Arts & Culture - The Loneliest Road
Jul 01, 2009
Background on the Loneliest Road
It has been called the middle of the middle of nowhere, a victim of uncharitable thinking and a place where you need survival skills. But of all the intriguing labels, the one that elevated the 287-mile stretch of central Nevada highway to fame is “The Loneliest Road in America.”
The superlative sowed the seeds of one of Nevada’s more unusual tourism campaigns when it appeared in the July 1986 issue of Life magazine. The words belonged to Bob Wildman, an AAA counselor who told the magazine that “we warn all motorists not to drive there unless they’re confident of their survival skills.” Noting the nine towns, abandon mining camps, several gas pumps and occasional coyotes that dot the asphalt flowing between Ely on the east and Fallon on the west, the counselor said, “There are no points of interest. We don’t recommend it.”
The agricultural and mining towns in central Nevada’s high desert are sparsely populated and separated by great expanses of sagebrush, but the residents and business owners along Highway 50 demonstrated that they were anything but sleepy when it came to embracing the New York magazine’s slight. Members of the communities lobbied the Nevada State Legislature to approve official “Loneliest Road in America” highway signs. With the help of the Nevada Commission on Tourism, they also developed a tongue-in-cheek “Highway 50 Survivor” kit for travelers, containing a map that roadtrippers could validate in Fernley, Fallon, Austin, Eureka and Ely in exchange for a certificate from Nevada’s Governor.
The state’s response attracted journalists who blanketed the nation with stories about the quirky people and experiences along the Loneliest Road.
The online version of the Nevada Highway 50 Survival Guide is available at: http://www.travelnevada.com/guides-brochures.aspx and hard copies can be obtained by calling the Nevada Commission on Tourism at 1-800-NEVADA-8 or at any chamber of commerce along Highway 50.
At one time Highway 50 received an endorsement from Merle Haggard, who told the Columbus Dispatch: “The only way you can see America is to take, like, Highway 50 across Nevada. Take that little road and go right through America and see what it used to be.”
- Oats Park Center and the Barkley Theatre. The local arts council restored a historic school building which now serves as a chic gallery for local artists. What used to be the playground is now the Barkley Theatre where musicians from across the country and the world perform monthly. Used to much larger markets, more than one musician has raised an eyebrow at the mention of performing in Fallon. Artists Judith Owens and The Lovell Sisters have performed at the Performing Arts Center. An annual season of performing arts events is available by visiting http://www.churchillarts.org/main.html.
- If that’s not possible, then a tour of the gallery and theatre may be a good plan B. I found virtual tours of the restored school house online at: http://www.churchillarts.org/Oats%20Park/OP%20QTVR%20panoramics/Oats%20Park%20pano%20main.html
- Churchill Vineyards . An experimental farm where the Freys, a long-time Fallon family, work with the University of Nevada, Reno’s school of agriculture to find varietals that grow well in Fallon. Since 2001, the Freys have made great progress and have discovered success with four of the 10 grape varieties originally planted. This year they yielded 1,200 bottles and offer tastings and tours by appointment. The winery phone is 775-423-4000. http://news.rgj.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20060623/FALLON/606230466
- Lattin Farms. Travelers can experience the farming culture at Lattin Farms where they produce Heart O' Gold cantaloupes, which are delicious but not widely available because they ship poorly. A corn maze designed by London maze designer Adrian Fisher is the centerpiece of the farm. It takes about 1.5 hours to navigate during the day, and probably longer during their full moon tours. Lattin Farms has a pumpkin patch, scarecrow stuffing workshops for kids, hay rides and a lit pumpkin tree during the Halloween season. (photo of corn maze at: http://www.lattinfarms.com/FarmFun/2005maze.html)
- Fallon has been producing the Hearts O’ Gold Cantaloupe Festival for 21 year with concerts, farmer’s market, cantaloupe foods and games, continuous entertainment, carnival, petting zoo fair exhibits and county fair. The next festival is Sept. 1-4, 2006. Website: http://www.fallonchamber.com/
- The Overland Hotel. Listed on the Nevada Registry of Historical Places, the Overland Hotel was built in 1908. Located on America’s First Transcontinental Highway, the Lincoln Highway, the Overland became the destination for all walks of life: from ditch diggers and local ranchers, to politicians, civic leaders and weary travelers. In addition, the Newlands Reclamation Project, the first federal irrigation project in the U.S., was underway in the region.
Now an authentic Basque restaurant, the Overland serves hearty family-style dishes complete with all the side dishes and is a popular watering hole for locals and visitors alike. http://www.overland-hotel.com
- Grimes Point. Over 8,000 years ago, Native Americans first visited Grimes Point, now one of Nevada’s finest National Recreation Trails where rock writings and petroglyphs can be viewed on a self-guiding tour. Grimes Point Archaeological Area is just eleven miles east of Fallon and features a self-guided trail filled with intriguing rock writings and art of ancient civilizations. The information about the trail is provided at the site in a brochure that visitors can pick up and take with them as they explore. The site has recently been upgraded and includes a restroom, five sheltered picnic tables, and interpretive kiosk, new benches and a paved parking lot and road. http://www.nv.blm.gov/carson/Recreation/Rec_grimes_pt.htm
- The Reno-Sparks Convention and Visitors Authority (RSCVA) recently printed a guide to rock art in Northern Nevada. Free copies of "Engraved in Stone: Nevada Ancient Rock Art" are available by calling (800) FOR-RENO or 323-NRAF or online at http://www.nevadarockart.org/
- Hidden Cave, an archeological site that has yielded important artifacts that tell the story of Nevada's earliest inhabitants, is adjacent to the petroglyphs. The cave is open to guided tours the second and fourth Saturday of every month and can be scheduled through the Churchill County Museum in Fallon.
- Sand Mountain. This doesn’t really fall within arts and culture other than the fact that the shifting sands make a musical hum or singing sound in the low note of C, but if you go to Grimes Point then it would be a good idea to check out the nearby Sand Mountain. Sand Mountain has become a reprieve from the summer doldrums for “snow bums” who trade the snow for sand and board down the 600-foot, 2.5-mile dunes in the same way they shred the snow-covered Sierra in the winter. Sand “pilots” share the mountain with thrill seekers who explore the 4,795 acres of sand on four wheelers and dune buggies. The lack of trees and other obstacles makes Sand Mountain ideal for speed and the deep, constant hum of the shifting sand crystals seem to intensify the adventure. http://www.fallontourism.com/media/sandmtn.html
- Sand Springs Pony Express Station. Travelers can visit one of the best preserved Pony Express stations in Nevada, Sand Springs, 25 miles east of Fallon off U.S. Highway 50. There’s more information at the website: http://www.ponyexpressnevada.com/
- Stillwater Wildlife Refuge. Fallon’s Stillwater wetlands are well-known to birders, as this area has been designated as a 'Globally Important Bird Area' by the American Bird Conservancy because more than 280 species have been sighted in the area. These tremendously rich and diverse wetlands attract more than a quarter million waterfowl, as well as over 20,000 other water birds, including American white pelicans, Double-crested cormorants, White-faced ibis, and several species of egrets, herons, gulls, and terns. http://www.fws.gov/stillwater/stillwater.html
- Lodging recommendation:
Holiday Inn Express – Fallon, Nevada
55 Commercial Way; Fallon, Nevada 89406