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Unusual legends, sightings, and history from the Black Rock Desert, Jungo, and other Northern Nevada areas.

The Great Austin Balloon Ascension  

    
    This photo  was taken about 1900 at Austin Nevada.  It's the Fourth of July and the celebration organizers wanted something out of the the ordinary.  They got it!
    Although balloon ascensions were common enough in cities at the time, they were rare in small town Nevada.  What markers were called in, what favors granted by the celebration organizers is not known.  Just that their efforts were successful.
    One of the first things you notice about these turn of the century balloon ascensions is the size of their ground crews.  They were used to control the beast while the air inside was heated.  Most of them were local volunteers.  What a memory this event must have made for them!
    During these years this was flight.  The first fixed wing flights (with any control) were three years in the future.  To have the magic of flight in your small town was the equivalent of the space shuttle landing on main street now.
    Every man or boy in town wanted to be part of that ground crew.  And everybody wanted to be one of the handful of lucky 
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passengers who actually got to climb into the wicker basket and float, even for a few brief minutes, above their town.  Passengers were mostly limited to men and boys.  Proper young ladies were not permitted to ascend.  Only female circus performers, or other females of doubtful reputation, were allowed.
    It wasn't all social mores, it was dangerous.  Accidents at balloon ascensions were common.  The balloonists had just switched over to propane gas and gas burners to heat the air.  Prior to that they used an unstable and much more dangerous combination of alcohol spirits and straw.   Even with the switchover to a better technology the balloons were  prone to catch fire.  Newspapers from these years report several instances of explosions, injury, and  even death, at balloon ascensions.
    The ascension at Austin went off problem free.  The balloon went up, several times, and safely brought its crew and any passengers back to earth.  It was the high point of that Fourth of July.
    As a final note, there is a wagon wheel in the foreground.  It wasn't staged.  During the early 1900s there were very few automobiles driving anywhere in Nevada.  Just a handful.  Everybody went by horse and buggy or the railroad.  All of this was about to change.  In just a handful of years people would be coming out to watch airplanes and they'd go to see them in automobiles not wagons.  Interest in balloons faded away.   It'd be long decades before balloon ascensions became so popular again.





My Daytime UFO

Northern Nevada Desert, Nov. 3, 2013

    I've mentioned before that there are many strange lights out in the desert.  Some are caused, especially at night, by a sort of nighttime mirage that magnifies distant lights.  Those lights then appear closer than they are.  Others are not so easily explained.

    By accident, when I was taking photos of the mountains where my mother was born, I happened to catch one of these strange lights.                                                        

    The first photo is of the light in the sky.  It is the small blue dot almost in the center of the picture.  It is barely visible.  Those mountains are approximately twelve miles away.

    I wanted to see the object more clearly so I put my photo program into editing mode and cropped the picture down until the tiny dot became more visible.

    Now  it is visible.  An electric blue energy smudge against the sky.  Was it simple dumb luck that it wasn't hidden in the clouds?  I don't know. I'm simply glad that I have this picture!





    Below is the second picture I got of it.



    Again, I cropped it down so I could get a better idea of its size and where it landed.  
    There it is.  A bright blue splotch down in one of the canyons.  A pretty big bright blue splotch.

    Now here's the rest of the story.  I didn't deliberately take these pictures.  I was taking photos of those mountains because they are my mother's birthplace and I'm sentimental.  The camera saw the object.   I didn't.  I didn't see it at the time.  I didn't hear its impact if it crashed or its landing if it was guided.  These photos are entirely an accident!  I only knew I had something unusual after I downloaded the pictures!  Suggestions?  Go to my blog, Old Tracks in the Sand.  I'll put one of these photos up for comment.

    There is one more photo.   The last one in the series.  It was taken seconds after the other two.  As close as you stare at it, there is not a bit of evidence of the earlier energy object.  All is quiet.  No blue lights, no fires, just the wind across the desert.  Another mystery!







The Shadow Lake

Black Rock Playa




    Sometimes when we have particularly wet winters this happens.   Enough water flows down the mountains, down seldom wet channels, and onto the playa to create a small, very shallow lake.  Barely a shadow of the original glacier fed monster that spread all over the play and beyond.  (Imagine the Jackson's being an island in this older lake!)
    Climate change long ago dried up that lake, ancient Lake Lahontan.  evaporation was the culprit according to some geologists.  The temperature warmed too much to keep the lake going.  Gradually over thousands of years it mostly disappeared and became the Black Rock Playa.  But in wet years, just for a few weeks, we get this hint, this shadow of the original lake.









