While I enjoy all the national monuments and well-known tourist sites I visit on my rambles, I get some of the greatest joy from unearthing treasures at locations I know little about. On my escape from Burning Man, I booked an AirBnB in Elko Nevada. The only reason I stayed in Elko was because it was on the highway to Salt Lake City where I’d pick up Linda for our adventure in southern Utah.
It also offered a respite to cleanse myself of playa dust since I was skeptical she would enjoy the clouds that followed me. That cleansing involved 8 loads of laundry, two automatic car washes and hours scrubbing the dust out of crevices by hand, hosing down my air mattress, and servicing Blueberry at the local Toyota dealership since I’ve already driven over 22,000 miles.
And then Elko started to reveal itself. Who knew I would stumble upon:
- Lamoille Canyon. Known as the Grand Canyon of Nevada, it offered fabulous scenery as I drove into the heart of the Ruby Mountains and went on a two hour high-altitude hike up to scenic lakes and canyons.
- An immersion in some of the unique aspects of Basque culture. Basques moved into Northern Nevada, central Idaho and southeastern Oregon in the mid-1800s during the Gold Rush and stayed as sheep herders. They are a genetically and linguistically distinct people from a region of the Pyrenees straddling France and Spain. They speak Euskara, one of the oldest languages in Europe. While its origins are uncertain some speculate that it comes from the Caucasus but no one has been able to definitively trace its beginnings.
In Elko I learned about bertsolaritza festivals described as “Part poetry-slam, part hip-hop freestyling, part a cappella singing and 100 percent improvisational.” Now that would be worth experiencing. I also learned about the tradition of Basque immigrants carving family history and art into aspen trees as they watched over herds of sheep. These tree carvings are a treasure trove of folk art and documentation of times gone by.
- Elko is also home to the annual National Cowboy Poetry Gathering. The Poetry Gathering started 34 years ago as a place where Western ranchers and cowboys could gather to share poems inspired by their lives working cattle. “The tribe is now a nation of Western poets, musicians, artisans and storytellers, sharing their creativity across the country, telling their stories of hard work, heartbreak and hilarity, and what it means to make your way in the rangeland West.” I learned from an extended conversation with one of the volunteers that they even let Basque participate recently – a major step since the divide between cattle ranchers and sheep herders remains deep. Who knows – maybe I’ll make it back this January.
Well I certainly got more out of this stop than clean clothes and a polished car. Elko affirmed my belief that there is fascinating history and unexpected adventures around every corner.