Straight outta noisetown


Andrew Kiraly

The cottonwoods of Pahranagat.

Never thought I'd recommend, uh, piloting a Lysol-bombed rental RV up US 93 in shearing 40 mph crosswinds (I swear, had the steering wheel heaved halfway to the left as we lurched out of the valley), the entire chassis anxiously rattle-thrumming like some steampunk hellhorse (flashes of Walter White in his methed-out Winnebago, Clark Griswold in his errant station wagon) -- it feels like the doors, windows and various infrastructural access panels are about to flap and frisbee right off! -- but I recommend it for purposes of contrast. Sweet, sweet contrast.

Because then we dropped into Pahranagat Valley, with its springwater lakes, scrub meadows and cottonwood groves. The quiet is astounding. Even in the wind -- perhaps even because of the wind, which turns the cottonwoods into whispering instruments. They sway over a series of bulrush creeks where spring attracts the tiny willow flycatcher and the startling black-and-white bufflehead ducks. This small national wildlife refuge, one of four in Southern Nevada, is a vital rest stop for a veritable bird-o-pedia of migrating fowl, from Canada geese to Tundra swans. On this blustery day, we don't get any bird-watching in, but the mysterious bush-rustlings and peeps and chirps reassure us that we're not alone. 

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The human elements here have their appeal too: The refuge's visitors center is a marvel in itself. Opened in January 2015, it's a striking but respectfully scaled piece of site-conscious architecture that houses a remarkably intelligent and sensitive exhibit that has all the latest tactile gadgets (bird calls on telephones, buttons to bring up constellations) and also spotlights the previous presence of native peoples on the land.

After the thrattle and zurm of the highway, a stop that stimulates the deeper self. Who wants to be a bird? *raises imaginary wing-flap*

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