In the middle of the Nevada nowhere there are only two airports in the last 3 hours. One of them was a rough, dirt track alongside an old ranch house, ninety miles from Tonopah. I can see the moment; the rancher comes rattling up in his decrepit truck after 12 hours of bucking hay bales and cattle. His wife has worked herself into a tizzy. She has had it! No more ninety miles of bumpy, dusty roads just to get groceries and to get her hair done. By the time she gets back to the ranch the ‘do’ is ruined and the milk has soured. “That’s it, I’ve had it!” she declaims. “I’m buying me an airplane so I can get to town and back in style.” Another great spirit takes to the skies.
Moab, Utah has been our home for the last 6 weeks and now it’s time to return. Mosley, my 150 lb. Newfie has wedged himself into the shady side of the plane. Even though it’s a cool 4’ Celsius, the radiation has his black, wintering coat heating up.
To the south a stationary low has been spitting out rain, hail and lightning from southern CA to the four corners. Deep, black, convective monsters fill the sky to my left. To the right and overhead I’m in the clear and riding the tailwinds up and over the top of the low. This is a rare treat to have the breeze up your tail feathers, west bound.
The radios are quiet. At 10,5K’ Salt Lake Center won’t handle you and you’re way off of Oakland’s radar. It won’t be until the Sierra crest that I’ll show up on the screen.
I’m out to pick the bones of the ‘basin and range’. It’s like digging through the Thanksgiving turkey carcass for the wishbone. The search is for gold, the photosynthetic miracle that comes this time of year in the high country of the deciduous.
The places to discover flaming aspens in Nevada are limited. The arid climate and austere, rocky soil do not support luxurious flora. If the gold is out here, (big if), you’ll find it on the north face of peaks, tucked into canyons and ravines. Slender, cryptic lines of brilliance spill down to the basin floor. When you find a drainage that’s lit up you holler “Eureka!”
Occasionally, high up where the eagles nest, a small meadow that holds onto the snow late into spring will have it’s bevy of aspens. After so many years of flying the Moab migration I have my favorite groves. They’re camps of color, beyond trail or road where one could lay down, with color streaming around you, and know where heaven is.
I’m low and slow along the flanks of the Snake, Egan, Grant, Pancake, Monitor, Toiyabe, and Paradise Ranges. Not even a whisper of wind jostles the search. The only effort is to climb to put some distance between me and the ridge lines. The pink line on the GPS has given up pulling me along.
These are the ribs of the west, the skeletal support cradling the Great Basin. Many secret canyons and facets are rarely visited by human record and remain one of the west’s wildest landscapes. I seek, I soar, remembering the hidden pockets of Nevada gold.
As austere and lean as the Nevada ranges are, when you approach California ten million volts of autumn foliage light up. Fifty miles out the golden aura of the eastern flank fills the horizon. From the foothills of Mt. Whitney all the way up to the Tahoe Basin a fuse has been lit. It’s not just a trickle or isolated grove, but whole mountain sides erupt into color. This year, after such abundant rainfall, the aspens are topping out in red. If you squint the scene reminds you of lava pouring down a slope.
Snow has come early and kissed the peaks, adding another element to the eye candy. The autumn gods kicked over a big, big bucket of paint and let it spill from the summits. The deciduous can- can keeps dancing. Right around Bridgeport is a wonderful spot to spin circles taking in the show. What a glorious day to be aloft.
On the west slope, in Amador and Eldorado Counties, a line dance of grapevines lights up and defines the contours of the land. What once was a relic of the gold rush is now a huge industry of vineyards. The gold goes on.
Home again with a short detour to Concord to wait out the murk. Rain is on the way so farmers have renewed their burn permits and visibility is reduced to five miles in haze. After such an epic flight I’m ready to turn around and get back to the clear air. O69 is always a good feeling when my gear touches down and friends are everywhere. Great friends, great fun, superb flying!