Highway 50 – The Loneliest Road in America – 2003 

Highway 50 – The Loneliest Road in America – 2003 

One day this fall I got a call from a friend who informed me that he was going to be in Reno, Nevada over the weekend.  Not only did this present an excellent “warm up” for my upcoming Vegas trip, download osg777 apk but it gave me a destination to which I could ride Highway 50, The Loneliest Highway in America, across central Nevada.

I departed Salt Lake City around 7:30 AM.  I had planned to leave earlier, but the morning temperature was in the mid 30’s, so I planned to at least let the sun break over the mountains.  I took I-15 south from Salt Lake City to American Fork, Utah, where I jogged to the west to catch Highway 68 along the western shore of Utah Lake.  Highway 68 has seen much development and subsequent widening over the past few years, but it is still fun to ride.  With the shores of Utah Lake on the east side of the road, and the southern flanks of the Oquirrh  Mountains on the west, Highway 68 twists and turns through grassy fields and sage covered slopes.  The highway also has several rollers and hairpin turns.  The downside of Highway 68 is that there are several blind turns and rollers.  When mixed with the slow-moving local farm equipment, section of this road can be quite dangerous, but fun nonetheless.

At the small town of Elberta, Utah, I took Highway 6  west until it joined Highway 50, just east of Delta, Utah.  The ride through this section is fairly boring with the exception of a few curves just before Eureka; otherwise be prepared for straight and flat roads.  The scenery through this section helps relieve some of the boredom as you pass by the dunes of Little Sahara, the Sevier River,  and the dry lake bed of Lake Sevier.  Near the Thule (pronounced “tool-ee”) Valley, the ride begins.  The Thule Valley divides the House and Confusion mountain ranges, both of which are pretty impressive.  As you climb out of the Thule Valley, ascending the Confusions, Highway 6 & 50 passes through a narrow and windy canyon.  It is nice to finally turn and lean your machine after the relatively straight and flat ride up to this point.

I stopped at the summit of the confusions to take a glance behind me.  The blocky summit of Notch Peak (in the House Range, 9,725 Ft) still towered over the Confusions.  Most people think of Nevada and western Utah as desolate, empty desert, but this is the High Desert and it is also part of the Basin and Range – parallel mountain ranges divided by wide flat valleys.  The average elevation in the valleys is around 4,200 to 4,500 feet, with mountain passes approaching 8,000 feet, not to mention that you are surrounded by several peaks that are over 10,000 feet.  The valleys usually contain dry lake beds, salt flats and thousands of acres of sage trees.  The mountains are typically covered with juniper and pinion trees and are very rocky and rugged.  Depending on the season, wildflowers and grasses abound. During the Pleistocene Period (about 1-million years ago), much of this area was part of Lake Bonneville.  The valleys were essentially the lake bottom and the high peaks were islands.  The shoreline of Lake Bonneville is still evident as an etched-bench on many of the mountains in this area.

From the summit of the Confusion Range, Highway 50 drops into another valley, and the Snake Range can be seen a short distance ahead.  In the base of this valley also lies the Nevada boarder and Great Basin National Park, which would make an excellent side trip.  Wheeler Peak (13,063 Ft), looms just south of the highway on this stretch.   The craps tables of Reno where calling my name, so Great Basin National Park would have to wait until another time.

Highway 50 remains relatively flat through the Snake Creek mountains, with only slight elevation gains.  The views of the Snake Creek mountains are pretty cool, especially if you take time to check your mirrors to catch the backside (west faces) once you pass them.  On the west side of the Snake Creek Range, Highway 50 climbs abruptly to the summit of the Schell Creek Range at Conners Pass (7,722 Ft).  From here, you can see the Egan Range to the west.  Highway 50 descends from the Schell Creek Mountains and then turns northwest along the Egan Range.  About 26 miles later, you come to the metropolis of Ely, Nevada.  Ely is your typical Nevada desert town.  A few gas stations, a McDonalds, and a lot of pre-fab houses spaced wide apart since there are few geographic features to limit building.  I stopped for breakfast at McDonalds (usually a safe bet when you know nothing about the other eating establishments– at least you will know what you are dying from).  Not much was going on in Ely, so after refueling, I hit the highway and continued west.

Over then next 73 miles from Ely, Highway 50 crosses three mountain ranges, each interspaced with awesome salt-flat straight-aways.  I caught my first glimpse of a Nevada State Patrol through this stretch.  I had just passed a string of cars at around 115 mph and luckily had slowed to about 95 mph.  I had no idea what color the Nevada State Patrol cars were, until I saw a black one about a quarter of a mile away.  I was certain that I was busted, and rightfully so having exceeded the speed limit by nearly a factor of 2.  I climbed the next mountain range and pulled over in a large pull-out to accept my fate.  To my relief, the highway god had mercy on me and the cop never showed up.  I took in the beautiful desert colors and stripped a layer of clothing since it had warmed up to around 50 degrees and then continued west over Robinson Summit (7,588 Ft), Little Antelope Summit (7,438 Ft), and Pancake Summit (6,521 Ft) before dropping into the small town of Eureka, Nevada.  Eureka is an awesome little town.  There is a historic downtown area with a few old buildings, hotels, and bed and breakfasts.  Although I didn’t stop here, it looks like this little town would be a cool place to hangout for a day.

