|The final portion of our drive to Ely took us on I-80 through Reno to Fernley where we picked up US 50, a transcontinental highway in the United States, stretching from Sacramento, California in the west to Ocean City, Maryland on the east coast. The Nevada portion crosses the center of state and was named The Loneliest Road in America by Life magazine in July 1986.
It is a pretty good two lane road that crosses numerous high elevation passes. About 60 miles out is Fallon, your last McDonalds for 300 miles in case you haven't had lunch yet. East of Fallon is Grimes point, known for it's ancient pictographs. Then comes Salt Wells pony express station and Sand Mountain, a tall sand dune great for a hike or a sandrail ride. Then comes Frenchmans, where the Navy bombers nail targets to the south of the highway. And of course the mysterious "Centroid Facility". (Larry Google'd it to see what a centroid facility is!)
Then off to Middlegate and the shoe tree. We've stop every time we make this trip to watch it's progress over the years. The tree itself was a bit more dried out than last time so the pics weren't quite as 'pretty'! Most believe it was started sometime in the mid 1980s. A legend has formed about how a young man was traveling to Reno with his bride to be. When she balked and got out of the car, he threw her shoes in the tree so she couldn't get away. A reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle began to study the phenomenon of shoe trees after seeing the one at Middlegate, stating to his knowledge this was the biggest in the world. There's still plenty of shoes, both on the tree & in the ditch below.
Moving along on old 50 over Carroll summit, past Smith Dry Lake and finally into Austin. The city, founded by Pony Express riders that discovered silver, was a mining boomtown that now describes itself as a living ghost town. In 1862, at the peak of the silver boom, Austin had a population of 10,000 people. Today, about 300 residents remain. Moving along up over Bob Scott summit at around 7,000 feet, then down to Smoky Valley named by Captain Fremont about 1844. In the valley not far from the highway is Spencer hot springs, a primitive hot tub. One of these days we're actually going to stop there!
Passing Austin we encountered hairpin turns and steep grades in the ascent up Austin Summit in the Toiyabe Range. This area is inside the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, the first part of US 50 to run inside a national forest since leaving Lake Tahoe. At Hickson Summit, about 20 miles east of Austin, is a rest area that features a walking tour of petroglyphs.
The next town is Eureka, which bills itself as the "Friendliest Town on the Loneliest Road in America". Eureka was similarly founded as a mining boomtown. Although mining has diminished, it remains a large component of the community and its economy. The centerpiece of the historical district of downtown Eureka is the Eureka Opera House, built in 1880. Past Eureka is Ely, founded as a stage coach station along the Pony Express and Central Overland Route. Ely's mining boom came later than the other towns along US 50, with the discovery of copper in 1906. Though the railroads connecting the First Transcontinental Railroad to the mines in Austin and Eureka have long been removed, the railroad to Ely is preserved as a heritage railway by the Nevada Northern Railway and known as the Ghost Train of Old Ely. Here US 50 departs the historical routes of the Lincoln Highway, Pony Express and State Route 2. We'll be doing a bit of exploring while here for the next couple of weeks & I hope to ride the train again. It's a short ride but still fun! It's nice to be home again!
In closing, if you plan to make this particular drive, please note that the towns are about 100 miles apart. We filled our gas tank in Reno, then should have filled again in Fallon or in Eureka but didn't. When we finally drooped into Ruth and had only 12 miles to go we let out a sigh of relief. And speaking of Ruth, you might find this interesting. In 1991, Stephen King drove along US 50 as part of a cross country trip. He stopped at Ruth. Studying the 'abandoned city', King fantasized about the fate of the last residents. King then heard a local legend about how the ghosts of Chinese miners, who died while trapped in a cave-in, can be seen crossing Highway 50 to haunt the city of Ruth. King merged these details into his own story, including references to The Loneliest Road in America, which became the novel Desperation. Cool, huh...
We had 15 miles to empty when we arrived in Ely, something we NEVER do! That won't happen again. I don't know what we were thinking. Too busy chatting & enjoying the scenery and the lack of other vehicles. I swear, I don't think we encountered three other vehicles the enitre 300 miles! Nice, lol.....