Monday, August 10, 2009

It's elemental, my dear Watson

Looking at the calender, I am reminded of an incident that happened ...oh, more than 20 years ago. My longtime companion and I had just started dating. He came by late one evening and asked me out for a drive. It was a beautiful clear night in August, and right around the time of the Perseid meteor shower. We decided to get out of town, away from the city lights and take in the show. We headed south on 395, then left onto 341 toward Virginia City. About 4 1/2 miles up the grade, we pulled into the Geiger Grade turnout.

The Geiger Grade is named after Dr. Davidson M. Geiger, a local physician who financed the building of the original road back in 1862. The road allowed the movement of gold shipments, supplies, and stagecoaches to and from the Comstock. Because of its many twists and turns, it was a popular spot for robberies. The road was rebuilt in 1936, and the turnout area with its stone walls and seating was built as a dedication to D.M. Geiger. It affords a spectacular view of the Truckee Meadows and the Sierras.

On that night 20 years ago, we were alone up on the lookout point. Armed with a small flashlight, we wandered around the old stone walls, and climbed up to the seat at the highest point of the turnout. It was probably about 1:00 a.m., very dark, and very, very silent. We sat down on the stone seat and admired the lights of Reno away in the distance. (Back then, the lights of Reno didn't extend much further past South McCarren Blvd.) We turned our attention to the heavens. For a while we watched the meteor shower, calling out to each other as we spotted the more fiery ones. After a while, I noticed that G. was not watching the sky anymore. Rather, he seemed intent on something behind the boulder in front and to the right of him. I asked what he was looking at, and he shushed me, stood up and quietly walked over to the boulder and peered down its side. I sat there for a moment watching him, when suddenly I heard a noise; a small scrabbling noise, like someone walking over gravel. It sounded like it was coming from behind the large rock just in front and to the left of me. I stood up and headed in the direction it came from. Being on the short side, I had to step onto the large rock, and lay on my belly to look down. What I saw did not register in my mind as any thing familiar, and in the few seconds I saw it, I began mentally clicking off things it could be: a squirrel? No, larger. A giant lizard? Impossible. A badger? No...badgers can't climb like that, can they? The thing I was looking at was probably about 3 feet long, moved on all fours, had a long neck and was scaling along the steep side of the rock face in a horizontal fashion. I jumped back from the rock. G., who by that time was watching from behind me, grabbed my hand and said, "It's time to go." So we ran down the stone steps, across a clearing and up to our car. Once inside, we secured the locks and headed down to Reno.

Our adrenalin levels had subsided by the time we reached home. On the way down off the grade, G. told me he first spotted creature to the right of him, when it stuck its head up over the boulder to get a look at us. G. had sat there quietly, watching to see if it would pop up again. It did. G. described what he saw as exactly what I saw, however, G. had gotten a good look at the head and face. He described the creature having a rounded head and face with human features. When he stood up for a closer look, it had scrambled away from him around the boulder in my direction. That's when I spotted it.

Over the years, we have talked about what we saw on occasion, but we have never gone back to the lookout in the dead of night again. In the daylight, the place is pretty benign, just a pretty spot to turn off and enjoy the view.

The earth's orbit will enter the Perseids meteor shower on the night of August 11th. Hmm....

No comments: