The ‘loneliest road in America’? Not so fast

Nevada author Dennis Cassinelli explores the desert landscape near Grimes Point, Nevada
Exploring the sprawling desert landscape near Grimes Point, Nevada. Contrary to what some people may claim, there is a lot to see and appreciate along the Highway 50 corridor through Nevada.

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.

Ice fishing in Nevada

Ice Fishing in Nevada

An ice fisherman taking a rest after an exhausting day on the ice.

It has been a Cassinelli family tradition for several years to go ice fishing when the lakes and reservoirs are safe for ice fishing. Ice must be a minimum of 6” thick to be safe. If there is corn snow above the solid ice, it may need to be even thicker. With the use of either a power auger or a hand auger, a 6” – 8” hole is drilled into the ice for each fisherman in the group. Those with a second rod stamp can use two holes.

Usually 4 to 6 or more of us pick a date in January or February and decide which lake or reservoir to try. Some of our favorites are Wild horse Reservoir north of Elko, South fork Reservoir south of Elko or Cave Lake southeast of Ely. We have also been known to go to Red Lake or Caples Lake along Highway 88 in California for day-trip fishing.

Layers of protective clothing must be worn, since the winter weather can be brutal. Waterproof boots with treaded soles, insulated gloves, earmuffs, long johns, and a warm jacket with a hood will help. It is always better to bring extra clothing than be “caught out in the cold.” Children dressed up in winter coats and mittens love to skate and run around out on the ice. Letting them pull out a fish is a treat they will never forget.

A family group will always have an ice sieve to clean snow and ice from the fishing holes when needed. The holes drilled are sometimes 24” or more deep. Some groups (including ours) may set up a portable ice fishing tent, a collapsable table with a propane stove, ice chests with no ice to keep worms and drinks from freezing and plenty of your favorite beverages. Simple wire or PVC rod holders to keep your pole at a 45 degree angle with the ice are nice to have. One year, I even made some wooden balanced and weighted trout decoys to lower down into an ice hole to attract fish to the place where we were fishing.

Every one fishing must have a license, trout stamp, extra rod stamp if wanted, short ice fishing poles, tackle box, worms, power bait, shrimp, jigs or whatever bait or lure you (and the fish) desire. Game wardens do check for licenses and go from group to group on snowmobiles. There should be a folding chair with a drink holder for each person. A trick we learned early on, was to attach a jungle bell or a rattlesnake tail to the end of the fishing rod so you can hear when you have a bite. You can then visit and tell lies to the other fishermen until the bell rings. An ice fishing sled or a large plastic box for your gear can easily be pulled across the ice to the desired place to fish.

A few times when the ice was solid and over 2 feet thick, we have taken the truck out on the ice. This must be done with extreme caution and is not recommended. The NDOW website usually has ice fishing conditions listed for each lake or reservoir. There is a humorous story about prehistoric ice fishing in my novel, Legends of Spirit Cave. Several ancient stone ice fishing picks were found at and near Lovelock Cave by the Humboldt sink, so we know that prehistoric people enjoyed the sport and the fish they caught.