Odious and Peculiar

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Tuesday, August 23, 2011
Two Oddities of the Snake Range

I recently enjoyed an overnight backpack in eastern Nevada's Snake Range (probably better know as Great Basin National Park). Anyone interested in seeing my attempts to capture Nevada's beautiful landscapes would do well to look in on my photoblog (and keep checking, I've got quite a backlog). But two things I've learned since I returned merit mention here on Odious and Peculiar.

What do Neal Stephenson's Anathem and the Snake Range have in common? They're both connected to the 10,000 Year Clock project:
...a huge Clock, hundreds of feet tall, designed to tick for 10,000 years. Every once in a while the bells of this buried Clock play a melody. Each time the chimes ring, it’s a melody the Clock has never played before. The Clock’s chimes have been programmed to not repeat themselves for 10,000 years. Most times the Clock rings when a visitor has wound it, but the Clock hoards energy from a different source and occasionally it will ring itself when no one is around to hear it. It’s anyone’s guess how many beautiful songs will never be heard over the Clock’s 10 millennial lifespan.

The Clock is real. It is now being built inside a mountain in western Texas. This Clock is the first of many millennial Clocks the designers hope will be built around the world and throughout time. There is a second site for another Clock already purchased at the top of a mountain in eastern Nevada, a site surrounded by a very large grove of 5,000-year-old bristlecone pines.
Read the whole thing. I don't generally care for people mucking about with the landscape in indulgence of their own obsessions (see Christo and his planned hybrid of nuisance and eyesore which he wants to inflict on the Arkansas River), but this is pretty damn cool:
Carved into the mountain are five room-sized anniversary chambers: 1 year, 10 year, 100 year, 1,000 year, and 10,000 year anniversaries. The one year anniversary chamber is a special orrery. In addition to the planets and the Earth's moon, it includes all of the interplanetary probes launched during the 20th century, humankind's first century in space. Among others, you'll see the Grand Tour: Voyager 2's swing by of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune. The Clock will activate and run the orrery once a year on a pre-determined date at solar noon.
It's one of the better things I can imagine filthy rich people doing with their money. And in regard to the Nevada site, as much as I love the wilderness of the Snake Range, the area they're talking about is already impacted by mining and attendant road access. This is probably the only time rich outsiders purchasing an old mining claim might be good news. Mount Washington, the planned clock site, is visible below, towards the right, three ridges back and lighter than the other peaks (limestone, not quartzite).

The south Snake Range in Nevada's Great Basin National Park, viewed from Baker Peak

Seems like a good site to me. And the Texas clock will surely be the coolest thing in the state, and may even provide some public access to a region that's mostly off-limits.

For those who haven't read Anathem, the Stephenson connection is that he was asked to imagine such a clock, and those imaginations developed into the central conceit of the novel. (And what's more, I have just learned of the existence of Anathem music.)

Only vaguely apropos, on my recent sojourn in the Snakes I photographed an odd timberline flower which caught my eye, and only later realized that it appears to be Holmgrem's buckwheat (Eriogonum holmgrenii), an endemic unique to the Snake Range:

Holmgrem's buckwheat (Eriogonum holmgrenii), endemic to Nevada's Snake Range

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Beautiful photos and the clock story is fascinating!
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