The Big Lonely

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Interstate 80. Miles upon miles of nothing but road. The wind is howling outside my car as I look at the endless white stripe on the side of the road. I wonder to myself if anyone has ever lived out here. This is Nevada and the land is empty of people but not of ghosts.

I am sitting in my car on the side of the highway looking at my phone. I’m not lost but I’m also not sure where the hell I’m at. The sign I just passed said Pumpernickel Valley, but I can’t find any information on it. I surely am lost. I do a U-turn and go back to take a picture of the sign and keep driving. There isn’t a lot to look at as I drive and the local radio stations come and go. “Hell is coming” a preacher screams somewhere on the far side of the AM dial. It sure is a cold day for the devil to appear today. The temperature is having a hard time getting higher than 50 this morning. I count the cars and trucks as I pass them by, one, two, three, and so on. After a while, I pass six and it seems like it will be a while till I pass seven.

Traveling westbound on I-80 towards Reno, Nevada

I am on my way to Reno, Nevada. It has been a long day but the name of the exit keeps spinning around in my mind. Why couldn’t I find any information about it? It seemed all strange to me. After I get to reno I make a note to look deeper into the matter and it slips my mind for the rest of the trip.

I’m back home in Queens when I start to look at the pictures I have taken and find that odd sign, Pumpernickel Valley. Ah yes, the exit to nowhere. I start to look into the matter and what I find, well it seems the road to hell lies deep in the heart of the old west. The preacher was right.

Interstate 80 thru Nevada has an interesting past and with it some stories to tell. The transcontinental highway runs from New Jersey to San Francisco passing some major cities like Salt Lake City, Omaha, Cleveland, and New York City. But it also passes parts that are as empty today as it was when the California Trail first crossed parts of Nevada that Interstate 80 closely follows. Lots of people died trying to get to the golden state in those early years and with it, lots of dreams died with them. I’m not someone who puts many creeds into those types of tales but it does have to make you wonder sometimes, what was left behind besides flesh and bones on those fields of Nevada.

I got three tales to tell you, three lives that ended with many questions and very few answers. I don’t know what happened to these people, they could have simply gotten lost or maybe aliens took them, who knows. What I do know is that sometimes you best stay on the highway and go where you need to go fast.

Pumpernickel Valley

The road can be dark when all you got to light up the road are your own headlights. I have driven many miles in the middle of the night and what is hiding in the dark is a world that cant match what is in our imagination.

Patrick Carnes is on his way home to Reno Nevada from Ohio after visiting family. A Police officer pulls the 68-year-old after he failed to change lanes while the officer was parked off Interstate 80. With just 350 miles left on his trip, Patrick will go missing not long after he is pulled over.

Patrick isn’t alone on this trip as he has his big Akita dog with him. It is after 9pm when he is pulled over, late to still be on the road. It is Wells Nevada, a place I have been to. I think back to my time passing thru that stretch of the highway and nothing very interesting crossed my mind about it. Just endless road, nothing but road, and a whole bunch of nothing. It’s not the kind of place you want to find yourself on the side of the highway. Nothing but miles in between exits and a cold wind that will tear right thru your soul. It is 9pm and Patrick tore into the night with a warning from the officer, some 9 hours later his car would be found off exit 205 but Patrick and his dog Lucky would be gone.

This exit leads to nothing

There were no signs of anything having gone wrong and after the car wasn’t moved, local police started to look into the matter. Exit 205 is for Pumpernickel Valley, the area is called this because of the color of the ore in the local mountains and because of a bread-shaped mountain nearby. There was nothing wrong with his car and nothing was missing but one odd thing about his car, it was heading in the wrong direction. His car was found going east but when pulled over he was heading west, towards Reno and home. What caused him to get off the road and then for him to head in a different direction?

When Patrick was pulled over he told the officer that he was following a truck because he was heading towards Elko Nevada, a town about 50 miles from wells. Did he know the trucker? Did they meet up in Elko? Dashcam footage from the officer is not clear to ID the truck and no trucker has ever come forward with any help in the case. All we know is that somewhere between Wells and exit 205, Patrick went missing.

