Day 3, August 26th, Today became a big day where a lot happened. A lot. Stay with me, this is a long one, but a good read.
I had bedded down for the night next to the Shoofly Oolites in southern Idaho, because, well, what an awesome name! These chunks of rocks are the limestone remnants of a giant fresh water lake that extended across the valley of what is now pretty much the bulk of Idaho about 11-13 million years ago. The Oolites are bits of limestone formed from tiny sealife particles which settled on the lake bottom.
The rare chemical properties of these oolites support five endemic plant species and are pretty rad to look at up close. Not too much time available to spend staring at such blocks of rock, I have to make up for all the progress I lost by being stuck in the middle of nowhere. I am hundreds of miles behind schedule and missed out on three desired stops yesterday. No Leslie Gulch, and no ghost towns of Silver City, and DeLorme, ID in the Owyhee Mountains. Nuts.
I stop at a hardware store and obtain a new water jug and fill it at a Shell Station while I grab some fuel.
I then drive down the long, flat, hot Three Creek Rd south of Bruneau, ID. This road is an eternity in a long straight line. I pass the captain obvious sign for the Saylor Creek Bombing Range I am about to traverse. Really? Things fall from planes on a bombing range?
the road is lined by two things: beautiful little sunflowers, and Stupid Little Birds (SLBs) who like to jump out in front of my truck as if I am a preditor seeking their eggs. Their goal is to draw me after them and away from their nests. My goal is to drive a straight line. Our goals collide. Often. My estimate is that one in 25 of these SLBs finds itself under my carriage. It wouldn’t be an adventure in the desert if my modern technology wasn’t a tool of natural selection changing the evolutionary outcomes of the previous few million years one Stupid Little Bird at a time.
Air Force A-10s were making bombing runs around me during my drive. Ironically I passed a sign that read, “Only you can prevent wild fires,” while bombers dropped 25lb incendiaries on dry grass around me…
After maybe 60 miles of such roads I finally begin to dip into the canyon where the “resort” town of Murphy Hot Springs, ID resides. The spring was known to local tribes prior to the white man, but the first recorded owner of the spring was Kittie Wilkins who was a well educated woman from Walla Walla, WA. She became world famous for her horse breeding and traded her horses around the planet. She was widely regarded as the “Horse Queen of Idaho. Kittie made a pool for the spring to fill out of rocks so that the ranch hands and locals could rest their weary bones. The pool became known as “Kittie’s Hot Hole”. I shit you not. I found out about this after I passed through town, otherwise I would have taken a dip in Kittie’s Hot Hole just to say I did.
Today the town is rustic resort where locals gather to vacation in the summer. The resort was built by a gentleman named Patrick Murphy who renamed Kittie’s Hot Hole to “Murphy Hot Springs” (boring). I got word that the Mexican food there is to die for. Should have stopped for a dip and a lunch… next time.
Since this is a trip of adventure and challenge I decided to climb the canyon opposite Murphy and head up the mountain. I wanted to descend into the town of Jarbidge, quite possibly the most remote settlement in the lower 48, via a road that goes down the canyon wall right into town. It is a road that is somewhat a legend for how steep, unkempt, and stupid it is to drive. Jarbidge self promotes as the “Off Road Capitol of America” and this wisp of dirt is its king. I passed several trucks with ATV trailers on my way to my wisp of a road. I also went by my second powerline crew of the day working on the walls of the canyon. They looked at me and my truck like I was either a stud or an idiot. I prefer to think of myself as a little of both.
The road down started steep and narrow right off the bat, but the view was spectacular.
I descended slowly and in 4-low. The rocks started small and crumbly but the road goes steep in a hurry. The only tracks I saw were from something tracked like a bulldozer. I couldn’t understand why a bulldozer would go down such a route and not grade it. Weird. The boulders started to get huge and my truck was plodding at a crawl over them. I got to a little flat spot tucked into the canyon wall where I came face to face with a dude on a bulldozer on the opposite side of downed power lines. Ah, there he is.
The look on his face was one of surprise. “What are you doing?” He asked.
“I’m heading down into Jarbidge”
“This road is not really that kind of road.” He incredulously put to me while pushing his orange hard hat back on his head.
