SKY ISLAND

Charleston Peak near Las Vegas, NevadaMarch 27, 1988
 
NEVADA:Clark County

Toiyabe National Forest about 20   miles northwest of Las Vegas, on eastern slope of Charleston Peak, elevation ±8000 feet

The three young men from Park City, Utah at 7:30 AM on Sunday morning step across the cattle-guard and walk past the sign saying CRITICAL INFORMATION MUST BE PROTECTED. They're carrying placards explaining that their action is being conducted in memory of their grandmother, who lived downwind of this facility, but who now is dead from cancer.

At this moment my job for the Peace Camp community is to be in Cactus Springs nineteen miles to the east (the nearest public phone) calling the Atomic Energy Commission's Wackenhut Security Office in Mercury, to report the penetration of their security zone. We report the action ourselves to cut down on the possibility that the young men will be shot.

"No, of course they're not carrying guns," I say. "They're just three young men carrying placards, walking on the road toward Mercury, and you're supposed to arrest them."

Not long afterwards I'm twenty miles farther southeast in second gear Henry again struggles upward, heading toward Charleston Peak's snow-covered slopes inside Toiyabe National Forest. The peak rises to 11,919 feet above sea level, but I stop at around 8000 when the first patches of snow appear. Parking beneath a species of pine I've never seen, I get out of Henry and find that the cold, moist air smells of sage.

We've met several species of sage in the various deserts, but this is our first encounter with this one, and this is the one I've been waiting for. It's the cowboy-movie-famous woody member of the Composite Family called Sagebrush, Artemisia tridentata. Because I've always associated sagebrush with wide-open, hot deserts, I'm surprised to find it growing so close to snow, beneath pines. However, with its narrow, silver-green leaves tipped with three lobes, it's unmistakable. Nearly all the plants around Henry are new for us. Here's even a new cactus, seeming more out of place than the Sagebrush, growing right beside a snowdrift.

Everything seen and felt here seems out of joint with the places and experiences of the last three months. I'm not quite sure that this sky-island-habitat belongs with my string of desert experiences but I needed to climb up here, to nurse my sunburned and cracked skin and, especially, to take the time to honor with reflection the people and spirituality at Peace Camp.

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