Dennis Cassinelli: America’s Loneliest Road

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US Highway 50. (Photo: AdobeStock)

In July 1986, Life Magazine declared Nevada’s Highway 50 “America’s loneliest road,” claiming there were no points of interest along the route and warning readers to not to risk going through it unless they are sure of their survival capacities.
Thirty-five years later, Travel Nevada continues to spotlight and celebrate Highway 50 and its gateway to ghost towns, historic mining communities, state parks, recreational opportunities and great spaces.
I have personally driven the entire length of Nevada Highway 50 many times while working for the Nevada Department of Transportation for many years. Also, my family and I have traveled to various destinations on Highway 50 on several occasions.
I object to the claim that “there was no point of interest along the route”. To illustrate my position, I’ll start at the west end of the road in Carson City, where the old Carson City Mint is located. This is where I found a treasure trove of over 900 Carson City coin dies buried in the mint since the 1800s. The V&T Railroad had a mint spur where gold and silver were. brought in to be minted into coins. The old V&T depot still exists in Carson City.
Then east to Mound House is the brothel district and the location of the Mound House depot for the V&T Railroad and the start of the Carson and Colorado Railroad whose depot in Dayton recently burned down.
Continuing towards Dayton, we come to the Pony Express station in Dayton, one of the best-preserved stations on the Nevada Pony Express. Dayton is where gold was first discovered in 1849 at the end of the Gold Canyon, where it reached the Carson River.
Just past Dayton is Dayton State Park. North of Dayton is the town of Sutro and the portal to the Sutro Tunnel which still drains water from the Comstock mines. Highway 50 branches off to Fernley, the gateway for people heading to the annual Burning Man Gathering.
Highway 50 then enters the Great American Desert so dreaded by the first emigrants. Just before reaching Fallon, the road passes through Ragtown, along the Carson River. This was where the emigrants stopped to get water and rest after crossing the 40 mile desert. Fallon Nevada is famous for its automotive mall, the annual cantaloupe festival, corn and the seat of Churchill County.
Beyond Fallon are Sand Mountain where people drive their buggies, the ruins of the Sand Springs Pony Express station, and the Grimes Point archaeological area. Grimes Point has acres of rock covered with ancient petroglyphs. This is also the location of Hidden Cave and Spirit Cave that served as the basis for my book, Legends of Spirit Cave.
At the junction of Highway 50 and Gabbs Road is Middlegate Station. My NDOT team and I have dined on their famous Monster Burgers on several occasions in Middlegate.
Next up the road comes Austin, famous for a large stone building called Stokes Castle. Austin, established in 1862, was the mother of the mining towns of central Nevada and has 11 buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The next town on the route is Eureka, with the restored 1880 Eureka Opera House and the Eureka Sentinel Journal Museum. Eureka is the seat of Eureka County.
The next town along the route is Ely, the seat of White Pine County. Ely is known for a huge open pit mine in Ruth, west of the city, where millions of tons of copper ore have been mined for many years. One of Ely’s main attractions is the Nevada Northern Railway Museum. The Nevada Northern Railroad still operates as a tourist attraction. Ely also owns the White Pine County Golf Course.
Just southeast of Ely is Baker, the gateway to Grand Bassin National Park.
As you can see, the Highway 50 route through Nevada is packed with places of historical significance and I’ve barely scratched the surface in this short article. As you travel the route, get out of the car and walk along the highway. You can see wildflowers, Indian paintbrushes, arrowheads, gems, quartz crystals, lizards doing push-ups on flat rocks, and all kinds of wild animals. Highway 50 isn’t just about getting from one place to another. Having been there several times, I have never felt alone on Highway 50.
Dennis Cassinelli is a Dayton author and historian. You can order his books at a reduced price on his blog at denniscassinelli.com.


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