Austin Mountain, Nevada
Sabbatical painting, 1976: Don’s journal: . . . Head for Bob Scott campground east of Austin, Nevada. Arrive about 3:00 p.m. and set up travel trailer. The boys and I go four–wheeling to the south up Austin Mountain. Elevation here is about 7,500 feet. Beautiful aspen groves grow high on the mountainside, with no other trees around . . . (from The Road to Beaver Park, p. 13.**)
Part 1. The Loneliest Road in America
Austin Mountain: green? In the middle of July? Usually by mid–summer the grasses had matured and turned a golden brown color. This particular year we were astonished to find that carpet of green spread over the entire mountain. The soul–soothing color could only have been the result of late spring rains or perhaps an early–arriving August storm. A feast to our road–weary eyes, that green blended perfectly with darker greens of occasional pockets of aspen and conifers located in the hollows of the mountain.
Where were we? In the middle of Nevada. During our 1976 sabbatical trek across the Great Basin Desert we drove the “loneliest road in America,” Highway 50, which runs across Nevada from Reno to Ely and beyond. Over the years we took this route many times, usually on our way to the Rockies for summer camping and fishing, but this was the only time we happened to catch the spring–green color on the mountain range.
The route follows the old Pony Express Route for a ways and then climbs the steep hill into the mountain town of Austin where we always stopped. It was a chance to get out of the truck, stretch, and walk around, raid the snack box, or perhaps walk into the local grocery store for an ice cream sandwich. Austin was founded in 1862 as a result of a silver strike. The story goes that a Pony Express horse kicked over a rock revealing traces of silver ore and that started the digging. During the mining boom the population grew to 10,000, and Austin was the seat of Lander County. Today it could be called a “living ghost town” with newer buildings alongside historical buildings, many well–preserved, that are over 100–years–old. The current population is around 350 people. These days gold and silver mining is down to nothing, sporadic at best, and low production. However, high quality turquoise is still mined in small quantities.
My artist’s eye is always drawn to flowers and color, and in Austin it was the yellow roses that caught my attention. A species of yellow rambler rose bloomed profusely along the main street, ornamenting fences and old buildings. It must be hardy to thrive in this landscape, tough and drought–tolerant. There’s more to tell about. Look for my next Saturday Blog: Driving up Austin Summit.
Have you driven that highway? Did you find it lonely?
**The Road to Beaver Park, Painting, Perception, and Pilgrimage, by J. E. Kirk (Resource Pub/Wipf & Stock Pub.: 2016)