In July 1986, Life magazine declared Nevada’s Highway 50 the “Loneliest Road in America,” claiming there were no points of interest along the route and warning readers not to risk traveling it unless they were confident of their survival skills.
Thirty-five years later, Travel Nevada continues to shine a light on and celebrate Highway 50 and its gateway to ghost towns, historic mining communities, state parks, recreational opportunities, and wide-open spaces.
I have personally traveled the full length of Nevada’s Highway 50 many times while working for the Nevada Department of Transportation for many years. In addition, my family and I have traveled to various destinations on Highway 50 on many occasions.
I take exception to the claim that “there were no points of interest along the route.” To illustrate my position, I will start with the west end of the route in Carson City, where the old Carson City Mint is located. This is where I found a hoard of more than 900 Carson City coin dies buried at the mint since the 1800s. The V&T Railroad had a spur at the mint where gold and silver was brought to be minted into coins. The old V&T depot still stands in Carson City.
Next, moving east at Mound House, is the brothel district and the location of the Mound House Depot for the V&T Railroad and the beginning the Carson and Colorado Railroad whose depot in Dayton recently burned down.
Moving on toward Dayton we come to the Pony Express Station in the historic downtown area, one of the best-preserved of the Nevada Pony Express Stations. Dayton is where gold was first discovered in 1849 at the end of Gold Canyon where it reaches the Carson River.
Just past Dayton is the Dayton State Park. North of Dayton is the town of Sutro and the portal of the Sutro Tunnel that still drains water from the Comstock mines. Plans are under way to stabilize and restore the Sutro tunnel to make it a tourist attraction where many artifacts from the Comstock mines are on display.
Highway 50 Alternate forks off to Fernley, a gateway for people traveling to the annual Burning Man gathering.
Highway 50 then enters the Great American Desert that was dreaded so much by the early emigrants. Just before reaching Fallon, the road passes Ragtown, along the Carson River. This was where emigrants stopped for water and rest after crossing the 40-mile desert. Fallon is famous for its auto mall, the annual cantaloupe festival, corn mazes and being the county seat of Churchill County.
Beyond Fallon lies Sand Mountain where people drive their dune buggies, the ruins of the Sand Springs Pony Express Station and the Grimes Point archaeological area. Grimes Point has acres of boulders covered with ancient petroglyphs. It is also the location of Hidden Cave and Spirit Cave that was the basis for my book, Legends of Spirit Cave.
At the junction of Highway 50 and the road to Gabbs is the Middlegate Station. My NDOT crew and I dined on their famous Monster Burgers on more than one occasion at Middlegate. The remains of several pony express stations, including the one in Dayton, can be seen along the Highway 50 corridor.
Next on the route comes Austin, famous for a tall stone building called Stokes Castle. Austin, settled in 1862, was the mother of central Nevada mining towns and has 11 buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The next town on the route is Eureka, with the restored 1880 Eureka Opera House and the Eureka Sentinel Newspaper Museum. Eureka is the county seat of Eureka County.
The next town along the route is Ely, county seat of White Pine County. Ely is known for a huge open pit mine at Ruth west of town where millions of tons of copper ore was removed over many years. One of the main attractions in Ely is the Nevada Northern Railway Museum. The Nevada Northern Railroad still operates as a tourist attraction. Ely also has the White Pine County Golf Course. Just southeast of Ely, is Baker, gateway to the Great Basin National Park.
As you can see, the Highway 50 Route across Nevada is filled with places of historical importance and I have barely scratched the surface. When traveling the route, get out of the car and take a walk alongside the highway. You may see wildflowers, Indian Paintbrush, arrowheads, gem stones, quartz crystals, lizards doing pushups on flat rocks and all sorts of wildlife. There is more to Highway 50 than getting from one place to another. Having been there many times, I have never felt lonely on Highway 50.