"So, what's in a 'Great Basin'?"
There's a saying and an age-old wive's tale all wrapped into one: "Never judge a book by its cover." No other saying personifies the Great Basin better! Even in our technologically advanced society, the Great Basin escapes much conversation. Relatively few Americans are aware of this vast, undiscovered region situated in between the Sierras and the Wasatch ... that big emptiness in between California and Utah. In this thesis, I investigate America's understanding of the Basin by asking a simple question: "Is this how we define the Great Basin?" Each definition of this region is not without residual sentiment and deep appreciation. Moreover, how you define the Great Basin is perhaps the most commanding notion of all ... a land fully and deeply subjectively beautiful.
"Not ANOTHER shopping mall!"
The very same words I spoke many years ago ... with great passion. The Great Basin might be one of America's last wilderness areas, on par with Alaska's status as "The Last Frontier." Both regions have much in common. The Great Basin like Alaska is vast, undeveloped country with one of the most sparsely-inhabited areas in the United States. Instead of identifiable boreal forests, white tundra and glacier-hungry bays, the Basin doesn't define itself well, nor does it probably want to. It's no wonder the Basin has only been truly discovered in the last fifty years. Its hard exterior commands respect and many people, especially newcomers, find difficult to fall in love with. The Great Basin demands time and patience. Despite what it desires, we as a society take it anyway, despite its silence, enigma, and ambiguity. After all... "it's only a basin." But we're also smarter than that. First we must ask ourselves what the Great Basin really is. After all, the word "Great Basin" is misleading in itself. Covering over 200,000 square miles, "the Basin" (as we refer to it) is certainly not a single basin; far from it. Instead, this arid, snowy, blistery, dusty, temperamental, sizeable "basin" consists of a series of continuous watersheds placed on an intermontane plateau. What does this mean? Think of it as a few hundred waterways with nowhere to go! It's official, then. Is the Great Basin a bit of an oddball? Certainly, but a sharply defined one. The Great Basin is bounded on the west by California's Sierra Nevada, on the north by Oregon's John Day Range, and the east by the snowy Wasatch Front in central Utah. Eighty percent of the Basin lies within Nevada with its remainder claiming terrain in four other states -- southern Oregon, western Utah, southwestern Idaho, and eastern California. Yet despite its vast and open acreage, only three populous centers reside within its confines. Outside of these populous centers, its unmistakable "wasteland of desert" extends far beyond one's own sight -- a cruel moniker used by most of America to define the Great Basin. Is this the true definition of the Great Basin? Certainly, but not entirely.
"It's just a wasteland!", barked Adam ... a past friend of mine from elsewhere who'd only stepped foot in Nevada to open his wallet in the casino. For him, Nevada meant either "get rich quick," or "stuff my face" at one of our cheap buffets. This is how most of America associates the Great Basin. Well, Nevada in particular -- a cruel impression; an erroneous factsimile. And we've heard them all: a wasteland, a sump, or my favorite one... an big empty nothing. Maybe that's because the Basin doesn't define itself well. Nor is it a place that seems to want to be understood. To most people, the Basin is a hole of emptyness in between where they're going and where they're coming from. To which and to many the impression presents itself: a vast "nowhere" of flat, monotonous roads and millions of empty acres to whiz on through to get to somewhere else. Nothing more ... nothing less. Little is known about its salt flats and fewer know about its "islands" of mountains, the most counted number of ranges in the United States. But then again, who would know? After all, it's only worthless, ugly and of course the stand-by denomination of a "wasteland." I see it as this: these are just a million ways to define "different." Basin locals praise such remarks! We find other definitions of beauty and grab hold of a new type of scenery. After you've lived in the Great Basin, fleeing to the Cascades for a climb up Mt. Hood, or visiting the coast for a few days of sunbasking, it just doesn't feel right when you leave home. Pretty soon there's something wrong if it doesn't smell like a pinyon pine! You begin to miss the dry air ... the high elevation ... the small-town atmosphere. Locals of the Basin feed the Basin even more bad words just to keep the curiosity seekers out. "Let them think it's a wasteland" ... "Better for us anyway!", as one Ely resident put it. Now that's the heart of a Basin local. A local doesn't need to look too many places to find his beautified share of the world. True. I risk being hashed upon by many Basin locals for writing sharing the Basin's identity with you all. However, the purpose of this page isn't too spread the great word about the meaning of life in the Great Basin. Nor is it a page in which I urge you to visit, sing a song and say "Here I come!" I really don't care. Call it a "wasteland" if you wish, but I can guarantee this: by the time you've finished reading these pages, your knowledge, awareness, and appreciation for the Great Basin will have changed. Truth as day, mysteries abound within this land. It grows on you. After awhile, stepping foot anywhere outside of the Basin is a step out into another world. In the words of a fellow local not too far away, I state as quoted: "Everyone needs a place of their own." Does this define the Great Basin? I'd like to think so.