“I know, that’s why I’m doing it.”
“Well, it’s going to be three hours until they pull these lines up so you are either going to have to wait or go around.”
Fuck, I am pressed for time, go around it is. “Guess I’m going back around. Nuts.”
“I am surprised you even made it down here. It’s not much of a road, more a bunch of rocks. Why didn’t anyone up there tell you we had downed lines down here?”
“Beats me. They just looked at me like I was a fool.”
“Jeeze… Good luck backing back up!”
And that is where I met my big challenge, taking a quarter mile of cliff face backwards and in four wheel drive. There is a lot of torque in reverse, let me tell you. I made it a couple hundred yards back up the slope, it took a while because I had to keep getting out to see what the rocks looked like behind me. Eventually I opted to just climb the rear end of the truck up the slope so that I was probably face down close to a 100% grade (45 degrees) and pivoted the nose of my truck and proceeded to do an Austin Powers multi-point turn around pirouette on the slopes of the canyon and get my truck facing forward. It worked. I’d rather see my impending doom coming than fall backwards off of it.
I made it to the top and passed the line crew again. This time they were all smiling at me. I wanted to shout, “The road didn’t defeat me, your stupid power lines did!” 45 minutes later I was back in Murphy and back on Three Creek Rd heading along the canyon into Jarbidge.
I got stuck behind another truck hauling ATVs and it was just blowing dust everywhere. I hate being the one behind someone on a dirt road. I don’t need to die of consumption because I had to drive behind someone. I decided to pull over and throw a whiz and kill a little time staring at a map of the canyon. Once I was sure I was clear of the dust machine I continued. The road is only 15 miles long or so, but takes a while as the fastest you will travel is maybe 20 MPH, but most of the time you’ll be doing 10-15 MPH. It is really winding.
Today Jarbidge is a town that is waiting. It is always waiting. Waiting for someone, anyone, to come along and provide something interesting and new to do. Every person enthusiastically waved at me with a gleam in their eye as if it is possible I could be their savior, or at the very least, their next round of entertainment
Jarbidge is a gold mining boom town through and through. It was the site of the last gold rush of the Old West in 1909. Exaggerations of gold discoveries brought thousands of prospectors that Winter and most had their fill by Spring of 1910. These genius prospectors tried driving claim-stakes into drifts of snow and discovered that digging for gold is darn near impossible when you have to make it through 18ft of snow first. When gold was actually discovered after the snow melt (duh), the town swelled again to perhaps 2000 by 1911. Teddy Roosevelt had created the Humboldt National Forrest in 1908 and a ranger station was built near where Jarbidge is today. A year later, upon news of the gold strike, President Taft exempted the Jarbidge Canyon from the national forest so that people could own land and settle there.
Shortly after the town boomed a second time it began it’s slow decline once again. Mechanization and consolidation of the mining operations dwindled the population to just those required to do the job for the Elkoro Mining Company by 1918 when Guggenheim purchased most of the mining interests.
The only connection Jarbidge had to the outside world prior to The Elkoro was via stagecoach to Rogerson, ID. This meant that Jarbidge was the site of the very last stagecoach robbery ever on December 5th, 1916 by one Ben Kuhl. The coach was supposed to arrive into town with over $4,000 in pay for the miners. When the coach didn’t arrive on time everyone logically assumed the 4ft of snow which had fallen that day had delayed the arrival. A search party was assembled to find the rig. A phone call up the canyon to Rose Dexter informed the men that the coach had passed her home and she waved at, but driver Fred Searcy didn’t wave back but was bundled in his coat at the front of the coach.
The search party found the coach hidden behind a tree with a frozen, dead Searcy slumped in his seat with a close range bullet hole in his head, complete with powder burns and singed hairs. Next to the coach was a mail bag, but missing was a second bag with the $4,000. The next day the group set out to follow a set of dog prints and foot prints in the snow that lead away from the crime scene. A stray dog began following the group started pawing the snow along tracks to reveal the missing bag, minus the $4,000. The dog’s paws matched the paw prints in the snow the group had been tracking. The party concluded that the dog had been at the crime scene and that it was mostly attached to Kuhl, a convicted horse thief. Regardless of who killed Searcy, the killer’s hands had been covered in the blood of the driver and then the same blood smeared the letters and envelopes leaving bloody palm and fingerprints behind.
