Rural RoundUp 2017
This year’s Cow Counties Tourism Pro-Am convened in Elko. Story below.
More than 500 fans of a Reno-brewed IPA, and of its namesake — a giant prehistoric ocean-dwelling reptile — attended a fundraiser at the brewery for a paleontological dig in Pershing County.
They dined, drank beer and listened to the director of the dig explain how it is that Nevada is such a rich source of these fossil remains.
Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park is one of the state’s most interesting landmarks, a collection of fossilized ichthyosaur skeletons heaped together, as if by the tides of an ancient sea, or cast there after being devoured by the even more gruesomely ferocious krakken. Discovered in 1928 and subsequently excavated by crews from the University of California at Berkeley, they were proclaimed Nevada’s state fossil in 1977, and an attractive “barn” shelters the fossilized bones left in the rock for visitors to see in place.
Ichthyosaurs — “fish lizards” — resemble whales in some interesting ways, although they are reptiles and not mammals. Like whales they evolved from land animals that returned to the sea; their flippers are not fins, they’re repurposed legs. Like whales they were air-breathers, gave live birth to their young, got bigger and bigger over the eons and like whales the largest of them were not predators — too big and slow, perhaps — but browsers. They flourished in the Triassic Period and went extinct before the end of the Cretacious, when North America was at the western edge of the slowly separating land mass called Pangea.
Fast-forward 90 million years. Professor P. Martin Sander, professor of vertebrate paleontology at the Steinmann Institute of the University of Bonn in Germany had been prowling the steep hillsides of the isolated Augusta Mountain Range southeast of Lovelock since 1991. Over 20 years, he and his crews had identified fossil remains from at least 12 different species of the great sea beasts, extruding from the rock that has encased and infused their bones through millennia.
During the last field season, the team uncovered a huge creature, an ichthyosaur species completely new to science, projected to have been about 50 feet long – and may turn out to be the first large predator ever discovered in the fossil record worldwide. These ichthyosaurs are older than those at the State Park by many millions of years and represent a more complex population living earlier in the course of evolution.
Five Years Ago in the NevadaGram
The Virginia City National Historic Landmark is under attack by Comstock Mining Inc., a rogue company hoping to dig enormous pit mines in Silver City and Gold Hill.
Even before it begins mining in earnest the company has ravaged the historic landscape.
The struggle began in November 2010 when CMI’s president, Corrado De Gasperis, appeared at a Silver City Town Meeting and announced the company’s plan to turn about 15% of the historic town into thin air. The great hole it planned at the Dayton Consolidated mine would take the southwestern part of Silver City with it.
“We’re here and we’re doing this, so get used to it,” De Gasperis said, or words to that effect. Before he put away his Power Point presentation the Comstock Residents Association was forming committees in the back of the room and the war was on.
It has been on ever since.
CRA is not opposed to mining, and we don’t oppose pit mining where it is appropriate and done responsibly. But it’s not appropriate within a National Historic Landmark, in the national priority Carson River Mercury Superfund site, or where people live. We’re all three.
But it was in 2011 that one of the archeologists made a discovery that changed the course of the project. In Winnemucca to get supplies for the camp, he was astonished and thrilled to find an unfossilized Ichthyosaur in the beer section at Raley’s. When he returned to camp with a case of it, everyone there was astonished and thrilled too, and when Professor Sander got in touch with Tom Young, Tom was the most astonished and thrilled of all.
What’s really astonishing is that it took so long for the crew to find the beer aisle at Raley’s, and that it took Raley’s so long to stock Icky. Geologist-turned-brewer Tom Young had produced this distinctive IPA (“wonderfully full bodied and smooth with a blast of grapefruit, spice and pine at the finish, and a blend of carefully selected hops”) at his Great Basin Brewery in 1993 and christened it in honor of the State fossil.
Great Basin Brewing Co. became an enthusiastically active sponsor of the project, first by sending more beer to the camp along with some money to further the work, and most recently by sending an Icky truck and driver to the dig camp to meet a helicopter carrying the carefully packaged fossils down from the dig itself. They were loaded into the truck, after which the Icky truck delivered the bones to the Natural History Museum lab in Los Angeles for painstaking examination.
As an ongoing contribution to this research, Great Basin will release four barrel-aged commemorative beers as namesakes of different Ichthyosaur species. The first of them, a barrel-aged, dry-hopped IPA named Phalarodon, was introduced at the fundraiser.
