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2° Out West Podcast

black rock desert

Let’s go on a journey to the Black Rock Desert

The Black Rock is a unique space. It’s full of alkaline flats, and geothermal hot springs, lava beds, and many mountain ranges, and it has some marshy spots too. It’s famous for things like land speed records, rocket launches, and Burning Man.

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As the new podcast host, Jessi Janusee, takes us to one of her favorite places in the West, the high desert of Northern Nevada. Jessi’s love for the desert was a major factor in joining the team at WRA. She’s excited to be part of the climate change solution and protect the desert for her children and their children.

Jessi and her family on the Black Rock Playa
Jessi and her family on the Black Rock Playa

Jessi and her family have been enjoying and exploring the Black Rock NCA for over twelve years. It’s one of the most otherworldly spaces Jessi has ever experienced and she’s happy to introduce everyone to this special place.

To broaden the perspective and get a deep dive into what makes the Black Rock so special we spoke with Stacey Wittek, the executive director of the Friends of Black Rock High Rock.

We talked about the Applegate-Lassen Emigrant Trail, pleistocene history, Empire llamas, indigenous voices, the magic of big open spaces, hot springs, and much more.

Stacey at the Fly Geyser at Fly Ranch. Nevada’s Fly Geyser is an accidental manmade wonder that has created a whimsically colored and fantastically shaped desert marvel geothermal geyser.
Stacey at the Fly Geyser at Fly Ranch. Nevada’s Fly Geyser is an accidental manmade wonder that has created a whimsically colored and fantastically shaped desert marvel geothermal geyser.

Here’s a quote from Stacey talking about environmentalism, the impact of climate change and the Friends of Black Rock High Rock

It's definitely getting hotter. Definitely, and it is no doubt that water in the west is the primacy issue that we will ultimately face. And not even ultimately, very soon. I was just in Hawaii and was really struck by the motto “The life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness.” I thought a lot about that in terms of well the term indeed came out of a quest for sovereignty in Hawaii but I also love the term righteousness in terms of thinking about it in buddhist terms, right life, right intention, right word, right livelihood. I think that you cannot protect land unless you love land and I think that our job is to inspire righteousness through love and respect of place. There's more that we can do and will do and have to do. But as a group that is not an advocacy group. It is a user's group I really think the value of what we can do presently is inspire people to love the places that we have and to protect them with all their might.
The alkaline flats of the Black Rock Playa.
The alkaline flats of the Black Rock Playa.

The challenges and the extreme conditions of the Black Rock NCA make its beauty that much more worth it.

Jessi Janusee – Western Resource Advocates Multimedia Storyteller (JJ): I think in some ways it being harsher makes it cooler for sure. You know you have to work to be there. You don’t just get to hang out, you got to be intentional.

Stacey Wittek – Friends of Black Rock High Rock Executive Director (SW): I think all places demand and deserve our respect but for me, for me, I need places that have a little bit of danger in the wild attached to them. Again, it goes back to wanting to feel kind of small and when you feel small you have respect, you get a sense of your place within the pecking order so to speak. In terms of landscapes and the harshness is one with its beauty. I like to say that the Black Rock Desert is heaven and hell within 15 minutes of each other.

SW: You can be like, “dear god I think I am dying, it is so hot and miserable!” and then the sunsets and you are treated and afforded to a 6-hour sunset of sublime beauty, and you think “I’ve never been in a place more beautiful” and it washes away all that feeling of “I can’t take this, I just can’t take this.”

We would love for you to contribute to the new “What I Like About the West” Segment!

Create a 1-minute voice memo telling us what you like about the west and email it to us at Jessi.Janusee@westernresourceadvocates.org. We would love to feature you on our next podcast episode! Also, please take a minute to watch this 1950’s video of Tex Williams performing the song, “That’s What I Like About the West.” His song was the inspiration for this segment. 

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Episode Guest

Stacey Wittek is the Executive Director of the Friends of Black Rock High Rock, she’s an artist and writer as well as an avid mountain biker, road rider and winter sports enthusiast. Visit blackrockdesert.org to learn more about Stacey and her organization.

 

Full Transcript 

 

Introduction

Let’s go on a journey to the Black Rock Desert. The Black Rock is a really unique space. It’s full of alkaline flats, and geothermal hot springs, lava beds, and many mountain ranges, it also has some marshy spots too. It’s really famous for things like landspeed records, rocket launches, and Burning Man. Welcome to Two Degrees Out West a podcast where we celebrate the Western United States where we talk about the changes and the impact of climate change on the West and what we can all do to help and make a difference today. I’m your host Jessi Janusee, and I’m the brand new host here, taking over for Brendan. A huge reason why I joined the team at Western Resource Advocates was because I really love Nevada so I wanted to take this opportunity to intro myself and my favorite state by talking about the Black Rock Desert in Northern Nevada. In this episode, we’ll be talking to Stacey Wittek who’s the executive director of the Friends of Black Rock High Rock and we’ll do a deep dive into what makes the high desert of Northern Nevada so special. 