The subsequent trial was the first time in US history fingerprints were admissible in court and two forensic scientists from California determined that the palm prints were an exact match to Kuhl resulting in his conviction and that of two associates. Kuhl was sentenced to death but his sentence was later commuted to life in prison.
The $4,000 was never recovered and to this day is the most substantiated buried treasure legend in the United States.
Rolling into Jarbidge I had about 1/3 of a tank of gas left in Dentasaurus, so a top off was to my benefit. The gas pump was different. One diesel, one unleaded and no one around. Just a sign informing me that if I can’t get my payment to work then I need to go to the saloon next door and use their phone to call Dennis. Of course this weird gas pump attached to a dial-up modem didn’t work. I had to call Dennis. A woman, I presume was his wife or girlfriend answered. “He’s on his way over.”
A few minutes later an angry white haired man on a four wheeler pulled up. “What’s the problem?”
I can’t get my payment to work.
“For Chrissakes, you have to wait until it clears!”
“I did, It just–”
“No you didn’t, Goddamnit! Give it to me.” Dennis is like Oscar the Grouch, if Oscar the Grouch wasn’t a children’s character. He slides my card into the gray machine and lifts his sunglasses off his face and onto the top of his head and squints at the little screen that looks sort of like a Speak&Spell. “You just have to wait… See, there it… wait, huh? ‘Rejected by Host’?… Your card doesn’t work,” and he tosses it at me nonchalantly and starts to walk away. It lands at my feet.
“I have cash if that will work.”
“I hate this fucking place. I hate everything about this fucking place. It’s not even my gas station. I cannot wait for them to fucking sell it.” I look at the Coldwell Banker sign with some portly woman with short hair smiling “FOR SALE” it reads. Sure ’nuff, the place is for sale. “Yeah, cash will work,” he sighs, and fumbles with a set of keys on the flimsy door of the dilapidated service station and walks inside a building that appears as though twenty different owners over the past century had begun a restoration project of the building before calling it quits and selling out to the next sucker.
Dennis lifts his glasses off his face again and squints at a little old school cash register like it’s the monolith at the beginning of 2001: A Space Odyssey. He fumbles with the keys and the cash drawer opens from which he withdraws a little white card and then storms passed me and my forty outstretched dollars.
He slides the little white card into the machine and does some more squinting and button pushing. “OK, pump the fucker.” I lift the nozzle and flip the handle up, the meter resets to zero. I pull the trigger. Nothing. “I FUCKING HATE THIS PLACE!” Dennis screams. “GOD DAMNIT, DON’T TOUCH ANYTHING!” More fumbling, more screaming at me, at the ‘confound’ machine, and at “This forsaken shit hole!”
Five minute later the pumps starts chugging. I try to get it to stop around $37 so that I can get $3 change to give to Dennis as a tip for the show he put on. I hand him the $40 and tell him to keep the rest. “Fuck you. I told you this isn’t my damned station. I’m going to give you your fucking change and then fucking kill myself.” Dennis must be a legend in this town. By now a dust-covered Toyota 4-Runner has pulled up to the pump and Dennis shoots it a glare complete with a thousands daggers and yells at the vehicle, “GOD DAMNIT!” I hop into my rig and pull away and out of town and watch Dennis hate everything with his new audience from my side mirror.
At the end of town began the steep switchbacks that lead up the wall of the canyon and is the start of the road to Elko. I drove by a forest ranger conducting a census along the laid lines of a transect, she would be the last person I see for the next few hours, and climbed and climbed until I could look out at the old mines high on the walls of the canyon.
The road continues up until and I passed through gorgeous stands of fir trees and aspens and I found myself at the top of a high peak about 8,500ft up. I could see al the way into Idaho and up along a gorgeous mountain valley.
The drive through the mountains afforded me cool observations of contact points between basalt flows and older sedimentary layers, metamorphic slates, quartz intrusions, hoodoos, and sweeping peaks.
