Motorcycle Classics

Destinations: US Highway 50 – The Loneliest Road in America

U.S. Highway 50 in Nevada – “The Loneliest Road in America”
How to Get There:
From Northern California, just grab Highway 50 and point your front wheel east. From Southern California or Las Vegas, grab Interstate Highway 15 north to U.S. Highway 93, and take 93 to Ely. Alternatively, take U.S. Highway 395 north (from Southern California), spend the night in Nevada’s Carson Valley, and grab Highway 50 east in Carson City. From Salt Lake City and the rest of the eastern United States, grab Highway 50 and point your front wheel west.
Best Kept Secrets: The photo ops. You’ll kick yourself for years if you ride this road without a camera!
Avoid: Not checking weather conditions before you leave. It gets very cold in the winter, and the summers can be brutally hot. If you ride this road in the summer, stay hydrated!
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I first rode U.S. Highway 50 in Nevada nearly 20 years ago on a Harley-Davidson Softail with my good friend Dick Scott. We had just re-entered the wonderful world of two wheels when the Harley craze took off in the early 1990s, and our first big adventure ride was a trip through the Southwest. We covered a lot of ground on that run, but the part I remember best is Nevada’s Highway 50. I liked it so much, if I’m riding east from Northern California these days, I always grab it instead of Interstate 80.

Highway 50 stretches all the way from California to Maryland, but the part we’re interested in runs through Nevada, from Carson City to Ely (pronounced “e-lee”). Life magazine wrote about this superb stretch of road in 1986, but in an Eastern put down, they condemned it as “the Loneliest Road in America.” The smart folks in Nevada recognized a good thing when they read it, and they grabbed Life magazine’s descriptor as the perfect prescription for promoting what is arguably one of the best rides in the world.

The road is magnificent. Picture stunning, brilliant blue skies, chalky deserts, majestic mountains and pine forests bisected by a deep black ribbon of road stretching as far as the eye can see. Throw in small towns like Austin, Eureka and Ely that retain the flavor of the American West, then sprinkle in a stretch through the Toiyabe National Forest, the scent of fresh pine and motionless deer watching you through the twisties, and you’ll pretty much have a feel for the richness of the Loneliest Road in America.

The adventure starts right after Fallon, the town anchoring the west end of the Loneliest Road. The first hint of this road’s unique personality is the Shoe Tree. If you blink, you’ll miss Middlegate (a tiny, one-building town) and its Shoe Tree. The first time we saw the tree, we thought it was covered with bats or cocoons of some sort. A quick stop revealed the tree to be adorned with thousands of shoes. The rumor is that it started with a guy whose fiancée wanted out of the deal, so he threw her shoes into the tree to force her hand in marriage. I can’t make up stuff this good.

Continuing east, Highway 50 runs right alongside the U.S. Navy’s TOPGUN bombing range. As a special treat on our most recent ride, we watched F-18s deliver 2,000-pound munitions. “BOOM” doesn’t begin to describe what we observed.

After a magnificent stretch through the desert, the road climbs into Austin. Austin is an old Pony Express stop that grew into a mining town, and then fell back to just a few hundred inhabitants. There’s nothing phony about Austin; it’s the real deal.

Continuing east brings us to Eureka (so named for the word exclaimed by a miner when he struck pay dirt). Eureka is awesome, and its old courthouse and opera house are stunning. It’s another town that grew up around the mining business, and then saw its fortunes go south when the mines played out. Ely is the next town, another jewel with a wonderful feel to it, and for this ride it’s the end of the Loneliest Road in America.

From Ely, where you go is up to you. You can grab 93 and head north to I-80 East, which will take you to Salt Lake City, or you can take 93 south for 290 miles or so and you’ll be in Las Vegas. Or, you could do what I like to do, and that’s just turn around and run Highway 50 in the opposite direction. It’s that good. MC

  • Published on Oct 7, 2011
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