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Lincoln Highway: The Loneliest Road

This year, the Lincoln Highway turns one hundred. The nation’s first, real transcontinental road reaches from New York to San Francisco. The Lincoln Highway’s successful completion and popularity is one of the reasons that we have an Interstate Highway System today.

Much needed for road trips
Load up on this, and fuel, before traveling Route 50.
In honor of the Lincoln Highway’s birthday, we decided to drive the stretch in Nevada, nicknamed ‘The Loneliest Road.’ Some of it runs parallel to the Pony Express Trail, and we liked the idea of a challenge.

Perhaps we should have specified the kind of challenge we were seeking. Driving across a barely inhabited stretch of Nevada while our front bumper was attached with Gorilla Tape was not quite what we had in mind.

Apply Gorilla tape to bumper
Gorilla Tape:  Our savior
We began in Zephyr Cove, a Nevada village on the banks of Lake Tahoe. From there, we took Route 50 through Cave Rock Tunnel and over the Carson Range, which is an offshoot of the Sierra Nevadas. The road descends into Carson City, which is worth exploring further: there are a number of museums, hot springs and, of course, the state capitol building.

After leaving Carson City, the traffic thinned out. We passed a number of brothels in quick succession, including the Love Ranch and the Bunny Ranch. The latter is where the HBO series Cathouse is filmed. Prostitution is legal in several Nevada counties, providing the resident population is under 400,000. It’s fair to conclude that anyone visiting either ranch is lonely, so the brothels’ proximity to this section of the Lincoln Highway is fitting.

Route 50 continues on through Dayton. This town was the state’s first permanent settlement and it was on the Pony Express Route. It is also near Gold Canyon, where the infamous Comstock Silver Lode was discovered. The Dayton Museum has information on self-guided walking tours but, as far as we could tell, little remains of the town’s past.

After Silver Springs, the Lohontan State Recreation Area parallels the road. This area is a popular fishing spot, judging by the number of fishing boats dotting the reservoir, first thing in the morning.

Lohontan State Recreation Area
I’d highly recommend gassing up in Fallon as, from this point onward, you’re as likely to strike silver as you are to find a gas station.

Sand Mountain is twenty-eight miles past Fallon. This naturally occurring sand trap (good luck golfing your way out of it) welcomes the usual assortment of hikers, bikers and campers. It is especially popular with ATVers. From a distance, these vehicles look like hyperactive ants swarming the sand dune. If you simply want to admire Sand Mountain, stop at the parking lot closest to the road for a photo op, or spend no more than thirty minutes inside the recreation area. Linger longer and you’ll be expected to purchase a weekly permit.

Sand Mountain
After Sand Mountain, the Loneliest Road begins to live up to its name. We kept track to see how long we could go without encountering another vehicle. Our record was about eleven minutes. We also passed many a devoted cyclist and one jogger. Yes, a guy was jogging the Lincoln Highway. As he was accompanied by an RV support vehicle we figured he was either fundraising or breaking a record. Hope he’s not still plugging away out there.

A mile before Cold Springs, watch for an interpretative center on your right. On the Loneliest Road that means a hygienically questionable bathroom and a decent-sized plaque, which provides information about this Pony Express stop. The actual station building, which was built in 1860, is located a little further along Route 50, on the other side of the road.

Cold Springs Pony Express Station, Nevada
Keep looking…  The pony express station is there…  I promise.
The Pony Express Station was bigger than I’d anticipated and, as far as ruins go, quite a few of the crumbling walls remain. This structure was originally 116 feet by 51 feet in size and contained living quarters, a storage area, a barn, and a corral. The walls were up to three feet thick, presumably with the intention of repelling both Indian tribes and the local wolf population.

Renowned rider, Bob Haslam, once stopped here. He’s best known for being one of the riders who carried Lincoln’s Inaugural Address, on the Pony Express’ most rapid ride. (There is a gravel pull off for the station ruins. Look for a fenced area – it’s easier to spot than the actual building).

Today, Cold Springs basically consists of a RV park and restaurant.

The landscape shifts, as the snow drizzled summits of the Toiyabe Range peek between the hills. Austin, a hiccup of a town, appears just before you enter the Toiyabe National Forest.

Austin, Nevada
If you’re into rustic, industrial furniture and have a few DIY skills, pop into Main Street Shoppes. There are very reasonably priced pieces of vintage mining equipment inside. I was tempted by an old metal wheel, (for $15) which was begging to be incorporated into a coffee table.