Today on the podcast. We have Stacey Wittek who’s the executive director of the Friends of Black Rock High Rock 

 

Jessi Janusee – Western Resource Advocates Multimedia Storyteller

Hey Stacey, welcome to the show. I’m really excited to have you on the podcast because I super love the Black Rock Desert. So this is such a fun place for us to start season 2 of the podcast. I just wanted to start by talking about the desert, the Black Rock Desert and what made makes it special and why we should all know about it. I thought that would be a pretty easy intro for you. 

 

Stacey Wittek – Friends of Black Rock High Rock Executive Director

Thanks Jessi I’m really stoked to be here and I’m very happy that you invited me, I tend to love talking about the Black Rock so any opportunity or stage for doing so is always appreciated. Yeah, the Black Rock… 

There is so much to enjoy and see in the Black Rock but it is so vast. It’s almost incomprehensible how vast it is. I like to say that when you are standing in the middle of the Black Rock Playa where Burning Man happens looking out at the mountain ranges which have these beautiful bathtub rings on them that come from ancient Lake Lahontan you’re looking at pleistocene history. You’re really seeing a 12,000-year-old sense of geography and geology and geothermals in the area and it’s breathtaking. But when you go to a place like High rock canyon up north towards where Oregon and Malheur Refuge is then you are seeing truly Miocene History 2 million years of history and you can find things like the petrified forest of ancient giant sequoias and really get a sense of how really small you are in the vast picture of things which is a nice feeling sometimes.

 

Jessi Janusee – Western Resource Advocates Multimedia Storyteller

Yeah, that’s definitely one of my favorite feelings. That’s what I put in my little blurb of ‘what’s your favorite thing about the West’. I was like, the vastness of the desert and just that feeling that you could see for miles and miles. In some ways that kind of helps you feel connected and it makes you feel small and magic and all of that too. It’s pretty powerful for sure.

 

Stacey Wittek – Friends of Black Rock High Rock Executive Director

Yeah I think it also gives me a sense of purpose, not to wax too philosophical. But I think when you realize that we are just a blip in time in this geological feature it makes you think about what you can do with your time and how you are most relevant with your time. That’s kind of part of the reason that I wanted to work with Friends of Black Rock actually.

 

Jessi Janusee – Western Resource Advocates Multimedia Storyteller

Ooo I want to get into that. But first I want to address, why is it called the Black Rock? I feel like people are like, ooo the Black Rock! What’s that about?

 

Stacey Wittek – Friends of Black Rock High Rock Executive Director

Ah, well, The Black Rock is kind of an enigma because depending on the quality of the light and the angle of vision you are it can be really hard to see or it can be incredibly obvious to come across. The Black Rock was sort of the focal point for the emigrants when they were coming through on the Applegate Lassen Trail. Once you departed from rabbit hole springs at the edge of the playa they would sightline to the Black Rock against the vastness of the playa and the light color it is really pronounced and stunning to see. The Black Rock is actually one of the only volcanic ranges in the NCA and it has quite extraordinary hot springs at its base.

 

Jessi Janusee – Western Resource Advocates Multimedia Storyteller

Yes, I’ve been there. It’s so beautiful but also too hot or at least it was when I was there which was like two years ago.

 

Stacey Wittek – Friends of Black Rock High Rock Executive Director

Speaking of emigrants, they would come to that place, small sidebar, before it was created as an NCA and it was largely created for its sublime beauty and its pretty intact 120 miles of emigrant trails. They sent a young archaeologist out there to research to find out what remained and for whatever reason the Applegate Lassen trail though it did in 1849, get about 8,000 – 10,000 visitors there aren’t a lot of diary entries or a lot of historical records. Not like the California Trai for example, so she went out there and had to basically interview generations of families that had emigrants as their great grandfather, great grandmother and take aerial photos and basically walk the emigrant trail. From that point at Jackrabbit springs to the Black Rock you could follow a line of bones of oxen and horse bones and yokes all the way from rabbit hole springs to Black Rock. From Black Rock you would go to the next hot springs which was Double Hot which if you’ve been to Double Hot is really hot, 175 – 185 hundred degrees.

 

Jessi Janusee – Western Resource Advocates Multimedia Storyteller

Whoa, I haven’t been up there yet. Just so that we don’t get into the acronym alphabet soup, NCA, what is it?

 

Stacey Wittek – Friends of Black Rock High Rock Executive Director

National conservation area. So the full name is, I have to take a deep breath, High Rock Canyon Black Rock Desert Emigrant Trails National Conservation Area. Woo! 

 

Jessi Janusee – Western Resource Advocates Multimedia Storyteller

Nice! You did it! It’s 1.2 million acres, right?

