Whoops and grumbles aside, we can all agree our new national monument is pure Nevada
Talk about your mixed reactions. The presidential ink had barely dried on the order creating the 704,000-acre Basin and Range National Monument, on July 10, before arts boosters and environmentalists were whooping it up. If you’re social-media friends with anyone who can spell “art,” pics of giddy celebrants at Atomic Liquors on Fremont probably cycled through your feed.
In the opposite corner, though, not so much. From officials in Nye County on up to presidential candidates Ben Carson and Jeb Bush, it was all frustration. Nye County Commissioner Frank Carbone lamented on “KNPR’s State of Nevada” that it would cost his county some $99,000 in lost federal funds, and don’t yap at him about a potential increase in tourism dollars. He doesn’t see that happening. Gov. Bryan Sandoval, Sen. Dean Heller and others complained that Sen. Harry Reid, prime mover behind the designation (to pad his legacy, they say), and President Obama didn’t run this plan through Congress. Meanwhile, Rep. Mark Amodei, apparently relying on a 12-year-old speechwriter, dubbed it the “Hairy Berry National Monument,” a definite high point in Nevada political rhetoric.
Yet its opponents have largely focused on the procedure by which Basin and Range was enacted; few have quibbled with the actual merits of preserving that acreage. And no wonder. As the photos above attest, the area is suffused with the stark, minimalist beauty that is the genius loci of the Nevada landscape, its essential spirit. It contains enough petroglyphs, some 4,000 years old, and other native sites to warrant Obama’s use of the Antiquities Act to save it. The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, in supporting the designation, has predicted that cowboy-loving Europeans and ecotourists will be drawn there, perhaps easing Carbone’s concerns.
As is the fate of most things these fraught and divided times, Basin and Range — due in large measure to the presence of Michael Heizer’s titanic artwork, City, the preservation of which was a singular point of Reid’s effort — will inevitably be a litmus test and a blank screen on which conflicting ideologies will be projected. (“This guy’s crazy art project in the Nevada desert is 2016’s sleeper campaign issue,” yelped a Mother Jones headline.) But these photos remind us that when all the lip-flapping is done, the land will still look just like that, wonderfully preserved for generations.