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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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: 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.
Four paws! A nice, slow drive with plenty of places for me to stroll.
Lane & Juliet
The writing and photography team behind Southwest Compass, the travel blog for the American Southwest.