Home » 2007 Cross Country Road Trip

The Loneliest Road in America, NV

Sunday, July 29, 2007 - 6:00am by Lolo
376 miles and 7.75 hours from our last stop


Main Street Eureka - AJGMain Street Eureka - AJGFrom Reno it was time to start heading East back towards home. We had a decision to make: hightail it on the Interstate or take the more layback and scenic Route 50, also known as the “Loneliest Road in America.” Feeling that we needed some natural beauty to wash the thought of Reno away, we chose US-50. This route also would lead us to a new National Park that we hadn’t been to before—Great Basin.

They weren’t kidding about the road being lonely. For close to 400 miles, we wound across the entire width of Nevada, passing through an occasional small town (some of which looked like they were left over from the gold rush), but otherwise just miles and miles of mountains, desert, and sagebrush.

I had expected the road to be straight and flat, which it was in some parts, but a good portion of it entailed climbing up and down some pretty steep mountains.

During the whole 400 mile stretch, we only passed through 4 towns. It was a good thing that we started this journey with a full tank of gas. Besides Fallon, which is the first town we passed through and fairly modern with its shopping malls and fast-food chains, the rest were quaint remnants of Nevada’s mining days.

110 miles after Fallon, we climbed the steep Toiyabe Mountains and came to the tiny town of Austin (population 300), another one of Nevada’s silver mining boom towns gone bust. We didn’t stop, but just slowly drove along the steep Main Street through town.

From there we climbed even further up to the Austin Summit before descending to what was the longest and flattest stretch of the drive.

About 25 miles east of Austin is the Hickison Petroglyph Recreation Area, but we decided to continue on another 45 miles to Eureka (population 650), which we had read was one of the best-preserved mining towns in Nevada. This time rather than just drive through town, we decided to park and explore. I felt like I was walking through a movie set rather than an actual town. Along its Main Street, there was an old 1879 County Courthouse, an old newspaper office, which is now a museum, and even an 1880s Opera House—but the weird thing was, there were no people. Besides us, there was not another living soul in sight. It was Sunday, but still, you’d think someone would be out and about. Tommy and I went into Raines Market to see if we could find hat pins that said “Eureka” or “Loneliest Road” to add to their collection. Although there were no hat pins, we felt bad about not buying anything, so Tommy selected a toy gun that shot suction-cup rubber darts. It cost only $1. It even had a target. When we got back to RV and showed Herb our purchase, his response was, “No possible good can come of this.” Andrew’s response was, “Can I have one too?” So, I went back to Raines and purchased another $1 toy gun. They spent the rest of the drive delightfully shooting, sometimes at the target, but mostly at each other, in the back of the RV.

Then it was back on the road, past more mountain peaks and sage-covered valleys before arriving at the relative metropolis of Ely (population 4,750), home to the only supermarket in 250 miles. We took advantage of the fact that there was more than one gas station in town (a little competition) to fill up before continuing on too Great Basin.

After leaving Ely, the road is pretty flat and straight for about 25 miles before it starts the climb up 7,722-foot Connor Pass. From the summit, there is a great view of 13,061-foot Wheeler Peak, which is in Great Basin National Park. We were deceptively close to our destination. However, there was still another 20 miles to go before we reached the town of Baker and the turnoff for Great Basin.


The 400 miles of US-50 that cross Nevada have been dubbed “The Loneliest Road in America.” For miles and miles of what used to be a Pony Express route, there is nothing but mountains and sagebrush dotted with the occasional small town.

Once entering Nevada from the west, US-50 winds north along the eastern shore of Lake Tahoe before turning east again towards Carson City , the state’s capital. When gold and silver were discovered in nearby Virginia City in 1859, prospectors flocked to the area and Carson City sprung up overnight. Today a few of the impressive mansions of the luckier miners remain. One of the earliest, the Bowers Estate, still stands about 10 miles north of town. Besides the casinos, the one place to stop is the Nevada State Museum across from the capitol, where there are displays on mining as well as the natural history of Nevada.

US-50 then heads northeast across a sagebrush plateau to the tiny town of Dayton, which was the site of Nevada’s first gold strike in 1849. Today, the historic mining town is little more than the two blocks that run along Main Street. However, this small town did once have its share of celebrity visitors. John Huston, Arthur Miller, and Marilyn Monroe stayed here in 1960 while filming the movie The Misfits.

