I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to find something to do in the Outback of Nevada, but it’s not as easy as it seems when you first discover all that green emptiness on the mapp. What’s the Outback of Nevada, you ask? It’s s the part between Las Vegas and Idaho, or the part between the Tahoe area and Utah. Nevada is covered in waves of mountains and valleys like the ripples on a lake on a windy day, and there are probably trails out there, but I’ll be darned if you can find them. In the intersection that was one town, I looked at the big building-sized bottle that held the town’s water while Mom was in the gas station. Someone had painted its side with a big picture of people hiking, and mountain biking, and doing other cool Oscar-y things that require mirrored sunglasses. “What does it say?” I asked Mom when she came out. “It says Welcome to the Outback of Nevada,” she read. “That’s some great branding. With a name like that, I bet we can find all kinds of resources on the internet. Maybe we’ll stay a few extra days.”
Mom had chosen the trail we planned to visit not because it looked beautiful in the pictures (it didn’t really), but because it was near Winnemucca and I wanted an excuse to say Winnemucca.
Winnemucca, Winnemucca, Winnemucca!
After we’d chased off a herd of deer to claim our sleeping spot, Mom asked The Witch to tell us more about the Outback of Nevada. “Did you mean Outback Steakhouse in Nevada?” The Witch asked, judgily. “No!” Mom tried again… “Trail maps, Outback of Nevada.” “Here are some articles about Australia,” The Witch said, like we were stupid. “Show me images of the Outback of Nevada,” Mom said. “This is what Australia looks like, you dope,” The Witch said. “Sheesh. What’s the use of having such a great name if you’re not going to do anything with it?” Mom asked without pushing the button so she wouldn’t get a snotty answer from The Witch. “Maybe we should drive to Australia next. It looks nice there, and they have a better Chamber of Commerce,” I suggested.
In the morning, Mom asked The Witch how to get the rest of the way to the trail. “Something looks fishy about the driving directions,” Mom said after studying The Witch’s advice. “It looks like the map stops a couple of miles from the trailhead.” “Oh goody!” I said. “Extra hiking!” “I have a feeling the directions aren’t taking us to the trail at all,” Mom said. “Oh goody! Exploring!” I wagged, forgetting what happens when we go exploring. When The Witch announced that we were going to turn off the highway soon, I saw a sign in the font that they use to point to nature. “Oh goody! We’re going to make it after all!” I panted. “What does it say?” “It says Buffalo Canyon.” “Yippee! That’s right… right?!” “Where we’re going is supposed to be called Horse Thief Canyon…” “After they mounted a thorough search for the horse, and a respectful time had passed for grief, I bet they adopted a buffalo,” I concluded.
A moment later, when we turned off the highway, the Wagon found itself nose-to-latch with a gate. “Oh no!” I barked, looking out the window. “Once the horse was abducted, they must have tightened security!” “It’s only closed with twine,” Mom said. “Why would they have a sign if it were private? I think it’s for the cows.” “Wait, are the cows the ones stealing the horses?”
Mom got out of the Wagon and unlocked the gate, and once we were inside she locked it behind us again. Now we were on a car trail that looked like it hadn’t been used since Covered Wagons were pulled by horses… er… buffalo. We bumped and jostled down the road, sometimes tilting to drive on the not-road when the wheel ruts were so deep that they would have given The Covered Wagon a wedgie. Sometimes I felt a thump and a bump when a rock gave the Wagon a kick in the crotch, and Mom groaned like it was her that got kicked. After the longest 2 mile drive in history, a giant mud puddle stole the car trail from in front of us. “I guess it’s time to proceed on foot,” Mom said with a sigh. “How far is it to the trail?” I asked. “I don’t know, really. But based on the map, I’d say it’s a good 4 or 5 miles that way.” “But there’s a mountain that way,” I said, looking at the big, rocky thing in the direction Mom was pointing. “Yeah, I’m pretty sure we’re one canyon over,” Mom sighed. I looked around where we’d stopped. The Wagon was straddling a tuft of grass, and had a knee-high pile of dirt crowding the wheels on one side, and a tree-bush scratching the doors on the other. “What if somebody comes to check on the horses?” I asked. “Oscar, the chances of somebody driving this far into the middle of nowhere, choosing to pull off the highway exactly here, untie the gate, and drive 2 miles up that pile of rocks you’re calling a road on a Tuesday in the middle of a worldwide shutdown are virtually nil.” “How do you know?” “I just do, come on. Anyway, I have no idea how we’re going to turn around. “Can you drive backward over that road?” “We’ll find out…”
So we set out on foot to find Horse Thief Canyon. Soon, the road-like-thing turned to conceal itself between the toes of the mountain, and we followed it inside. The trail was marvelously horrible. It looked like the path to a lair of a wicked monster that would crunch the bones of hikers that came to visit him. The ground was covered in gunmetal grey slate, and all around us the flakey rocks stuck up out of the ground like the swords in the iron throne. The wind blew hard and relentlessly in a way that was inescapable like doom, and the sky was dark and unfriendly like a scowl. I looked into the heavy clouds for flying monkeys that might steal someone’s horse, or a dog and his Mom in a pinch. All I saw was a white mountain squatting mominously above us and blending in with the sky. Its camouflage was only ruined by a few speckles where the sharp and evil spikes of rock stuck through the invisibility cloak of white dirt. I sniffed the wind excitedly for the scent of monkey, but all I smelled were carrion and predators. I had never felt such exciting suspense in real life, and ditched Mom to run ahead down the trail listening for the wind to carry a “Fe, fi, fo, fum” down the canyon.