Halloween Trick
 
    In the thirties the Great Depression was at its worst.  Everything ran shorthanded.  Everything.  For a time people were paid in script.  A sort of local government IOU because the counties were out of cash.  It was that way in Nevada and a lot of other places.  Local law enforcement had been cut so close to the bone that the bone almost disappeared.  There just weren't many deputies.  Anytime something happened that required a bit of help the Sheriff asked local people to help out.  He was seldom refused, not out of fear, but, because it was just the right thing to do.
    One Halloween night in the late 1930s the Humboldt County Sheriff got a call.  Something about a body being in a ditch next to the road.  The Sheriff sighed.  He wanted to go home.  He wanted to hand out candy to the kids who came around with their pillowcases and their homemade costumes. Not that there'd be very may.  The weather had turned very nasty and it was snowing.  A bad night to take a long drive.  The report had come from the Denio area right on the state border, a hundred mile drive in bad weather.  A  prudent man, he thought about different men he could ask to go along.  He picked a fellow who wasn't yet married so wouldn't be involved in the Halloween festivities, and even better, was a mechanic.  One of the clever kind who could keep things running no matter the difficulties or the lack of parts, my dad.
    Pops was agreeable.  He was bored and he didn't want to hang around downtown.  Also, he liked and respected the Sheriff.  He bundled up, gathered some tools just in case.  Packed in an extra thermos of coffee well laced with brandy. (DUI statutes were much different in those days.) a couple of sandwiches and was ready to go.
    The ride up was uneventful.  Long miles on unpaved roads carefully negotiated.  Didn't matter that it was the main road to Denio.  It was unpaved and filled with potholes, sharp rocks, and icy patches.  It was also a cold ride.  The heaters in those 1930s cars weren't nearly as effective as later ones.  But father and the Sheriff were both bundled up and had a couple of swigs from father's thermos.
    When they arrived at their destination they were both relieved.  Fortunately, the Sheriff knew exactly where to go and it wasn't long before they were standing beside a man's body face down in the ditch.
    Very dead, and dead for quite awhile.  Both Pops  and the Sheriff knew him, he was Old Johnny, a sheepherder down to the bar at Denio to celebrate.  Still smelling strongly of the brandy he'd taken on.  They tried moving him and found they could make his joints bend.  The Sheriff covered the back seat with a canvas tarp.  He was proud of his patrol car and didn't want any surprises when he delivered Old Johnny to the mortician.  He rolled down the back window.  He also didn't want Old Johnny unthawing on the long ride back to town.  Finally the two of them wrestled him into the back seat of the Sheriff's car.  It took a bit of doing and took some time but they got him wedged into the far corner and more or less sitting upright.  They brushed themselves off, took another couple of swigs from father's thermos and headed down the road.
    It was late, it was cold, and Old Johnny smelled, not so much of death, there was a faint scent of that, but, of brandy.  As the corpse's clothes unthawed the brandy they'd been drenched with filled the patrol car.  Out of self defense the Sheriff rolled down another window.  By the time the two men reached Orvada they were cold, the coffee thermos was empty and they were damned tired of Old Johnny's company.  They stopped at the tiny bar restaurant both to gas up and to have something to eat, and more importantly, to warm up.
    There was a bit of ruckus going on when they stepped through the door.  A thin, wiry man stood in the center of the bar eyeing a bar stool.  "Quit moving you bastard!"  The man charged the bar stool, knocked it over and fell on his face.
    The harassed owner of the place came around the bar, stepped over the fallen man and approached the Sheriff.  "I'll give you your dinner if you haul that fool to town.  It's too cold to toss him out in the snow.  He's been waiting for a friend to show and take him to town.  Nobody has."
    The Sheriff shrugged, gestured to my father, "He's with me.  Both of us eat and we'll take him to town."
    The barkeep kept his word.  A wonderful hot dinner appeared.  Father said it was one of the best meals he'd ever had.  Roast lamb, hot bread and home made pickles.  Finally they couldn't put it off any longer.  With the thermos refilled complete with more brandy as a topper, they went to the bar room to collect their rider.
    He was still on the floor.  The Sheriff shook him awake.  After much muttering, and some threats from the Sheriff, the man stumbled upright and with a little push toward the door, got going in the right direction.
    Father opened the back door for their passenger and, with the Sheriff's help, pushed and heaved until they got the drunk in the back.  They didn't check to see how the man arranged himself.  They wanted out of the cold and on their way.  They slammed the door, got in the front and headed for town.
    The first  few miles were uneventful.  No curves. But, going up the summit, they hit the first curve.  Muttering and cursing from the back.  Father didn't comment.  Second curve.  In the rearview mirror he could see Old Johnny tipping toward the drunk.
    "God damn you, you stinking bastard, keep your arms to yourself!"  The drunk pushed at the corpse.  Pushing hard enough that Old Johnny got wedged back into his corner.
    The road straightened out for a mile or so.  The back seat was correspondingly quiet.  Then a real twisty set of curves.  Old Johnny's perch became too unstable.  Old Johnny fell across the drunk.
    "Stop this car!  Let me at him!  Bastard's all over me!  Let me at him!"
    The Sheriff ignored him and kept driving.  They were close to town by that time and he wanted to drop both passengers off and go home.  Their first stop was the mortuary.  The Sheriff pulled around to the back of the building.  Father got out and rang the bell to summon the mortician.  The Sheriff got out at the same time and went around to the back and opened the door.
    The Orvada drunk, spitting mad by this time, howled at the Sheriff, "Let me at him!  Let me at the sonofabitch!  I'll teach him a lesson!  Keep his goddamned paws to himself."  He, very awkwardly, sat half in and half out of the car.
    The mortician appeared about that time with his helper.  He opened the other door and pulled Old Johnny out of the car.
    "I'll take all of you on!  Let loose of the bastard and let me at him!"
    The Sheriff leaned close to the drunk and tapped him on the shoulder.  He pointed at the sign just visible in the light from the car's head lamps.  "What does that say?"
    The drunk clambered the rest of the way out of the back seat to stare blearily at the sign.  "M, m, mortuary."  It took  a moment as the drunk weaved back and forth.  "Dead?   Bastard's dead?"
    The Sheriff nodded.
    Slowly the drunk sank down toward the gravel drive of the mortuary.  Father shrugged, grabbed him before he hit the ground and levered him back into the car.
    The Sheriff sighed, "I'll take him up to jail.  He can sleep it off there."  He got back in the car and drove away.
    Father watched the tail lights go up the hill.  A smile, then deep gut wrenching belly laughs.  He walked the short distance to his room laughing.  A couple of people stared at him wondering, but he didn't share the joke.  As he said years later, you sort of had to be there!
    