 

Stacey Wittek – Friends of Black Rock High Rock Executive Director

That is true. It’s 1.2 million acres and ten contiguous and non-contiguous wilderness areas. It encompasses 5 mountain ranges, those mountain ranges range from seven thousand to nine thousand feet. There are approximately 900 miles of designated routes. It stretches almost all the way to Oregon to the Sheldon and Malheur National Wildlife Refuge and the new Dark Sky Sanctuary, Massacre Rim Dark Skies Sanctuary.

 

Jessi Janusee – Western Resource Advocates Multimedia Storyteller

Yay! So, getting back to how you became the E.D.  and also I want to know about your first experience at the Black Rock Desert I don’t know if those two things are linked but they could be two different answers. But how did you come to work for this organization and how did you, I’m guessing, just assuming, how did you fall in love with the Black Rock desert?

 

Stacey Wittek – Friends of Black Rock High Rock Executive Director

Yeah, no, thank you. I am not a native-born Nevadan but I lived in Nevada most of my life and this may sound like a, bear with me, a bit of a departure from your question but I had a really beautiful and complicated relationship with my father now past. And I was always kind of a strange creature for him and the things that we had in common were dogs and walking. Not hiking per se but walking along the carson river under cottonwoods exploring and there is something I firmly believe about walking as a passport to a different kind of consciousness. So it was the space in which I could talk about important things to my father and one of our first memories of the Black Rock was at age 16 going out there with my father, so fell in love early I think.

 

Jessi Janusee – Western Resource Advocates Multimedia Storyteller

Aw.

 

Stacey Wittek – Friends of Black Rock High Rock Executive Director

My background is as a documentary photographer mostly dealing with land and place and cultural issues with environment and I had done a piece about American Electric Power and they had bought out a town called Cheshire in Ohio. I did 3 years of watching this town get dismantled piece by piece as American Electric Power bought them out at a million dollars each family to remediate the problems with scrubbers that were dropping pretty much an acid cloud on the town. Through that 3 years what I really discovered is that environmentalism is about people and and culture and power and who has it and who doesn’t. And it rather changed the path that I was in and doing and I always kept an eye out for Friends of Black Rock High Rock. I had gone to a Black Rock Rendezvous and enjoyed the people immensely and even then I had noticed, what a weird cultural phenomenon between these federal offices, this rural community and this global phenomenon called Burning Man. And that seemed to me just that little milieu right there was so much about power, culture, place and people.

 

Jessi Janusee – Western Resource Advocates Multimedia Storyteller

Yeah, great answer. I’m not even sure if I want to get super into Burning Man because I feel like that’s a whole other podcast episode.

[Laughter]

Ah but I will say, you know I came out to Nevada because of Burning Man. I drove from Philadelphia in 2010 with a bunch of my friends and in a lot of ways I feel like the nature of the Black Rock Desert is what cemented me here more so than the adventure of Burning Man. In some ways I just loved the desert so much, once I got here I was like ‘oof, this is just so beautiful’ and every time we came back I had that feeling all over again of kind of a homecoming. So yeah, it’s magic out there.

 

Stacey Wittek – Friends of Black Rock High Rock Executive Director

Yeah, we had a BBC filmmaker named John Felix Raine do a little film on us during covid. He had worked with Burning Man doing Profiles in Dust. And during Covid had less of a busy schedule and had gotten to know us a little bit and made a film called Big Medicine which is (shameless plug) on our website, if you guys would like to take a look at it. But it reminds me that for 70,000 people their understanding of the Black Rock Desert is really a stretch of playa that’s only thirty-five miles long. I feel like it’s part of our opportunity to bring folks to experience a much and broader sense of what the NCA is and what it means both philosophically and spiritually.

 

Jessi Janusee – Western Resource Advocates Multimedia Storyteller

Yeah, it’s funny, when I’ve been reading this book, Nevada’s Black Rock Desert by Sessions S. Wheeler, I just knew about Lake Lahanton but I didn’t really understand where the lake existed. And then I could see it on their maps and they were talking about that there was kind of a lower basin and Gerlach was like almost like the pinch point in some way I think and then you have the big upper basin. So it’s incredible to think about.

 

Stacey Wittek – Friends of Black Rock High Rock Executive Director

Is it.

 

Jessi Janusee – Western Resource Advocates Multimedia Storyteller

When we’re out there dancing or celebrating or whatever or even when you’re just out there camping with your family you are on this ancient, ancient lakebed where native people used to live in caves and fish and hunt marsh birds. And it was a whole wetland ecosystem with people living there. We’ve got to think about that when we’re out there having fun. It’s thousands of years of people living and thriving in that space right? I feel like maybe there’s some remnants of that, you know, that call us to that space.

 

Stacey Wittek – Friends of Black Rock High Rock Executive Director

Oh yeah, that was lovely Jessi.  I think it’s very, very true, I think we started this conversation talking about those, what we call ‘bathtub rings’ where the ancient Lake Lohantan waves would lap at that area and leave a beach line. It used to be that you could go up there and see these rocks that were kind of smoothed over like, you know, like from the ocean how it just kind of smoothed over and rolled against each other until they had changed shape and softened. And then you could also find these beautiful crescent-shaped tools that were probably, they’re not 100% sure, used to stun waterfowl. So you can get a feeling of yes, you’re on ancient lands, definitely and almost get a sense of what that habitat might have looked like with marsh birds and as you said and tuulies and communities thriving and having their own rendezvous and sharing ideas and histories trading stories.

