Rural Nevada stories take the field in journalist’s new book

Members of the McDermitt High School football team pose for a photo in McDermitt in September 2 ...

John M. Glionna may live in Henderson, but he really only feels at home once he passes Indian Springs, heading north on U.S. Highway 95.

That’s when he can shake off the grind of city life and point his 2022 Subaru Outback in the direction of some dusty intersection, probably one that’s barely big enough to qualify as a dot on a map, and begin telling the stories of people with names like Flash and Mr. Cool, Sarge and Smokey, Father Charlie and Chicken Dave.

More than 40 of those stories, many of which were originally published in the Review-Journal, have been collected in his new book, “Outback Nevada: Real Stories From the Silver State.”

“The longer you dwell out in rural Nevada,” Glionna explains, “you’re going to find just fascinating people with a backstory.”

The stories in “Outback Nevada” have datelines from seldom-heard locales such as Jiggs, Gabbs and Duckwater.

There’s the McDermitt Bulldogs, the eight-man high school football team whose home field is over the state line in Oregon and for whom simply competing is often victory enough, and the pair of amateur prospectors who search abandoned mine shafts in their hunt for denim work clothes left behind during the days of the Comstock Lode.

Since moving to Nevada in 2012 as the Los Angeles Times’ Las Vegas bureau chief, following a four-year stint as the paper’s Seoul-based foreign correspondent, Glionna figures he’s driven “tens of thousands of miles” on the state’s backroads. Many of those were in his 1998 Mercedes E 320 that finally gave out last spring near Ely. “I miss her dearly,” he admits. “I always say ‘Nevada took her from me.’ ”

Closer to home, “Outback Nevada’s” profiles include former Clark County Commissioner Tom Collins, car dealer and casino owner Jim Marsh and historian Mark Hall-Patton, aka “The Beard of Knowledge.”

Review-Journal: What is it about rural Nevada that most appeals to you?

John M. Glionna: I guess the whole idea about these places is, you’ve gotta be willing to stop awhile. If you get into the hurly-burly of the Las Vegas lifestyle, the traffic and moving places, you’re less likely to stop and spend a couple of hours. If there’s a coffeehouse, or walking around town, there’s interesting stories there.

There are some lonely, lonely roads that most Nevadans may drive only once, if that. What is it that keeps you returning to them?

We’re in danger of losing some of these places. People are dying, the old people. Nevada is full of ghost towns, and we could add to that.

Is there something about Nevada that lends itself to having so many “characters”? Is it the libertarian streak? Is it the geography?

I think it’s a little of both. … Much like a lot of people who live in the rural West, they like their guns. They want cattle to be able to roam on government land. They go to church on Sunday mornings, but they also don’t mind the brothel that’s down the road.

For readers who maybe want to get a taste of Nevada’s outback without really committing to a full-scale adventure, are there any easy-to-visit nearby spots you could recommend?

If you want to get out into rural Nevada, I would say go to the Short Branch Saloon (in Crystal) and meet (its proprietor) Miss Kathy on a Sunday. You don’t have to drink. Have a cup of coffee. But if you go a little farther into the Amargosa Valley, before you get to Beatty, go to the big dunes. It’s like being in the Sahara in a little bit of Nevada. Your feet sort of sink into the sand. That’s pretty cool, and it’s less than two hours each way.”

Contact Christopher Lawrence at clawrence@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4567. Follow @life_onthecouch on Twitter.