The trail itself climbed over slate and through winter-dead trees, crossing back and forth through a dreary stream. Around every turn I expected to find something that would spook Mom and turn us around, but after 3 miles of running we still hadn’t found any cyclopses, orcs, or horse-chomping monsters, and we were still going. I crossed the stream on the sock-saving stones to the first real pile of white dirt big enough to roll around in. When I turned around, Mom was still on the other side of the water. “Come on, Mom! This way!” I encouraged her, showing how the trail went next to and not through the white dirt. “No, I’ve had enough. Let’s go back,” Mom said, like she’d been carrying a very heavy burden and didn’t care about getting into Mordor anymore. Then she turned around. She didn’t turn back to make sure I was following, so I called, “I’m coming, Mom!” and knocked her out of the way as I ran back down the trail.
I caught the scent of a flying monkey and sprinted on his scent, hoping I could catch him red-pawed trying to fly away with a horse. I ran until Mom screamed for me not to leave her here alone, and then I waited for her to scuttle close enough that she could see me again before taking off in pursuit of the monkey. I never did catch the monkey, but the moment we stepped back out of the canyon, the clouds fled back to the mountaintop and the sun shone on us and the Wagon.
Mom carefully and gradually backed up the Covered Wagon, often stopping to pull forward and redo the last few feet until we reached a bushless section of trail. Then the Covered Wagon groaned and squealed, lurched and heaved through a 97-point turn over bushes and loose dirt until we were pointing in the right direction to drive back to the gate. When Mom got back inside the Wagon after tying the gate closed behind us, she sat for a moment, consulting The Witch. “Are you looking for more information about the Outback of Nevada?” I asked. “I just want to see one thing…” Mom said, turning onto the highway in the opposite direction from Winnemucca. A few miles down the road we saw another nature sign. “What does it say?!” I asked. “Horse Canyon,” Mom said flatly. She pulled over the cattle rattle and onto the well groomed dirt road. Then she turned around in the wide packed dirt area and sighed. “Should we stay another night here?!” I asked. “We can explore Horse Canyon tomorrow.” “The Outback of Nevada isn’t that awesome,” Mom said. “And I could really use a break from all this wind. Every time I open the door I’m afraid I won’t be strong enough to pull it shut again.”
So we drove back toward Winnemucca, and the Sierras, and California. Before long, though, Mom started looking out the window. She looked so intently, that soon her gaze pulled the whole Covered Wagon to the side of the road. “Another adventure?!” I asked. “Yeah, look! There are little sand dunes,” Mom said. We didn’t know it yet, but this would be our last adventure of the trip, so our odyssey would both begin and end with dooms. As we walked over the sand, the wind blew faster than we were allowed to drive through some towns in the Outback, and it blew the sand until it was in my ears, and eyes and nose. “Okay, this kind of sucks,” Mom said, turning around.
When we thought about going home, it sounded nice to have wifi, and electrical plugs, and a bed big enough for both of us to spread out all the way, and a kitchen that Mom didn’t have to set up in back of the van every time she wanted something hot. But it also didn’t sound fun to be stuck inside the house for another month. That’s the thing about stuck houses, they’re only fun if you can leave them. So Mom picked one more trail in the Sierras that we could visit on the way home. But when we got there, the white dirt was at least an Oscar deep, and even a Mom deep in places, so we kept driving.
We drove until the air in a deep sigh could fill me all the way up again. We drove until I felt the softness of moisture in my nose when I sniffed the air, and felt the smell of green in my fur. We drove until there was no nature between one city and another, and then we continued to drive for another couple of hours. “Mom, I forgot how many people live where we do,” I said, watching how the buildings lined the side of the road for 100 miles, blocking the views of nature. “Yeah. A virus trying to spread in one of those small towns would be like my mom trying to make something go viral by blasting to her 27 Facebook friends. But with population density like this… This is like Ellen Degeneres or Taylor Swift’s Twitter feed. It can’t help but spread.”
Oscar the Pooch