 2018, she was promoted to senior writer and producer, working for both DC and State of Nevada. She produced KNPR’s first podcast, the Edward R. Murrow Regional Award-winning Native Nevada, in 2020. The following year, she returned her focus full-time to Desert Companion, becoming Deputy Editor, which meant she was next in line to take over when longtime editor Andrew Kiraly left in July 2022.