On our way back to the state of Washington after almost a month on the road, Ruth & I had the opportunity to drive part of what is called “The Loneliest Road in America”. We drove the entire highway many years ago and enjoyed the nostalgia of being back on it. It was misnamed back then and is still not lonely at all. Oh, you have to pay attention to the gas gauge, but very old Federal Highway 50 does pass through 7 communities including fairly large Carson City, NV on its journey across Nevada.
This is the only road in America that responded so deeply to an advertising slogan. This highway actually passes through several lively towns like Ely, NV, population 4,000; and its designation as lonely is due to a geologic oddity in a state that loves to give its highways catchy names. This is, after all, the state with an Extraterrestrial Highway and what is called a death drive that skirts Death Valley. Highway 50 was the first transcontinental highway in America and was known as the Lincoln Highway. It still connects 7 communities interspersed with 300 miles of not much to look at but beautiful in its own way. The geologic phenomenon that leads to its loneliness characterization has to do with the fact that it is basically 380 miles of 17 mountain passes interrupted by broad valleys. The more dramatic ones are west of Austin.
Nevada’s mountains are strange in that they all basically run north-south. The valleys between these mountains rise to surprising heights. The last of the 7 towns, Baker, NV, has a small population but a high altitude. It sits higher than 5,000 feet and is the unofficial entry to Great Basin National Park, which soars to more than 13,000 feet and includes Wheeler Peak, the 2nd highest point in the state of Nevada.
Highway 50 was once part of a route that was short-lived and designated The Pony Express. As travelers go east or west on this so-called lonely highway they gain access to a major mining town called Ely, have access to a less visited but super National Park with caves, pass by hot springs named Spencer near the town of Austin in a state with many of these springs, have the chance to visit an opera house in the town of Eureka that was built in the 1880s, can see a tree that has become filled with shoes over time, and experience many vistas. If you drive the loneliest road, get used to many ascents and descents.
Because we had driven Highway 50 in its entirety many years before, we had no difficulty leaving Highway 50 at Austin, a community built into a mountainside, and heading north to Battle Mountain on state route 305, which doesn’t seem to have a clever name yet but is a rather boring, fast road very unlike Highway 50. We spent the night in Winnemucca. The last time we were here it was Halloween night.