YouTube’s Jeff Williams tours the Sutro Tunnel with Chris Pattison

Video

Chris Pattison, historic site manager for the Sutro Tunnel restoration project, gives a tour of the property to Jeff Williams, a popular YouTube blogger who specializes in history, gold mining and geology.

  • To learn more about the Sutro Tunnel restoration project — as well as to donate to the effort — please be sure to visit the Friends of Sutro Tunnel.
  • To learn more about Jeff Williams, please visit his website.
  • To read Dennis’s July 4, 2022 update on the project, please visit the Nevada Appeal.

Nevada sunsets

A gorgeous orange-and-red sunset glows in the Nevada desert above a small hill draped in shadows.

Nothing punctuates a scorching desert day like a pristine Nevada sunset. As the sun descends behind the distant mountains, the sky turns brilliant shades of orange, scarlet and violet. Rays of sun stream across the landscape like spidery, caressing fingers. 

Windswept clouds glow with radiant, almost heavenly hues. Like a fire, the collage of colors burns brightly, as if searing a brand into the sprawling canvas of the twilight sky. 

This final burst of brilliance is like the last gasp of air from a dying day – a residual surge of luminescence before dusk devolves to darkness. And just as quickly as it came, the sunset begins to fade, much like the dying embers of a once-blazing campfire. The rich, vivid hues smolder away to smoky blackness. 

The gentle dissolving of day into night is much like the perpetual momentum of breathing: a constant, natural pattern deeply engrained in the fabric of existence. 

There’s nothing quite so majestic as a Nevada sunset. They’re in bloom for only a few, fleeting moments before they dissipate into darkness, unveiling the stars. 

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.