Ten Years Ago in the NevadaGram
On Friday May 18, the world of tourism came to Virginia City, once known as “the richest place on earth” and cleaned up the town.
Some 300 men and women from around America came to Virginia City at their own expense to spend a day working on dozens of tasks — some of them long overdue — around the historic community.
In white t-shirts and tan caps they fanned out through town, painting, scraping, prying, drilling, polishing hoeing, raking, sweeping and shoveling as they went. These men and women work mostly for tour companies and tourism promotion offices, and they came to Virginia City at the call of Tourism Cares, a non-profit charity supported primarily by the tourism industry.
About 70 people, maybe a quarter of the work force, were assigned to the Silver Terrace cemeteries, doing fuel abatement, which means chopping, raking and hauling brush. They completely trimmed and manicured the Firemen’s and Odd Fellows’ cemeteries. “Between the altitude, dehydration, heat and jet lag you’d think they’d slack off a little,” said Comstock Cemetery Foundation member Cal Dillon. “But they worked until their ears were sunburned, and they filled a big industrial dumpster and half of another one. They were the hardest workers we’ve had here since the inmates from the women’s prison.”
At St. Mary’s Art Center 21 volunteers spent the day painting all the public areas in the 131-year-old structure, from the attic down to the ground floor. “They worked non-stop, took 15 minutes for lunch and went right back at it,” Executive Director Linda Nazemian told me. “They did a terrific job.
“And 26 people stayed here during the event. We have 26 beds in 15 bedrooms, and we used them all for volunteers. I know they enjoyed the experience.”
But it wasn’t all work. Virginia City responded to the volunteer effort by throwing some memorable parties. There was an oysters and champagne reception to get the event off on the right foot, and on Friday a barbecue, a ride on the Wine Train, and a performance by the Comstock Cowboys at the Opera House.
The enormous brewery seems surreal when compared with the small brewpub that opened in Sparks nearly 25 years ago. When its doors were first thrown open to a thirsty world, the little place on Victorian Boulevard ran out of beer in two days and couldn’t make it fast enough to keep up. It’s a big-scale operation now, with a Reno location on South Virginia Street in addition to Sparks, and a beer bar called Taps and Tanks just inside the brewery entrance.
The fundraiser offered beer plus a glass to pour it into and then take home plus a buffet supper and then a presentation by Professor Sander about the project to a SRO audience of a couple of hundred people of all ages from gaffers to millennials with children.
The amiable and erudite professor expressed his appreciation to Tom Young, not only for the material support, but also for making its subject more accessible by calling it Icky.
Captain Danno performed on stage before the formalities began, and there were games afterward: Pin the Head on the Ichthyosaur involved two-person teams “pinning” the 8-feet-long head to a 50-foot drawing and a Prehistoric Spelling Bee comprised of tongue-twisters from the fish-lizard lexicon. This was especially entertaining because the quizmaster was a newcomer to this realm and found many of the terms unpronounceable. This posed a major handicap for the eager contestants, which added to the audience’s enjoyment and was solved by using the eliminated challengers as pronunciation aides, a task they performed with gusto.
This first ever Ichthyosaur Expedition Party was the perfect way to learn about Nevada’s fish-lizards, and I’m certain everyone present went away better informed. I do hope Professor Sander recognized the advantage of lecturing on his specialty to an audience sipping one or another of Tom Young’s specialties. It was a perfect combination.
Interstate 80 connects all the major towns along the Humboldt Trail like a concrete dot-to-dot across the Nevada map. It’s great for truck drivers hauling triples, cross-country travelers intent on making fast time, and for people with a lot on their minds.
But for you and me there are many opportunities for detour, digression and deliverance from the 4-lane. Here’s a 35-mile drive along the Humboldt River in the family sedan, that’s especially enjoyable for railroad enthusiasts.
The beauty is obvious, and the excitement comes from closely paralleling the railroad tracks for most of its 35 miles. As you meander along the graveled road at one of the narrow places, with tracks close on one side and a sheer cliff rising up close on the other you’ll find the sudden appearance of a hurtling freight train enormously exciting, especially if the engineer amuses himself by giving you a friendly ear-deafening and nerve-shattering blast with his huge horn as he flashes by your open window. That’s exciting!
The trains are a big part of the beauty of this side trip: seeing them in their natural habitat, curving along with the meandering river, powerful, graceful and romantic all at once.
