By: Sarah Jane Woodall aka: Wonderhussy Say what you will about the pandemic — at least it was nice being able to take the freeway whenever you wanted, or to blaze right down Las Vegas Boulevard anytime, day or night, without having to take tourist travel patterns into account! I personally got so spoiled […]
By: Sarah Jane Woodall aka: Wonderhussy
Say what you will about the pandemic — at least it was nice being able to take the freeway whenever you wanted, or to blaze right down Las Vegas Boulevard anytime, day or night, without having to take tourist travel patterns into account! I personally got so spoiled by the empty streets that I found myself peevishly cursing last week at the indignity of having to sit through two light cycles to cross the Strip at Sahara. THE NERVE!
Seriously though, I understand that ours is a tourism-based economy, and these traffic jams equate directly to dollars in the pockets of those in the service industry who suffered mightily during the shutdown. So in all fairness, I can’t be too salty about it.
But I can get the hell out of Dodge!
Thankfully, here in Nevada we have no shortage of lightly-traveled roads (to put it politely). Since most of the state between Reno and Vegas is considered “the middle of nowhere,” it’s pretty easy to find an empty stretch of open road anywhere outside those two metro areas. I mean, sure, you’ll have to tap the brakes from time to time in Elko or Tonopah — but I’d rather spend a few minutes waiting for some giant piece of mining machinery to cross the road than be stuck in seething gridlock staring at the ass end of a taxi advertising some artsy-fartsy French-Canadian circus. Ya feel me?!
Mining machinery and the occasional roadwork notwithstanding, most of Nevada is so desolate and sparsely populated that most of the roads are almost always wide open. And don’t think we take it for granted! American culture has long fetishized the concept of the open road. But here in Nevada, we take it to a whole other level-and in true Silver State fashion, we even figured out how to make a buck off our lonely roads.
Back in July 1986, Life magazine dubbed the part of U.S. Highway 50 that crosses Nevada “the Loneliest Road in America.” This was meant to be a diss, as the article went on to warn that only experienced and well-equipped desert travelers should attempt to cross this Big Mac-and bathroom-free stretch of road. The 409-mile span between Delta, Utah and Fallon, NV passes through only three small towns (Ely, Eureka and Austin), and even today, gas stations are only to be found at an average of 65-mile intervals.
But wouldn’t you know it? Scrappy underdog Nevada owned the diss — going so far as to rename the entire stretch of highway in question “The Loneliest Road in America,” complete with redesigned highway signs, branded merchandise and souvenir passports which intrepid travelers can get stamped at the various sparsely-distanced businesses along the route. Next thing you know, The Loneliest Road became a tourist destination in and of itself. Take that, big city elitists!
Wanting some peace and quiet last summer, I decided to check it out for myself, and made a series of videos for my YouTube channel traveling the length of the Loneliest Road, all the way from Carson City to Delta, Utah. I enjoyed huge skies, spectacular scenery and plenty of history — and it really was pretty desolate at times.
Thanks to many miles of visibility, I was able to shoot drone footage of my car cruising along, and even to walk down the middle of the road blabbing to my camera for many minutes at a time, without any fear of oncoming traffic— and I even gave myself a little thrill by pretending to be in Merry Olde England and drive on the left side of the highway for a bit until I just got too freaked out and returned to my lane. So yeah, it was pretty lonely — in parts.
The irony was (thanks to Covid) most of it really wasn’t all that lonely. Anyone who spent any amount of time camping anywhere last summer knows what I’m talking about: there were stir-crazy city folk everywhere…even on the “loneliest” road — which, incidentally, in my experience wasn’t in Nevada at all, but rather in Utah!
Utah is totally missing the boat on tourist dollars, in my opinion; the stretch of U.S. 50 between Baker, NV and Delta, UT is hands-down the most desolate and weirdly fascinating part of the highway. They should definitely milk it more!
But as for Nevada, the crowds of travelers I faced proved that the marketing shtick was working, so good for them. But for those of us who want to be on a REALLY lonely road — we know where to go. And it ain’t Hwy 50!
My personal favorite lonely highway is U.S. Highway 6, the Nevada portion of which is far more desolate than U.S. 50. There’s no cute little passport or quirky road signs — and that’s how you know this is the real deal!
From its beginning in Bishop, CA, the only town you’ll pass through heading east on 6 is Tonopah, before facing an epic 170-mile gas-station-less stretch to Ely. Cell signal is mostly nonexistent, even with Verizon, so you’d better have a full tank of gas, four good tires and a strong sense of self if you plan on venturing out here. There’s no one to jumpstart your battery, no one to make you a Frappuccino, and no one to hear you scream. In other words…
I’d go so far as to say that the section of U.S. 6 between Tonopah and Ely is my personal Disneyland — that is, if Disneyland lacked all services and amenities aside from abandoned buildings, mutilated cows and fallout-dusted sagebrush and was totally devoid of screaming toddlers and harried parents. And, for that matter, Covid refugees, after my U.S. 50 trip last summer I also drove U.S. 6. It was only then that I found the desolation I was looking for.
Sign me up for an annual pass!