The Loneliest Road

Jul 1, 2003
Outside Magazine
Tips & Resources

PICK UP MORE INFO and the Highway 50 Survival Kit at the White Pine Chamber of Commerce (775-289-8877,, in Ely. Along with a free state map and some brochures on the history of Highway 50, there's a postcard that can be validated in Ely, Eureka, Austin, Fallon, and Fernley. Fill it out and mail it in for some goofy memorabilia: a free Highway 50 pin, bumper sticker, and certificate of survival signed by Governor Kenny Guinn.

ROUTE: Baker to Lake Tahoe, Nevada
ROADS: U.S. 50
MILES: 412

"Highway 50 is all mine," I tell myself, flooring the accelerator. "I own this road." There's no one around to prove me wrong. Venturing out into its great desolation like an explorer searching for a new route west, I'm adrift in the ephemera of a heavy road trip: Maps and spent coffee cups are piled around me as I trace the old Pony Express Trail across the Great Basin toward the Sierra Nevada. The unbroken sky and the rolling flux of mountain range and alluvial plain have a way of reworking one's perspective. Out here, the world dissipates like a mirage on the hot tarmac, leaving only the open highway and the promise of discovery. "Yeah," my 89-year-old great-uncle harumphed when I told him where I was going, "if you like tumbleweed." I love tumbleweed—but that's not the point. On U.S. 50, travelers can't help but bear witness to their own passing. Like many others before me, I leave a pair of shoes dangling in a lone tree by the side of the road, my name spelled out in rocks on the pale earth nearby. These strange roadside shrines present an existential dilemma: Am I driving this road or is it driving me? Either way, this highway changes you.

Hiking in Great Basin National Park: Stretch your legs in this 77,082-acre park just outside of Baker. The 2.8-mile round-trip hike on the Bristlecone Trail takes you to an ancient grove of the 4,000-year-old pines for which the trail is named. A mile farther, you can step onto Nevada's only glacier, on 13,065-foot Wheeler Peak. (775-234-7331,
Mountain Biking Austin Singletrack: The Pony Express traversed this area in 1860, and the ideal mail carrier was an "expert rider willing to risk death daily." The same can be said for pedaling the 11.5-mile Cahill Canyon Run, a rocky single- and doubletrack loop outside of Austin that cuts through stands of juniper and aspen groves in the 11,000-foot Toiyabe Range. Pick up a trail guide at the Tyrannosaurus-Rix bike shop, in Austin (775-964-1212,
Sea Kayaking Lake Tahoe: U.S. 50 takes you to the edge of this huge 1,685-foot-deep lake, but why stop there? Rent a sea kayak at Kayak Tahoe, in South Lake Tahoe, California, and paddle the startlingly clear waters of Emerald Bay. (530-544-2011,

Pull over at the Bob Scott Campground, six miles east of Austin in the Toiyabe Range. Surrounded by piñon pines, this free campground with running water and flush toilets is a favorite way station for mountain bikers, who come to ride the steep ascents and technical downhills of the 8.5-mile Bob Scott Slide Trail. (775-964-2671)

In the old silver-mining boomtown of Eureka, grab a double bacon cheeseburger at DJ's Diner, a fifties-style drive-in with booths, pool tables, and a jukebox. (775-237-5356)

The Burning Man Festival, August 25-September 1, is a makeshift city of art installations and creative mayhem where 25,000 revelers congregate to burn "the Man" a 50-foot wooden effigy 77 miles north of Fallon, in the scorched Black Rock Desert. (415-863-5263,

Radiohead's Hail to the Thief for the head-stretching spaces; Neil Young's Tonight's the Night for when it gets really dark.