CrucialFest and the Nevada Desert

Feeling the need for a good road trip, I pointed my nose east towards the great Salt Lake City to spend a weekend photographing CrucialFest, an eclectic and diverse two-day music festival boasting a list of well known names in heavy music, plus a bunch of local and regional bands spanning multiple genres.  My friends Cult Leader were performing, as well as Neurosis, Chelsea Wolfe, and Russian Circles, all of whom I love and appreciate. I also looked forward to being in a new place checking out new things, if only to feed my desire for novelty. 

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I had a slight time crunch to out there, so I didn’t really stop to photograph anything along the way.  That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the beautiful drive, up through the Sierras and past Reno down into the Nevada desert.  I was treated to a picture perfect desert sunset (in my rearview mirror) and the cool clean air rushing through my window was like a magic elixir.  I found a place to park along a river outside Elko NV where I enjoyed some dinner, a nighttime stroll in the refreshingly frigid air with a massive blanket of stars overhead.

The next day I drove the remaining few hours to Salt Lake City and spent the day wandering from stage to stage, photographing bands and mostly just keeping to myself.  I managed to find ONE person I knew there, which was a treat.  The day consisted of mostly forgettable bands, and things only started getting interesting for me when UK phenoms Slaves played the smallest stage to about 40 or 50 people.  In Europe, these guys sell out theater-sized venues and it was great to see them playing with maniacal energy and abandon despite the small crowd.  Of course Russian Circles and Chelsea Wolfe were great, as always.  I especially enjoyed the gorgeous sunset that accompanied the end of Russian Circles’ set.

Day two of CrucialFest was longer, but more relaxed and enjoyable.  Got to hang with my Cult Leader buddies a bit and catch up, and ended up having fewer bands I was actually interested in seeing.  Pig Destroyer (more a fan of the name than the music), Mutoid Man (because they’re funny) and Neurosis (because they’re fucking Neurosis) were the standouts amongst a blur of bands who had their own things going but nothing that grabbed me. 

Happy to be done with wandering the hot and dusty festival grounds, I loaded up and drove to Temple Square in downtown SLC just to check it out.  Any time I think about Mormonism, I remember the fantastic book by John Krakauer called “Under the Banner of Heaven”, which is not only an excellent outline of the history of Mormonism (and fundamentalist Mormonism) but weaves in a story of a faith-based murder of a Mormon woman and her child by her fundamentalist brothers-in-law.  Mormonism is crazy, and the area around Temple Square is a gargantuan citadel dedicated to the Mormon Empire. 

I got the hell outta there and headed out of the city, through the flat Utah desert and back into Nevada, ending up in Winnemucca, a tiny town with a rich history woven into the westerly US expansion in the late 19th century.  I found a spot nestled into the foothills on the eastern side of town and thoroughly enjoyed an amazing sunset before making dinner and settling in for the night.

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I woke well before the sun came up and decided I wanted to spend the day exploring Nevada a bit.  I hadn’t been to the Black Rock Desert area in many years and thought it might be enjoyable to visit there before heading to Pyramid Lake.  Google Maps said I could take the boring old Interstate, or I could take a back route that would be 10 minutes faster, which was a no-brainer.  I always choose the back roads whenever possible. 

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Long story short, I found myself going from well-maintained gravel roads to bumpy and rocky roads to deeply rutted and sandy two-lane tracks through a massive expanse of open high-mountain desert.  No cell service, no sign of humans anywhere and clearly no one had been on these roads for many days.  My poor van had to crawl its way through washes and over rocks, rocking and rattling the whole time.  My stress levels went up enough to where I couldn’t maintain the presence of mind to photograph much, even though the Black Rock Desert is an amazingly gorgeous place.  I couldn’t help imagining the van dying or getting stuck in a rut and leaving me stranded way out in the middle of nowhere.  Ultimately I’d be fine, since I had plenty of water and food and clothes and such.  But it sure would fuck up my schedule for the week if I had to hike 30+ miles to find cell service or a helping hand.  All for nothing too, since I elected to take this road without any good reason to do so.  Luckily I made it through fine, though the last 20 miles was an endurance test over severely washboarded roads that just about shook the fillings from my teeth. 

 Black Rock Desert

Black Rock Desert

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I limped back onto the gloriously paved highway outside Gerlach and headed south towards Pyramid Lake, where I found the parking lots and shoreline packed with people fishing.  I’d never seen so many people at the lake at once, and wondered if there was a special event or something going on.  Decided the crowds were more than I wanted to bear, so I bailed westward, stopping in Tahoe before heading back to the city by the bay.

 Sweet, sweet pavement

Sweet, sweet pavement

 Pyramid Lake

Pyramid Lake

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