 

Jessi Janusee – Western Resource Advocates Multimedia Storyteller

Yeah and you can kind of get a feel for that if you go to certain spots like Fly Ranch or Soldier Meadows and stuff like that.Whenever you get near water. You’re like oh yeah this is marshy. And there’s wild horses and there’s rabbits and a lot of bugs and birds. And you’re like, ‘oh yeah I see it, I see how if you really give the desert just a little bit of water it suddenly becomes an entirely different ecosystem which is, you know, obvious in some ways. But also I think when you’re out there living in the dust you don’t even think about it. But I see that at least also in my own backyard. You’re like ‘oh a little bit more water here and suddenly I have like volunteer sunflower and volunteer tomato’. The desert is willing to be kind of become whatever you give it, whatever you nurture.

Stacey Wittek – Friends of Black Rock High Rock Executive Director

Right? You just reminded me of a story. We do these campouts at Fly Ranch every once in a while and we invited for this campout two geologists, Kathy Busbe and Glenn Melosh. Kathy Busbe did ‘A billion years of history in the NCA’ which was fascinating, all the tectonic forces and subductions and how these mountain ranges Horse and Graybin and how the mountains rose and fall and the fault lines that are created. And where there are fault lines there are often hot springs. It was wonderful. It was really fascinating. And then Glenn Melosh did a talk called ‘Getting into hot water’ and he told a really just wonderful story, just a wonderful narrative about hot springs and our attraction to hot springs and that had to have been universal. One, it is water but these are deep mineral-laden waters coming up from deep within the mantle and there is a certain collection of chemical history that comes out through that too. So I know for sure that all Great Basins people must have enjoyed being in and around hot springs and when you are traveling in the Black Rock off the beaten pass so to speak and you look up at a mountain and see a sudden spot of green and know that that could be a brand new seep or a seep that had been attracting people for 800 years, a thousand years, longer.

 

Jessi Janusee – Western Resource Advocates Multimedia Storyteller

Yeah I’ve been thinking a lot about hot springs because I mean that’s something I do all the time and I love geeking out on just looking at aerial maps of Nevada and being like ‘oh here’s a little playa. Oh here’s a little green. Okay, there’s probably something there, I don’t know if I could actually go in it. But maybe I’ll drive into the middle of nowhere and see if I can you.’I love that. I was wondering if partially too they were so-called to going out in nature and getting in hot water is some really deep womb energy. It’s like the womb of the earth.

 

Stacey Wittek – Friends of Black Rock High Rock Executive Director

Yeah.

 

Jessi Janusee – Western Resource Advocates Multimedia Storyteller

And then I don’t know, I wonder if it’s a callback for us. We get in it and we immediately feel so soothed in this really deep way. That’s really powerful. Just thinking about human psychology.

 

Stacey Wittek – Friends of Black Rock High Rock Executive Director

Yeah, my mind drifts that way all the time. I would say that when you’re in Soldier Meadows, which I think you have been? yes? To Soldier Meadows?

 

Jessi Janusee – Western Resource Advocates Multimedia Storyteller

I actually haven’t been up there. I need to go. I’ve been to Trego, Frog Pond, Black Rock Hot Springs and then Fly Ranch.

 

Stacey Wittek – Friends of Black Rock High Rock Executive Director

Okay, yeah, well Soldier Meadows is an ancient caldera which I think it’s also what our federal partners call an area of critical environmental concern because of a couple of unique species that exist only there. There’s desert dace, this tiny little puff fish that lives within the very hot geothermal waters. I think, you know I hope to all your botanists out there that I don’t get this wrong, but balsam seep foil which is also very rare and it’s a special habitat for that. But you can, as you get to Soldier Meadows, you can really feel a change in the topography and the sense of place that it offers.

 

Jessi Janusee – Western Resource Advocates Multimedia Storyteller

Yeah, I’m excited to finally get out there. I haven’t been to the High Rock either so stuff still to explore. I mean 1.2 million acres, a lot going on out there.

 

Stacey Wittek – Friends of Black Rock High Rock Executive Director

Yeah, well you know,  I also like to say that sometimes this area can be very intimidating. On the one hand it’s very vulnerable because it’s features can be easily destroyed. That’s why we  are there to remind people to stay off the dunes which are habitats for kit foxes and to respect hot springs because they’re often the place that the ancient hearth can be found and has been found through archaeological digs. So this area is very, very special and very delicate. But it’s very harsh and it deserves respect and that is one of the reasons that we are there as a friends group is to really create ways and pathways for people to come and enjoy and experience the area come away with some leave no trace ideas and tread lightly ethos and have a good time learn about the area and do it in the company of people who know their way around I guess.

