Our very last piñon pine Christmas tree

The Nevada Appeal's tradition of publishing Holiday Memories written by our readers will continue through Christmas. Thanks to all those who took time to share their stories.

- Editor Barry Smith

By Tom Davis

Jacks Valley

It was over in less time than it takes to tell about it. One minute, we were four-wheeling our way to the top of the Pine Nut Mountains east of Carson City in search of a Christmas tree, and the next, well, we were down in the bottom of Brunswick Canyon with thousand-yard stares pasted on our faces.

Even now, I don't like to think about what happened in between.

It happened in the winter of 1994. That year, when we set out on our tree-cutting safari, we found a 5-inch blanket of snow and ice covering the Pine Nuts. I never liked climbing steep, icy roads, even with four-wheel drive, but what was I going to do? We had to get our tree. We chose a likely road to the top of one piñon-covered mountain and prepared to power our way to the summit.

For a time, we just sat at the bottom of the incline and gazed up at what looked to be 200 yards of the steepest, snowiest road we'd ever encountered. Finally, trying not to sound nervous, I said, "Everybody have their seat belts on?" I glanced at my 14-year-old son, Robbie, in the back seat, then at my wife, Connie. Each of them sat transfixed, staring straight ahead. "OK," I said, "here we go." I pulled the four-wheel drive lever, shifted to low and let out the clutch. Slowly we ground ahead and the truck's nose rose before us.

I think I actually held my breath for the first full minute. But after that, when the truck seemed to have no difficulty with the steep road, I began to relax and enjoy the ride.

I looked over and saw Connie glancing nervously at the edge of the cliff and the valley floor several hundred feet below us. "Don't worry," I said. "We're doing fine."

She just nodded.

"Just look straight ahead everyone," I said. "Don't look over the edge."

Connie nodded again and pressed her head against the seat back.

"Only a little further now, Rob," I called. "You doing OK?"

"F-fine, Dad," came the tentative reply.

Moments later, as we neared the very top of the incline, the road grew much rougher and the truck began to buck and slide on the icy rocks beneath the snow. Automatically, I slowed down to avoid puncturing a tire.

And at that point something odd happened. Slowly the truck's forward momentum ceased, even though I could feel the wheels churning beneath us. Connie and I exchanged puzzled looks. It felt like the four-wheel drive had just stopped working. I pushed a little harder on the accelerator. The truck began to vibrate with the effort, but we still didn't move forward.

Finally, I took my foot off the accelerator and tentatively tried the brake. Big mistake. Slowly at first, then faster and faster the truck began to slide backwards. I tried the accelerator again, but the forward-racing drive wheels did nothing to stop our rearward plunge. The 3,000-pound truck had become a virtual toboggan as it headed for the bottom of Brunswick Canyon.

I grabbed the wheel in my left hand and tried to steer while looking out the mud-covered rear window. In the rear seat, Robbie sat transfixed, staring forward, eyes as big as billiard balls. I knew I had only the barest chance to keep us on the road. If the truck got near the edge, we were finished, for it would likely roll over and over, clear to the bottom, strewing truck parts down the mountainside.

By now, our toboggan-like skid had reached a speed of perhaps 15 or 20 miles an hour. In an effort to slow it down, I tried slamming us into the rocky uphill side of the road. But this only briefly slowed our mad flight and even threatened to flip the truck on its side. Boulders and trees flew by, though I scarcely saw them for all the bucking and bouncing and sliding from side to side.

I was too busy trying to keep us in the center of the road to chance a look at Connie, but she later told me that she had early-on focused on my wild-eyed expression and had decided that we were certainly going to die.

The ride lasted perhaps just 60 seconds, and I will never know how I managed to keep us on the road and away from the sheer dropoff. When the truck finally burst onto the canyon bottom, it did a complete 180-degree spin and came to rest pointing the other direction, as if to tell me the correct way to descend a steep mountain road.

For a moment after we came to rest, no one moved. Then, as if on cue, Robbie burst into tears in the back seat. I threw open my door, stumbled out of the truck, and sank to my knees in the snow. For a time, I just closed my eyes and tried to shut out the images of the hellish ride. When I finally opened my eyes and gazed up along our tracks to the top of the mountain, I couldn't believe we'd made it down alive.

Later, after I'd changed the rear tire that I'd ruined from slamming the truck into the uphill bank in an effort to slow it down, the three of us walked up the mountain to cut our Christmas tree; our very last piñon pine Christmas tree, as it turned out.

The following year, when it came time to go tree-cutting, we found a nice little tree farm in Apple Hill. We talked it over and decided that tree-cutting was much too fun to give up, but from then on, maybe we'd just take the hint and leave those piñons where Mother Nature intended them to be.

-- Tom Davis lives in Jacks Valley.


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Sign in to comment