Highway 50 has a unique claim to fame: it's "America's Loneliest Road." How did this humble highway through the Nevada desert gain such fame and notoriety? It all started with some bad press. In the mid 1980's, Life Magazine ran an article declaring Highway 50 "The Loneliest Road in America." The piece bluntly stated, "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..." Way harsh. Nevada tourism was quick to respond; they embraced the nickname, but proved to Life Magazine that there are, in fact, signs of life along Highway 50. There's plenty to see and do on the way, you just have to know where to look. So, if you're craving a taste of authentic America, brush up on your survival skills, and head out on the loneliest drive of your life along Highway 50.
Start off your journey into the desert at the "Biggest Little City in the World!" Even though it's often thought of as a sort of mini-Vegas, Reno, Nevada has the attractions, the history, and the neon to rival Sin City. From casinos and bars to museums and parks, it's a fun destination, and a great place to take in the city lights before heading out on the Loneliest Road.
Reno's other claim to fame is pretty cool too. Did you know that jeans were invented by a Latvian immigrant named Jacob Youphes who was living in Reno? As the story goes, it was the late 1860's when a woman asked Youphes, a tailor, to make a sturdier pair of pants for her husband, who frequently wore his pants out. Youphes struck upon the idea of attaching the pockets to the pants using copper rivets, and it worked out perfectly. As the idea of rivets caught on Youphes partnered with Levi Strauss to patent the use of copper rivets, and even though Strauss convinced Youphes to move to San Francisco and start using strong denim material, thus creating the pants with which we're familiar, a historical marker stands where Youphes's Reno tailor shop once stood, dedicated to his contribution to fashion.
Since you're on a road trip, it's only appropriate that you stop by one of the most comprehensive car museums in the country: the National Automobile Museum. Even if you aren't into cars, it's worth it to see the vehicles owned by Frank Sinatra, JFK, James Dean, Elvis, and more, or the car from the movie Titanic (yes, THAT car from Titanic) and the car from Rebel Without a Cause. Their collection of rare and expensive autos, and exhibits on all kinds of car-related events, are equally awesome.
Next up is Fallon, NV! Definitely visit the Overland Hotel and Saloon Restaurant. Whether you're just stopping by for a drink so you can check out this notoriously haunted Wild West hotel and bar, or you've gathered up enough guts to stay the night, you can get a good taste of old Nevada right here. And I'm serious about the "notoriously haunted" part: an episode of Ghost Adventures investigated this saloon and hotel and found some pretty compelling evidence!
While in Fallon, visit the Project Shoal Monument. It may not look like much more than a granite marker, but some pretty wild stuff went on below the Earth's surface here. Project Shoal was an underground nuclear test that occurred in 1963, and was meant to test how an underground nuclear detonation would effect seismic activity in an actively seismic spot. Pretty weird!
Given that the Loneliest Road is sparse on gas stations, restaurants and motels along some parts of the route, you should make it a point to fill up at Fallon's Historic Middlegate Station. Here you can top off your gas tank and grab one of their legendary Monster Burgers. The friendly service and rich history of this station make it an exceptional place to stop!
Your last stop in Fallon should be the Shoe Tree. Despite the fact that the original "Shoe Tree" was cut down by vandals in 2011, this enormously popular attraction wouldn't die... shoes now cover two trees near where the original stood. There's plenty of parking, and remember to bring an extra pair of sneakers. Be sure to use caution when entering and exiting the parking area, and don't just rubberneck past the tree: go ahead and pull over and park. Cars on this stretch of the highway tend to really fly, so be careful.
Austin is also home to the Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park. If you're a fan of ghost towns and dinosaur fossils, this state park is a two-for-one. Berlin is the ghost town, which was around from the late 19th to the early 20th century and served as a hub for a small gold mine; there are more than a few well-preserved buildings to explore. There's also the ichthyosaur fossils-- ichthyosaurs were huge sea beasts that lived about 215 million years ago.
When you're ready to rest your weary head, head over to Miles End Bed and Breakfast. This B&B is a hidden gem of Nevada! Rooms and cabins give you different accommodation options, and a full bar and commercial kitchen mean they can prepare dinner for you, as well as breakfast. Definitely take advantage of their hot tub for some late night stargazing!
Next up is Battle Mountain, NV, where the Hickison Petroglyph Recreation Area features a quick hiking trail that highlights 10,000 year-old petroglyphs. Stick to the trail for a quick, hour-or-so-long break, or come prepared with a picnic lunch or camping supplies for some super primitive camping. Remember to bring lots of water and toilet paper.
When you get hungry, pull over at Eureka's Owl Club and Steakhouse. This bar and steakhouse is actually open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner 7 days a week. If you're there first thing in the morning, enjoy some biscuits and gravy and the best $1 cup of coffee you'll find anywhere, and if you're there any other time, grab a beer and chat up the locals.
Also, don't miss the Eureka County Opera House. This beautiful historic building has been the center of culture and entertainment in Eureka since it was built in the 1880s. It also served as a movie theater for a few years before closing. It was restored in 1993, and looks better than ever! Check out the gorgeous interior.
If you're looking for a place to stretch your legs in Ely, Blue Mass Scenic Area Campground has you covered. The greenery and granite cliffs of this park make it well worth a stop. Do some hiking along the springs and streams, or take some time to poke around the abandoned homestead, or just pull over to appreciate the unique beauty of this scenic area.
Ely's also home to the Nevada Northern Railway Museum. Here you can explore a working train yard, pop into the museum, and take a 90 minute scenic and educational ride on their old locomotive! The railroad was a huge part of American history, especially in Nevada, so take the chance to really experience it for yourself.
The last stop in Ely is the Ward Charcoal Ovens State Park. These massive, mysterious structures are actually old charcoal ovens built by an Italian immigrant. They were once in a now-abandoned town called Ward, and are the best-preserved charcoal ovens you'll likely find anywhere.
But, don't get too distracted by Lehman Caves, because Great Basin National Park is an amazing place to wander around and explore. Glacier-topped mountain peaks, gnarled bristlecone pines, serene lakes, stunning night skies and enchanting caves make this National Park one of the most overlooked parks in the whole country. There are loads of hiking trails and lots of campsites. Though it's important to note that the campsites are primitive camping, and camping is also first come, first serve, so get there early. Great Basin is also home to some of the best stargazing in America. There's no fee to enter the park, but the cave tour has a fee, and you need to book ahead. It's a great park to bring kids to visit, and the hiking is pretty easy.
The Lehman Caves are, hands-down, one of the coolest features located in Great Basin National Park. The ancient granite cave is loaded with all kinds of stone features. There's a 90-minute tour that takes you through this system of caves, and into several rooms that are dripping with awesome formations.
You can do the nearly 400 miles along the Loneliest road in a long weekend, or take your time. Be aware that sometimes the roads are closed, in particular during winter time around Ely and Great Basin National Park. The best time to visit is late summer, and fall: that way you can avoid the crowds at Great Basin and Reno. The highway is open year-round, and because the Loneliest Road goes right through the high desert, the summer heat isn't as crazy as it is in places like Las Vegas.