50 miles further northeast lies the relatively large (for Nevada) town of Fallon, with 7,000 residents and plenty of shopping malls and fast-food chains. The most surprising thing about Fallon is that it is green, with fields of alfalfa as far as the eye can see. While other towns sprung up from gold and silver, this town had an even more valuable resource: water. In 1915, the just completed Lahontan Dam began bringing irrigated water from the Carson River, allowing for the growth of agriculture in the area. Fallon is also home to a U.S. Navy air base and target range that serves as a training center for fighter jets and bombers. Just northeast of Fallon is the Stillwater Wildlife Management Area and Refuge, with more than 200,000 acres of sanctuary for birds such as cinnamon teal, redheads, and whistling swans.

Between Fallon and the Austin, the next town 110 miles to the east, there are a few sights to see other than the endless landscape of desert and sagebrush. About 10 miles east of Fallon is the Grimes Point Archaeological Area, where a self-guided trail leads through several hundred boulders carved with 8,000-year-old petroglyphs.

Continuing east, in another 15 miles, the two-mile long Sand Mountain rises 600 feet from the flatlands. An interesting feature of this dune is that when the sand crystals oscillate at the proper frequency (between 50 and 100 hertz), it makes a deep booming sound. It takes about a half hour to trudge to the top of this giant sword-edged dune. At one end of the dune lies the dilapidated remains of an old Pony Express station. The Pony Express, though a legend, only lasted 18 months before it was replaced by the much faster and efficient transcontinental telegraph.

The road continues through sagebrush desert and begins to climb to 6,000 feet as it approaches the tiny town of Austin (population 300), on the northern slope of the Toiyabe Mountains. A 2-minute drive along its steep Main Street takes you past all there is to see. Historic Austin was another one of Nevada’s silver mining boomtowns. After a Pony Express rider accidentally discovered silver here in 1862, Austin quickly became one of Nevada’s most populated areas. Unlike many mining towns that went bust before they could complete constructing buildings, Austin has a number of surviving pioneer churches (one Catholic, one Methodist, and one Baptist). On the western end of town, looming over an old cemetery, you can catch a glimpse of Stoke’s Castle, a huge stone fortress built in 1897 by a mining baron. The house was lived in for only a month. Since that time, Austin has experienced a steady decline. However, recent efforts to mine the abundant turquoise and barium have met with some success.

Leaving Austin, the road climbs steeply to Austin Summit (elevation 7,484) before descending to the longest and flattest stretch of the drive through miles and miles of Great Basin nothingness. 25 miles east of Austin, on the eastern side of 6.564 Hickison Summit is the BLM-operated Hickison Petroglyph Recreation Area. A half-mile trail from the parking area loops through dozens of rocks covered with petroglyphs dating back as far as 10,000 B.C.

Another 45 miles brings you to the Eureka, one of the best-preserved mining towns in Nevada. In fact, Eureka County is still mining gold and has one of the largest and productive mines in the country. Along its 4 blocks of franchise-free Main Street are some interesting historic buildings, including the 1879 Eureka County Courthouse (still in use), and old newspaper office (now a museum), and an 1880s opera house.

The drive to Ely (population 4,750), 77 miles to the east, takes you through grazing grounds, more mountain peaks, and sage-covered valleys. Ely is the site of Nevada’s largest and longest-lived mining ventures, but they mined for copper, not silver or gold. At its peak during the 1950s, Ely produced over a billion dollars worth of copper ore and employed over 10,000 people. After the mines closed down in 1982, the railroad depot was turned into the Nevada Northern Railway Museum. On weekends, one can take a 90-minute, 14-mile ride aboard an historic coal-driven Ghost Train. The town also contains some needed travel services, such as gas stations and the only supermarket for 250 miles, as well as the landmark Hotel Nevada, with its giant cowboy and neon-lit slot machines.

East of Ely, US-50 continues another 25 miles before ascending 7,722-foot Connors Pass. From the summit, 13,061-foot Wheeler Peak comes into view. In another 20 miles is the town of Baker and the turnoff for Great Basin National Park (see next stop).

The Loneliest Road in America location map in "high definition"

Javascript is required to view this map.