Nevada’s Loneliest Road
Where it once pulsed with the excitement and the thrill of prospectors lured by the gold rush, middle Nevada has been restored to a land of solitude where nature is queen. The arid desert climate is home to 23 State and two National Parks plus a variety of national recreational areas, historic trails and monuments. Some towns manage to stay alive where others have faded away, but all are well worth exploring. In some places, taxidermy may outnumber actual humans but those you do meet vary from a wonderful cast of old timers keen to share their stories, rangers passionate about the landscape, to entrepreneurs and community leaders. Highway 50 is the thread that links the towns. It winds its way across the state from the Utah border in the east to California in the west. Once reported as The Loneliest Road In America where survivor skills were a must, the State runs a fun campaign that plays on that theme. Pick up a Survivor’s Guide and have it stamped in each stop. At the end of your road trip, mail the guide in and the governor will send you back a certificated acknowledging your survival! Days can be very, very hot so bring some sun protection, lots of water, and plenty of tunes for the long drive.
All alone on I-93, don’t even think of speeding past Cathedral Gorge State Park without stopping. Once an ancient lake bed, the siltstone and clay shale have eroded to create the most spectacular spire, alien-like formations. Legend has it that the wife of a local smelter manager would ride her horse through the gorge admiring the formations and named the area after the gothic spires seen on her travels in Europe. Spend a day hiking or if you’re more adventurous, crawl and climb through the formations. For those who want to stay longer, there are 24 camp sites with water service and electrical hook ups. parks.nv.gov
Great Basin National Park offers opportunities to hike, climb, camp and discover the natural wonder of the Lehman caves. Named for a local rancher who is said to have discovered them in the late 1880s, the caves are open year round and can be toured with a park interpreter. Other natural wonders include the ancient bristlecone pines, pictographs and petroglyphs. nps.gov/grba/index.htm
POPULATION: 1002 • piochenevada.org
Once the site of the US’s second largest silver deposit, Pioche likely would not still exist if it wasn’t the location of the county courthouse. Rusted buckets that once carried ore from the mine to the smelter still hang from overhead cables that stretch across the town. One of the most intact, historic communities in Nevada, Pioche is named after the financier who laid claim to one of the earliest mining claims in the area. In its heyday, it was home to 10,000 people and had a reputation for being the meanest town in the west. The town's original cemetery, Boot Hill is the final resting place of many early inhabitants who died of …uhum, led poisoning.
POP: 192 • austinnevada.com
Once a city of ten thousand, Austin is said to be the best preserved example of an early Nevada mining town. Its former stature is reflected in the remaining churches, the International hotel, one very odd castle and the stories told by the remaining 190 locals. International opera star Emma Nevada hailed from Austin. It is said that her father bought his young daughter a piano from a company in Boston. To deliver it, he had it shipped south around Cape Horne and back up to San Francisco where it was transferred to a wagon and made its final journey across land.
POPULATION 4,255 • elynevada.net
Once a stop on the Pony Express Ely, Neveda is one of the few mining towns that continues to have a working copper mine. The local Hotel Nevada was the tallest building in Nevada until the mid-1930s. The rooms are named after famous entertainers who visited or performed. Stop at the Nevada Northern Railway for a ride on the steam train. The complex is a real treat. Don’t miss the museum located above the gift shop. The town also has great murals that can be seen by following the art trail.
Just outside of Ely Nevada sits The McGill Drugstore Museum. The Rexall sign still hangs outside but inside, the store is frozen in time. The chemist’s wife kept the store going until 1979, but one glance at the shelves and it’s doubtful that new inventory was received past the late 1960's. Local resident Dan Baddock runs the store and is happy to share stories from the once booming mining town that attracted workers from around the world.
POPULATION: 610 • co.eureka.nv.us
Eureka is a tiny yet pretty town with a beautiful opera house and court house that are lovingly maintained. Visit the Sentinal Museum. It is a time capsule of a press room from the 1800s.
All that remains of an ancient glacial lake, Sand Mountain is a favourite with off-roaders who zoom up the steep, 9-story-high mountain of sand with their all-terrain vehicles. The site is sacred to the local native tribes who would prefer that it was not driven on but instead respected, as they believe that it is a natural cathedral. When the roar of four-wheeler is muted, it is possible to hear the massive dune ‘sing’. It is a unique natural phenomenon that occurs at only a handful of dunes in the world. The area is also home to the rare Sand Mountain Blue Butterfly.
POPULATION: 8000 • visitfallonnevada.com
The loneliness ends abruptly in Fallon. Conspiracy theorists would decry that its verdant fields correspond directly to the fact that it is home to a large US naval air base and the Top Gun training program. Irrigation is the real reason that this alfalfa growing and pilot producing town is an oasis in the desert. The area is also popular with ornithology enthusiasts who visit the local wetlands to see the migrating birds.
Frey Ranch Distillery epitomizes American gumption. In its second year, the impressive “ground-to-glass” operation already boasts an award-winning gin. No other distillery grows and malts all of its own grain. Keep watch for FREY bourbon to be released in 2018. freyranch.com
Pointing out cuts of meat is easy when you have them tatooed on your arm. Chef Keli Kelly of The Slanted Porch says the naval base has allowed businesses like hers to prosper. slantedporch.com
POPULATION: 21 4000 • southtahoe.com
Surrounded by the Sierra Mountains, Lake Tahoe was once the summer vacation grounds for America's elite. The lake is 22 miles across and crystal clear for 75-plus feet down. The south shore of Lake Tahoe is in Nevada while the north shore is in the state of California. The area is now a year-round destination renowned for great skiing and outdoor adventure.