Living in the Big Empty

22 Jan

Most bloggers stick with a single focus– their family, their profession, their unique hobby– whatever.  My content is all over the map.  So too, according to my analytics tools, is my readership.

I realize that people stopping by for ghost town info could probably care less about my musings about palm trees and Jack Johnson’s music.  Likewise, folks linking over from Wikipedia to read about the Honey Island Swamp in southern Louisiana likely care little about hiking in Tooele County, Utah.

Music reviews and posts about my kids aside, a prominent theme here is the vast, empty desert in my backyard.  It’s a unique, enigmatic place that one can’t possibly begin to comprehend without spending some time in.  Since I realize that more than just desert rats visit this website, I’m constantly trying to accurately describe it here.  I’ve concluded that perhaps the best way to do this is would be through the words and lenses of those who understand our deserts best.

Earlier this month, KNPB, a PBS affiliate based in Reno, NV, ran an original documentary called ‘Living in the Big Empty.’  The film features a healthy dose of commentary from Richard Menzies, a local photographer and author who spent a great deal of time exploring ‘America’s outback’ in his ‘73 Volkswagon bus.

His 2005 book, Passing Through: AnExistential Journey Across America’s Outback, documents his travels in this always intriguing, often bizarre world and tells the story of the people who call it home.  I’ve communicated with Richard via email for a couple years now and it was nice to match the name to a face in this documentary.

The film also features commentary from writer William Fox, whose book Playa Works: The Myth of the Empty is a must-read for anybody interested in Great Basin topography and its effect on the human psyche.

If you’ve ever read my lacking descriptions of the salt flats or the “West Desert” and wondered about these places, you can watch the entire film online at KNPB’s website.  I highly recommend it.

Richard Menzies
William Fox


Posted by on January 22, 2009 in American West, West Desert


9 responses to “Living in the Big Empty

  1. Tom Sorenson

    January 22, 2009 at 11:08 pm

    I love the mountains – and you’ve got some awesome mountains in your backyard, too – but for some reason, I’m just drawn to the desert. I grew up in the desert, and it feels like home – the way it makes me feel when I can see for miles over the sun baked land…and the sun setting over a dusty, hot desert is something everyone should be able to see once in their life.

  2. The Hunter's Wife

    January 23, 2009 at 12:36 am

    I think you just convinced me to watch the film.

  3. Kristine Shreve

    January 23, 2009 at 10:17 pm

    The desert is a totally foreign environment and one I’m a bit concerned that I wouldn’t like. My skin can’t take too much sun and I don’t enjoy too much heat.

    Still, I think I’ll watch the film just to see what it’s all about. Maybe I’ll change my mind.

  4. t. kilgore splake

    September 29, 2009 at 7:04 pm

    hello, folks,

    i would like to purchase a copy of the film — dvd — movie “living in the big empty,” and, i can not find a source, if one is available, i would appreciate any help, . . . .


  5. April City Girl

    March 21, 2010 at 1:20 am

    Hey, can’t be that empty, my Auntie’s there!!!

  6. April City Girl

    March 21, 2010 at 1:22 am

    If the whole world were the same it would sure be a boring place. No place can be that empty if my auntie is there… Cheers to Imlay and you too Becci sue

  7. Floating Shelves ·

    November 14, 2010 at 8:45 pm

    everyone likes to watch dvd movies, i watch at least 4 dvd movies a day “,.

  8. Dave Santina

    February 25, 2011 at 11:22 pm

    Splake, if you want to buy a copy on dvd, call 775-784-4555. That’s the number for KNPB, the producing station. You can also watch the program any time at, where many KNPB (and other PBS) productions are always available.

  9. Howard Santee

    March 18, 2012 at 7:04 pm

    sure wish you could scratch up the capital to produce some more Nevada people/land stories…
    maybe one on the maverick pioneer gamblers like Pappy Smith and Benny Binion. Im going
    to help by buying two copies of Big Empty for friends.


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