A version of this story appeared in the San Francisco Examiner on Nov. 30, 2014.
An hour’s drive east of Reno, in a vast stretch of arid, saline Nevada desert, there are unexpected signs of life.
The city of Fallon – one of a fistful of dusty outposts along U.S. Highway 50’s “loneliest road” tracing the paths of early miners and settlers – is now probably best known for its fields of cantaloupe and alfalfa, ranchers and dairy farms, rodeos and drag races, and bars where bikers drink whiskey with pilots from the nearby naval base. This mostly rural community of some 8,500 residents sits perched on a landscape that some might see as the middle of nowhere.
You might be mildly shocked, then, to come upon a huge wetland preserve that attracts hundreds of thousands of birds every year, and a community that is making strides in sustainable agriculture, wine making, and the now-familiar refrains of “locally sourced” and “farm-to-table” dining. The city also boasts art galleries among its early-20th-century homes and hotels; as nearby, archaeologists are digging up remnants of an ancient past that stretches back to when the land was submerged under prehistoric waters.