Adventurers | Jen Barwell & Kieran Connolly
We had wanted to drive coast to coast across America for a few years, and with family in San Francisco and Boston, we had our start and end points established and ready to go. What was entirely undecided was the route from A to B.While the route wasn't overly planned, we did know that we didn't want to stick to the interstate and arrive at the Atlantic without seeing much of America…other than tarmac and Walmart. We knew that Route 66 had been sliced and diced beyond recognition so we weren’t sure whether we could rely on America’s two lane highways for the full journey.Fortunately we discovered Road Trip USA by Jamie Jensen, which proved to be a fantastic guide book and helped us plot our route.
Leaving San Francisco we experienced our first taste of US-50 as we travelled to Lake Tahoe. Planning the next stage of our journey at the motel was crucial; the decision would impact on pretty much the entirety of our journey. Do we drive down to Las Vegas and then aim to head North on Route 66? Or do we continue east on US-50?
Consulting the guide book… “US-50 crosses more than 400 miles of Nevada’s corrugated country, climbing up and over a dozen distinct mountain ranges while passing through four classic mining towns… Early explorers mapped this region, Pony Express riders raced across it, and the long-distance Lincoln Highway finally tamed it.”
Being English, it’s sometimes difficult for us to really comprehend the scale of America. There’s only one road in the UK, which just about exceeds 400 miles and that one links London and Edinburgh. The idea that there is a road which you travel along for 400 miles which passes through FOUR towns (not cities) seemed surreal to our conventional (small) European minds.
We were sold.
Leaving Fallon, the view of the unbending road stretching towards the mountain range was imposing. We had held a naive idea of how our road trip across America would present itself: open roads, rugged terrain, big skies. However the opening 100 miles of our journey into Nevada along US-50 surpassed our expectations. The sense of isolation was immense.
The guidebook provided lots of interesting historical snippets, including a summary of the history of the Pony Express in the area. We stopped at Cold Springs to gawp at the remains of the relay station and to attempt to reconcile in our minds the feat of establishing and maintaining a channel of communication across the wilderness. We considered the punishing conditions endured by both riders and the station keepers (marooned in the dessert with Indians and wolves to contend with) as we returned to our air-conditioned car.
We arrived in Austin humbled by the first leg of our journey across Nevada and eager to see the town. As we walked along Main Street and admired the cafes, bars and the Masonic Hall it did not take a hyperactive imagination to picture the town as it had done when it expanded and prospered in the mid 19th century. We walked up the hill to appreciate the impressive spires of two of the three churches before visiting the historic International Cafe for a cup of coffee.
Back on the road and trundling across the basin it was not long before we made another stop to observe the prehistoric petroglyphs at Hickison Summit. We followed the trail up and around the cliff faces, transfixed by the engravings and immense history. As the trail led further up the incline to we were confronted by a stunning view of the expanse of the Big Smoky Valley.
Reluctantly, we returned to the car and continued to Eureka. Although we were pressed for time we were able to stroll up Main Street to appreciate the storefronts and the redbrick splendor of the Courthouse, Opera House and Jackson House Hotel. We called in at Raine’s Market with the intention of replenishing our water supplies, but were floored by their bewildering exhibition of big game animals decorating the walls and shelves.
It was growing dark as we drove the final hour of our journey into Ely and arrived at the landmark Nevada Hotel. We walked around downtown, regarding the striking murals depicting the city’s rich mining and railroad history.
We had survived “The Loneliest Road”, but more importantly we had seen a side of America that we had never experienced before…We had seen the land that early American explorers had conquered and civilized as they expanded west and we had seen the towns which had emerged from nowhere and prospered.
Not only is US-50 across Nevada a route rich in history, the history is still there to be seen. The buildings constructed during gold and silver booms, the hotels and bars which have welcomed patrons for the last 150 years, the railways which allowed the mining towns to flourish are all preserved for those willing to see and experience them.
Further into our journey across the continent we travelled along stretches of road where the only notable landmarks were Denny’s and Texaco. With hindsight we feel that US-50 has been miscast. The Nevada stretch of the Lincoln Highway offered us a glimpse of American history and heritage which is being eroded. With an abundance of accessible history and awe-inspiring scenery to offer explorers willing to take the road less traveled, the Loneliest Road is an adventure worth risking survival.