“…remember the loving-kindness of the Lord and rehearse His deeds of grace.” — Alistair Begg
I keep a mental inventory of the best spots in our northern Nevada region to photograph a desert sunset because a good sunset view is, like many things, contingent upon being in the right place at the right time. That fact lounged near the forefront of my mind the afternoon we drove to Kyle’s Hot Springs, only to find that someone had tampered with the pipes and the water in the “tubs”–deep round turquoise cattle troughs–was tepid. Mildly disappointed, I gazed from our elevated post along 12 mostly empty miles toward Unionville. Unionville was a hamlet, sheltered by the Humboldt Range from wind and all but a dusting of an evening sun’s setting rays. From there I traced 400 west all the way out to Mill City and a place on the corner where Dusty supplied trailer space to dozens of miners. Dusty was a business woman with a desert-bred edge who welcomed no nonsense. Her spread consisted of a staples shop, an immaculate laundry and a bar the length of a supermarket cashier’s conveyor.
A couple of freeway exits south of Dusty’s were two locations with five-star sunset views, Antelope Plains and the foothills on the west side of Star Peak. I wasn’t ready to head over that way yet, in spite of the fact that I had been stymied for years by the absence of a great sunset view on the Humboldt’s east side. So, gaging that we had about three hours of daylight left, I suggested to my husband that we backtrack and explore upper Willow Creek Road.
As we ascended East Range and passed the willow which is the road’s namesake, we observed beside it a giant tent with a billowing stack protruding from its khaki canvas roof. A couple of miles up, we exchanged nods with two hunters on ATV’s. We rounded a long winding corner and on the opposite side of the hill, found four deer grazing. It reminded me of an evening a couple of years earlier in the Tahoe National Forest, when two hunters settled opposite us in the remote and rustic Bear Valley Campground. While the night air was dense with black and cold, the men revved ATV’s setting out on a hunt. At first light we arose. My husband built a fire, set our espresso pot on the flames and within minutes poured steaming cups of eye-popping coffee. I huddled in my camp chair and held my coffee tightly, absorbing its heat. It was more a feeling than a noise or a motion which caused me to lift my gaze and watch two white-tailed deer stride straight into the hunters’ camp. The deer sniffed at the pick-up’s oversized tires, the camper’s door and the surface of a picnic table before vanishing silently into the pines. We had just finished our breakfast of scrambled eggs with flecks of red pimento when the hunters rolled in, fully camouflaged and with a bounty of fire power strapped to the backs of their machines. Wordlessly they set about unloading their gear until one of them spied fresh deer tracks; then exclamations and expletives shot through camp.
On upper Willow Creek Road, we nearly became mired in mud before snow tugged at our tires. The Land Rover was down that day so we were in a rental, a 4-wheel drive hybrid that drove like a toy. We skidded and slid, a reed’s breadth from a ditch before turning around. On the steep downhill, we seemed to be skiing more than wheeling but my husband was enjoying the challenge. In the passenger seat, I remained silent, resisting the urge to mention the rate of the sun’s descent. There have been many occasions when we have set out for a day of desert travel and, by mid-morning, I have already begun to assess the likelihood of being in the right place by sunset. Whether sighting mustangs in the Kamma Mountains, pounding washboard on the edge of the Black Rock Desert or picnicking in the Majuba Mountains, by mid-afternoon my internal compass invariably points to a sunset view. I envision myself standing on uneven ground in anticipation of the first pinking of the sky, as if awaiting the opening act of a play but not for a moment missing the crowded venue.
But that afternoon it was not to be. We could not make it in time to Antelope Plains or the east side of Star Peak. Between us and there, there was not a lot from which to draw: I recalled brief yellow sapphire bursts before the sun disappeared behind the Humboldt or, further along on 400, a narrow peek at paltry pink streaks.
My husband was cheerful, content that we were not digging our faux 4-wheel drive out of a ditch in what would quickly become single-digit temperatures. Soon enough we would arrive at our vintage trailer, toasty warm and warmly lit, for an evening of reading and a dinner of grilled polenta.
We rolled slowly past the hunters’ tent, by then with several ATV’s circled around it. The hunters were in for the night–no carcasses in sight but several days of hunting season remained. I am not opposed to hunting for survival but nevertheless said a silent prayer for the deer we had seen on the hill.
The foothills released us onto the last of leg of our drive, where Willow Creek Road cuts diagonally across Dun Glen Flat for about three miles. The horizon churned brown and fuzzy. My husband pulled over.
“Why are you pulling over?”
“I don’t know. I just feel like it.”
I love to get out of the vehicle and walk in the desert. The dogs were already racing ahead so I grabbed my camera in case I might get a good photo of them with my husband. I stopped. I strained. Was the sky beginning to pink?
Almost before I could comprehend what was happening, pink splayed high above the horizon and down the Humboldt Range as far as we could see. It was a burgeoning rose pink with orange swirls and pale blue blotches, interlaced with dark cloudy fingers.
By the time we all piled into the car again, the visibility had shrunk from a few miles to a few hundred feet. I shivered, turned up the heater and reflected on the glowing sunset. Not only had I failed to anticipate it, I had all but precluded its possibility. (I did, however, at that point make a mental note of its location.) If my husband hadn’t stopped for seemingly no reason, we would have missed it, driven on, turned toward Dusty’s place, never glimpsed the window that Dun Glen Flat afforded with just enough distance from the Humboldt to allow its full effect. And that pink. Oh, that pink.
That pink was grace and grace alone.