National Geographic : 2004 Oct
ELKO, NEVADA Take in the scene. Register the commanding Western mystique. Note iconoclastic characters: gold miner, prostitute, cowboy. Be dazzled by the casino lights. Close your eyes and try to locate a rhythm in the ping-ping-ping of the slot machines. Play slots in the grocery store, the gas stations, the hotels. Explore the Pioneer Hotel-home of the Western Folklife Center and Elko's most famous event, the annual Cowboy Poetry Gathering, which this year drew a crowd of 8,000 people. Wonder if there are 8,000 extra beds. Witness Elko's native son, cowboy poet Waddie Mitchell, dem onstrate his penchant for metaphor when he says, "That buckaroo was squealing like a piglet on caffeine, madder than a constipated badger on the fight." Listen to him talk about leaving a life of working cattle and rid ing out on the Nevada range. Notice his voice goes low, like he's eulogiz ing an old friend. Invite Waddie Mitchell to lunch at the Star Hotel dining hall, where he's greeted by a waitress who knows his name and what he'll likely order, which is a plate made heavy with beef lost in the wrinkles of gravy, otherwise known as the boarders' lunch, the boarders being a few elderly Basque gentlemen who occupy the upstairs bedrooms and come down for meals when a bell is rung. Try to pronounce the board ers' vowel-laden names. Learn how Basques have stayed on here in Elko once a railroad town, once a cattle town, once a Nevada town that, before BUCKAROO'S BOY Two-year-old Eduardo Solis first sat on a horse at two months of age. His father, lifelong cowboy Salvador Soils, who rides for the Bear Ranch, had to hold him up In the saddle. Today the toddler needs no such help. "He's crazy for animals," says his dad. "He likes it here on the ranch. He don't like it In town."