It’s spring and in preparation for a new season of desert travel, I have been researching desert maps. I remain somewhat wary of the ones we’ve been using yet have been unable to find maps in which I am more confident.
There seems to be a certain inherent ambiguity associated with desert roads and distance. We have an acquaintance who travels extensively in the Nevada Desert and often gives us directions to his favorite destinations. As anyone who travels in the desert knows, providing directions to desert locales is not easy. To provide effective directions, one has to understand how few characteristics in the desert actually stand out enough to be considered a recognizable landmark. Our friend does a fine job of identifying such landmarks. And he always, always ends his directions saying, “I don’t know how far it is.”
When my husband and I began traveling in the Nevada Desert a few years ago, the responsiblity for navigation fell primarily to me. I, being systematic by nature and having traveled on several continents in the past without becoming significantly lost, took on the job with confidence. My confidence wavered, however, when on our first major desert trip, a disparity emerged between the number of miles we had traveled and our projected arrival at the first landmark I designated as a reference point to ensure the integrity of our progress. Acting more confident than I felt, I reassured my husband that we should proceed “just a little bit further.” He now laughingly admits that this phrase has become our motto of sorts, something we utter when we’re convinced we’re on course but not yet seeing landmarks that confirm it. Inarguably, we could be off course, too, so even when we’re giving it that one last push, we always set a limit for how much further we will travel before reversing direction if unable to confirm our course. We also take GPS readings along the way and note distinguishing landscape features, as well as miles traveled according to our trip odometer for each leg of the trip. The State of Nevada, after all, has 48 million acres in public land. Most of the roads on these lands are unpaved. Maps of the wilderness regions vary greatly in terms of detail and accuracy.