I had to drive slowly through the mountains. The road is well groomed but the terrain is steep and gnarly. There is no way into Jarbidge if it is raining; this path would just be a muddy death chute to the valley floor below.
I hear the sound of metal clanging behind my truck like I am dragging something. I am.
I couldn’t break it off, the last strand of metal connected to the muffler had too much integrity. Well, add “new exhaust system” to the list for Dentasaurus Rex. I also notice that I had obliterated my tow package the day before was well… another item for the “list”. Why doesn’t Ford attach the tow package to a cutout in the bumper? Every time I go off road I just destroy that damned dangly little fucker? As far as the pipe is concerned? Fuck it, I’ll just drive until I stop hearing the sound. A few miles later I stopped hearing the sound of it dragging behind me.
About an hour down the road and on the South side of the slopes I pass a few abandoned mines and come to a ghost hotel outside the ghost town of Charleston, NV. I don’t know the history of this place, but it must have been 1950s swanky in its heyday!… There was also a mountain lion living under the hotel. It startled me.
The road forks, and I head West along Elko County Road 746 (the Charleston-Mountain City Road). It’s like any gravel road I have traveled tens of thousands of miles before. I am traversing the southern foothills of the mountain range as it works up and down the undulations as long ridges give out at the base of the range. For the most part the road is boring and flat with a few curves. It has been nearly three hours since I have seen another vehicle or person. Regardless on blind turns and hills I give up my middle of the road to the off chance someone else is coming the other way. The last thing I need is to be surprised by a wayward hunter or family on a camping trip.
My aim is to make my way to Elko, fill up on fuel and then dirt road it South deep into Nevada to investigate a quintet of ghost towns surrounding silver mines in the White Pine Range southeast of Eureka. I don’t make it.
I am about to round a blind, off-camber turn (a turn which slopes away to the outside making the vehicle want to pull to away from the turn, the opposite of a “banked” turn) on ECO 746. I am doing about 45MPH, the speed limit, but slow down to about 40MPH as I approach the turn. Rather that take the outside of the turn, like I normally would on such a curve when I have a long site-line, I play it safe and take the high side of this curve to the right on the off-chance that the rare fellow traveler happens upon this turn as well.
The road rises a little bit right before the turn and just as I begin the curve my front tires dip into a rut or pothole and pops the front of my truck up. When the weight of my truck resettles on the road my tires find themselves pushing into a deep pile of gravel or silt built up on the road. My already turned wheels crank hard to the right as they sink into this plush, loose, material. It whips the rear end of my truck around and to begins to slide through the corner. I crank hard on the wheel to steer into the turn and hopefully drift the truck around the corner fore something bad happens. Too late.
My front tires just stop in the fluff of material and I basically pull a quadruple toe loop with a 5,000 lbs truck. I have spent many an hour contemplating what I would do in the event of a roll over accident. With the thousands of miles I have travel on dirt roads it is almost an inevitability. These thought experiments are the best kind of practice I can conduct without actually flipping my truck. As I begin to tilt over I go through the motions I have worked through my head a thousand times before. I grip the wheel tight and push it hard away from me and into the dash. As a result this forces my body back into my seat and I push my head back with all my might into the head rest and flex every muscle in my body. I don’t want to go anywhere. I have seen too many videos of rollovers where arms and torsos flop out the door window as a result of centripetal force and arms and heads are severed as the vehicle rolls over them. The roof might crush me, but I am not going to lose an arm in the process.
Over I go. I have what feels like a thousand thoughts in just a few seconds:
Hold with everything you got. Count the rolls. There’s one. You’re an asshole for dying on your way to see Angie. How is she supposed to feel finding out days after you were supposed to arrive in Santa Fe that you died alone in the desert? I guess now this is what your last sensation of being decapitated feels like. Two. Keep your eyes closed tight, glass is exploding everywhere. I don’t want to get a new truck. Keep flexing. Three. You are at least a two hour hike to a paved road; remember to assess your supplies. Am I dead yet? I really wanted to see Angie, she’s the best. I don’t want to die yet. I want to go to Santa Fe. I think I just rotated entirely without touching the ground. Four...
