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The drive started out strange enough — I spotted an emperor penguin by a river northeast of Boise.

Photo evidence

Photo evidence

Things only got more surreal after dark.

Driving into northern Nevada is like driving off the edge of the world.

The distant lights of civilization sink below the horizon behind you and blink out of existence, leaving only the soft whine of tires on the pavement and the haunting glow of reflector poles and the yellow dotted line to flash past.

Hours into my journey, I began to see a veritable zoo of wildlife dashing across the road, such as a couple of pronghorn antelope and a lumbering badger. An enormous owl flew at my windshield, its white breast lighting up in my headlights. I saw other things that made me doubt my sanity.

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The signs assured me there would be a town in forty miles. I arrived to find only a boarded-up gas station. I began to lose faith in the signs. I felt like the early explorers must have, sailing across oceans into waters on the edge of the map marked “here there be monsters.”

Just when I thought I’d plunge over the edge of the earth into the abyss, I encountered a sign welcoming me to the Duck Valley Indian Reservation and a dismal tar-paper town that seemed to spring up out of nowhere.

It began to approach the early hours as I crossed the line back into Pacific Time. My bleary eyes scanned the sides of the road for a place to pull off, but there was nothing on either side for miles. Finally, I found a two-track dirt road that veered off up a side-canyon.

A massive mud puddle guarded entry to the road, so I dismounted and poked the wet road with my toe. Astro-Shark is a very fast car, but not an all-terrain vehicle. It seemed sandy and firm enough, so I revved the engine and plowed through the brown soup.

The ground was saturated, after what could be the last desert rain of the season. The wooded sagebrush trunks were nearly black with moisture, the undersides of the leaves flashed white in my headlights. This and a slew of white flowers made it look like the desert floor was coated in a light snow, adding to the affects of sleep deprivation beginning to take hold.

Again, the road had no turnoffs. It snaked on for what seemed like miles. I was desperate for a place to turn off and safely conceal my car for the night. At last, I found some car tracks leading to an abandoned camp behind a bush. It was too wet to pitch a tent, so I slept propped up in the car.

I awoke at dawn to find a massive arch looming over my car. It was crafted from rusty old television antennas. I figured it was a shrine to the pagan gods of analogue television. Apparently they aren’t doing so well.

Back on the highway, the sun began to peak over the hills and ignite the snowcapped peaks to the west in an orange blaze. Steam rose from the river and dissipated in front of sage-carpeted hills.

I expected the town of Elko to be a dusty and depraved zit on the desert floor as described by a past author fascinated with the area. I was truly disappointed to find it to be a booming interstate town complete with big-box stores and cookie-cutter suburbs. The absence of both fear and loathing was heartbreaking.

But I did find a replica of the car from Knight Rider (who didn’t talk much) and a sweet knife shop where a long-haired employee proclaimed, “We’ve got a warranty on every knife we sell, even the cheap shit made in China.”

From the look of his inventory, that included pretty much everything.

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