I spent the day, having started well before sunrise, on an overland obsidian recce focused on the geomorphology and distribution of the Majuba and Seven Troughs toolstone sources. A series of dramatic snow squalls cut that effort short just as I reached the ‘High Road’ from Sulphur to Gerlach. However, as I broke out of the western margin of the storm, I could see a blanket of new snow across the dark space of the playa of the Black Rock Desert.
The playa is typically a dry, dusty basin — most experience this place in the summer and fall, with the denizens of Burning Man transforming the space annually (though the playa got a break in 2020). Snow is not typically in the playa experience. But as I dropped past Cholona, a white blanket spread before me and a long horizontal crack at the sky-horizon promised a show. I ditched the truck and climbed into the hills below Pahsupp Peak. I would wait and be ready.
Traversing a series of alluvial gullies cut into lacustrine sediment of pluvial Lake Lahontan, I worked my way to a set of rocky outcrops highlighted by orange lichen dampened by the recent snow. From these rocks I could play with a variety of compositions in all directions.
I kept telling myself to go slow, pick a composition and work with the light that was building as the sun began to peak from the horizon on its way to evening. However, the receding squalls behind me — to the east — continued a shadow-play of cloud shapes and snow-fall curtains. While I concentrated on the light show in the west, I did turn for the occasional image in the darkening clouds — sometimes the two interacted and rewarded me with fantastic opportunities. This perspective called for a wide-view. Other times, I just watched in the moment. It was a special evening.
A long drive home remained, but everything about the day contributed to a perfect overland excursion. From obsidian maps to playa snow to the requisite afterglow, I count this among the special ones.