The Loneliest Road Trip – Highway 50 Across Nevada – Central Nevada, USA

Highway 50 across Nevada, named “The Loneliest Road in America” by Life Magazine, is a real old school road trip. Start in Reno on I-80 or drive up Hwy 6 or Interstate 95 from Vegas. Take a car, a motorcycle or a bike, an RV or a van. Bring your camping supplies and plan to hang out for awhile. This stretch of road is open, unpopulated and still feels like the old American west. Camping is permitted just about everywhere.

There aren’t a lot of towns along the way – Fernley, Fallon, Austin, Eureka and Ely are all there is…and I do mean all. No truck stops. No gas stations. No Triple X Adult Entertainment stores. This trip is as much about the journey as the destination – awesome mountains, beautiful sunsets, and once, wild horses pacing me as I rode. Make sure you have fuel and water and let the side roads distract you. You might find a castle, native petroglyphs, a ghost town or a ruined mine.


Highway 50 - Looking down the Loneliest Road
Highway 50 – Looking down the Loneliest Road
Fallon is the last modern American town you’ll see if you leave from you start from Reno. There’s a Wal-Mart here, so stock up on everything from cold meds to Tampax. Your options will be limited as you drive. While you’re here, check out Lattin Farms, especially in the fall. This is a working farm that offers “Agri-tainment” – a café (great breads!), a display of vintage farming implements and in autumn a corn maze designed by Adrian Fisher. You’ll find it Off Hwy 50 at McLean Rd. and Scheckler Rd. just outside of Fallon. The historic Overland Hotel is worth a look as well. You can get some interesting Basque food (go hungry and order family style) and drink at their saloon where you expect to see Matt Dillon hitting on Miss Kitty. Rooms are cheap at $75-$85 per week.

Austin is a little bitty burg in the middle of the state – about 300 people all told. Surprisingly, I wandered around there for a couple of days. The pioneer cemeteries are fascinating, as well as Stokes Castle and all kinds of little mining ruins – don’t stand in the doorways, even caved in mines can cave again. You can get a good burger – beef or veggie – down on Main Street, and the turquoise and vintage clothing shops offer some eclectic shopping opportunities. Hotels here are clean and not much more, but you’re very close to Bob Scott Summit, so consider camping.

Eureka is a funny mix of culture and isolation. Their museum features a complete print shop and their finely restored opera house hosts a yearly art workshop, with some outstanding pieces in their basement display. Check in with Wally at the opera house about Irreverent Cemetery Tours, where American history meets Days of Our Lives.

Ely has decorated their building with some pretty amazing murals – the 3-D murals by Larry Bute tickled me in particular. They have a restored railroad and the Jailhouse Casino where you can eat some good prime rib behind bars. The historic Hotel Nevada is fun – casino on the first floor, motorcycles and collectables everywhere, and weird quirky guest rooms starting at $30 per night. Just watch out for the cold showers.


Inside the Eureka Opera House
Inside the Eureka Opera House
The 1860 Pony Express Route runs right along Highway 50 through Nevada. Roadside signs will point you to several restored Pony Express Station houses, which will make you appreciate youth hostels.

Grimes Point offers a couple of short hikes to a scenic overlook and to view some Native American petrogylphs (stone writings) that are between five hundred and several thousand years of age. There’s a little bit of interpretive signage on the route, but if you want details, get a brochure from the Bureau of Land Management.

Sand Mountain is just that – a six hundred foot tall mountain of sand. It’s pretty amazing, both during the week when it’s quiet and on weekends when lunatics on two and four wheels ride straight up and down the sides. If you’re an eco-tourist, this place will bother you, because this astounding natural feature is being used (and abused) almost exclusively for motorized sport. If you’re a sandboarder, you may be disappointed. There was way too much vehicular traffic there for me to try a run – but I hear there are some quiet times when you can risk it.

Stokes Castle is an interesting ride up a mountain near Austin. This summer palace got used for about 3 months after it was built in 1897 and it’s been sitting there since. Keep going up the road past the castle and you’ll find some pretty cool mining ruins.

Bob Scott Summit just east of Austin is a great place to camp. There is potable water (BIG advantage in this area) and the stargazing is unbeatable because these are some of the darkest skies in America.

Bristlecone Pine in Great Basin
Bristlecone Pine in Great Basin
Spencer Hot Springs offers a nice relaxing place to soak away the travel aches. There’s no charge, no water management, and very often, no clothes. Look for it about ten miles down a dirt road off of State Road 376 near Highway 50.

Ward Charcoal Ovens State Park makes for some scenic camping, and if you’re feeling quirky, call ahead and reserve their yurt. The charcoal ovens themselves are left over from the mining era, and they are in astonishingly good shape. There’s potable water at the campgrounds from May through September.

Wheeler Peak in the Great Basin State Park is a must see. Drive to the top of the road and then hike further to see the bristlecone pines, which are the oldest known living things on the planet. Wow.

Lehman Caves in Great Basin are also worth a look. The entry to the caverns is through a native funerary chamber, and you’re asked to walk in complete silence. Rather eerie. The caves themselves are fantastic and intricate, and even more interesting when you consider that they were used as a speakeasy during prohibition.

Overall, this was a good, good trip. I don’t recommend it in the winter – the weather is chancy between October and May, and July and August are pretty damn hot. For spring and fall, though, this is a lonely winner.