NEVADA’S ROUTE 50: AMERICA’S LONELIEST ROAD
Highway 50 is one of those generous, eternal American roads that goes from coast to coast (nearly). It begins in Sacramento, California and ends in Ocean City, Maryland, spanning over 3,000 miles in the process. It’s most isolated, most desolate stretch passes through the heart of Nevada’s nearly-uninhabited desert moonscape. One section of the highway is particularly mysterious. Should a driver attempt to make it from Carson City, NV to central Utah, the route will beckon past lonely brothels, ghost towns, vintage casinos, sand, dust and endless blue skies. It’s the most desolate part of the continental United States and traversing it by car takes a certain commitment and endurance. It is 381 miles from Carson City to Great Basin National Park. This is Nevada’s Route 50, a stretch of asphalt that Life Magazine famously declared America’s Loneliest Road.
I made the drive back in 2008, after leaving California and returning back to Ohio for a month.
Avoid the drive in the winter, when the elevated passes are dangerous. The best time to go is during the early or late summer, when the weather is hot and dry and the evenings cool and refreshing. Before attempting this drive, you will need to stock up on lots of water, gas and time.
Having some kind of personal issue also helps, as you’re going to have a lot of quiet time to think. So, before setting off, you should consider going through some sort of personal crisis or inner turmoil.
There are no real attractions along Route 50. The beauty here lies in the endless vistas and relentless approach of telephone poles. The few signs of civilization along the way are a look at vintage western Americana. It’s a bit like the Twilight Zone here. Eerie, especially alone.
Most trippers make the drive heading east, from California. The road really clears out after Carson City, the tiny capital of Nevada. That’s when Route 50 goes down to two lanes and goes through the civilization warp. The even-tinier town of Fallon, where 50 intersects with Highway 95, will be your last chance for supplies and gasoline. Be sure to get what you need here, before entering the great basin that is central Nevada.
120 miles east of Fallon, you will hit Ely, Nevada, population 4,000. Ely is probably the most interesting urban stop along the way, so park your car and take a walk around. An old mining town-turned-casino town right smack in the middle of Nevada, Ely is a good place to crash for the night if you’re looking for a place to stay. There are a few old saloons in town for a drink or two.
Nevada’s Route 50 is a photographer’s dream. The bright sun, long summer days and endless sunsets make even the most ordinary things look extraordinary. Take your time and poke around…the photos will turn out better than you may think.
There are plenty of old saloons, brothels and casinos to capture a lost Americana on film. Although the landscape is a bit monotonous, the shadows, contrasts and colors offer great opportunities for some Paris, Texas style shots.
Ry Cooder – Music from the film Paris, Texas
Many good films have shot on or around Nevada’s Route 50.
My Blueberry Nights (2007)
Vanishing Point (1971)
Rat Race (2001)