I used to be the kind of casual tourist in the Nevada desert about whom locals guffaw or at whose bleached bones they scoff when stumbling upon them. By contrast my husband insisted on being prepared. As it turned out, neither of our styles prevailed, for despite being prepared, we became dependent on God’s mercy in ways neither of us could have imagined.
“We’re going to break down one of these days, ” Jeff said as we rolled through Imlay around noon on August 24, past a fishing hole on the Humbolt River and around the east end of Rye Patch Resevoir. Jeff is experienced with 4-wheel drive ventures but that day we were driving a spotless black Chevy HHR with less 4,000 miles on it. We were babying the car, aware that it wasn’t built for dirt roads, however well-maintained. My husband was prepared with shovels, a tire repair kit and plugs, extra water and gas. We also had camping gear from a couple of nights in the Sierras and a leftover supply of smoked salmon, butter and eggs floating in a cooler of melting ice. As we drove I read to Jeff from our new Nevada Map Atlas the names of familiar ranges and moutains we had traveled before but never identified. We crossed the Imlay Summit between the Antelope Range and the Majuba Mountains and descended to continue for miles to a T intersection where we turned right. As we drove deep into Rosebud Canyon, I suggested we explore a side road. We inched up it past an abandoned mine but decided the road was too rough to continue. We turned around and began to ease back down. A few minutes later we hit a bump and ***ding ding ding*** a rock punctured the oil pan. My husband promptly shut the engine off and we coasted just far enough to reach the crossroad at the bottom of the hill. It was approaching 100 degrees. I covered the car in towels and blankets but inside the dogs still panted while outside my husband paced.
“You should really get in,” I said, my voice barely audible. Hours passed and the sun began to set behind the hill in back of us. We agreed to start walking at dawn, our best chance to cross those miles in that heat, though the walk would take 12 hours or more and by then time would hardly matter. We prayed together and separately. “I should gather the leashes in case someone comes,” I said suddenly, not really knowing why and a few minutes later my husband leapt from the driver’s seat into which he had finally settled and excitedly hailed a pick-up from which a man and woman emerged, skeptical, reluctant. My husband explained our circumstances. The couple, L. and M., were prospecting. They had been driving all day. They had just arrived in Rosebud Canyon and planned to camp there. It was miles and hours to Imlay.
Nevertheless, the couple agreed to trasport us to safety in the back of their ’78 half-ton and we climbed in with our dogs. “My husband drives fast,” L. warned, “I hope you don’t mind.” How fast could he drive on these roads we wondered? M. held it steady at 78 mph. Jeff and I held tightly and sailed, surrounded and trailed by a tunnel of dust puncuated by the round gold sun.
M. and L. stopped. “Did you see the antelope? Did you see the eagle? ” We shook our dust-crusted heads. They gave water to us and our dogs and shared with us a French Cantelope from their garden. They were, it seemed, generous epicureans. Refreshed, we prepared to resume our trip. M. and L. drove us to a truck stop near Mill City and once assured that we could procure other help from that point, waved good-bye.
Our thanks to God, M. and L., and the tow truck driver and his son, who despite getting lost in the neverending blackness, returned with us to Rosebud Canyon that night to retrieve our vehicle, then delivered us to our motel.