Adventurer Stories

Taking Your Time on the Loneliest Road

The Lincoln Highway runs through the emptiness of Nevada for 381 miles give or take, with only a handful of stops along the way. There are eight or nine towns, a park or two, and mile after mile of two-lane road. If you’re on your way somewhere else it can be a long and boring drive, BUT, if the road is your destination, then Highway 50 offers plenty of charm along the way.

In 1950 Life magazine named Highway 50 The Loneliest Road in America and probably it was. It was a road built before the Interstates, and it made its way through deserts, farmlands, and small towns, places the interstates do their best to pass by. As a result, Hwy 50 is a time capsule of the last century, a time before brands and franchises made every place look the same as every other — so for me, it is a road worth seeing.

We drove slowly, taking our time and getting out of the car to look around. There were mining towns to see and Pony Express stations, and old forts, all of them filled with the rich history of the west.

We spent a beautiful sunshiny morning walking the streets of Fallon Nevada with its hundred years of layered history, the twenties, thirties, and forties keeping each other company. Everywhere we looked there was evidence of an earlier time when places were made by people, not corporations.

A few hours further down the road we get to Austin Nevada where we stop at the Landers County Courthouse and meet Donna Sousa.

Donna tells us stories about the Austin of earlier days and invites us to explore the jail cells in the basement. A long time ago the townspeople dragged some poor bad guy out of a cell here and hung him from the balcony outside. Knowing that takes the quaintness off this place and makes the movie looking cell a lot more real.

Back up in the sunshine, we say goodbye to Donna then drive 70 miles to the next town, Eureka, Nevada.

It’s a long way between places around here but it’s a satisfying drive nonetheless. When they built it a hundred and ten years ago the Lincoln Highway was America’s first transcontinental road. Stretching 3000 miles from end to end, it starts in New York City and ends up in San Francisco, passing through 12 states along the way. Like its famous cousin, Route 66, it was instrumental in opening the broad expanse of America to automobile travel when most roads only ran a few miles out of town. To get some sense of the vision and resolve it took to build this road take a look at this tiny part of it.

Straight as an arrow, the highway stretches endless miles, seemingly from nowhere to nowhere. The Lincoln Highway was imagined and realized by far-sighted visionaries working together with a government that could get things done. It’s a fine example of an earlier American spirit, one worth thinking about.

Eureka, Nevada is what remains of an 1860s boom town. Ten thousand people once lived here but nowadays five hundred is more like it. Still, it feels alive. It has museums and restaurants, places to stay, and people who take pride in their past and like to show it off. Here’s the press room of the Eureka Sentinel, for many years a newspaper and now a museum.

Entering, you find yourself standing in the original press room surrounded by the equipment that actually produced the paper back in the 1800s. The custom of those days was for the printers to slap the ads they printed on the walls and there they remain a hundred years later.

Across the street from the museum stands the opera house. Built in 1880 it hosted plays, masquerade balls, dances, operas, and concerts until 1915 when it became a motion picture theater. Then after a long career showing movies, it lay dormant until it was restored and repurposed as a convention center. There is a special and positive spirit in a town of 400 that offers a public space that holds 300. It makes me think about what kind of event I might like to stage in that nice old hall … but right now we have to keep moving to get to tonight’s destination.

Another 77 miles of desert roads take us to Ely and the Hotel Nevada.

I love old hotels and the Nevada, built in 1929, fills the bill. For not much money I book their best room, the Kennicott Suite. It’s up on the top floor, filled with once opulent furnishings and windows that gaze out at the town below.

Ely remains the old west. There’s gambling, mining, and even bordellos still in operation, all of them seeming a little down at the heels — but isn’t that the way it ought to be?

In the morning we head over to the Nevada Northern Railway Museum to wander along the tracks and explore the old railroad equipment living out its retirement here. The museum stretches along the tracks of the East Ely Yards of The Northern. It’s a giant place filled with enough equipment to start another railroad if you’ve a mind to.

A hundred years ago this place bustled with trains coming and going. They brought passengers and all the things’ people wanted to this faraway place. Today you can visit the shops where the engines were repaired and see the warehouses once filled with goods, all the things it took keep a town alive. If you’re feeling like it, you can book a ride on a still-running steam train or for a few dollars more you can climb into the cab of the locomotive and roll down the tracks standing next to the engineer. Next time I’m here I plan to be the one up front, blowing the whistle.

After spending the morning in Ely, we head for Great Basin National Park. The road starts out straight and narrow, but soon it begins to climb, twisting and turning as it carries us up into mountains that form the edge of the great basin.

Around lunchtime, we arrive at Great Basin National Park, where a fine BLT awaits us at the Cafe. And after our bellies are full, we hike in the park, taking pictures and gazing in wonder as nature reminds us of our place in the scale of things.

And then before the light fades it’s time to head for Baker, our last stop on the loneliest road. Baker is not even a town, just a few buildings on the side of the road, but there, so far from anywhere, stands the Bristlecone General Store where we stop to visit and call it quits for now. There’s lots more to see on the loneliest road but it’s time for us to head for home.

Written by Andy Romanoff

Ready for more stories? Check out Stories I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You. Andy Romanoff’s memoir chronicles his long and crazy years and how he survived them to tell these stories. Andy takes you along for the ride as he makes a meaningful life for himself without turning his back on the things he’s done or the places he’s come from. “Stories I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You” is a wild tale; getting thrown out of five high schools; stealing cars and motorcycles; getting tossed in jail; finding his way into the sleazy end of the film business; being there for the invention of Gore Films; spending time with counterculture legends like Ken Kesey, The Hog Farm, and Nick Ray; then slowly learning about love, life, and death as he becomes a reluctant success

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