Peace Camp near Mercury, NevadaMarch 25, 1988
NEVADA: Nye County
Peace Camp on Bureau of Land Management Land along US 95 four miles south of Mercury, just north of the Atomic Energy Testing Site

Along US 95 south of Beatty it's impossible to find a good place where we can pull into the desert and camp. Nearly all land is fenced in with barbed wire and at regular intervals along the highway orange and black signs appear saying WARNING; but the many lines of fine print below the WARNING can't be read from the road. For an hour we head southeast, toward Las Vegas, meeting heavy traffic mostly of RVs and big trucks.

Suddenly the desert on the left becomes low and expansive. I'm looking down on it as if I had a seat in a huge amphitheater. In the middle is a small airport. At the mountain's edge to the north there's a fair-sized town with a white-domed building and a very tall, very slender, quadrangular structure, and now I know I've seen this place before. On the TV News... police, chanting, people being arrested... This is where they test atomic bombs. A quick glance at my road atlas confirms it. In thin, red lines it delineates a vast area as the "A. E. Nuclear Testing Site" and adds in red letters in a black box "Travel restricted on all roads in this area."

To the right of the highway I see maybe twenty tents dispersed among the Creosote-bushes, and all kinds of flags flying. Waving frantically in the wind, signs on limber sticks read FOOD NOT BOMBS, TEST PEACE, and WAR IS NOT HEALTHY FOR CHILDREN AND OTHER LIVING THINGS. Henry takes the next exit before I know what's happening.

"I think I'd like to stay a while with you all," I say to a lady at the fence, "but I'm too poor to get arrested..." She hugs me and smiles and says, "Come on in. They'll give you plenty of warning before they start arresting."

Behind a fence bearing a twenty-foot blue sign with white letters proclaiming PEACE CAMP I ease Henry onto a spot next to someone's lettuce bed. Somewhere in a tent out in the desert someone is playing Grateful Dead tapes and somehow with all this wind and sunlight and the bright flags and outraged placards the Grateful Dead sounds good. The people are sunburned and dusty-looking like me, and also they drink water from plastic jugs, and eat a very great deal of cheap oatmeal. Before I get to know a single person here, I feel at home.

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