From the Reno Gazette-Journal:
Author explores the dark side of the desert
Burning Man, the weeklong festival that begins tomorrow on the Black Rock Desert, has popularized the area located about 130 miles north of Reno.
The festival is what lured author Jason Walters to this remote section of Northwestern Nevada, but that wasn't what kept him returning.
"It's vast, open spaces and hard-bitten, independent people spoke to me in a way that San Francisco's jostling crowds never could," he said in the introduction of his recently published book, "An Unforgiving Land." "The more I came to know this unique land and its equally unique inhabitants, the more I came to admire them both."
The book is a collection of horror stories that he says is a tribute to the people of Gerlach, which he calls Hualapai.
Walters finally purchased a 55-acre ranch north of Gerlach. He and his wife, Tina, commuted every other weekend from San Francisco to work it until they decided four years ago to live there full time.
"To fall in love with such a place is to be doomed by a longing few understand," he said in the introduction.
Fantasy versus truth
The eight tales blend the fantastic with truth.
Canines crossbred to superior intelligence and sizes are raised by a reclusive ex-convict; a mutant mountain lion named Phat Albert with paws the size of garbage can lids roams in the Granite Mountains; an elderly widow lives in the remote Black Rocks with beast for a pet.
"Many of the stories are inspired by the wild exaggerations of things that have happened," Walters said. "I know there was a mountain lion named Fat Albert that was killed."
Several stories highlight the ambiguous relationship between local residents and the Bureau of Land Management.
After a resident is arrested for murdering a BLM agent then liberated from the local jail, other agents on the hunt for terrorists are killed.
"The ambivalence between the people of Northern Washoe County and the BLM, that is true," he said. "Yes, the BLM has a spotty history with some of the people that live out here."
Walters also examines the dark side of the Burning Man festival, where 50,000 people spend a week in the desert with very few rules.
The locals of Hualapai attend the festival but they aren't there for the gaiety. They are there to track and kill Big Momma, the devil who, like a vampire, is gaining strength by killing burners through sexual acts.
Walters described the relationship between the locals and the yearly festival that brings the town of Gerlach much of its economic stability as "complicated."
"I get along very well, as with most of the people out here, with Burning Man," he said of the festival that introduced him to the area he loves so much. "I think that Burning Man brings a lot of good out here and some bad. I would say more good than bad. And I don't think that the bad that comes out in most cases is the festival's fault. It's the nature of bringing 60,000 people out here."
He said he's now less interested in Burning Man and more interested in the region and the people that live there.
He has his own stories he can tell about a run-in with a mountain lion in the Granites in which it was his dogs that saved his life.
The area also attracts some shady people, he said.
"Yes, the Black Rock Desert is a spooky place," he said. "For myself, I am invariably friendly and I usually have a firearm handy. It's the way you have to be. On occasion, you run up on someone and it doesn't feel right. It's just best to be polite, be prepared. And don't run over anyone's dog."