On the last day of 1992 I crossed the Sierras with my
daughters Hennessey and Savannah on the tail of a storm
that I confidently promised them would play out by the
time we got to northern Nevada. As we ran up the
highway east of Pyramid Lake at 100 mph the afternoon
sky opened to create a chiaroscuro landscape with great
ridges of dark cloud hanging over the mountains while the
foreground blazed with bright desert. We pulled into the
cottonwood grove northeast of Gerlach about four PM,
made camp and built a fire as the clouds began to glow.
Below us was the Black Rock Desert, a vast dry lakebed.
Hennessey chopped garlic while some potatoes boiled.
We roasted the garlic in olive oil until it turned golden then
I dropped a chunk of tuna on the grill. We poured the
garlic and oil on the potatoes and the fish. As we ate, the
sky and the landscape grew ever more beautiful. We
shared a clear sense of exaltation at being here together
for this celebration of light and color. As the last light
faded we walked down the rutted lane through the
sagebrush and then over to the edge of the desert where
a five fingered geyser spewed from a tufa rock formation.
We stripped in the moonlight and got into a large pool fed
by the scalding spring but soon—not warm enough—we
moved to a small shallow pool closer to the geyser where
we lay in primeval ooze close to body temperature. Then
after a quick plunge in the cooler water we dried quickly in
the cold wind and walked back to our camp to rekindle the
fire and sit happily finishing the wine we had opened at
dinner. It's become an annual ritual to be as close to the
elements as possible for a celebration of the equinox and
the New Year without any funny hats or noisemakers