Sur­viv­ing the Loneli­est Road in Amer­ica (Ne­vada)

Snowbirds & RV Travelers - - Contents - Story & Pho­tos by Kirk Wil­liams

It was a na­tional mag­a­zine ar­ti­cle that no doubt left Ne­vada tourism of­fi­cials quak­ing in their cow­boy boots. In July 1986, LIFE Mag­a­zine pub­lished a piece called “Amer­ica, the most”; a col­lec­tion of ex­tra­or­di­nary things that help de­fine the coun­try. In­cluded, how­ever, was a not-too-com­ple­men­tary de­scrip­tion of the sec­tion of High­way 50 run­ning through Ne­vada. Un­der a head­line, “The Loneli­est Road”, an Amer­i­can Au­to­mo­bile As­so­ci­a­tion coun­sel­lor is quoted: “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.”

Yikes. Talk about a tourism pub­lic re­la­tions night­mare.

How­ever, be­neath the trash talk, was an op­por­tu­nity. Why not pro­mote that lone­li­ness as some­thing worth­while? After all, isn’t ‘get­ting away from it all’ the rea­son we wan­der, travel and ex­plore? Thirty years later, Ne­vada’s “Loneli­est Road in Amer­ica” rates high on the world’s road trip bucket lists—and for good rea­son.

I made the trip last Septem­ber and it was mag­i­cal ex­pe­ri­ence. The wide-open spa­ces of High­way 50 are spec­tac­u­lar, but there are plenty of in­ter­est­ing places to visit along the way.

Two hours out of Las Ve­gas, on the Great Basin High­way (Hwy. 93), we made a stop at Ker­shaw-Ryan State Park for a short hike and pic­nic lunch. A for­mer ranch, the small, green oa­sis is nes­tled be­neath a canyon trail that of­fers great views. There’s a new 15 unit RV/tent camp­ground in the park if you want to rest up be­fore mak­ing the trek.

Fur­ther north, just be­fore you hit Pioche, visit the Cathe­dral Gorge State Park. Over time, ero­sion has left be­hind beau­ti­ful col­umns and spires of ben­tonite clay. Wan­der through nar­row pas­sage ways, crawl through holes into se­cret cham­bers that open to the sky, or use climb­ing ropes to reach hol­lowed out view­ing caves. For some rea­son, the park res­onated with me—al­most the same re­ac­tion I had tak­ing a he­li­copter tour over the Grand Canyon. But Cathe­dral Gorge is on a much smaller, more in­ti­mate scale and that makes it spe­cial. Take some time to ex­plore this gem in the desert.

My ad­vice to any­one trav­el­ling in Ne­vada is get to know a lo­cal. Friendly, per­haps a lit­tle ec­cen­tric, you will come away with some great yarns about the his­tory of the places you are see­ing.

Jim Kelly is a one-of-a-kind am­a­teur his­to­rian who lives in the for­mer min­ing town of Pioche. This was a wild place in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Filled with sa­loons, broth­els, min­ers and claim jumpers, gun­fights were fre­quent

and more than 70 were killed by “lead poi­son­ing” (as Kelly puts it) be­fore any­one died of nat­u­ral causes. Ask around town to see if he will open up the his­toric Mil­lion Dol­lar Court­house for a tour and a colour­ful story, or two.

Head­ing west, the Loneli­est Road of­fi­cially starts in Ely which, aside from hav­ing the his­toric Ho­tel Ne­vada (once the tallest build­ing in the State), is home to the Ne­vada North­ern Rail­way. His­toric train buffs come from far and wide to ride the train, pow­ered by vin­tage steam or diesel lo­co­mo­tives. There are spe­cial Haunted Ghost Train and Christ­mas Po­lar Ex­press-themed rides as well as win­ter photo op­por­tu­ni­ties in the snow. Just west of Ely, in McGill, take the time track down an­other char­ac­ter by the name of Dan Brad­dock. He’s the vol­un­teer tour de force be­hind the McGill Drug­store Mu­seum. The store was closed in the 1980’s and much of the stock was left on the shelves un­til it was re­opened years later. Wan­der the aisles among vin­tage jars of Dip­pity-do, Timex watches, greet­ing cards and look up pre­scrip­tion records dat­ing back to 1915. This is a strange and bizarre place—you al­most feel guilty, snoop­ing around, but it sure is fun.

Eu­reka has a beau­ti­fully re­stored opera house that con­tains vin­tage pro­jec­tors and the back­stage walls are cov­ered in graf­fiti left by peo­ple who per­formed on stage. A few blocks away is the fas­ci­nat­ing Eu­reka Sen­tinel Mu­seum, which con­tains a vin­tage news­pa­per press room com­plete with print­ing presses, desks, and walls lined with the news clip­pings from the day.

If you feel like park­ing the RV and want a real bed to sleep in and a hearty break­fast in the morn­ing (stuffed French toast any­one?), stay at Union Street Lodg­ing in Austin. Hosts Dee and Kip are warm and friendly and you have to ask them about the lo­cal cow­boy artist who had a habit of drop­ping his glass eye into the drinks of pa­trons at the lo­cal wa­ter­ing hole so he could get a free­bie. True story, they say.

Between Austin and Fal­lon, lies the Sand Moun­tain Recre­ational Area, a mas­sive sand dune 180 me­ters high. As you start to climb it, you will soon find out it is de­cep­tively big. Of­ten used by off-high­way driv­ers and sand­board­ing en­thu­si­asts, there is also a spir­i­tual side to the moun­tain. Donna Cos­sette, for­mer Chairwoman of the Fal­lon Paiute Shoshone Tribe, says the moun­tain is sa­cred to her peo­ple. Left undis­turbed, wind would pass over the fine grains of sand, caus­ing them to “sing”. Un­for­tu­nately, she has never heard the dune sing in her life­time, due to heavy recre­ational use. Na­tive Amer­i­cans have asked the dunes be off-lim­its for one month so they can ‘heal’.

Once you reach Fal­lon, it’s time to cel­e­brate. You made it. Fal­lon is known as the “Oa­sis of Ne­vada”. Ir­ri­ga­tion has turned the area into a rich agri­cul­tural re­gion, fa­mous for grow­ing ‘Hearts of Gold’ can­taloupe. Head just out­side of town to the Frey Ranch to taste es­tate dis­tilled gin, vodka, bour­bon and ab­sinthe. What is truly unique about this fa­cil­ity, is that the fam­ily grows all the grain right on the prop­erty for its prod­ucts— ba­si­cally a seed-to-bot­tle op­er­a­tion. The gin is flavoured slightly with Ne­vada Sage­brush, in ad­di­tion to tra­di­tional botan­i­cals, such as ju­niper berry.

So, raise a glass to your ac­com­plish­ment. You have ‘sur­vived’ The Loneli­est Road in Amer­ica. Sure, you can buy a T-shirt say­ing the same thing, but deep-down you will know the ad­ven­ture wasn’t a hard­ship at all.

Chris Mo­ran, Pub­lic Re­la­tions Spe­cial­ist at Ne­vada Di­vi­sion of Tourism.

Ne­vada North­ern Rail­way, Ely, NV

Tast­ing Room, Frey Ranch, Fal­lon, NV.

Eu­reka Opera House, Eu­reka, NV.

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