 

Jessi Janusee – Western Resource Advocates Multimedia Storyteller

Yes, yeah I always say I really want on my apocalypse team a geologist and a botanist. I need some more science folks on my team but every time I’m out in nature I’m like I wish I knew what this plant was, I wish I knew what this rock was. Guidebooks are cool but being with a knowledgeable person is kind of cooler. 

 

Stacey Wittek – Friends of Black Rock High Rock Executive Director

In May we do the Black Rock Rendezvous which is kind of a signature of event of ours in which we partner with BLM, Friends of Nevada Wilderness, Nevada Outdoor School and Reno Mineral and Gem Society. We bring in speakers to talk about certain subjects and we lead tours. I led a tour called Mystery, Murder and Mayhem in the Black Rock Desert and it was really, really fun. 

 

Jessi Janusee – Western Resource Advocates Multimedia Storyteller

oOo I want to take that tour!

 

Stacey Wittek – Friends of Black Rock High Rock Executive Director

Ah and looting. We had to have an L in there too. So we did looting as well. But we went to where Peter Lassen was killed and we talked a lot about the importance of archaeological records because we also kind of stand at the edge of where a massive looting of archaeological relics took place at Elephant Cave. But to your botany, to your biology, we often have people come out and do edible plants and indigenous-based walks and it is really, really fascinating and you’re right It’s a very different thing to look at a field guide and try to imagine what that looks like then have somebody point you all kneel down, take a look and you experience it firsthand. It’s a lot of fun. 

 

Jessi Janusee – Western Resource Advocates Multimedia Storyteller

Oh man, I want to come to that, that sounds great. Awesome! Friends of Black Rock High Rock’s been around since the 90s, right?

 

Stacey Wittek – Friends of Black Rock High Rock Executive Director

Yes, 1999, we’re 23 years old, yeah.

 

 

Jessi Janusee – Western Resource Advocates Multimedia Storyteller

That’s awesome I just wanted to ask how it got started and also how it’s developed over the years.

 

Stacey Wittek – Friends of Black Rock High Rock Executive Director

Yeah, no, thank you, that is a great question.  I feel often as an executive director that’s been in the position for 3 years kind of humbled by this organization in a lot of ways. It is a legacy organization and it came into being even before the NCA came into being. A lot of our initial board members were people who pushed to have the area recognized as the national conservation area with all that comes with which is an extra level of protection for resources and protection against oil and gas leasing and etc. It was not an easy task, there are strong feelings about monuments, parks and public lands within Nevada and the American West as a whole and it took a lot of collaboration and compromise. A lot of the board members we had at that point were founders of that and led that charge and also we began as a user group too. So we definitely included people who were vested in that area in very different ways because the more plurality of voices you have the more you’re building consilience in conservation and preservation. We had ranchers and OHV enthusiasts, we had members of the summit lake tribe on our initial board and of course we had BLM members on our board too because we had not yet partnered with BLM so we began a user group and listened really heartily to people and their beliefs and that shaped the kinds of programs that we did. As the years go by, I think having the popularity of Burning Man changed our direction a little bit. I think as we partnered with BLM there’s this lovely kind of triangulation that happens which I think sometimes we talk about how hard partnerships are and they are but we don’t often celebrate how fruitful they can be. I think this little trinity between Friends of Black Rock and Burning Man and BLM is a kind of push me- pull you that keeps us all in check in interesting ways. So we have changed throughout the years and as the awareness of the importance of inclusion into under-resourced individuals and asking questions about who gets to use public lands I think that our role has changed quite a bit. I think honestly we are on the precipice of changing radically in the next 5 to 10 years.

 

Jessi Janusee – Western Resource Advocates Multimedia Storyteller

OoO in what way?

 

Stacey Wittek – Friends of Black Rock High Rock Executive Director

Ah, well, connect, inspire protect is our motto and we’ve always seen ourselves as sort of a gateway to the Black Rock Desert in terms of conservation, preservation and recreation and education. Creating programs and ways for people to engage with the Black Rock but as I sort of alluded to we have a huge responsibility to recognize that the story of the Black Rock has been mostly told by white European men and it is time to change that narrative. And that changes the way that we operate. We need to have more indigenous voices. We need to have more lgbtq folk out there. We’ve launched a bunch of new programs this year, this season for 2023 and some of those programs really involve trying to do a lot more outreach to people within Fernley and Washoe county and Reno and Sparks who may not have ever gone out to the Black Rock. Because it takes money, time, gas and resources that many people don’t have and the telling of place from a white European viewpoint has often excluded people from feeling that it belongs to them and should be something experienced by them.

 

Jessi Janusee – Western Resource Advocates Multimedia Storyteller

I’m excited to see where that new focus on inclusion takes you guys.