Old Walls                                



    You find these old walls all over the desert.  Some are very old.  This wall is an example of the very old.  It was built in the early 1860s by the U.S. Army.
    It was designed  to protect the transcontinental telegraph line from, to quote accounts from the time, "The depredations of hostiles."
    The native peoples understood that the telegraph outran their  ponies.  That it too was an enemy, as surely as the soldiers in the increasing number of camps and forts along its line.  There are reports of the line being cut, of attacks being carried out by the Indian people against the
 whites who were invading their land.  In response, more of the camps were built.
    This one is in Dun glen canyon.  Dun Glen, fair meadow, in the gaelic of the Scots and Irish who formed much of the military at the time.  A beautiful canyon.  They build these walls a hundred and forty years ago.  Built them carefully of stacked rocks fitted and interlocked to make amazingly tough walls.
    They went out on their patrols, fought their battles, and several from this camp were killed.  Still, they had a lot of time between patrols and not much available for entertainment.  At the time the area was very sparsely inhabited.  So they looked around, started prospecting, and found silver and gold.  Mustered out soldiers founded the little town of Dun Glen.  they mined and they stayed, not as soldiers, but as citizens of the the town they founded.  The abandoned fort they ignored.
    Nature wasn't as kind.  Gradually the elements have taken down the old fort.  Over many decades the walls sloughed off until only this small bit of the original remains.  A monument of sorts to another time and other battles.

                                                                                                                
       
Survivors
    There are only two of them left.  Standing tall, surrounded by greasewood and sage, the survivors of a carefully planted orchard.  They are old. Very old.  Planted more than a hundred years ago they  have had to fight for life every one of those years.
    Their first few years were a little easier.  The homesteader and his wife worked very hard to make sure of their survival.  In the desert canyon(Dun Glen) where these were planted, the trees and what they produced were more valuable than gold. 
    That sheltered beginning didn't last very long.  Only a few short decades.  People moved out of the canyon leaving small mines and homesteads alike.  The trees went from being inside a fence, protected, and irrigated to a much more precarious state.
    The farm house lost its fight to the elements not long after the homestead was abandoned.  The fences didn't last much longer.  The trees were left out in the open vulnerable to grazing cattle and deer.  The mark of their pruning is clear in the picture. There are no limbs as high as either could reach.
    Animals were not the tree's only enemy.  Several times over the century wild fires swept through the canyon consuming any wooden structures it encountered and burning trees and shrubs.  Most of this orchard was destroyed by one of these fires.  These two survived.  A quirk of the wind?  Stronger bark?  Hard to tell. Both have severe damage from fires.
    Still they go on.  Roots deep enough that they can pull up water even in drought.  Blooming in the spring and often enough, setting fruit.  Living through the seasons almost impervious to time.
     




