A rocky pursuit for the elusive SUV boulder 

The elusive SUV boulder, so named because … well, it looks like an SUV. And it’s a boulder.

The rock hunter stalks his quarry with a cool, levelheaded calm. He looks completely at peace. His steps are quick and effortless. In a single, fluid motion, he scampers down a hillside and hunkers alongside a scraggly brush, his eyes squinted against the sun. Beads of sweat dot his forehead. His arms appear chiseled from granite, his leathery skin bronzed. He peels back his dry, cracked lips, sucking in a quick breath and savoring the fresh, outside air.

Then, he lights a cigarette.

At this moment, the rock hunter looks intent and menacing. The stones scattered around him lie petrified by his presence.

But this hunter’s not interested in mere pebbles. Too easy. His prey is larger, and bulkier. He’s in this game for the sport, and there’s no sport in plucking marble-sized rocks from the ground. No, he’s seeking out a far bigger prize – one that will bring him fame, awards and money. This hunter is stalking the elusive SUV boulder.

Once thought to be extinct, the SUV boulder inhabits the far reaches of the desolate Great Basin desert. Its numbers are small, and few people have reported seeing them. Many of the purported sightings have later proved to be hoaxes.

But our hunter seeks the real thing. Armed with his trusty rock hammer, which is holstered in his belt, he rises from his spot and strides across the terrain. The heat is brutal and unforgiving. A lone buzzard swoops in circles overhead. The hunter raises an eyebrow, his face steely, and scary. A lizard scurries under a rock, as if frightened by the hunter’s sinister gaze.

The flats soon give way to clumps of dense sagebrush. A single, lonely flower sprouts from the dry, ragged earth. It’s a bright-red Indian paintbrush, which offers a speckle of color against the swaths of gray brush.

The hunter kicks at the flower, uprooting it. Its roots wave like tendrils in the breeze, grasping for a hold that’s no longer there.

The hunter crushes the flower’s petals with the heel of his boot, a wicked snigger escaping his parched lips. He should definitely consider chapstick, but he’s much too tough for that. Especially as he mercilessly grinds the flower’s petals into the sand.

A herd of rocks lies ahead. The hunter can see it. They’re way off in the distance – at least a dozen. They’re not SUV rocks – SUV rocks don’t travel in herds – but they’re beautiful specimens of cherry-red jasper. The hunter moves forward, stealthily.

But the rocks are alert. They raise their heads, sensing a predatory presence. The larger ones instinctively encircle the herd. They’re all fine, beautiful specimens. And because they spend so much of their time rolling, these stones have gathered no moss.

The hunter pauses. He knows the rocks can sense his presence, and he doesn’t want them to scatter. He stands and stares, his palm shielding his eyes. Ever so slowly, he runs his fingers along the handle of his rock hammer.

A moment passes. And another. Then, one of the jasper rocks turns, signaling to the others to start rolling.

And away they go, spreading like startled deer. The hunter unholsters his rock hammer and starts running. He sets his sights on the largest rock – a buck. Though not as valued as the SUV boulder, a chunk of jasper can be broken up and put into a tumbler to create smooth, glittering gems. The rock hunter can then sell them for 25 cents apiece in a Virginia City souvenir shop.

The rocks are rolling faster, barreling toward the edge of a steep canyon. If they can make the canyon, they can escape the hunter. So they roll even faster, tumbling over stones and brush.

The hunter grabs his hammer and throws it like a tomahawk. It grazes the rock’s shoulder and stabs into the ground, protruding like a wayward projectile. The jasper rocks sail into the canyon Thelma-and-Louise-style, bouncing down the cliffs and colliding with one another in the narrow valley below. A few are chipped and bruised, but otherwise, they’re unhurt – and they’ve all gotten away.

The hunter has been eluded, and he knows it. He’s explored this terrain for years, but he forgot about the valley. And that was his undoing. He should have known that provided with such a convenient escape route, the rocks would get away.

The rock hunter has lost some of his cool, but not his swagger. He pauses to catch his breath, then saunters forward to collect his rock hammer. Its cold, hard steel glimmers in the afternoon sun.

The hunter continues his search for the elusive SUV boulder. The sun hangs high in the sky, scalding the forbidding landscape. The hunter passes the bleached remains of a fellow desert wanderer. Perhaps he was a hapless rock hunter who ended up losing his marbles.