 

Stacey Wittek – Friends of Black Rock High Rock Executive Director

Yeah, it has been an interesting ride these last couple years with sort of the overarching direction that the Department of the Interior and our federal partners have taken and I am sensing a sort of change in priorities again which I think will be a wonderful enabling force allowing us to do better storytelling. We need to have our federal partners involved in that. We as a small nonprofit cannot go into the NCA and say we believe this should happen. We need to have consensus and that means speaking with tribes and asking those stories about what is the story that we should be telling and it also means building and improving on relationships with our federal partners so that becomes something that are able to do. Can we put new panels that exist at the Black Rock field station and begin to talk more about indigenous peoples and place in those stories? Can we build story apps so that when you’re traveling across the NCA you might get a ping and that ping may tell you a little bit about who was here before and what stories should be included in that narrative?

 

Jessi Janusee – Western Resource Advocates Multimedia Storyteller

Oh man, that would be so cool. You’re just hiking through and your phones like ‘do you want to listen to this story about the people who were here before you’ that’d be really cool.

 

Stacey Wittek – Friends of Black Rock High Rock Executive Director

Yeah, maybe some stories about Wooly Mammoths too. 

 

 

Jessi Janusee – Western Resource Advocates Multimedia Storyteller

What tribes call the Black Rock Desert home?

 

Stacey Wittek – Friends of Black Rock High Rock Executive Director

Largely Paiute and up higher and eastern is Ute and lower.  But the Great Basin is huge and so it’s I would say that the Summit and Pyramid Lake pretty much call this region that we call the Black Rock NCA as home. But within the Great Basin area it’s a much more inclusive to a number of different tribes.

 

Jessi Janusee – Western Resource Advocates Multimedia Storyteller

Yeah, I’m really I’m stoked about having more of those stories in there that’s going to be great. What about other resources, you mentioned the Black Rock field station and I know there’s a lot of stuff on your website too for people who want to come out there or even people who just want to learn more. And then another cool thing is you guys have showers at your field station and that’s pretty rad too. Although I’ve never used them I’m always like I could go use those showers and I just don’t.

[Laughter]

 

Stacey Wittek – Friends of Black Rock High Rock Executive Director

I am proud to say because on October 25th we actually got full approval and are able to communicate this at large but we were able to write and received a community reinvestment grant. Which is pretty fantastic. So it will allow us to add a lot more programming to our calendar and allow us to buy 5 e-bikes which we can use to introduce people who may not have the physical fortitude to do the 6 bike camping tours we do each season which run anywhere between 25 to 75 miles. So these are with the hopes of being able to introduce everyone to a small slice of the NCA who might have otherwise felt intimidated to go out there. And one of the things that we’re doing is we’re kind of converting our beautiful historic little visitor center at 320 Main Street in Gerlach into a more of a welcome center and education center where people can stop by and get field guides and maps to trails and self-guided hikes in the NCA. We’re partnering with the community and this will be one of those partnerships that will take time and effort and collaboration to build a Gerlach interpretative tour that will start out in Gerlach which would be a walking tour of Gerlach which is in a fascinating interesting historic little town and out onto the playa and connect with some of the Burning Man properties and a fun folk art trail called Guru Road.

 

Jessi Janusee – Western Resource Advocates Multimedia Storyteller

Yeah, I lived in Empire for a week this year too. So that was fun and weird. I ran the gas station there for a week.

 

Stacey Wittek – Friends of Black Rock High Rock Executive Director

Wow, Oh that’s so interesting. Did you see the llamas” 

 

Jessi Janusee – Western Resource Advocates Multimedia Storyteller

NO?! Where are they? Down by the mine? 

 

Stacey Wittek – Friends of Black Rock High Rock Executive Director

There are two llamas in Empire. I think they’re free-range llamas. I’ve seen them once and I hope I’m not telling tales out of school because I hope they’re still there but it was interesting. I don’t know if you’ve probably seen Nomadland and are familiar with that. 

 

Jessi Janusee – Western Resource Advocates Multimedia Storyteller

Mhm

 

Stacey Wittek – Friends of Black Rock High Rock Executive Director

When the town was abandoned or I should say when the Empire Mine closed, there were a lot of stray cats and dogs and that brought in a lot of coyotes and coyotes are afraid of llamas And so that is my story as it’s been told is they brought in llamas to control the coyote population and that is Gerlach logic. Only in this corner of our state.  

 

Jessi Janusee – Western Resource Advocates Multimedia Storyteller

I love it. It’s so weird and wild.

 

Stacey Wittek – Friends of Black Rock High Rock Executive Director

It is. It’s a super wonderful community. It is very, very interesting and that community reinvestment grant that we received, one of our hopes is that it will enhance economies through outdoor recreation and making that connection sometimes takes work. We think well, it’s an $8 billion dollar industry of course it’s going to lift all boats. But that doesn’t happen unless you really make it happen. So this grant that we wrote includes training interpretive guides so hopefully we will be working with outreach to the community in Gerlach and Nixon and Wadsworth and our Pyramid Lake tribes and training people to be certified guides so that the story stays local and indigenous.

