My father possessed an even greater ability to read nature like an Outdoor Life magazine. With his knowledge of everything from flora and fauna to scat sign and storm clouds, he was a one-man Audubon Society tour wherever we went. His sense of direction was flawless.
Somehow, all those remarkably handy skills have eluded me completely.
I have no shortage of maps. I just have no sense of direction. As some readers might have long expected, my inner gyroscope is hopelessly off kilter.
Although I love the outdoors and travel Nevada Smith Country with daughter Amelia often, we wander the region’s back roads at some risk. Not the risk of our personal safety, exactly.
We run the risk of becoming lost and never found.
Our recent fishing trip to Bishop, Calif., is the latest example.
Somehow, we managed to get lost ... in Tonopah.
Now I know what you’re thinking. Tonopah is many wonderful things. But it’s not exactly a metropolis folks can’t reconnoiter in their first visit.
To be sure, we’ve been to Tonopah many, many times. We spent the night there recently at the Prospector suite of the Ramada Tonopah Station.
In the morning, we prepared to continue the drive to Bishop via U.S. 6. In good weather it’s an easy 110 miles through country where you’re still likely to see wild horses and mule deer.
The route is so simple even a child could navigate it. But that’s where our trouble began.
While I usually rely on Amelia’s map-reading skills, for this trip we dispensed with the standard cartography in favor of the latest technology.
The kid’s new iPad is outfitted with a long list of high-tech conveniences. Music, games, books — just about everything. It also offers what we believed was a foolproof GPS system.
“Try plugging in ‘Tonopah’ and ‘Bishop,’” I said.
She quickly complied as we set off in the Subaru.
“It says to turn left on Oddie,” Amelia said.
“Are you sure?”
“Left on Oddie.”
So I turned left on the street named after the late Nevada governor and senator and found the road straighter than the man.
“We’re supposed to turn right and find Knapp Street.”
“Are you sure?”
“That’s what it says. Knapp Street and then turn left.”
“This doesn’t look all that familiar, sweetheart. I think maybe you typed something wrong.”
“’Tonopah to Bishop,’” Amelia replied. “It says to turn left on Knapp Street.”
And so I turned left. Within 200 feet the narrow asphalt turned to dirt. Someone had stolen U.S. 6 and replaced it with a single-lane track of sand.
“You’re sure this is the right way?”
“That’s what it says. Go straight on this road. It will take one day and 10 hours to get to Bishop.”
I looked up the dirt road and saw it disappear in the distance.
“Maybe we should punch in some different coordinates,” I said.
Amelia, now 15, gave one of those patented teenager shrugs and shouts, “Whatever, old man,” without saying a word. She replaced her earphones, and returned to her Lady Antebellum concert already in progress.
I managed to make a U-turn and find U.S. 95. One left turn, and we were back on the pavement. A couple hours later, we were in Bishop sitting at the incomparable Schat’s Bakkery, home of the original Sheepherder bread and the best baked goods on the Sierra’s eastern slope.
I decided not to tell the kid that it appears she has been afflicted with her old man’s sense of direction. Why spoil the moment?
John L. Smith writes a weekly column on rural Nevada. He also writes a daily column for the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Reach him at 702-383-0295 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.