You won’t find much traffic as you drive over the mountain passes and across the sagebrush-covered valleys of Nevada’s north central region. In fact, U.S. 50 from Fernley to Ely is known as “The Loneliest Road in America,” so designated by Life Magazine more than 20 years ago.
Today, you still can earn a certificate proclaiming you survived Highway 50—a tongue-in-cheek marketing campaign launched by the Nevada Commission on Tourism and the region’s tourism officials—by collecting validations in your Highway 50 Survival Guide from businesses in towns along the route. If you keep your tank topped off and carry a few essentials—your MP3 player, munchies, and a sense of adventure—you’ll enjoy your journey as well as survive it.
The region is also known as Pony Express Territory because U.S. 50 roughly follows the old Pony Express route. And although the highway is pretty empty, there’s plenty to do. Near Fallon you can visit the ruins of Fort Churchill, an 1860s-era U.S. Army base built to protect settlers, and Lake Lahontan, a reservoir where you can water ski, boat, and camp. In spring and fall, you can watch the thousands of migratory birds make a stop at Stillwater Wildlife Refuge.
Just east of Fallon is Sand Mountain, a single enormous sand dune. Complete with spots to camp in tents or in trailers, it’s now a destination for ATVers and sandboarders. Since U.S. 50 aligns with the 1860s Pony Express trail, it’s not surprising to find ruins of several Pony Express stops. At Grimes Point, see petroglyphs left by ancient people who lived on the shores of the ancient Lake Lahontan.
In Austin, a once-bustling mining town, you can take a walking tour, shop for turquoise jewelry, or grab an outstanding milkshake at the Toiyabe Café. In Eureka you can see and tour several restored buildings, including the 1879 courthouse, still used by county government, and the Eureka Sentinel Museum, before checking into a modern motel. You might even have the chance to catch a concert or play at the wonderfully restored Eureka Opera House.
Farther east is Ely where the Ely Renaissance Society has commissioned murals that celebrate the eastern Nevada town’s history. You can step back in time at the Village, where artifacts recreate the early days, and take a ride on a steam train at the Nevada Northern Railway, which runs right from the doors of the State Railroad Museum and the East Ely Railroad Depot. You’ll find the McGill Historical Drug Store Museum in the old Nevada Consolidated Copper Company town of McGill, north of Ely on U.S. 93.
Farther east on U.S. 50 lies Great Basin National Park, where you can hike Wheeler Peak, the second highest in the state. Then, at the bi-state Border Inn you can play slots and have a beer and a burger in Nevada, then sleep in your motel room in Utah.
The Loneliest Road doesn’t seem quite so lonely by the time you’ve reached the Nevada/Utah state line!
The Pony Express Territory consists of Austin, Baker, Dayton, Ely, Eureka, Fallon, Fernley, and Silver Springs.