International Hotel, Austin, Nevada
International Hotel in Austin.  It’s allegedly haunted, and is the oldest hotel in Nevada.  Oh, but it’s no longer a hotel.
After Austin, the road twists and curves as the terrain becomes mountainous, leading up to Hickison Summit. We bypassed signs to the Hickison Petroglyph Recreation Area because it was accessed by a dirt road and we didn’t want to tax the Gorilla Tape any further.

By the time we reached Eureka, our criteria for deciding whether or not we liked a place pretty much boiled down to this: got gas? Okay, we’ll talk. We battled our way through hordes of boy scouts to refuel and use a bathroom with actual plumbing, celebrating these minor victories.

Eureka is an old mining town, with a well-preserved courthouse and opera house.

Opera House, Eureka
The next stop is Ely. Coming from the West, you hit the old section first. It has historic buildings and vintage signs that have been baked in the sun a little long. Ghost town groupies may want to linger here, as Pine County has a plethora of them. There are also several lakes in the vicinity. The Lincoln Highway pretty much runs over the top of Comins Lake, and nearby Cave Lake State Park is known for fishing.

Outside of Ely, Nevada
If you need an overnight, Ely is a decent option. There’s a clean, pet-friendly La Quinta in the newer part of town and a solid Mexican restaurant. The décor at La Fiesta does nothing to evoke Puerta Vallarta, but the portions are generous and the prices reasonable. We recommend the carne asada.

Carne Asada, Mexican restaurant, Ely
After Ely, the Lincoln Highway veers north, while Route 50 continues through scenic Spring Valley and then passes by Great Basin National Park.

Passing time
Juliet passes time by knitting…  an entire blanket on Route 50.
Ironically, the Loneliest Road ends at the Nevada/Utah border, but it was on the Utah side that we experienced true solitude (and also the vaguely unsettling feeling that no one would find our bleached bones should anything go awry). During the ninety or so miles between the border and Delta, we regularly went twenty minutes before passing another car. Forget towns. The only thing we saw was Sevier Lake, another remnant of the prehistoric Lake Bonneville.

To get a feel for what it’s like to drive on the Loneliest Road, put this video on endless loop for 6-7 hours.  Enjoy!

Lincoln Highway from Juliet on Vimeo.

Lincoln Highway: A drive across the "loneliest road" in America — this is the Nevada section.

  • Loneliest Road Survival Kits are available at various Chambers of Commerce and some businesses. This is a free booklet that you can get stamped, at various points along the way. Mail it into the Nevada Commission on Tourism to receive a survival certificate. 
  • There are endless places along Route 50 for drivers to put on or remove snow chains. Personally, I wouldn’t attempt this drive in the colder months (due to the high elevation, climate, and the presumably long rescue times if you have car trouble). However, if you do head this way in the colder months, make sure you have chains.
  • Much of the drive is through open range. Keep an eye out for discombobulated cattle.
  • Many of the sites off Route 50 are accessible by dirt road. If you’re renting a car for this journey, a 4WD vehicle will make it easier for you to reach the more remote attractions.

I survived Hwy 50 sign

Comments

Franca
Reply

Knitting on a road trip.. what an alternative and unique way of passing time at least for me. Juliet has been very productive too, hat off to her that knitted an entire blanket on Route 50. :)
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The Duo
Reply

The blanket was finished just in time for the baby’s arrival — a friend’s baby. Not ours. :)

The Duo
Reply

We just love road trips. We have quite the bucket list from the Alaskan Highway to Route 1 along the East Coast. Hope you can find some time to get yours in. Thanks for stopping by!

Gaelyn
Reply

Great tour of this lonely highway. Looks like an interesting stretch of road if prepared.
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Jess
Reply

You know, I think 51 seconds really is about enough of that for me. But the idea of getting a survival kit stamped sounds fun, and the views are definitely not like highways I’m used to.
Jess recently posted..Little Things I Love About: ChicagoMy Profile

The Duo
Reply

We drove it so others don’t have to. :)

Juliann
Reply

Great post! I’d never heard of the Lincoln Highway, but now want to drive it. the stopping spots you describe sound do intriguing. I could do without the boring stretches, but sounds like there’s no way around them.
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The Duo
Reply

We road trip addicts so every drive becomes an adventure. :)

The Duo
Reply

It’s like a “passport” that gets stamped by various businesses and organizations along the route. After the drive you mail in your passport and receive back a certificate that you did indeed drive the Loneliest Road. :)

Charu
Reply

Nice find, guys! Must be great to drive around.

Suzanne In VA
Reply

Call me crazy but this looks like a great road trip- adding to the list!

The Duo
Reply

It was definitely a stand-out. Put it on your list and have a great trip soon. Thanks for stopping by.

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