I land upright and open my eyes. My hands immediately move to the top of my head to seek out any splits in my scalp. At first I am surprised that my hands are moving and that my eyes are watching my hands move. My brain was almost certain that I would send the signals through my arms and only bloody stumps would respond. No blood, coming from my head. I can’t even feel that my head hit anything. I cannot accept this, maybe the bleeding hasn’t started yet. I run my hands over my head again and again. Nothing, no blood. Next I run my hands around my torso looking for any shrapnel, large bruises, broken ribs, punctures. Again, nothing. I look at my knees and move my feet and toes. I stare at my fingers and wiggle all ten of them. My neck hurts. Oh no, I slashed my jugular, this is how it ends. I slide my palm along the left side of my neck where it hurts. Nothing, no blood yet again. This is fucked up, how am I not injured? I must be injured.
The stereo is still playing Sisters of Mercy “This Corrosion”, but the engine is no longer running. I turn the ignition off. The battery obviously works, use the CB radio and your very illegal antenna amplifier that can broadcast your signal over 100 miles. This is what you bought it for! I reach out and pull the microphone out of its cradle. The power swtich is damaged but it turns on. I turn to the emergency channel and just get a blare of static. I look out through the bashed in windscreen see that my antenna is no longer there. Shit.
I undue my seat-belt and open my door. Holy shit, my door opens! I then look at the steering wheel, no airbag have gone off. I look to the passenger side. It is completely flattened. Had I a passenger they would have been popped like a melon at a Gallagher show, no airbag either. What the fuck, no airbag? I should have a bloody nose and black eyes by now, damnit!
I step out of the truck and triage myself one more time. Nothing, no blood outside a few nicks from broken glass, one scratch on my right shin, and the abrasion on the left side of my neck from my seat-belt I thought was a slash to my throat. I’m OK! Holy shit, I’m OK!
Now is not the time to celebrate, you’re still tens of miles, if not a hundred miles from Elko. Time to start assembling supplies. I start walking around the truck, the canopy is 100ft away, all of my prospecting gear, bedding, books, clothes, food, electronics (everything!) is smeared along a debris field perhaps 150-200ft long. All my windows are broken out. The passenger side of the truck is pushed in like a thumb through play-doh. Holy shit my brain keeps repeating. Pull these things off the road so someone else doesn’t hit it. The truck is in the road and I can’t move this. I don’t want someone else to come around this blind corner and hit this or wreck trying to avoid it.
I begin piling items either in the bed of the truck or in the upside down canopy. I found my compass, good. I find my brand new water jug and half the water is gone trough a tear in the plastic, argh! There’s the piece of shit gas can, Oh look at that, the first time that hunk of garbage didn’t spill everywhere was when it was launched 50ft into the air during a heinous wreck. Asshole. I find one can of cola that wasn’t destroyed. Every other liquid is obliterated. Milk gone. Mexican Cokes gone. The Seattle beer I was bringing to Angie’s brother who is a beer blogger to review? Gone too. Cheerios are everywhere. Sandwiches are nowhere to be found. I can’t find my glasses and I can’t find my cellphone. I find my computer, clothes, various shoes, sleeping bag… all go into piles.
At this moment, it is probably only five minutes since the accident, I hear a truck approaching from the West and look up to see a cloud of dust. I walk out into the middle of the road and start waving my arms back and forth. The Toyota Tundra slows and the driver leans out the window, “Are you alive?… are you hurt?”
“I am alive, and no, miraculously I am not hurt!”
He pulls his truck to the side of the road and gets out to inspect me and make sure I am not just in shock and have entrails dangling out from behind me or an open wound on my scalp. “Holy shit,” he declares, “How on Earth are you alive?”
“I don’t know… Thank you for stopping. Thank you so much for stopping. Pretty much all my supplies are obliterated. It was going to be a pretty shitty hike back to the highway.
We introduce ourselves to each other. His name is Brandon. He is my hero. I can taste the metallic telltale of adrenaline pumping through my veins. My hands shake. He asks if I have a tow line so he can pull my truck off the road. I search through the debris and find both tow cables and open the plastic packaging and hookup the front tow hooks and hand him the other end which he attaches to his trailer hitch and drags my giant booby trap off the road.
