Sagebrush and Soapsuds
Soon after leaving the Curlew ranch we found ourselves forced to play an unusual game, which had nothing to do with those games Win and I played along the way as a means of enlivening our journey. Having walked about three miles from the Upton’s, we saw two hikers coming toward us on the road behind. Here was a serious situation. It was eighteen miles to the next watering place—a dangerous walking distance through that kind of desert country. Few cars were traveling this stretch, perhaps one or two all day that would be good for a ride. Yet, as conditions stood, the fellows behind had first chance at such a car.
“You remember, back home, how we used to play hide-and-seek?” Win asked me, then added: “I think we better start playing it here. “
As to the moral honesty of our actions I don’t wish to make any statements. Yet at the time, with the necessity of the situation weighing down on us, we had no compunctions in laying a trap. Crawling back for some distance through the sagebrush, we lay hidden from view while our adversaries approached.
But our ruse failed at the inception. For there, where we had left the trail, were the imprints of our hobnailed shoes clearly visible in the desert sands. The fellows had seen us ahead; they had become aware of our disappearance. And now, locating the point at which we had left the road, they played a game of waiting.
We won. After about an hour they grew weary, or else lost faith in the accuracy of their deductions as to our whereabouts. Making our way back to the trail, we saw them far up the road—mere specks in the distance.
That afternoon, walking along, keeping our minds as best we could from thoughts of water, always watchful of the tracks of the other hikers lest they also might lead off into the brush, we abruptly came upon the objects of our vigil, crouched in the sage at the side of the road.
They had won by a bolder strategy. There was nothing to do but go on. As we exchanged greetings dust appeared on the trail behind. A car was approaching.
It is regrettable that friendship is so difficult between hikers who are contestants for the same auto. No sooner was the approach of the vehicle spotted than the four of us began a deliberate attempt to determine which pair should try for the ride. Of course, each claimed rights. Finally, by the pitch of a penny, .the chance went to us. The other two hid themselves in the brush and we walked on. The car whizzed by, heedless of our appealing glances. We continued walking.
Toward evening another car came by. Clinging to the rear of the machine were our companions at hide-and-seek. We had staked several hours of time in the hopes of victory but in the end they won.
After a good night’s sleep and a skimpy breakfast we started on for the next water, twelve miles away. Less than a pint was left in our pail. We were dry and about mid-morning began to suffer but didn’t dare take even a swallow, not knowing how long before our next drink would come in sight.
We had been seeing mirages, those tantalizing optical illusions of desert lands. This day a beautiful lake entirely surrounded us. On it nestled lovely green islands. We could see water in every form we had ever known it.
At last a car appeared from behind. It was filled but the driver gave us a good drink. When our twelve-mile water hole—an irrigation ditch—was reached at last, our lips were cracked and our feet hot and sore. The cooling liquid revived us and we drank to capacity. There were fine grains of yellow in the sluggish stream so I tried washing for gold but without success. A little later, coming upon a ranch, we bought egg sandwiches. The next water was ten more miles away, where we hoped to spend the night. At a desert crossroad, fortune struck. A loaded Studebaker came along, piled us in and carried us forty-one miles to Burley, Idaho. Our desert initiation was over, at least for a time. For supper and breakfast we consumed exactly sixteen pounds of food. A good shower cleaned us up and we wrote until 10:00 P. M .
A day later we were in the pleasant little city of Twin Falls, Idaho.
Our itinerary was laid out in such a way that Nevada, like Wisconsin, became a hard state to touch unless a side trip was made. We would have to reach it from Needles, California in the south, from Sacramento, California on the west, or with a hundred mile round trip from Twin Falls. That would take us down to a tiny dot on the map labeled Twin Springs, just over the Nevada border. We had decided to make the spur round trip journey from Twin Falls. It would mean more desert travel, but at least we had received an initiation into that sort of thing. Besides, rain was threatening. After all the desert dryness, water in any form was a blessing. Walking for about six miles out of town, we were lucky in discovering an isolated haystack in a large field. We pulled the hay over us as rain protection and called it a day.
Sometime during the night the rain ceased. When nestled beneath that hay I’d been doing some thinking. When Win woke up I said to him casually, “Do you know, if we were gamblers I have an idea which could free us from work forever. No more shoestrings. Nothing.”
