Travelling America’s Loneliest Road

 
12 September 2012

Kat Tancock takes a trip on Highway 50, considered to be the most barren, desolate, loneliest stretch of road in the U.S.

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Kat Tancock

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Alice greeted us warmly despite her back pain as we walked into the Trading Post in tiny Austin, Nevada, population 192. I hadn’t expected to find an octogenarian behind the counter of this pit stop along Highway 50—truth is, it was such an odd trip, any expectations were out the window completely. But between Alice, the vintage glass bottles and the turquoise and other gemstones (yes, I took home a necklace)—plus the distance we’d already driven from Reno—I felt like I was in not just another place, but another time.

Vintage glass bottles, Highway 50, Nevada

Highway 50 is known as the Loneliest Road in America, and for good reason. Northern Nevada is pretty desolate-looking and sparsely populated, so much so that the navy maintains a huge air base along the way, where air traffic will bother as few people as possible.

It strictly starts in Carson City, just south of Reno, and runs more or less due east up to and beyond the Utah border, but we started our road trip in Reno and detoured north about two-thirds of the way across Nevada so we could fly out of Salt Lake City—about a 12-hour trip, if you do it in one stretch.

Airforce base, Highway 50, Nevada

There are a few things you see that fit the stereotype, such as aging casinos, which aren’t without their charms. I even spotted a row of slot machines in one small-town grocery store. But the real beauty of the trip was meeting the people who’ve made their lives out here in the middle of former Pony Express country, what many of us see as nowhere, like the young couple running Churchill Vineyards, the only winery in the state making 100 percent Nevada-grown, produced and bottled wines.

Old casino on Highway 50, Nevada

But the highlight, for me, was the brand-new California Trail Center outside Elko. Set in the arid landscape along the highway and packed with interpretive displays, videos and interactive elements, it aims to teach visitors of the extreme challenges settlers faced as they made their way westward, crossing mountains in wagons and on foot, carrying babies and supplies.

For this Canadian, it was eye-opening, and I spent some time outdoors gazing at the covered wagons on display, catching sight of the odd ground squirrel and planning to never complain of a long bus ride again.

Abandoned wagon on Highway 50, Nevada

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Kat Tancock

Freelance writer and Food & Drink new media editor Kat Tancock caught the travel bug from her Kiwi-Canadian hybrid parents who brought her back and forth throughout her childhood. Now she considers Toronto a great home base for adventures around the globe. Kat's writing credits include Canadian Living, Reader's Digest and Flare, as well as where.ca, besthealthmag.ca and sympatico.ca.