 

Jessi Janusee – Western Resource Advocates Multimedia Storyteller

So I’d love to talk a little bit more about climate change and environmentalism and just the ways in which the Black Rock Desert is being impacted by that.

 

Stacey Wittek – Friends of Black Rock High Rock Executive Director

It’s definitely getting hotter. Definitely, and it is no doubt that water in the west is the primary issue that we will ultimately face. And not even ultimately, very soon. I was just in Hawaii and I was really struck by the motto ‘the life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness’. I thought a lot about that in terms of well the term probably came out of a well indeed came out of a quest for sovereignty in Hawaii but I also love the term righteousness in terms of like thinking about it in in Buddhist terms right life, right intention, right word, right livelihood. I think that you cannot protect land unless you love land and I think that our job is to inspire righteousness through love and respect of place. There’s more that we can do and will do and have to do. But as a group that is not an advocacy group, it is a user’s group I really think the value of what we can do presently is inspire people to love the places that we have and to protect them with all their might.

 

Jessi Janusee – Western Resource Advocates Multimedia Storyteller

Yeah I feel like you’ve got a good crew of people who do really love it and protect it for sure and are great advocates of it. So hopefully that’s enough good feelings and dedication that helps get through the changing climate. It was definitely really, really hot this year,  well when I say that I mean at Burning Man, I mean, you know what I mean, but for everybody else – at Burning Man I was extremely hot. 

 

Stacey Wittek – Friends of Black Rock High Rock Executive Director

We camp with earth guardians and so every shift that I did was in the middle of a wind storm and and 104 degrees, it was a lot to bear and I’m out there all the time. So it is true, it is absolutely true.

 

Jessi Janusee – Western Resource Advocates Multimedia Storyteller

The roughest time I ever had in the Black Rock Desert was when we did the install of Baba Yaga at Fly Ranch and I was pregnant and it was in July. That heat plus carrying a baby was so brutal and that’s not the first time I was pregnant out there for two weeks but yeah for some reason that time it was just so difficult.  Just thinking about people living out there year round you know? I don’t know it’s tough. It is a tough landscape like you were saying like it’s really, it’s harsh. But it’s also beautiful and striking and magical, I think in some ways it being more harsh makes it cooler for sure. You know you have to work to be there. You don’t just get to hang out, you got to be intentional.

Stacey Wittek – Friends of Black Rock High Rock Executive Director

Yeah I think all places demand and deserve our respect but for me, for me, I need places that have a little bit of danger in the wild attached to them. Again, it goes back to wanting to feel kind of small and when you feel small you have respect, you get a sense of your place within the pecking order so to speak. In terms of landscapes and the harshness is one with its beauty. I like to say that the Black Rock Desert is heaven and hell within 15 minutes of each other.

 

Jessi Janusee – Western Resource Advocates Multimedia Storyteller

Yeah!

 

Stacey Wittek – Friends of Black Rock High Rock Executive Director

You can be like, ‘dear god I think I am dying, it is so hot and miserable!’ and then the sunsets and you are treated and afforded to a 6-hour sunset of sublime beauty and you think, ‘I’ve never been in a place more beautiful,’ and it washes away all that feeling of ‘I can’t take this, I just can’t take this.’

 

Jessi Janusee – Western Resource Advocates Multimedia Storyteller

Absolutely, There’s been a lot of times too where I’ve run out of water or when I’m hiking up some steep terrain and I’m like ‘you know what? Actually I’m going to go back down now. This is steep enough.’ I think there’s parts where you have bring yourself to the edge and you’re like, ‘I respect this land and I know that something could happen right now and it could be really bad for me and it’s time to just go home or go back to Gerlach and get more water or go back to camp.’ Yeah I think that’s really cool. You just get pushed to the edge and you’re like ‘oh the earth is like powerful and wild and I’m just in it for this moment and I need to respect it and respect its boundaries and my boundaries.’

 

Stacey Wittek – Friends of Black Rock High Rock Executive Director

And when that space opens in your head I think it is where ideas enter too and I think maybe that is the beauty of, well it’s certainly to me, why people have been coming out to the Black Rock either through Burning Man or through other events or just to go out there.It is a place that inspires big ideas and big concepts and big thinking.

 

Jessi Janusee – Western Resource Advocates Multimedia Storyteller

If you have any cool stories about it or tell us about your favorite part in the Black Rock?

 

Stacey Wittek – Friends of Black Rock High Rock Executive Director

Oh, there’s so many! Okay, this is great and I certainly did not rehearse this but it just popped into my brain and I haven’t been there in years but when I I mentally asked that question it came to me. Little high rock canyon which is a wilderness area so you cannot take a motorized vehicle or an e bike through little high rock canyon but I went on a two day camp trip through just walking. Again, I love walking it’s the right angle and time and space to really experience place I think. There were raptor roosts all along that way in a narrow canyon and a sense of privacy and solitude that just made me think maybe nobody’s been here for or stood on this particular rock for 800 years. It was quiet and lovely and full of ancient stirrings and voices.

