Place Where You Live:

Elko County, Nevada

Tumbleweeds and Dust


Nevada is a dry land, covered with sage, tumbleweeds, and dust. Russian thistle, the official name for tumbleweed, is scrawny and multi-pronged, with its thin green arms curving upward from the root to almost a half circle, converging toward the top. When the thistle dries in late summer, the chlorophyll bleaches out, leaving a brittle, light brown-to-yellowish plant that breaks away from its base when the wind blows. Because of its curving arms, it forms a sphere that rolls and bounds freely across the valley floors and hillsides like a bouncing ball, scattering its seeds. Nothing break its roll but a cessation of the wind or barbed wire fences. The fences catch thousands of them along any several mile stretch.

One can drive along Nevada’s dirt roads without seeing another vehicle for a hundred miles. When you do encounter one, though, it is no surprise because you can see its dust billowing upward from miles away, forming an elongated cloud held aloft by the air currents before gradually spreading out and floating back to the ground. The dry, powdery stuff is inescapable here. Each step of a hiker creates a puff of dust that covers the boot and coats the bottom of one’s pant legs. The dust gets into your socks so that when you shake them out after removing your boots, a little dust cloud belches out. Your mother or wife will insist that you remove your socks outside.  

In the summer, hot air currents form swirling dust devils which can be seen from some distance. The wind funnels down to earth—like a mini-tornado—picking up dust and tumbleweeds into its swirling vortex. Children run into the thick of the whirlwind, eyes closed, and try to stand firm without getting blown to the ground. They emerge and laugh to see one another’s crusty masks, formed of sweat and dust.