Monday, July 09, 2007

Basque-ing in Winnemucca (Nevada)

The speed with which we toured Yosemite was a bit comical. During one of our family's many trips to Yosemite, I distinctly remember driving through the High Sierras. It might have been when our uncle was with us. It was early summer, maybe mid or late May, and there was still snow in patches on the ground. From the wet marshy areas where the snow had melted were explosions of wildflowers. It was misty and mysterious and completely enchanting. Even at the age of 10, I dreamed of one day living in a place like this. Nature enthralled me like nothing else. Would I find the spot that burned its image in my memory?

But B. Dog was a driven driver. He had hundreds, thousands of miles ahead of him and that thought propelled us lightning speed through Yosemite. A loop of the valley floor, a boulder field with the top of Half Dome shining in the distance, trees sprouting from boulders, oh, there's Tenaya Lake! It's all aglitter in the high altitude sunshine. Uh, I think we're at Tuolumne Meadows. There it went. Now, it's Tioga Pass, a sharp V cut through jagged rocks. And then, another world: flat, barren, other-worldly. Mono Lake shimmering in the distance, a crystal blue circle in a beige mirage world.

"We never stop." That's our motto. We stop for gas and MAYBE some food.

It is hot. Hotter than Fresno. And dry. Dry enough to suck sense from your brain. Here, where the scenery stays unchanging for hundreds of miles, each hour slogs by. The sense of time and distance has shifted in the never-ending expanse of desert. Low beige hills dotted with sagebrush and Russian thistle -- tumbleweed embryos -- waiting to dry out enough to hatch as tumbleweeds and embark on their next windblown lives.

There are towns in this barren desert. Military base towns. Dusty former cowboy towns. Towns that are made of a few houses. You wonder who lives here and why.

Actually, Nevada is pretty unpopulated and you can drive for a long time without coming across civilization. Maybe that's why certain people are attracted to this area. Basque people were drawn to oddball parts of the US, too. I am surprised to find that there is a sizable Basque community in Winnemucca, the town where we decide to stop for the night. This town, too, is in the middle of nowhere. It's halfway from nowhere and halfway to nowhere. But there are shops and motels and casinos and restaurants and we cruise the main drag looking for a cheap motel.

We stop first at a motel that proclaims "Budget Rates" but the rate is 57 bucks for the night and it doesn't sound so budget to us. The next motel advertises "Depression Rates." Sounds good.

"Hi. We need a room for the night. What are your Depression Rates?" I smile and ask the middle aged Indian lady. East Indian. Not Native American. It's funny how I have never been at a motel run by Native Americans but 90% of the motels we stay at are managed by East Indians. Or Sri Lankans and Pakistanis. They must come from the same village. There must be a motel cartel somewhere.
"72 dollars," she deadpans.
"72 dollars?! That doesn't sound much like a Depression Rate..." I say, but she just looks at me, so I thank her and go out.

Third try, Park Motel. It looks run down enough to be cheaper.

A wrinkled lady with pink hair and matching lipstick tells me a room is 33 dollars. That sounds good to us and we move in. As I a couple of beers for us thirsty souls, Big Dog is already making new friends. The guy who lives in the room next door has just moved here from Elko. He's got a new job at a mine. They still mine here!

The tourist magazines we picked up at the front desk tell us that Winnemucca is Basque Capital of the West. What made them come all the way out here from the Pyrenees? Did the heat and dryness blow their minds?

We choose one of the town's many Basque restaurants for dinner. Never having had any Basque cuisine, I can't tell you if the meal was very authentic or not but our server was a pretty Hispanic lady and the manager was from Colima, Mexico. That's Basque-ing in Nevada for you!


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