Apparently, in the late 1980’s Life Magazine ran a “very negative article” about Nevada State Highway 50 titled “The Loneliest Road”. Then a spokesperson for the AAA put the nail in the coffin by describing the road as follows “It’s totally empty. There are no points of interest. We don’t recommend it. We warn all motorists not to drive there unless they’re confident of their survival skills.”
That is when some shrewd Nevada tourism officials began to call Highway 50 “the loneliest road in America”, and developed “The Loneliest Road in America, Official Highway 50 Survival Guide” marketing its non-traditional and unique places of interest, most of which were and are still free. Touché.
We picked up our “survival guide”, it highlights the towns of Fernley (which is actually on Alt50 and was not on our route), Fallon, Austin, Eureka, and Ely. If you get a stamp in each of the five towns on the map and send it in to the Nevada Tourism Commission, you receive a Loneliest Road survival certificate signed by the Governor, a Loneliest Road lapel pin, and a Loneliest Road bumper sticker announcing you survived this “uninteresting and empty” road. And we did.
We planned to spend our first night in the town of Austin. On the way there, we stopped at the Grimes Point Petroglyph Site for a short hike amongst some great petroglyphs. Doggies were allowed so we all got to stretch our legs. And it was free.
Next we stopped at the Sand Mountain Recreation Area, basically two huge sand dunes in the middle of nowhere. The ATVers were parked in the campground, but no one was on the dunes, since it was rather windy. But that meant that the dunes were smooth and beautiful, quite a sight to see. Also free.
Also along the route were several Pony Express sites. Hwy 50 closely follows the original route of the Pony Express. An amazing story about a piece of history of communications across the United States. This horseback relay mail service came at a time when mail between the East and the West coasts took months to be delivered via Panama.
The Pony Express established relay stations every 75 to 100 miles, and smaller relay stations every 10 to 15 miles. There the riders changed horses, and those who were not working rested.
The remains of these structures are strewn throughout this route. Also free. Although this service ceased operations after 19 months due to the completions of the transcontinental telegraph, there are many fascinating stories of riders and the hardships they endured to transport the mail between the East and West in ten days.
Riders had to weigh less than 120 pounds, and very young riders were preferred, although there were riders up to forty years old.
Buffalo Bill was one of the Pony Express riders. They were a resilient, hearty bunch.
Stories abound about specific riders who withstood all sorts of challenges. Read some of those stories here.
We arrived in Austin, an “unreconstructed” mining town, a bit late and wound up camping just off the main road in a space just outside a closed gate. We were not quite sure it was legal but it was quite a cozy little spot with a sweeping view of the vast landscape. ( The sheriff drove by in the morning and gave us a friendly wave so it turns out it was ok).
The evening we arrived, we had one goal – we went to the International Bar, located in the downstairs of the old International Hotel, Nevada’s oldest hotel. The International Café and Bar are actually in their original locations. The bar is one of those bars frozen in time, filled with stuff, a bit run down and very atmospheric.
There were just a couple of others there, and the owner. He is originally from Serbia, and told us there is a strong Serbian community throughout the mining areas of the west, as many Serbians immigrated here beginning in the late 1800s and found work in and settled in mining towns.
The next morning we wound up returning to the International Café next door to the bar for breakfast. Breakfast included some incredible Basque chorizo. It was a great breakfast and the place lived up to its name.
For those that want to hang out in the area there is also some good hiking, biking and other outdoor activities.
We arrived in the town of Eureka, described as one of the best preserved mining camps in the West and stopped in at the beautifully restored Eureka Opera House, now a full service convention and cultural arts center.
We began a self-guided tour of the Opera House, and then Patty, the Assistant Director, joined us. She told us about the history of the Opera House, and showed us the walls where it seems like anyone and everyone who has been part of a performance there has signed. The oldest signatures were from the 1890s. Very cool.
Patty was leaving for the day, and we had asked about BLM camping, so she went out of her way and led in her car us to an area that had some possible sites. But after driving about a bit we decided to stay in a large paved rest stop at the end of town so we could have a little extra time in the morning to walk around.
This was my favorite of the three towns we visited, as they have done such a beautiful job of restoring so many structures. The Eureka County Courthouse is a must-see. It has been in continuous use since 1879, and is in perfect condition. This is a gorgeous building with pressed metal ceilings, gilded accents, and beautiful wood. And a cute judge.
The courthouse also has all of the original water records for the town in their records room inside the original fireproof vault. Patty again joined us and treated us like royalty. She showed us around and even got the key to open and give us a look at the original jail, currently not open on the self-guided tour.
Last but not least we toured the Eureka Sentinel Museum, which housed the Eureka Sentinel newspaper from the late 1800s until 1960. Inside we saw the original press room and lots of other great artifacts.
Later that day, we continued on the Loneliest Road to Ely. Driving on more remote stretches of highway on the way.
Ely is the largest town on this road. We paid a visit to the White Pine County Public Museum which has lots of historic artifacts of this mining town, whose mines produced nearly $1 billion in copper, gold and silver during the first half of the 20th century.
Then we took Angel for a walk in a nice little park in the center of town.
The Loneliest Road in America can be lonely, but it is certainly not uninteresting.