EDITOR’S NOTE: It’s that time of the year again when Robin takes off for his monthlong family trip to Europe. He’s already visited Athens and Santorini in Greece and has spent the week in the beautiful Cinque Terre area of Liguria, Italy. Now, he’s headed south to explore the delights of Tuscany from a tiny village between Cortona and Montepulciano where Frances Mayes wrote her best-selling book “Under the Tuscan Sun,” which went on to become an all-time favorite movie starring Diane Lane.
In his absence, a great number of showbiz entertainers, celebrity VIPs, chefs, restaurateurs and our Vegas dignitaries have stepped forward to write their guest columns. Today, we welcome actor and host John Burke of the PBS TV series “Outdoor Nevada,” which winds down its second season tomorrow (July 19) evening.
NEVADA: STATE OF DREAMS
Incredibly dusty and over relaxed from hours on a desolate Nevada highway, I pulled into a bar on the outskirts of nowhere. Faded dollar bills wallpapered the place from ceiling to floor, adhered only it seemed by the stickiness of the dry air. Although stark and empty, this “thirst parlor” seemed strangely peaceful, not desperate at all.
I’m John Burke, host of “Outdoor Nevada” on Vegas PBS. I’ve traveled more than 14,000 miles on a quest to experience everything the Silver State has to offer. Sometimes, I think I’ll never finish.
I slipped past the Marlboros in the cigarette machine and sat down to have a beer with Einstein, the cat. He looked like he was just about to speak when I heard a familiar drumbeat ooze of the jukebox: “born down in a dead man’s town.”
Welcome to Nevada, where time crawls, if it moves at all. The nooks and crannies of this land are filled with dreamlike oddities, artifacts and ghost stories that seem to creep up out of nowhere. Pop culture has no real traction here as if Las Vegas had sucked it all away and kept it to herself. And that’s just the way Nevada likes it.
Visit towns like Ely, Elko or Winnemucca, and the locals will gladly tell you about their cherished cowboy spirit. A simple mantra, it dwells in the hearts of those who live in this apparent cosmic intersection of timeless landscapes and singular peculiarities. As one local put it: “You do what’s gotta be done without complaint or need for gratitude. You do it because it’s right.”
Deep in the Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge sits a little house built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service let me stay there one night due to the remote demands of filming. I shook hands with Pat Bruce, a volunteer with the Friends of Nevada Wilderness and we immediately went exploring.
What he presented, while we were deep into the 573,504 acres of splendor, shocked me. Ninety tons of metal and fencing lay in a heap, gathered and ready to be carried off and recycled. It was the result of his invisible hard work (and that of many others) that resulted in Sheldon returning to its natural perfection. Very simply, it was the right thing to do without any need for gratitude.
While there is nothing to prove in the expanded regions of Nevada, one thing is certain: There is plenty to explore. Hidden gems abound like scattered remains of a daydream with no seeming connection aside from the fact that they belong nowhere else.
Abandoned silver mines echo American history below Tonopah while Tesla lurches into the future above ground near Sparks. Meanwhile, the strangeness of Burning Man speaks to no time, in particular, drawing crowds of nearly 70,000 to Gerlach.
However, just when I think I’ve figured Nevada out, she throws me a curve. History and uniqueness aside, it is unparalleled as a place of outdoor recreation. Fly fishing off a ladder, riding sand dunes near Fallon, skydiving and horseback riding in Tahoe are mere hints at what’s available here. The list of outdoor activities in this state is absolutely endless and, fortunately, malleable to any level — except bull riding. That’s available, too, but take it from me, it’s very quick and highly overrated.
Season 2 of “Outdoor Nevada” wraps up tomorrow night, and we are having a party in the Vegas PBS studios. You can call 702-737-7500 to see if any tickets are still available and learn how you can join the fun. Sure, we’ll be celebrating television production at the most enjoyable level, but we’ll also be celebrating an incredible state. Nevada is a dreamy, magical place yet it’s rugged, unforgiving and demands respect. A respect we are happy to give here at Vegas PBS. A nod to its history, strangeness, recreation and cowboy spirit. But most of all, it’s a full measure of respect to its people. The ones who keep the state this way.
Recently, I learned that we will embark on filming Season 3 this fall. Perhaps, if I’m lucky, I’ll make it back to that “thirst parlor” and let Einstein say what he wanted to say. That is, if he really existed at all.
Be sure to tune into PBS tomorrow night (July 19) for the Season 2 finale. and check out our other guest column today (July 18) from Carlos Buscaglia who has just become the executive chef at the unique Hexx kitchen and bar that serves up some of the Strip’s unusual taste treats. And follow along all this week and next with more guest columns as Robin begins to wind down his Italian travels with a truffle hunt outside of Rome followed by a tour of the Vatican and the Sistine Chapel.