 

Jessi Janusee – Western Resource Advocates Multimedia Storyteller

I love that moment when you get out far enough away and you’re like ‘wow I wonder if I’m the first person who’s been here in yeah, a hundred years, two hundred years, three hundred years.’ It’s crazy. It’s such a powerful feeling.  

 

Stacey Wittek – Friends of Black Rock High Rock Executive Director

Yeah, absolutely.

 

Jessi Janusee – Western Resource Advocates Multimedia Storyteller

Giving you that small feel, like I am just a tiny piece in this gigantic beautiful thing and I don’t have to stress so much about those emails!

 

Stacey Wittek – Friends of Black Rock High Rock Executive Director

No, leave them, come walk.

 

[Laughter]

 

Jessi Janusee – Western Resource Advocates Multimedia Storyteller

Well thank you so much Stacey for being here, it’s been really lovely. It’s been such a pleasure to spend this time with you talking about the Black Rock. And I wanted to just ask are there any other things you’d like to let our listeners know about the Friends of Black Rock High Rock?

 

Stacey Wittek – Friends of Black Rock High Rock Executive Director

Well, I want to encourage people to come to our website blackrockdesert.org and we are doing a a website upgrade. We haven’t changed our website, we’ve just added onto it so the whole thing is going to collapse like a dark hole if we don’t modernize it a bit. But it is a great space to learn about the are from broken out into mountain ranges and playas and events that have happened on the playa like the land speed record and rocketry and wind sailing. So we are a real treasure trove for information. We also, and again stay tuned to 2023, I think this season is going to be incredible between the e-bikes the bike tours the new geology and mineral and gem tours the Mystery, Mayhem, Murder and Looting tours that we’ll be giving, it’ll be a great way to come out and experience on your own what that place can be like. In the company of others,  I should not say alone because it can be dangerous to be alone, in the company of others and learning from others and sharing others which I think is one of the most beautiful ways to experience the Black Rock. So come to our website, while you’re there become a member because we are a very small but mighty nonprofit. We do a hundred nature walks, 13 programs, 24 weekends of site stewardship, all of this with myself and 1 full time staff and a host of volunteers and members. Members make it possible for us to do the site stewardship by literally putting gas in our tanks and supplying us with gloves and helping us get wilderness first aid training so we’re safe. And then the volunteers for being able do the enormous amount of work that there is to do out in 1.2 million acres. So come to our website, subscribe to our newsletter, become a member and definitely come out and volunteer and attend some of our programs.

 

Jessi Janusee – Western Resource Advocates Multimedia Storyteller

Nice, I think my membership has actually lapsed so I’m gonna get on that.  

 

[Laughter]

 

Stacey Wittek – Friends of Black Rock High Rock Executive Director

Ah thank you.

 

Jessi Janusee – Western Resource Advocates Multimedia Storyteller

Thank you again for being here and spending this time with us. It really has been a pleasure and I can’t wait to see what 2023 has in store for Friends of Black Rock High Rock.

 

Stacey Wittek – Friends of Black Rock High Rock Executive Director

Absolutely, enjoy the rest of your day, Jessi, bye.

 

Jessi Janusee – Western Resource Advocates Multimedia Storyteller

Now it’s time for a whole new little segment that we’re calling, ‘What I Like About The West’, which is based on a Tex Williams song from the 1940’s if you haven’t listened to it, you should, it’s amazing and it does give Reno a shout out so I’m a little bit biased. So our new segment is going to be all about you. What do you love about the West? Record a voice memo on your phone and send it over to us and you can be on the podcast, we’d love to hear your favorite things about the West, keep it around one minute, and show us what you got. We’re kicking off this segment with a little love from my boss, Haley Littleton, shout out to Haley. Thanks for jumping on this ship and being the first guinea pig to send over your little ‘What I like about the West’ so here we go, thanks Haley. 

 

Haley Littleton

What I like about the west is waking up in my tent above 10,000 feet to the alpine glow and making coffee with my aero press while the sunrise, I like the colors of Moab at sunset, Taos and A basin ski areas, a well-built mountain bike trail through an aspen grove, green chilis, that feeling when you are the first one out on a powder day, what I like about the west is when the deep blue sky glitters onto soft fresh snow, identifying wildflowers and foraging for mushrooms but I think what I really like about the west is the people of the west and the fact that we are resilient and poise to tackle some of our toughest issues.

 

Jessi Janusee – Western Resource Advocates Multimedia Storyteller

That’s a wrap for episode one of season two. I hope you guys enjoyed the new format. I’m your new host Jessi Janusee and I’ll be back pretty soon with some more content. In the meantime make sure to check out our website westernresourceadvocates.org check out all the work that we’re doing, share this podcast, give us a review of the podcast wherever you’re listening and be sure to follow us on social media. We’re going to close out with the tiniest bit of audio from Fil Corbitt from the Wind Podcast, and Stacey Wittek taking a little walk on Guru Road. So listen to the desert. See you next time.

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