Flanagan's Mules

     The first introduction to the creatures was abrupt and eardrum shattering.  Dawn and watermelon rinds brought the full chorus of mountain canaries out for an audition.  New to Midas canyon, we did not know that Flanagan's mules loved watermelon rinds.  (And sang about them with a passion that'd outdo the most famous opera singer!)  That morning, just at dawn, we found out.  All ten of his mules stood out at our fence giving vent to their frustration.  The rinds were beyond their reach.  Inside a fence sturdy enough they couldn't push through it.  Though a few shoved and leaned against the posts.  The fence held.
    At first my parents tried to shoo them away.  The mules ran a short distance and stood braying their hearts out.  As soon as mom and pop turned to go inside, the mountain canaries were back at the fence mouths open singing.                                                                               
         Pops left  for work shaking his head and cussing Flanagan and his mules.  The rest of us got up, did our chores, and stared at the mules.  Finally my brother picked up a watermelon rind left over from the day before and threw it at the assembled mules.
    The entire herd  of mules raced for that rind.  Kicking and biting, mules have terrible table manners, the biggest mule emerged from the scrum victorious.  He raced away the watermelon rind jutting out of his mouth his mates close behind him.
    Mystery solved!  Mule problem not.  As soon as that rind disappeared down the boss mule's throat, they came back.  They were determined.  Long  mule necks stretched across the fence, big mule bodies pushed at it until the fence posts creaked.
    Mom came outside, took in the situation, handed us a pan and instructed us to gather up all the watermelon rinds.  She pointed to the front door.  We followed her silent orders.  We went out the front of the house tiptoeing as quietly as we could,our pan of watermelon rinds clutched to our chests.  Once off the porch we raced flat out for the creek.
    We didn't waste any time.  We threw them across the  creek and ran pell mell back to the house.  Once in that comparative safety we clustered on the back porch watching.
    The mules remained at the fence necks stretched out.  Finally the boss mule put his head up, sniffed and snorted.  He started to run.  The rest glanced at him and followed.  They ran down our fence stretched out like thoroughbreds at the Kentucky derby.  The mules at the back nipping those in the lead.  The whole mess of them aimed for the creek.
    We  ran through the house and made the front porch in time to see the mules erupting out of the creek bottom heading for the watermelon rinds.
    A chaos of mule bodies, braying, snorting, and trampling and, of course, nipping swirled across the stream.  Suddenly as quickly as it had started,it broke off.  Mules separated and started quietly to eat grass.  Mom shook her head regretfully.  "In spite of the good soil this canyon has, I don't think it'd be a good idea to grow melons around here." 






