Visiting Nevada was a study in contrasts.
I was there for a two-day strategy session on mining and indigenous peoples' rights. We met in a room at a local "Inn & Casino."
After two days of powerpoint presentations and power mapping, the room was strewn with the detritus of an activist meeting: dirty coffee cups, hand-outs, and the results of brainstorming sessions written on giant post-it notes attached to the four walls. By 5pm on the last day, everyone was still buzzed with new ideas and allies. The energy had risen so high that the final question was: when can we meet like this again?
Outside this bubble of activism lay the casino. When I slipped out to the restroom, first the cigarette smoke struck me. Then I noticed the rows and rows of clattering slot machines dotted with expressionless senior citizens slowly pushing in quarter after quarter. Nobody was smiling. In the background played the 1970s prog-rock of Supertramp, Gerry Rafferty and Wings.
Even when we arrived at the Inn & Casino at 7.30am on the first day, the scene was the same. Despite the early hour, clumps of people - none under the age of 50 - were still slack-jawed at the slot machines. I was told that the Elko casinos have no windows. All 24 hours the slot machines are bathed in the same artificial light that cuts people off from the natural rhythms of the day.
There is no way that I will spend one moment of my golden years servicing slot machines. Truly this part of Elko was my vision of hell.
Just outside of the casinos there was a different world. After the meeting, we spent a day visiting the valleys and mountains outside of town. These are the traditional lands of the Western Shoshone. Photographs can't quite capture the beauty of the scene. Nor can I do justice to the traditional stories told us by Carrie Dann, a renowned Western Shoshone activist and elder.
At the end of day, I soaked in the waters of a natural hot spring under the stars. A relaxing end to an inspiring few days.
Before my presentation, the projector shows my PC desktop complete the background picture of me and Ann.
This valley used to be dotted by geysers renowned in Western Shoshone oral history. Now the geysers have been drained by the geothermal plant seen venting in the distance.
Two views of the valley with the Cortez gold mine in the distance.More views of the landscape.