Eastbound begin by turning south off the freeway at Exit 261 and driving south to the far edge of Beowawe. Go across the railroad tracks and take the graveled road east. About two miles along you’ll see a large white cross on a little knoll. Railroad workers working nearby discovered the grave of a victim of the Humboldt Trail at a peaceful bend in the river. A stone inscribed with the name Lucinda Duncan prompted the sentimental railroaders to christen it “the maiden’s grave” and to maintain it over the years as the shrine to a departed child. Later, when the tracks were realigned, the grave was relocated to its present site.
Subsequent research has determined that Lucinda Duncan was past 70 when she expired here — whether that makes her fate more or less touching is for you to decide.
Over the years Lucinda’s grave has provided a nexus for other burials from Beowawe and the nearby ranches, and there is now an attractive and individualistic collection of markers here beneath the great white cross.
As you continue east you’ll encounter grazing cattle, and perhaps some cowboys out riding the range. You’ll cross the river on a one-lane bridge, you’ll find a sandy-beached swimming hole much favored by the local folks, and pass a coal mine conveniently located at trackside. Eventually you’ll arrive at Palisade, once upon a time the northern terminus of the Eureka & Palisade Railroad, and from here you’re only a few minutes away from Nevada 278; turn north ten miles to Carlin and return to the freeway.
If you’re coming from the east, turn south at Carlin onto Nevada 278 south toward Eureka, take the Palisade turnoff and you’re on the road to Beowawe.
Overheard at the Gallery Bar in Elko: “Kindness is more important than wisdom, Billy, and when you recognize this you’ll have taken your first step on the road to wisdom.”
The 2017 Rural RoundUp, the annual conclave of Nevada’s non-metro tourism activists, was held over three days in Elko last week. The event is a curious amalgam of leading edge workshops and professional presentations in a setting reminiscent of a family reunion. Although there are newcomers every year, many of the participants have attended previous RoundUps in small cities around the state, some have attended most of them and a precious few have attended all 27.
Topics for elucidation included Using social media to market rural attractions, events and destinations; Outdoor adventuring in rural Nevada; how to become a better photographer and how to create promotional videos for Youtube. One of the most interesting was about an ambitious new program to develop an Off-Highway Vehicle app for US 50 from Dayton to Great Basin National Park. It will provide GPS-based trail maps for riders to use on their cell phones so they can find the trails and use them with ease.
There were also a few socializing/networking events; an opening reception at the Western Folklife Center was highlighted by cowboy poets Waddie Mitchell and Richard Elloyan, a wine/beer-tasting prior to the Awards Banquet the next night showcased the products of the Sanders Family Winery in Pahrump and Ruby Mountain Brewing company in Wells.
This is a great event for building awareness of the wonders of rural Nevada, and a relatively convenient way for folks from our far-flung towns and cities to learn from one another and from leading voices and visionaries of Tourism imported for the occasion.
Fifteen Years Ago in the NevadaGram
Two Great Museums on I-80:
The Humboldt Museum, Winnemucca
Take US 95 north across the river to this recently enlarged facility containing an exotic combination of artifacts from the pioneer west, prehistory and the early automobiles collected by Clarence Stoker.
This museum has been welcoming visitors since 1968, now after major expansions in 1982 and 1999 it’s a major attraction on East Idaho Street. The astonishing Wanamaker Wildlife Wing displays more than 200 stuffed animals.
Entertainment over the three days was provided by Mom Nature. She pulled out all the stops: snow, sunshine, sleet, sunshine, cold wind, sunshine, hail, ice, black clouds and sunshine in an endless riff, winter’s grand finale.
The most memorable moment of the event for me was when I introduced Bob Perchetti, from Tonopah, to Wayne Cameron from Ely. “Have you two met?” I enquired helpfully. It turns out they’d played high school basketball against each other and had been friends for more than 50 years. Does that tell you anything about rural Nevada?
Beyond the boundaries of the Elko Convention Center we found some interesting goings-on in Elko with the help of Doug Clarke, our Elko Correspondent. He pointed out the big fiberglas boots all over town, created by local and regional artists to give people something to talk about. The boot at left was painted by Ron Artaud of Tuscarora and is scuffing the gravel outside the entrance to the Elko Convention Center.
And then Odeh’s Mediterranean, the new restaurant on 11th street serving a Mediterranean menu. Oh boy, really good! And not only is the food good, it adds to Elko’s increasingly well-deserved cosmopolitan image.