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Washington Voices

Front Porch: Roadway rocks bear messages for travelers

Whether Paleolithic hieroglyphics or the twittering tweets of today, Homo sapiens are creatures of communication, leaving behind artistic imprints with tenacious insistence in hope that one day others will marvel at our etchings in the sand, writings on the wall, or rocks along the roadway.

Yes, rocks along the roadway.

Tweeting and texting might be today’s form of written legacies but they’re ho-hum when compared to a long stretch of Interstate 80 between Winnemucca and Reno, Nev., that has become a message board of sorts. These wordsmiths don’t use cellphones, neon lights or scenery blocking billboards; instead their messages are created from a lot of rocks.

Some are heartfelt greetings or words of encouragement: “Don’t give up!” Some are the familiar “H loves S,” while others are a mosaic of symbols. But no matter the message, the inventors of this ground graffiti have taken the time and, dare I say, a fair bit of talent in crafting their clever words and designs using rocks of assorted sizes, a generous amount of ingenuity and a heady dose of adventure.

On four occasions we’ve driven the I-80 corridor – admittedly a tad over the speed limit – but speed, even a tad over, does not deter a fellow wordsmith from delighting in these messages from the road.

As chance would have it, last November we were, once again, zipping down I-80 east toward Winnemucca. The bright sun was shining, the weather was warm and these messages from the road would not be quiet.

I hailed my husband to pull over, grabbed his camera, stepped out of the car and scurried down the small embankment. That’s when I realized the true ingenuity and adventurous spirit of these bards of Nevada.

A cartoonish replica of the moon’s surface came to mind as my feet sunk into the spongy grayish clay earth that grabbed onto my hiking boots. Not the same stubborn determination as the rain-soaked prairie of Cody, Wyo., that, when dry, is stronger than gorilla glue; this was a foamlike substance that filled the crevices in the soles of my boots.

I walked quickly and carefully, camera in hand, as 18-wheelers whizzed by.

The spongy ground coupled with being ridiculously short made it difficult to capture the amazing scene before me.

Still, I have pictures, odd and alien looking they may be, but proof nonetheless that words and thought will find expression no matter the medium.

Perhaps one day I’ll momentarily cast my leave-no-trace motto to the wind and add my own message to this stretch of supple land. Better yet, perhaps there are other stretches of highway throughout the country where similar words written in rock are waiting to be discovered. Or perhaps one day you’ll find yourself cruising down a highway and spot curious yet interesting ground graffiti where you too may leave your encouraging and insightful messages from the road.

After all, it’s only human.