The Dog Man

I'm not sure how he got so many dogs out there, Sulphur is not close to any town and the closest, Winnemucca, was down 54 miles of bad road.  Added to that, the Dog Man did not have a reliable car.  Somehow, despite the distance and the bad road, they came.  All sorts of then,  Big ones, small ones, old ones, young ones, all to the Dog Man's back acre.  There were a lot of them.  At least thirty and sometimes more.
    I give the old man credit, he did try to find some of them homes.  He'd brush them and present them as well as he could to any who showed interest in his dogs.  Not that visitors to his acre were very common.  Sulphur is and was far from any real traffic and the road was too bad in those days for someone to drive down the washboardy, pot hole strewn mess to look at a questionable dog.
    Still, he did persevere.  He found homes for enough critters that there was always some turnover.  He worked with the animals, trained them as much as he was able, and provided some to local ranchers as cow and sheep dogs
    Finally most of the creatures in his pens were unplaceable.  Either derelict, too old for ranch work, or just plain too old, or, disagreeable, mean, biters, or howlers.  He had a dozen or more of these out in his kennels but as bad as they were, he wouldn't kill them or have them killed by a vet.  He kept trying with them.  When asked, he said, "If every boy who had a temper fit was killed we wouldn't have very many men."
    The worst of these was a huge mostly black dog.  Because of its predominant color, the Dog Man had named it, without much imagination, Blackie.  It barked and snarled at anybody who went by the Dog Man's cabin.  It tried to snap and bite any who came close to his door.  It was one huge angry dog.  Its only redeeming quality?  It kept the bums away from most of Sulphur. 
    Bums could be a problem.  If they were found on the trains, even in out of the way places like Sulphur, the railroad police would toss them off the trains.  That left them little option but to hide out in some of the abandoned structures and try to catch another train when it slowed down or stopped at the Sulphur siding.  In the meantime, they looked to the very small village Sulphur actually was, for food.  Most were polite when refused.  I think they understood just how difficult life could be in that place, and they knew their residence was very temporary.  One was different.  When refused he turned belligerent.
    He caused a ruckus at the mine superintendent's house.  Nothing like starting at the top of the pecking order!  The wife had one of the few telephones in town.  So when he started yelling and cursing at her, she called her husband.  Her husband was not slow.  He sent a couple of the millworkers over.  As they approached, the bum ran away,  They checked around the little town, couldn't find him, and went back to work.
    Nobody saw him over the next few days.  Sulphur resumed its normal slow tempo.  A combination of work on the railroad for some, and work at the sulphur mill for others.  Nobody payed too much attention to a lot of barking coming from the Dog Man's.   Every so often his dogs went into a barking frenzy,  People who lived close enough to hear them tended to ignore the racket.
    The bum, it turned out he was the cause of the uproar, had made another misjudgment .  The next time he tried to force someone to feed him, he chose the poorest looking cabin in the place.  A cabin with only one human occupant, but one mean, angry hairy bastard of a dog as the other.  When he pushed himself into the Dog Man's little cabin, it wasn't one older, fairly slight human he faced, it was Blackie, the Dog Man's very potent defender.
    Blackie didn't hesitate.  He didn't wait for commands.  As soon as the bum swung and hit his master, it was all over for the bum.  A black storm cloud shot up from the floor and latched onto the offending arm.  The bum howled and swung the dog against the door jamb.  That effort was successful, but it left equally tender parts of the bum exposed to attack.  Blackie was quick to seize such an advantage.  He bit into the bum's backside and left a long gash from butt cheek to ankle.  While this was going on, the Dog Man escaped out a side door and headed to the neighbors for help.
    By the tine the neighbors had armed themselves  and headed to the Dog Man's place, their quarry had escaped them.  They put the safeties on their shotguns and stood facing east laughing.  Running down the track headed east was one bum.  Right behind him running at a more leisurely pace was a huge mostly black dog.  Every so often Blackie would exert himself a bit and reach the bum.  He'd leap up and sink his teeth in the man's backside.  The man's screams echoed down the track and he put a bit more effort into his running.  The two disappeared over a low hill and were lost to sight.
    Blackie retured a little later.  Barely panting, a doggie grin spread over his face.  He received a hero's welcome.  Even the mine superintendent's wife, who had despised the beast until this event, found a large soup knuckle in her freezer and formally presented it to him.
    We didn't investigate the bum's fate.  Whether Blackie had finally let him escape the jaws of death, or his bones moldered out in a gully on the way east, was not known.  He certainly never returned to Sulphur.  I suspect he survived.  For the rest of that summer Sulphur was notably free of bums.  Word had got out somehow that it was not a safe place to freeload.
    And the Dog Man felt vindicated.  Without the worst of his batch of doggie misfits and delinquents he would have suffered greatly at the hands of a violent man.








Desert Light



Sometimes the light is amazing.  It stretches in great swaths across the sky ignoring any concepts of balance and structure.  This light show was one of these.  A gift from the master painter.  And a fitting memorial to those souls lost on September 11 more than a decade ago.  In my mind some of them were up there helping their creator paint the sky.  Each soul adding their own bit of paint to the glory I saw tonight, 9, 11, 13.  Small wonder it was so beautiful!







Weeds!
    The desert has many surprises.  Here's one of them!  This is a common weed.  Not being a botanist, I don't know its name.  It's a thorny devil and not something that you want anywhere close to your yard!  But even this weed has its moment of glory.
Beautiful and very delicate yellow flowers.  All opened at the same time.  Not something you'd want to pick for a bouquet, there are a lot of thorns  on those stems!  Worse than a rose.  Some day a plant breeder may decide to work on this plant a little bit and turn this beauty into something more domesticated.  Until that time, wait for them to bloom, take your pictures, then pull them up.  They are, after all, a weed!










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