Monday, May 18, 2009

The Loneliest Road In America

A couple decades ago Life magazine had an article that gave a section of U.S. Highway 50, in Nevada the nickname, "The Loneliest Road in America." The article described a road with few travelers, with long distances between the few small towns along the road.

The article generated a lot of publicity and soon Nevada tourism officials saw an opportunity to market the Loneliest Road. The Nevada Department of Transportation played along and changed the name of the highway with new Highway 50 markers.

Nevada issues a passport that Loneliest Road travelers can get stamped at locations along the route, which you then mail in to receive a certificate, signed by the governor, proving you survived "The Loneliest Road in America."

As a consequence of all the publicity, America's Loneliest Road is not quite so lonely anymore. But it was plenty lonely when I drove it as part of a long road trip, the first destination of which was Reno. From the west, the Loneliest Road begins in Fernley, that's where you'd get your first passport stamp if you were wanting that certificate. The next town you come to is Fallon.

After Fallon is when the road starts getting lonely. Soon you come to Sand Mountain, the biggest sand dune I've ever seen. It is over 600 feet tall. We tried to make it all the way to the top, but it was hot and exhausting. It would seem like you were almost at the summit, and then there'd be more climbing. The run back down was fun.

The Loneliest Road in America crosses several valleys, going up and down mountain ranges. You see way into the distance, at times the line of telephone poles has an almost hypnotic effect. Every half hour or so we met an incoming vehicle. After Fallon the next inkling of civilization is the single building town of Middlegate. The one building is a roadhouse that has been a restaurant, bar, hotel and refueling station dating all the way back to the 1880s and the Pony Express. There are a couple Pony Express stations along the Loneliest Road in America.

The next town you come to is Austin. This used to be a mining town with a booming population of over 10,000. Now Austin calls itself a living ghost town with about 300 people. Leaving Austin the Loneliest Road turns twisty turny with hairpin curves and steep climbs as you head to Austin Summit at the top of the Toiyabe Mountains.

After Austin you come to Eureka. This also is an old mining town that has seen less lonely days, but some mining still takes place in Eureka. Eureka calls itself "The Friendliest Town on the Loneliest Road in America."

The last town on the Loneliest Road in America is Ely. Just before you get to Ely there is a little town called Ruth. In Ruth is a humongous copper mine. I'd never seen anything like it. An enormous hole in the ground with big trucks driving down into the hole. It was getting dark, so I couldn't get a good picture. There's a viewing area where you stare through a chainlink fence at the copper mining operation. The Ruth copper mine has been shut down since I saw it. I imagine one can still look in the hole.

We stayed the night in Ely. Ely's population is over 4,000. With many motels, restaurants and fast food joints to choose from. And casinos. We got a room and then walked Ely's main street til we found Tio Juan's Margaritas Mexican Restaurant & Watering Hole. We saw this place as we drove into town, were in the mood for Mexican, so that's what we had. It was good. The Loneliest Road in America is not so lonely that it doesn't have the Internet. Tio Juan's Margaritas Restaurant has a website.

This Roadtrip originally had Reno as its only destination. Before Reno we explored caves in Lava Beds National Monument. After Reno driving the Loneliest Road in America seemed like a good idea. By the time we got to the end of the Loneliest Road, staying the night in Ely, we had decided to continue on to Zion and Grand Canyon National Parks, then on to Las Vegas, then a very hot Death Valley and then heading back north, passing through Reno again on the way to hike around Mount Lassen National Park where there were Yellowstone-like hotsprings bubbling and steaming.


Cheap Tricks and Costly Truths said...

WOW...600 hundred feet!?! The ones in Monahans are only about 60-70 feet high. I take the kids there every summer to sand surf. We rent big plastic discs, wax the bottoms...climb up the dune to the very top and then slide down really fast...:) Also, during the summer they offer camel rides which my daughter enjoys. We love the dunes...we pretend we're adventurers searching for an oasis.

Durango World America said...

It was exhausting. The only other dunes I'd climbed were the Oregon Sand Dunes at Honeymoon State Park. They are tall, but not 600 feet. This Sand Mountain one, you had to park a distance from it due to not wanting to get stuck in the thick sand, so you were worn out from trudging thru the sand before you made it to the mountain. Just remembered, I've climbed short sand dunes at White Sands National Monument in New Mexico.