by Daniel Montero
The Basques have been on my mind lately, in many different ways, and one of them is remembering the visit we made to Basque Summit back in the summer of 2015.
“Basque Summit? Let’s check that out,” the map spread before us as we “planned” an impromptu excursion—this time to the Desatoya Mountains in eastern-central Nevada. “OK. Why not?" Why not indeed.
Not on our first night in the Desatoyas, though. You gotta earn Basque Summit. The first night we turned off of 50 at 722 past Middlegate and, looked for a camp in the gathering dusk. Over the high ridge we stopped at what Google Maps now tells me is Campbell Creek. But no slouching, a good serving of tortellini and white bean soup and quesadillas over our trusty burner.
In the morning, no rush, we puttered about and had a full egg-and-potato breakfast followed up by a walk into the hills behind our camp where in the light of day we could start to survey the Desatoyas, or Sedayes, according to Nevada Place Names:
In his Report of 1859, Captain James H. Simpson mentions the Lookout Range, but thereafter refers to it as the Sedaye (JHS, pp. 78-79), reported to be an Indian word meaning "bad" or "no good" (NHS 1913, p. 182).
No Good Mountains, it has a ring to it, as in, "them mountains no good, best stay away," or "we're up to no good in them mountains." But all we saw was good. We meandered down around the southern end and then up along the eastern flank along a gravel road. The Smith Creek Valley, Topo Maps tells me now, with what I assume then are the Smith Creek Valley Hot Springs (we didn't soak and I don't remember too much about them) but beyond walked out along a ghost fence line eroding itself into the playa) with vast views of the Toiyabes to the east.
When I went to look up the name of this place on Topo Maps, it tells me Smith Creek Valley, but every time it says Smith Creek Valley it has the word "(Depression)" underneath it in smaller font. What does this mean? I have no idea. But I know someone who does! James M. Thomas, Stephen M. Carlton, and Lawrence B. Hines, who in their 1989 study Groundwater Hydrology and Simulated Effects of Development in Smith Creek Valley, A Hydrologically Closed Basin in Lander County, Nevada, write:
Smith Creek Valley is one of 14 hydrologically closed, single-valley ground-water flow systems in the Great Basin. Gravity data indicate that the basin-fill aquifer is a complex bowl-shaped structure with a depression 5,500 feet deep beneath the main playa near the center of the basin and a depression 3,000 feet in the north part of the basin. Ground water recharges the basin-fill aquifer around the perimeter and flows toward a topographic low (playa) near the center, where it is discharged by evaporation from bare soil and transpiration from phreatophytic plants.”
What are phreatophytes? (An unusually pleasant word to type, you should try it out:-) “Phreatophytes are plants that depend for their water supply upon ground water that lies within reach of their roots.” Plants that send their roots down for water.
We continued northward, arriving at 50 near the northern terminus of the range and turned west again with the sun high above. Now on 50 across the Edward Creek Valley toward Cold Spring but turning back east into a valley turning into a canyon that was the remains of the Overland Trail, the Pony Express trail. No Good Mountains, I bet a young rider galloping his mail bags through these hills with the skin crawling on his neck the whole way, I bet they knew this name well. The road narrowed and narrowed, but we managed it in the Subaru and we continued up until we came to a little micro meadow spot along the creek. The afternoon lengthened we said what the hell to Basque Summit and settled into a perfectly secluded campsite. The table went up, dinner, chicken marsala, prepped, no fire, we wandered among the flowers and hillside. And then, the shadows heading east we sat in repast in the little meadow.
Dinner finished and all settled there was still just a little light and almost entirely relaxed we looked at each other, “Basque Summit?” “Well, let us walk that way a bit,” The end didn’t matter so much as the notion to set off up the road into the evening. We strolled up the road as it wound higher along the creek and up, sun going down while we wound ourself up toward the summit of the Basques. We came there, saddle set on a low part of the spine of the mountain, marked by a wide spot, a place where there was a gate, some corrals. Basque Summit. I wrote about it more in the Basque books blog. The hills around the little saddle were thickly covered in piñon-juniper woodland. A quiet night gathering while we wandered about and laughed with and at ourselves and with and at the night and snapped snaps and just played on a summer evening. And then back, to our camp and the night sky wrapped tightly to us in the little meadow we had made a space in for the night.
And then, in the morning, another lazy challenge, this time to try to make a dent in the leftovers before packing them for home. And then down canyon, we hiked a little bit up a canyon toward what Topo Maps intriguingly calls “Petroglyphs,” but that was just a morning walk before turning down, away, back from Basque Summit.
Of all the quirky and not-so-quirky trips we take, this one stays in mind not because it was the soar of a peak or the object of a goal, but because it reminds me that I am in moments not for a reason, but because they are moments. There is no reason to the moment. I subtitled this post “where we are,” because in a certain way in my mind when I revisit Basque Summit I am revisiting the places of moments that are not aligned for a purpose, but because they exist.
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