Brandon then begins helping clear all of my belongings and putting them into the bed of the truck. “Is there anything you need right now?”
“Yes, I can’t find my cellphone or my glasses.” The thing about looking for glasses, is that without wearing them, it is really hard to find them. I immediately flash back to my last baseball practice at Lewis & Clark. The coaches decided to have a scrimmage and a little fun where the only rule was you could not play a position you had played throughout the season. Shortstops pitching, Catchers at third base, pitcher patrolling the outfield… The winning team got to have all the meal money for our last travel game of the season; losing got jack.
The team captains chose the teams, I was picked last because it was assumed that the skinny awkward knuckleballer would be the worst athlete on the team. I played left field and had the game of my life. I went four for six with 6 RBIs, four runs scored, a bases loaded double, and the play of the year. A long drive down the line and I gave chase. The shortstop kept yelling, “You have plenty of room! You have plenty of room!” over and over letting me know that I had a ways until I would crash into the fence so that I needn’t fear; I can get the ball. I chased and chased and just as the ball was about to land I leaped and discovered the fence was only a foot from me. I exploded into the fence, ball in glove. It hurt. I picked myself up off the ground and threw the ball into third to cheers of my teammates who never expected such athleticism from the weirdo nerd-pitcher.
The real pitcher for this game returned to the mound and got ready to throw to the next batter. “Time out!” I yelled, “I can’t find my glasses!” I dropped to all fours feeling along the grass searching for my specs. Every single one of my teammates also fell to the ground, but in laughter, as I blindly searched for my eyes with the palms of my hands patting along the ground. I hadn’t worn my contacts because I had assumed that this practice would be like every other one; I throw a bullpen, go for a jog, and then get out of the “real” ball players way. Game of my life and I can’t see shit. I eventually discovered that I fractured two fingers on my pitching hand on that play too…
I snap back to the present and find myself doing the same thing once more, this time instead of grass, I am on my knees crawling over an endless stretch of desert patting the ground with my hands hoping to come up with my sweet Oakley Metal Plate eyeglasses. Brandon and I search for twenty minutes or so. Brandon finds my phone. I give up the glasses search and decide to document the accident instead for myself, for the sheriff, for the insurance company, for this blog, and for my friends and family so that every one can know that once again I have proof that I am once again miraculously indestructible.
Brandon gave me and the important possessions we could find a ride into Elko. He was the best person to come along and discover my wreck. Calm, helpful, and kept me from descending into shock by conversing about everything under the Sun to keep my brain occupied. He is a mine tech for Barrick Gold and was out searching for elk as he has a tag for hunting. He was raised in Eureka and skis the local slopes in the winter by skinning up. His grandfather worked the Big Ruby mine and was murdered by men who thought he was a different man of the same name who had wronged one of them. I love Brandon, he is wonderful.
Brandon drives me to the Sheriff’s office so I can report the accident and patiently waits for half an hour as the dispatch has to call in a deputy. The deputy is also patient with me as I am still kind of vibrating from the accident. He asks me to email him pictures of the crash, they are already receiving calls from people who have happened upon the wreck. Just then he gets a word that a boat is sinking on the lake and has to go. He’ll be in touch. I go back to Brandon’s truck and he gives me a ride to the High Desert Inn so I can check in somewhere for the night and start figuring this shit out. He even helps me lug everything up to my room and gives me his number in case I need anything. I thank him a thousand times. All I want to do is shower and sleep.
I dump my belongings inside the door and call USAA to report the accident. The claims agent is wonderful. He asks about my health a dozen times, orders me a rental car, informs me of how awesome the coverage I have is, and starts ordering a tow truck to haul Dentasaurus Rex out of the wild. I upload the picture of me standing in front of the wreck and let the Internet know I am alive. I text my agent and let her know that I am alive. I call my mother and let her know I am alive. Before I can call my dad, he calls me. Every friend and family member is calling, instant messaging, and texting to see if I need any help. Everyone is so wonderful; I love my circle, everyone of them is magnificent. I shower and sleep. I sleep hard.