Win was incredulous. “What are you talking about?”
“Well,” I explained. “We’re headed for Twin Springs, Nevada, right? Just on the border. You remember the peculiar thing we found out about Nevada when we were deciding the best way to touch that state?”
Win remembered. “I’m beginning to get your drift,” came his reply.
On that wall map back home, before departing, we had made an amazing discovery—so strange in fact that I’d promptly gone out and tried the discovery on a high school companion.
“Which is farther north,” I asked my chum, Chuck Platt, “Twin Springs, Nevada, or Pelee Island, Canada? I bet you an ice cream cone you can’t give me the right answer.”
Chuck leaped at the bait. “That Canada place, obviously,” he chortled. “Now get me my cone.”
Instead, I had gotten a map and penciled a line from the north Nevada border directly eastward. The line was twenty miles north of Pelee Island, Canada, in Lake Erie.
“I’ll take a chocolate cone,” I had told Chuck.
Later, in our map studies, some other unusual facts about Nevada had come to light. Its most southerly tip is as far south as the northern parts of Alabama and Mississippi. And Reno, Nevada, even though it is an inland city, is about one hundred miles farther west than Los Angeles, which is on the Pacific coast. A most interesting state.
After a rather troubled sleep due to the different varieties of bugs making their home in the hay, we shook the alfalfa from our ears and headed on. Two days of hard walking, punctuated with two or three rides, finally brought us to Twin Springs, just across the state line in Nevada.
“Where are the springs?” Win asked me. We hunted all over but never found even one of the twins. We were thirsty. This place was more northerly than Pelee Island, Canada but it certainly did not have a Canadian climate. It was hot, which made our thirst even worse. There was a desert roadhouse which was some sort of a climax. The place had every kind of drink for sale except water. When they found that was all we wanted, they gave us two quartsfree—which we drank on the spot. That roadhouse had been famous throughout the West as a gathering place of criminals, cutthroats, bandits, cattle thieves, sheepherders, miners, and cowboys. The place had once enjoyed the reputation of a “murder a month. “
The one other building was a hotel of sorts. Whiskey abounded, men were gambling, a young girl walked out puffing a cigarette. One of the first women we’d ever seen smoking. Everything in sight suggested what the place had once been. But its heyday had passed. We had accomplished our objective, however, and checked another state off our list.
We made the distance back to Twin Falls, Idaho in a little over a day, having to walk a great deal of the distance. The Nevada side trip had soaked us with sweat and plastered us with dust and dirt. The Twin Falls campground had a laundry house.
Win eyed me questioningly. “After the women finish and are asleep, do you suppose we dare wash our clothes?” was his query.
“They are dirty enough to risk anything,” I replied. “Let’s give it a try. “
When all the other tourists had gone to bed and no one was astir we slipped into the laundry room and locked the door. With lights turned out, we completely undressed. Jamming all of our clothes—even our heavy coats and pants—into two crude electric washers, we poured in some hot sudsy water and turned on the power. On the cold cement floor we slept soundly, wrapped up in our blankets. I don’t know how long the washer had been going when we awoke. It must have been a long time. Laboriously we put our washing through the hand wringer—heavy khaki coats, pants, socks, underwear—every bit of clothing we possessed. Then, still wrapped in our blankets, noiselessly and stealthily we crept outside, hung it all on the line to dry, and went back to sleep in the laundry room.
Most housewives are probably familiar with the fact that a cold night does not make a good “drying day,” especially when a brisk shower comes just before dawn.
In the cold, moist hours of early morning Win, still blanketed, slipped out to bring in the drying laundry. A line full of heavy, waterlogged khaki and cotton greeted his touch. There was no time for meditation. The camp would soon be up. The women would be coming to the laundry room. A few days before, we had almost been in a panic for need of water. Now we were in a panic for need of a way to get rid of some of it from our drenched clothing. Clamping the rolls of the hand wringer a bit more tightly together and putting our wardrobe through again helped some. Then began the painful process of dressing. The morning air was icy. Piece by piece we donned our soaked regalia. After each step in the process of dressing, it was necessary to crawl back under the blankets to warm up and think it over. Just as the first early risers began banging at the door for admittance we finished adjusting our neckties and bid our fellow campers a cheery “good morning,” smiling grimly so our teeth would not chatter.