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Traveling on the Loneliest Road in America

The move this past weekend went smoothly, although in comparison to last summer, anything would be considered a success. To make a long story short, last year I bought a car on a Monday, took my doctoral qualifying exam Tuesday and Wednesday, moved into a storage unit Thursday, and drove from Boston to California Friday morning. Bad idea.

I’m normally a pretty organized person, but because of quals and the move, I didn’t plan for this trip at all. My friend Sara was my companion. We had 8 days, a GPS, Road Trip USA, two ipods, and a case of bottled water. That was our plan. We figured we’d get on I-90 and figure it out.

At dinner the night before we left, our friend Tom suggested that we check out the “Loneliest Road in America,” Route 50 through Nevada. I can’t remember at all why he thought this was a good idea, except that he mentioned that we could spell out our names in lava-like rocks on the side of the road. Somewhere around Colorado we decided to go for it.

Let me tell you something about the Loneliest Road in America: there is nothing there. This is no Rt. 66. Save for a tree full of shoes, some petroglyphs, ghost towns, and a giant sand dune, be prepared to drive through a few hundred of miles of (beautiful) nothingness. The roads leading up to the Loneliest Road, from Holden, UT to Ely, NV (via Delta and Hogum) are equally lonely. There are a bunch of signs that say “Do not pick up hitchhikers because there is a prison nearby.” This is good advice.

On the positive side, you’ll spend some time driving through some beautiful rolling hills between Eureka and Ely and gazing at the mountains in the distance. You’ll have great conversations with your friends and discover a few new favorite songs. (At the time, we were very fond of John Mayer’s Stop This Train and Martin Sexton’s Diner.) Word is that if you go to Sand Mountain when all is quiet, you can hear the dunes sing. Doing this drive makes you really appreciate small towns and how expansive the U.S. truly is.

The Loneliest Road starts in Ely, NV. Our day’s goal was to drive from Moab to Eureka, the biggest town with services (gas, lodging, food) going east to west. Somewhere in Utah, I realized that I was due for an oil change. Given that we knew we were about to drive for a few hundred miles of empty road, we decided to stop in Salina(the biggest town around about 150 miles west of Moab) to get the car checked out. We strolled down to Mom’s Cafe and were enjoying some pie when we got a phone call from the service station informing us that we had a nail in our time and oh, did we want that patched? Yes, please.

To make matters worse, the gas gauge broke at the continental divide. I found it suspicious that my Civic, while pretty efficient, was getting 600 miles to the tank. So we sort of just estimated we were really getting 400 miles to the tank and pledged to get gas every 300 miles or so.

With an unknown quantity of gas, three good tires, and a patch that we hoped would hold up, we made our way toward Eureka (population 1000). We didn’t book a hotel room in advance, but since we hadn’t passed a single car on the road and Eureka has three hotels, we kept joking about getting the last room in town…

Naturally, we got the last room in town.

In our defense, we would have normally been fine had we not arrived on the 3rd of July. Lots of people were in town for the “big” parade (0.2 miles long) and a family reunion. I do recommend that you book a hotel in advance because otherwise you will be forced to drive 70 miles west to Austin (population: 300) or backtrack 80 miles east to Ely. All three hotels in Eureka are owned by Best Western, and we stayed in the historic and cute Jackson House.

We ate breakfast and dinner at the Owl Club, which is apparently the better of the two restaurants in town. I’m not sure if it was the wine or the rotating stuffed owl above the drink machine, but we enjoyed ourselves immensely. We met some local gentlemen who based on the fact that we were headed from Boston to San Francisco and the pattern of my rainbow-striped purse (a Fake Spade), inquired as to whether we were members of the “rainbow coalition.”

Go visit Eureka. You will learn new colloquialisms.

We were having a good time at the 4th of July parade the next morning, but once we heard some lady quip that she “hoped someone would throw Obama down a mineshaft,” I decided it was time to bounce. The gas station attendant was pretty nice, though. She said that she hated Hillary (blasphemy) and didn’t know much about Obama, but she would happily vote for Condoleeza Rice or Colin Powell. Suspicious.

70 miles past Eureka is Austin, which is your last chance to get gas and food for a while. Most of the attractions start here. As promised, we did get to spell out our names in the salt flats on the side of the road!

A little warning for you. The ground there looks like dry desert earth. Underneath that thin layer of cracked earth lies an unexpected layer of thick brown clay. You will fall. You will ruin your favorite shoes. Your friend will take a picture of you lying in the mud, then she will ask if you are okay.

Shoeless, we drove another 110 miles to a small oasis at the western end of the Loneliest Road in Fallon where we rewarded ourselves for surviving with all 4 tires intact and no prisoners. (Most importantly, there are free restrooms here.)

Okay, I think I undersold The Loneliest Road earlier. It was cool. We had a fantastic time in Eureka. There are beautiful mountains and singing dunes! If you have to drive through Nevada, this is definitely the way to go. The smaller roads take a few extra hours, but undoubtedly have far more character than the interstates. Good luck!

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