If you drive through Nevada and see only a tumbleweed wasteland, then this column is probably not for you.
If you increase your speed on U.S. Highway 50, dubbed âAmericaâs Loneliest Road,â because you find that itâs also Americaâs most boring road, then youâd better pass on this commentary.
If you see distant brown hills and imagine them a good location for a strip mine or a nuclear waste dump, then youâre not going to like this column a bit. And if you consider the water from mountain creeks and riparian springs more commodity than poetry, I guarantee youâre going to hate it.
With Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid doing the political heavy lifting, last week President Barack Obama designated 704,000 acres of Nevada as the Basin and Range National Monument. In so doing, Obama protected it from development under the Antiquities Act and infuriated some of the stateâs conservative buckaroos and libertarians in the process. The designation doesnât keep citizens from experiencing the land, but it does prevent oil and gas exploration and strip mining on it.
Arguments that Obamaâs decree was somehow illegal are empty. The accusation that the deal was done without the input of Nevadaâs entire Congressional delegation plays pretty tone deaf considering the acrimony between the parties. (Not that conservative Congressmen Cresent Hardy and Mark Amodei didnât attempt a dustup.)
Folks who see Nevada as a fine place to put a toxic hole in the ground will never appreciate that the âbig emptyâ element of the state is one of its magical qualities. The undisturbed long valleys and distant blue vistas are what need preserving, and theyâre harder to protect than a petrified forest or some Native American cliff dwellings.
Whatâs left empty in the frame is still part of the work of art.
On KNPRâs âState of Nevadaâ on Monday, Reid defended his effort and celebrated the decision. Heâs not jogging much these days, but it sounded like he was taking a victory lap.
âMy point is this,â Reid said. âIn the generations to come, people will look back at this like they look back at some of the things that Theodore Roosevelt did. Heâs the one who got this going under the Antiquities Act. And he did some marvelous things. As has every president since him. Reagan used this. Both Bushes have used this. Clinton has used it. And itâs magnified the need of it during the Obama administration.â
Frankly, I donât know whether the President knows Beatty from Belmont. This was obviously Reidâs idea, and itâs part of both menâs legacies.
âSo thatâs all done,â Reid said. âNow itâs over with. And Iâm happy.â
Given his long and tumultuous political history, and reputation as a master manipulator whose moves generate conspiracies in the minds of his enemies, I donât know if Reidâs late-career push for the Basin and Range National Monument was done out of altruism or ego. If thereâs something more sinister or self-serving in the works, the bones wonât stay buried for long.
The fact remains Nevadaâs big country deserves more respect, not less.
For lovers of the real Nevada that exists outside the lights of Las Vegas and Reno, what matters is that substantial sections of our majestic wild country will now be preserved from the brothel treatment by those who are always willing to take a shot at our great outback.
The Senator from Searchlight found a way to get it done before riding off into the sunset.
If you still see that as a sign of the approaching Apocalypse, then Iâm guessing you wonât be visiting the Basin and Range National Monument any time soon.
Nevada native John L. Smith also writes a column for the Las Vegas Review-Journal that appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 702-383-0295.