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