SOMEWHERE (MAYBE) IN BULLFROG COUNTY, NEV. -- It is impossible to locate this story more precisely. When the Nevada legislature, in its wisdom, created this county at about 3 a.m. June 18, it failed to designate any access roads. The county is hard to find and, once found, has few identifying features.

Not that Bullfrog County is an ordinary place. It has no human residents, the only county in the United States that can make that claim. It has, at the moment, no county government, no police, no courts, no buildings, no traffic, no schools, no sewers, no slot machines and, sadly, no bullfrogs or, for that matter, other amphibians of any kind. The official Environmental Impact Statement says so.

What it does have is nearly complete desolation and what U.S. Energy Department spokeswoman Barbara Yoerg called one of the drier, less interesting deserts in the country. This is a wonderful advantage when the federal government, with millions of dollars to spend, wants to dump tons of nuclear waste where there will not be many people to complain about it.

The crusty sand crunches underfoot, the creosote bushes and grey-white sagebrush shade the burrows of kangaroo rats and long-tailed pocket mice, the speckled rattlesnakes slither and the rock wrens look for tumbleweed seeds, but nobody here writes any angry letters to Washington, making Bullfrog County, once again, one of a kind.

The idea for Bullfrog County came to its principal founder, a wily North Las Vegas real estate agent and state assemblyman named Paul May, from a friend who has requested anonymity. May was meeting with other real estate experts on an unrelated matter in Carson City in April when, during a pause in the conversation, he asked if anyone had any ideas for getting the maximum amount of money out of a proposed federal high-level nuclear-waste dump at Yucca Mountain.

The site in Nye County about 110 miles northwest of Las Vegas was one of three places, including Hanford, Wash., and Deaf Smith County, Tex., being studied as a possible repository for tons of spent nuclear fuel now piling up in nuclear plant pools all over the country. Nevada, like the other two states involved, has vigorously resisted the dump, but federal law would allow Congress to put it here anyway. Given the potential burden on public facilities, May wanted to get as much money out of it as possible.

Under the law, the U.S. Department of Energy could be taxed during the selection process at the maximum local rate. That was only $1.62 per $100 assessed valuation for Nye County. May doubted the county commissioners would risk electoral suicide by raising their rate for everyone up to the state maximum of $5 just to soak the federal government.

May's friend said, "Why not just create a new county?"

"Lights flashed, bells went off and my brain started spinning," May recalled. The 59-year-old southwest Virginia native had spent 19 years in the legislature and had once been speaker. He knew how to sell a new idea to the news media. "If the federal government insists on putting the nuclear repository here," he said at a news conference in the spring, "it is my intention they pay, and pay every nickel we can get out of them." He knew how to keep a bill off the floor until the moment was right, in the frantic last days and hours of the state's record 151-day legislative session. His fellow Democrat, Gov. Richard Bryan, signed the bill and Bullfrog County -- 144 square miles in the middle of Nye County -- was born.

Once the governor gets around to appointing the county commissioners, they will meet in the new county seat, which is Carson City, the state capital, 270 miles away. The state, not Nye County, will control any federal money received and divvy it up as it sees fit.

I unhooked a gate latched with wire and drove northeast from Hwy. 95 as far as I could go along a very bad road. I still did not know if I was in the county. I feared what the rental car company's people would say if I pushed their car through any more gulleys. I wondered what my wife would say if I became stuck or lost.

This area got its name in 1904 when Frank (Shorty) Harris, a desert prospector, found gold encased in green-tinged quartz. The tint reminded him of a bullfrog. The resulting Bullfrog mining district produced more than $2.5 million in gold, silver, copper and lead until 1921, but a 1909 attempt to establish a Bullfrog County in an area closer to the California border died because of Nye County opposition.

The Nye County commissioners remain unhappy about Bullfrog's latest reincarnation. "It's a scam by the Clark County {Las Vegas} legislative delegation," said commissioner Robert Revert, who joined the unanimous Aug. 5 vote to sue the state over the issue. At least $25 million in annual federal payments are expected if the nuclear-waste dump comes here, and some members of Congress are suggesting bonuses of up to $100 million to persuade some area to take the dump without complaint.

Revert estimated 60 percent of Nye County residents support the dump, as a spur to local business. But most of the benefits, including new, taxpaying workers, are likely to go to Las Vegas, he said.

How the suit, which has not yet been filed, will turn out is uncertain. Bullfrog County opponents have charged the new law violates state constitutional provisions prohibiting special-interest legislation, laws pertaining to single localities and nonelected commissioners. Attorney General Brian McKay (R), who must defend against the suit, said, "Just because a piece of legislation is poorly drafted with little thought about what the ramifications are going to be, that does not necessarily render the legislation unconstitutional."

Almost all Bullfrog County land is owned by the federal government. The western half, which I was approaching, was reserved for bombing practice by aircraft from Nellis Air Force Base. The eastern half was part of the nuclear testing range. Although the county was 40 miles from where the underground A-bombs were exploded, a test was scheduled the next morning, and I did not think I wanted to be that close. Nobody lived here, the experts assured me, but I saw signs with bullet holes in them, and there was the small matter of the speckled rattlesnakes.

I made my way back to Hwy. 95, and the little town of Amargosa Valley. Ed Rigler, owner of the nearby Jackass Air Park, was sitting in a roadside bar, eager to express the view of many Nye County residents toward the new county.

"It's just a power grab by the state legislature," Rigler said. He chuckled as he sketched out a few more possible routes to my destination. He shook his head at the human ability to put words on paper and create something out of dry nothingness, if there is money in it.

"Politicians," Rigler said, "politicians can do anything."