The Loneliest Road

lonely004We really admire reinvention. And areas with a rich history. That is why we chose to take a drive on the Loneliest Road in America.

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.”lonely018

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.

lonely006lonely007Hector, who is a big history buff, was particularly excited to see the towns and places of interest along the road, and he had a plan.

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.

lonely005We 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.lonely014

lonely013Next 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.

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Old way ... new way

Old way … new way

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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.Pony_Express_Posterponymap

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.map-nvsta

pony_expressHere is the ad for the riders –

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.

lonely053Between Pony Express stations, there were many straight stretches of remote highway.

lonely020We 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).lonely022

lonely023lonely024The 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.lonely027

lonely026There 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.

He had some shall we say…interesting opinions. Fortunately for me, Hector, the extrovert, is willing to engage in all sorts of conversations.lonely028

lonely029lonely035The 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.

lonely033There were many historic buildings in the town of Austin in addition to the International Hotel, a mixture of restored and decaying structures.

For those that want to hang out in the area there is also some good hiking, biking and other outdoor activities.

lonely041lonely042But we continued on our way towards Eureka, stopping at the Hickison Petroglyph Site, also free. This short hike was also pet friendly and we extended it a bit by connecting to another hike.lonely043lonely046

lonely044lonely047lonely049lonely048Then more stretches of remote highway.lonely040

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Dust Devil in the distance

Dust Devil in the distance

lonely054lonely056We 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.

lonely055lonely059Restoration was begun on the opera house in 1990, 32 years after it had been closed down. It reopened in 1993 and received the National Preservation Honor Award in 1994.lonely058

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.

View from the rest stop

View from the rest stop

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.lonely065lonely064

lonely077lonely080This 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.

lonely083The 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.lonely070lonely075

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. lonely071

There were other cool old structures around town.  A general store, a hotel, some bars and the like.lonely066

 

lonely069Later that day, we continued on the Loneliest Road to Ely. Driving on more remote stretches of highway on the way.lonely068lonely084

lonely087lonely085Ely 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.lonely086

Then we took Angel for a walk in a nice little park in the center of town.

lonely099We did not stay in Ely but rather continued on to the last stop on the Loneliest Road in America, the remote and little visited Great Basin National Park (stay tuned).

The Loneliest Road in America can be lonely, but it is certainly not uninteresting.

~ Brenda

 

22 thoughts on “The Loneliest Road

  1. What an interesting account of an area so full of rich western history! The best discoveries are the people that you find in these remote places, and the longer you can stay, the more immersed in their stories you become. We’re heading to the Escalante region of southern Utah next year, and this might just be a side trip we must plan to include. Thanks for sharing.

  2. We LOVED our drive across hwy 50 (going the opposite direction). We happened to pick up an audio CD that does an excellent job telling stories of the history and things to do along the hwy. Below is the link to the CD.

    http://goldcreekfilms.com/ponyexpresscd.html

    We also drove the hwy in the spring, which seemed like the perfect time of year to cross the state. I loved how the road felt like we were crossing an ocean with undulating waves of mountains. Can you imagine living in such remote little towns? It seemed like it was at least 75 miles to the nearest doctor or full service anything! Tough folks live in these kinds of places!

    • Oh, the CD is such a great idea – we definitely missed some things that we did know about as we needed to head north pretty quickly afterwards. Sometimes it seemed like we were the only ones passing through these towns – love your description of the road. This would be far too remote for me, folks here are definitely tough.
      Brenda

  3. That looks like my kind of trip. I have wanted to venture over that way, and now I REALLY want to. We’ll have to find a reason to go that way while we are in Utah for a bit longer.

    • Yes, it seemed we were a tad early in the spring but the advantage was that we felt like we were the only ones traveling the road at times.

    • Do allow a little more time than we did, there is more to do there than meets the eye. And for Great Basin National Park if you haven’t been there, they still had a lot of snow when we got there, but we got to tour the caves (next post).

  4. Great journey!! Love the work that was done in Eureka to preserve the buildings. The Opera House is beautiful! Nice that you had a personal guide:) We love Great Basin!! The hiking is a killer since the hikes all start at 9,000 + feet! Can’t wait to see wht you find. We loved it there!

    • They still had a lot of snow when we were there, we just did the cave tour but would love to return during a better time for hiking.

  5. We will be following your route soon. Thanks for the preview of what’s in store for us! The good thing is I can just put a link to your blog so I don’t have to write a post;-)

    • Lol. You probably will be doing a lot of hiking at the Great Basin National Park, there was still a lot of snow up high when we were there.

  6. We drove that stretch of Hwy 50 back in 1981 and it was quite the eye opener for a young gal from the Chicago suburbs. I remember driving 70 mph and having to stop for cattle in the road and seeing wild horses in the distance. Fond memories. Your post reminded me Al and I MUST retrace that trip. Sounds like they’ve added/noted some interesting stopping points. I look forward to your post on Great Basin. I’ve wanted to visit for quite some time as it was on my radar during the time we lived in Las Vegas. So many places to see, so little time 🙂

    • Oh, I bet that was quite interesting for you. You should definitely do it with Al. Great Basin was a quick stop, and they still had a lot of snow, so not the ideal time, but we did tour the caves.

  7. You two make the most boring sections of the countryside into a very interesting read. We have been going to take that byway for years. Now, I want to do it more than ever. Thank you for your efforts out there.

  8. An interesting and different kind of post. I like it! Like the history aspect as much as the pics and stores! Thanks!

    • Awesome drive … lonely to be sure. We missed out on the side trip to Berlin and the dinosaur fossils … next time.

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