Patrick has never been found, nothing of him and his doggy friend. They just simply vanished into the night. It’s a lonely road out there, even in the early morning hours that I traveled in, at night I can imagine it to be worse. What did he see? Did he pick up a stranger somewhere along the way? Did he run into the night of the desert never to be found? Is a trucker killing people along the road? So many questions and no answers to be found.

But there have been more…

In 1978, 73-year-old Nan Dixion was driving from California to Seven Troughs Nevada when she went missing. Four years later her car was finally found with a strange note and empty cigarettes cartons that Nan did not smoke. The tiny 4’10” woman was making the three-hour trip to see her brother Harry and was traveling alone after her husband refused to go. After a stop in Boomtown Nevada to get supper and gas she too vanished into the night never to be seen again.

The car was found near a spot that had been searched four years earlier near a ditch. She never made it to her brother’s house that’s for sure. He lived on the land in the middle of nowhere and so Nan would have to take dirt roads once off Interstate 80. I ran into three different theories as to what happened to 73 year old.

The first one is that it was foul play by family members. Years before thee brother Harry and another brother had borrowed money from nana to try to start up a mine operation in the Seven Troughs area. Things didn’t go as planned and Nan was never paid back her money. Bad blood and bad actions happened as they tend to do when money and family are involved. The loan which was 6,000 was a lot of money then and even more so for someone like nan who was not well off. After 15 years had passed the family forgave the loan to try to heal the wounds it had caused. There are some who wonder if she was on her way to try to collect the money, but if so why go alone? She was 73 and tiny, not someone who could stand a chance with a bigger person if something would happen. She also had missed her brother so why rip the bandage off the issue.

West on I-80, not too far from where Nan went missing

The second theory that I ran across was how the car was found, in a ditch. Did nan run the car by mistake off the road and die waiting for someone to help her? At her age she wouldn’t have lasted long out there, it also would have explained the note that was found.

The strange note that was found in her car reads, ” …Keeps telling me to get the gun and end my nightmares, but this ill never do. God gives life, only God can take life. Committing your own suicide is the unbearable shame and I’ll never be left by a just God far from habitation with a beat in my heart…”

So did she get to the point where her body couldn’t handle being out in the middle of nowhere and break down mentally? Did she leave the car and try to get help and get lost and that’s why she was never found?

The third and more out-there idea, well it was aliens. Yup, when things do not add up, you turn to our old friends the aliens. I do not put much thought into this one but there have been tales of strange lights and strange ships in those remote parts of Nevada. Was Nan taken away? No clue really but I do know that Nan has never been found.

And more…

There have been a lot of people who have gone missing along Interstate 80 over the years, the section that crosses Nevada is known as the Big Lonely. That is easy to see why, with its endless miles and endless nothingness. For my third story, we go back to exit 205.

On February 14, 2006, 62-year-old Judith Casida left Reno Nevada where she lived, leaving a note saying that she was depressed about life and her marriage. After stopping at a Mcdonald’s she was never seen again.

Two weeks later her truck was found on a dirt road off the exit for Pumpernickel Valley, she was nowhere to be found. There was nothing wrong with her truck and nothing was missing from it.

Life can lead us down paths that are strange and many times not what we wanted. Was Judith at a point where she wanted to start life all over again? Did she run away? or did she run into the night and never turn back to a life she felt helpless in?

Killers are out there, there is no doubt about that. That stranger who helps you or offers you a lift because your car is in trouble on the side of the road, isn’t always what it appears to be. But more often the answer to what happens to people is scarier than a killer on the highways. It’s that people sometimes go missing for reasons that we will never know. We all want to know what happened to those above, we want to know that their last moments were of happiness and joy but more likely it was of pain and sorrow.

Interstate 80 is a big lonely place, lives were lost in the early days of the west and people still get lost out there today.

All pictures by me. Taken on the road in March of 2022.

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