After passing through Eureka, Highway 50 opens up for several miles until you come to Hickison Summit (6,564 Feet) in the Toquima Range.  It pays to have a fast machine through this segment since the highway is relatively straight across the playa.  A short distance after Hickison Summit, I came across an amazing site – the east wall of the Toiyabe range.  The Toiyabe mountains rise almost vertically from the playa and appear to present an impassible wall.  I really started to wonder what was ahead as Highway 50 did not deviate course, but headed directly toward the Toiyabes.  Highway 50 climbs right over the Toiyabe range.  This was the best riding section (in opinion) of all of Highway 50 in Nevada.  The road climbs and drops through a myriad of interlinked turns, perfect for motorcycles.  Austin Summit (7,382 Feet), at the top of the Toiyabes, Highway 50 seems to disappear off the west side of the range.  I learned quickly to watch my speed as the highway narrows and clings to the side of a cliff (with no guardrails) as it drops hundreds of feet over the course of a little over a mile to the town of Austin, Nevada.

Austin is a cool little town.  Situated in a narrow valley on the west side of the Toiyabes.  Highway 50 is the main street of the town.  Apparently this town markets itself as a mountain biking destination.  With the hundreds of old mines and mining roads around this town, it is not surprising that there are some cool mountain biking trails.  There are a lot of historic buildings and remnants from the towns mining past.  I stopped at a small two-pump gas station to refuel.  I met another motorcyclist who was heading to Grand Junction, Colorado on a CB500.  We chatted a bit and exchanged information on road conditions.  It turns out this guy had just run out of gas on the stretch from Fallon to Austin.  I became slightly worried until I found out that his bike’s range was only 116 miles.  I could squeeze 180 miles of my Blackbird, and even more if I could ever control my wrist (which never seems to be a viable option).  We wished each other luck and departed going separate ways out of Austin.

After Austin, Highway 50 becomes less and less interesting.  Of course, it would take a lot not to be pale in comparison to the ride over the Toiyabes.  The highway heads west and then northwest out of Austin, before it takes a massive dive to the southwest, avoiding the massive mountains in the area.  The highway goes over New Pass Summit (6,384 Feet) before dropping to a playa that lasts all the way to Fallon.  The temperature warmed-up drastically on this stretch, and I was finally able to shed a few more layers.  To the west, massive salt dredges mined salt from the playa.  To the east, Sand Hill came into view.  Sand Hill is a large sand dune just off of Highway 50, southeast of Fallon.  There is a lot of history about this area and an interpretive sign at the turnoff to Sand Hill explains a lot of it.  One thing the sign, nor any history book ever mentions is the existence of the secret city of “Shady Acres” (named after Shady Acres Trailer Park) at the base of Sand Hill.  This is a metropolis of trailers, big trucks, four wheelers, and thousands of people with necks redder than Mars.  Basically, Sand Hill is a very popular off-road area since you can sit in trailer getting hammered on Schlitz, Natural Lite, or any other form of cheap alcohol, and then step outside onto your four wheeler and go “dig’in”.  Actually it looked quite fun, but my Blackbird was not the right machine, so I continued on to Fallon.  If you do not have business in Reno, or God forbid, Fallon, my advice would be to turn around at this point.  If you are heading eastbound, just ride faster.  All the beauty and remoteness of Highway 50 is quickly lost in the cesspools called Fallon and Reno.

I managed to make it through Fallon without being mugged, and then hit I-80 the rest of the distance to Reno.  I had always heard that Reno was a very popular destination, similar to Las Vegas… obviously people who say that have never been to Las Vegas.  I found my friend’s hotel and hid my bike in the parking garage.  I was almost sure it would be stolen that night.  After hanging out in a 1950’s style casino bar for about an hour, watching people gamble away their welfare checks, my friend showed up and we prepared to hit the town.

First was dinner at some cheap Itallian buffet.  My friend was hit on by a psychotic hooker as we left the dinner place- just one of many raunchy ones we would see on this trip.  We made the mistake of deciding to walk around downtown Reno.  There were several rundown buildings with broken windows and discarded syringes (and no there are not a lot of doctors who hang out in Reno).  Even the populated buildings looked pretty shady.  Somehow we managed to make it back to our hotel without getting mugged and then made the wise decision to stay there and gamle.  We spent the rest of the night cleaning house on the craps tables.

My friend had an early flight the next morning, so I ended up hitting the road around 5AM.  I decided to take I-80 from Reno to Salt Lake, which was a learning experience of what not to do.  I-80 accross Nevada is boring as hell, even with a fast bike, and I saw a lot more cops — a few of which waved at me to slow down as they passed going the other direction.  I was never stopped though.  I guess the cops understand that this stretch of highway is boring as hell and all there is to do is to ride fast.  The highlights of the ride back were the sunrise and the geothermal plant at Nightengale Hot Springs.  Otherwise I-80 was really lame.  If you have to ride this way, take the extra time and take Highway 50– it is well worth the extra time.

 

 

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