years ago, Life Magazine named the 287-mile Nevada stretch of U.S.
Highway 50 from Fernley to Ely the "Loneliest Road in America."
totally empty," an AAA representative told the magazine. “We warn all
motorists not to drive there unless they’re confident of their driving
Nevada tourism officials disagreed. They insisted the
highway should have been called "the last authentically western road in
America." Most residents along the road thought the same. They didn't
think it was so lonely.
There are people, of course, who consider the road "287-miles of mostly boring nothingness."
me. I have traveled the highway at least a half dozen times, mostly in
a motorhome. To me, this wonderful stretch of wide-open road is a
refreshing break from the busy interstate. And, yes, it is indeed one
of the few remaining authentically western roads in America. And it's
easy as pie to travel with an RV, no matter what the size. Frankly,
it's so wide-open that there isn't much to bump into.
motorists crossing northern Nevada, U.S 50 is an excellent alternative
to Interstate 80, which is four busy lanes through less interesting
landscape, and where the traffic includes a lot of big rig trucks.
Life Magazine article got some folks thinking, in particular the folks
at Nevada Tourism, who pondered, "Why not capitalize on the 'Lonely
road' idea?" So they began a campaign to promote the highway as the
"Loneliest Road in America," even posting signs along the way reminding
motorists of the route’s claim to fame.
Highway 50 through
Nevada is two-lanes of well-maintained pavement. It passes through
untouched, little populated, non-commercial, uncluttered, unpolluted,
unknown America. It leads through vast valleys once covered with
prehistoric lakes and marshes. It also climbs over seven mountain
passes, some higher than 7,000 feet with forests of junior and pinion
pines. For 30 miles the road follows the old Pony Express trail: a
couple of deserted stations are still visible.
people 20 to one. Sometimes you're so far from civilization that it's
impossible to tune in a radio station. The road is so lightly traveled
that very often you can stop right in your lane to snap a photo with a
clear view of five miles of highway in either direction. I often stop
for 10 minutes like this and never worry about my motorhome getting
The only two towns between Fernley and Ely are Austin
and Eureka. Both are old mining camps that boomed and busted, and now
have fewer than 1,000 residents combined. But they have gas stations,
Mom and Pop cafes, a few RV parks, and terrific old buildings and
cemeteries to explore. Stop at each, walk the main streets and ask the
residents about what it's like to live in such a remote part of
America. They'll spin you some good yarns.
I usually camp at the
Bureau of Land Management's Hickison Petroglyph Recreation Site, 20
miles east of Austin. It's a beautiful area studded with pinion pine
and juniper. A half-mile loop trail leads to an impressive display of
Indian petroglyphs, said to be as old as 10,000 years. The campground
has 16 sites, some shaded and some with magnificent views of the valley
below. And make sure to spend time outside at night stargazing. The
Milky Way will be in all its glory.
All together, there are about two-dozen RV parks and campgrounds along the route, plus plenty of opportunities for boondocking.
A good place to camp is at Great Basin National Park.
road's eastern portal, the "big city" of Ely (population about 5,000)
has several RV parks, casinos and all major services. East of town is
Great Basin National Park, one of America's newest and least known
national parks. Campgrounds are near the visitor center and at 10,000
feet in the mountains. Both are in forest settings. A tour of the
park's limestone caverns is a "must do."
Fernley, at the western end of the road, also has all major services, and is only an hour drive from Reno.