The SUV boulder is out there. The hunter is sure of it. He’s spent his whole life pursuing the creature, but he’s never laid his eyes on one. It’s the only specimen he doesn’t have in his yard. The hunter doesn’t want to die without first attaining the ultimate trophy.

The winds whisper across the desert, stirring up the dust. The sun sinks lower in the late-afternoon sky. Another day is passing. Another day with no SUV boulder. Another day of wretched, agonizing failure.

The hunter sits upon a rock outcropping to rest. He gulps from his canteen. His boots, trousers, shirt – and even the roof of his mouth – are all coated with a fine, powdery dust. He leans back his head, pulling his hat low to shade his eyes. The heat can drive a man insane; make him do things he might later regret … like forgetting to put rinse aid in the dishwasher so that his glasses come out all spotty.

As twilight approaches, the hunter gets up to leave. His camp is not too far. He’ll spend the evening cooking beans and dreaming about that prized SUV boulder.

Then later, in his tent, the flap half-open to let out the farts, the hunter will drift off to a deep and restful sleep. He’ll dream about the SUV boulder, that sacred trophy that has eluded him for so long.

And in his dream he’ll be wandering, crossing the rugged miles in boots worn thin from time, as he searches for that holy grail of boulders, leaving no stone unturned.

Allen Coyle is Dennis Cassinelli’s grandson and the author of two books, which are available on Amazon. He’s also the webmaster for denniscassinelli.com.

Political correctness attacks historic place names

Exploring the Great American Desert

Exploring the Great American Desert

Political correctness really chaps the backside of my wrinkled old hide. I’m going to cite just one example of how far bureaucrats will go to shove their interpretation of what they believe to be politically correct down our throats.

I have often used U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) maps published by the U.S. government during my travels throughout the American West. The desert country of the Great Basin has often been referred to as the Great American Desert. This is largely a desolate land with few paved roads and even fewer places with human habitation. Before widespread use of Global Positioning System (GPS) for determining where you were, desert travelers commonly referred to USGS maps to keep them from getting lost.

I bought my first book of USGS maps in the 1960s when I was traveling extensively through the mountain and desert country of Nevada. In my younger years, I worked as a construction surveyor and inspector. I have hunted and fished in nearly every county in the state. The early USGS maps showed the names of every mountain, creek, cow camp and glory hole in the region. The colorful names of the places shown on the maps were given by the early hunters, trappers, miners, cowboys, Indians and pioneers who first settled the West.

No matter where you were, you could know the name of the canyon, stream, or mountain range where you pitched your tent, shot your deer or caught your fish. The early map makers made no effort to edit or change the names originally given to these places. You could tell a fellow hunter you had jumped a big bunch of sage hen just north of Chicken Shit Springs and he would know exactly where you were talking about. You could tell another group of hunters to meet you at Squaw Tit Butte and be certain they would be there at the agreed upon time. (These are actual examples from an old USGS map of Humboldt County).

The early USGS maps showed many of the ruins of historic places such as ghost towns and archaeological sites. These references have been removed from the more recent editions of the maps, presumably to protect them from vandalism.

I used my book of USGS maps so much over the years, it became dog-eared and worn. I had torn out several pages to loan to other travelers or hunters at different times and finally decided to buy a new book of the maps. To my great disappointment, I found the newer editions had been heavily edited for political correctness. By that I mean many of the colorful old place names have either been changed or eliminated.

Some U.S. government pencil pusher, who probably never spent an evening under the stars listening to the coyotes howl, removed all the old descriptive names from the maps. No longer can any names referring to Indians be found. No petroglyph or archaeological sites are shown. No place names with even a hint of profanity can be found on the revised editions. Names of places used by hunters, ranchers and miners for more than 100 years were removed to keep from offending one group or another of people who likely have no business out in the back country anyway.

In my opinion, the entire effort failed miserably. I, for one, am highly offended some government employees can take it upon themselves to change the colorful history of a region by editing out the names people have assigned to places for decades. This is similar to the protestors and politicians who are destroying symbols of our cultural heritage. The new USGS maps are readily available. It may take some searching to locate one of the older sets that still have the wonderful historic names given to these places. This article was taken from my book, “Uncovering Archaeology.” Since I wrote this book in 2009, there have been some efforts by the USGS to scan and sell thousands of pages of the older USGS maps, including those described by me in this article. Apparently, other interested persons have also pressured USGS to make copies of these historic old maps available. If you’re interested in obtaining some of these copies, check out the USGS website.