Today the Black Rock Station closes for the season. The American flag outside is raised and lowered one last time, then folded and stowed away; the pole is left bare to bear the elements, its ropes and pulleys jangling shrilly in the wind. All the travel trailers in the compound are winterized, all the beds stripped and quarters cleaned, food in the fridge triaged and dealt with accordingly. The kitchen and barracks are spotless. The visitor center immaculate. All hatches are duly battened down—goodness knows there are critters afoot who’d love to shack up during the off-season, those hordes of rodents, crickets, centipedes, uropygids, spiders and scorpions scampering and scuttling in from the cold. The station is spacious, but one must draw the line somewhere. Fittingly, the weather’s taken an abrupt turn toward the wintry—I woke to snow flurries and the sky entirely obscured by steel-gray cloud. It is a bittersweet occasion for me, leaving this place.
For the last four and a half months I’ve lived and breathed Black Rock Desert, taking it in with gusto, taking to it as best as a Seattle transplant could hope for. (I’ve literally ingested a probably-not-insignificant quantity of ultrafine playa dust since coming out here, too.) I’ve never enjoyed a working summer more. My job was undemanding in a most soul-satisfying way; I was given ample opportunity to read and write and doodle and be inspired by the peerless place I inhabited, to delve in with undivided attention. It was my duty to inform others of this unmatched scenery, to direct these visitors in their pursuits and recreations and share in their experiences, their discoveries. I met many amazing, unforgettable people. I familiarized myself with a landscape wholly unknown to me six months ago—but in no way am I wholly familiar. This desert keeps secrets from me yet.
Hopefully I’ll be back in the spring. There’s so much more to explore and learn in this austere setting, I can’t wait to pick up where I left off. Of course I’ll miss the solitude, the expansive views, the proximate wilderness, a thousand other things. In the meantime, though, I’ll return to the land of stately evergreens, that rain-soaked city beside the sea.
Goodbye for now, Black Rock Desert-High Rock Canyon-Emigrant Trails National Conservation Area. It’s been a hell of a season.