U.S. 50, Nevada (Loneliest Road in America)

Steven Dutch, Professor Emeritus, Natural and Applied Sciences, Universityof Wisconsin - Green Bay

AAA, with some reluctance, identified U.S. 50 across Nevada as "The Loneliest Road in America." I drove this road eastbound in December 1981, before it was "The Loneliest Road in America." and I agreed wholeheartedly with the choice when it was announced. I drove the western half of it westbound in 2003. This is a wonderful highway.

The lonely part really begins east of Fallon. Austin, at about the halfway mark, is as good an example of "the middle of nowhere" as you can find.

Winter Views, December, 1981

A dramatic view of the Clan Alpine Mountains
Left: the Toiyabe Mountains just west of Austin.

Below: Austin in December 1981.

April, 2003

Austin to New Pass

Left: The front of the Toiyabe Mountains from north of Austin on Nevada 305.

Below: Views of Austin

For some obscure (probably historical) reason, the 1:250,000 map sheet for this area is not named Austin, which is the only town in the region and dead center in the map area. Instead the map sheet is named for the Millett Ranch on the far south edge of the map area.
Left: Looking west from Austin

Below: U.S. 50 crossing the Reese River Valley.

Left and Below: Looking south along the Reese River Valley. The Toiyabe Range is on the left, the Shoshone Range on the right.
Looking east toward Austin. The Toiyabe Range is the most formidable obstacle along U.S. 50 in Nevada.
Toiyabe Peak (10793 feet)
Looking southeast toward Bunker Hill (11474 feet)
Looking northeast to Mount Callaghan (10187 feet)

Below: views of the Toiyabe Range

Left and Below: The Shoshone Range is large but offers a couple of wide, easy gaps for crossing.
Below: Looking west toward the Desatoya Mountains with the Clan Alpine Range beyond
Looking south along the Smith Creek Valley, with the Shoshone Range on the left and the Desatoya Range on the right.

Below: New Pass through the Desatoya Mountains

The Clan Alpine Mountains

A wonderful, weirdly named range that is the quintessential Great Basin mountain range: colorful, stark and forbidding. The high snowcapped summit is 9966 feet in elevation.
Desatoya Peak, 9973 feet.
The Desatoya Mountains
Rock Creek (Rock Springs Station)

In its day, an important stagecoach stop on John Butterfield's (1861-1866) and Wells, Fargo & Company's (1866-1869) overland stage and mail company's historic line along the Simpson Route between Salt Lake City and Genoa, Nevada. Fresh horses, blacksmith services and wagon-repair facilities were available here.

The Pony Express Cold Springs station was constructed in 1860 on the sagebrush bench eastward across the highway.

To the north are the ruins of a telegraph repeater and maintenance station which serviced this segment of the Overland Telegraph - Pacific Telegraph Company's pioneer transcontinental line, which was completed between Sacramento and Omaha in 1861. The line was abandoned in August, 1869. The coming of the transcontinental railroad and its parallel telegraph line along the Humboldt River to the north spelled the demise of both the telegraph line and the stage route here.


Ruins of the stage station. Some maps erroneously label this the Pony Express station.
Looking south from the station
Looking east at the Desatoya Mountains and the former location of the Pony Express station.

Fairview Peak

Fairview Peak to Fallon

Left and Below: Labou or Frenchman Flat in Fairview Valley
Left and Below: Some of the most scabrous looking terrain is created by the weathering of rhyolite.

Sand Mountain

Unlike desert pavement, sand dunes tend to recover from damage pretty rapidly. So why not let folks play on one?
Left: This distant view of Sand Mountain shows how the sand accumulates near a saddle as air flow funnels through the saddle, loses velocity, and drops its load.
This view from the eastern side of the range shows that some sand makes it through the gap.
Left and Below: Ruins of the Pony Express Station at Sand Mountain. The placard notes sadly that most of the destruction is not due to the effects of time and weather but to people climbing on the walls.
Left and Below: Fourmile Flat
Lake Lahontan shorelines near Sand Mountain

Austin to Ely

This stretch of the highway isn't as dramatic as the western half. It's higher but with less relief and long stretches across wide valleys..

Beyond Austin the road winds upward through a series of switchbacks that seem about to go right up over the edge of the world.

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Created 14 July 2003, Last Update 10 June 2020