For those who say they want to “get away from it all” on vacation, there’s a highway in Nevada that one might consider the “nuclear” option.

This road doesn’t just take you away from big cities or the mundane rhythms of day-to-day life; it takes you away from reliable cellphone coverage, regular access to gas stations, and, at times, the sense that you share this planet with other human beings.

A high desert landscape at sunset with a "50 - West" sign in the foreground.
At sunset, looking west along Nevada’s “lonely” Route 50.

The moniker “The Loneliest Road in America,” as coined by Life magazine in July 1986, seems immediately apt the first time you motor Route 50 through Nevada.

This road is a beeline to the middle of nowhere.

Or, as an anonymous employee of the American Automobile Association (AAA) told Life back in ’86,

“It’s totally empty. There are no points of interest. We don’t recommend it. We warn all motorists not to drive there unless they’re confident of their survival skills.”

A high desert highway curves into the distance, with a sign in the foreground reading "HWY 50 - The Loneliest Road in America."
Route 50, leading out into the Nevada desert from the town of Austin.

But don’t let the desolation deter. It’s gorgeous.

Dramatic orange and red clouds over a high desert landscape at dusk.
Dusk along “America’s Loneliest Road,” driving west to California.

When I followed the Lincoln Highway from Chicago to San Francisco in the summer of 2012, I spent the better part of a hot July day on Nevada’s lonely highway of legend. 

In Nevada, Route 50 winds from Baker in the east to Carson City in the west, with notable stops in towns like Ely, Eureka, Austin, and Fallon.

An orange-and-brown exterior of a building with large letters spelling "MOTEL" near the roof.
Classic signage atop the Alpine Lodge in Eureka along Nevada’s Route 50.
The weathered white-brick facade of a building marked "GENERAL STORE" in the small town of Eureka, NV.
The general store in Eureka, NV.
Facade of an old lounge in Eureka, Nevada, bearing the painted slogan "Where the Fun Is."
Louie’s Lounge in Eureka, NV, along Route 50: it’s “Where the Fun Is.”
A view of Route 50 passing through the small town of Eureka, Nevada.
Eureka, Nevada, a town along Route 50.
Facade of a bar and grill with an assortment of colorful signs. Late afternoon sun pours onto the street from over the building.
Facade of the International Cafe & Bar, Austin, NV.
A high desert landscape with dramatic clouds and a vibrantly blue sky.
A hilly landscape in rural Nevada along Route 50.

The surreal sense of quiet I felt on this road — I’ll never forget it.

“It was so quiet you could hear the blood rush through your ears,” wrote Los Angeles Times reporter Charles Hillinger about Route 50 in 1986, the same year that now-famous Life magazine piece first dubbed 50 “America’s Loneliest Road.”

As Hillinger and others chronicled, many in Nevada were peeved or worse at how Life and AAA had painted their rural part of the American West. But Nevadans turned what they saw as an insult into a business opportunity: to lure visitors to experience their own adventure on 50. You can even pick up a free “passport” which, once stamped in various towns along the route, proves to others that you have, indeed, “survived” the desolate journey.

An orange- and red-colored sunset along a mostly empty desert highway.
Dusk along “America’s Loneliest Road,” driving west to California.

And between Ely and Fallon and the other towns on Route 50, there’s nothing desolate about the views all around you. From that July 2012 trip, I’ll always remember the stunning skies that, near sunset, looked like they might swallow my car whole in a cascade of deep colors. In Nevada’s high desert along 50, there’s little to block the sky, which, at dusk, hangs in a canopy of warm tones seemingly just beyond your windshield.

I’ll drive Route 50 again, should I ever get the opportunity. What a beautiful corner of the world.


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