Denio, Nevada is as close as you can get to nowhere. I know, I’ve been there.
It’s a long road trip. Highway 140 winds its way east from Medford, Oregon over the Cascade Mountains and across the unending emptiness of eastern Oregon. Hours later, after leaving the civilization’s frontier at Lakeview, you drive for miles without passing anything but scrub junipers and sagebrush, with perhaps a fleeting glimpse of an antelope. It’s a vast vacant world of forever skies and boundless vistas.
It’s a world I love. A place my soul calls home.
(Yes, this post is about to become much longer than recent writings. The fingers of my left hand, now freed from a cumbersome plaster cast, are dripping with words. I can type with two hands again!)
Eventually, Highway 140 drops down into Nevada and slips, barely noticed, through desert flatlands, past craggy basalt ridges, and around alkaline lake beds until it bumps into a small dot on a road map.
You have arrived in Denio.
There’s not much here, likely even less than when I last visited a dozen years ago. At that time, the most notable sign of civilization was a roadstop restaurant/bar/gas station. This is where I began my search for Denio Hot Springs. But, back to that later.
After Denio, the highway goes on, a thin line shooting straight into a shimmering, infinite landscape. Speeding mindlessly through this mirage, windows wide open to the rush of baked desert air, the mind is sucked clean by space so big that mere thoughts cannot cling to consciousness.
This is a journey that confronts denial head on. This is where falsehoods are stripped away and only the bare roots of truth remain. This is a road I’ve needed to travel many times, choosing this lonely highway when I’ve felt my head filled with conflicts created by fear, loss, and spiritual conflict.
This is a trip I need to take again because denial is biting me in the butt.
Every day I deny the reality of my wife’s dementia. It can’t be true, it’s not happening, it will go away. But, then, she’ll do something, say something, that makes it painfully obvious that the disease is here and here to stay.
So I’m back on the road, traveling in my mind to Denio, Nevada, letting the mental crap that I’ve allowed to clutter up my head slowly fall away, letting the pure essence of truth light up the dark corners of my soul. And I find myself streaking through the timeless Universe of being enveloped by a sense of deep peace.
The road from nowhere returns to somewhere when it sneaks back, through scattered alien mobile home sites and derelict car bodies, into Winnemucca, Nevada, and I re-enter the human world cleansed and whole again.
There is a hot springs near Denio, known to the locals but a well kept secret. I bought a lot of beer at the Denio Bar, listened to a lot of stories, before an old timer’s lips loosened up to share the spring’s whereabouts. Guided by word of mouth, I set out to find my Shangri-La.
Thirteen miles to the unmarked turnoff, past the rocky cliff that nearly fell into the road, leaving the pavement and out into the desert trailing a rising cloud of billowing dust. The barbed wire fence ended and I entered the open range, searching for the next marker, a small trail to the left. bumping over a cattle guard, twisting around clumps of sagebrush, finally braking at a pool of quiet water with a cloud of white mist floating over it.
Denio hot springs is an oddity. Most such springs are laced with the smell of acrid sulphur, but not here. These steaming waters spring out of the desert and wander for several miles until the waters drop into a hole that someone, years back, carved out with a backhoe. There’s even a section of concrete culvert pipe that was put in place to create a waterfall, the most amazing shower I’ve ever known.
This is Nature’s ultimate hot tub, the idyllic combination of warm water serenity engulfed by infinity in every direction.
I remember the moment when, on a crisp, cloudless October morning, I stepped naked into that pool and slowly immersed myself in the warmth of Mother Earth’s womb, lost in the wonder of being nothing in the middle of nowhere.
It was then that I saw the spider, an arms length away, motionless on silky strands hidden in the shadows of the pool’s walls. A black widow with the telltale crimson dot on its abdomen, waiting, patiently, for another life to touch its web.
We are never alone.
Often, when today’s realities overwhelm me, when I’m tempted to hide in the darkness of denial, I take my mind back to Denio Hot Springs, feel the sage perfumed air fill my lungs and let the boundless expanse of desert free my soul.
Then, as happened so many years ago, I climb out of that enchanted pool, that blissful memory, dress, and get back on the road again.