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Things to see and do along the loneliest road in America

Updated on February 23, 2010

It is known as the loneliest road in America--the stretch of US 50 that crosses through the center of Nevada. It earned the title based on the lack of towns or services along its 287-mile route. Just because the road is lonely, though, does not mean that it is boring. There are quite a few attractions (some rather bizarre) along this 2-lane scenic route.

Caves and Lakes

Starting at the Utah border and heading west, the first sight to see (just a few miles off the highway) is the Great Basin National Park and the beautiful Lehman Caves. Tours are offered daily except on major holidays.

You can camp at Great Basin National Park, or down the road at Cave Lake State Park. Cave Lake is in the Shell Creek Mountains, the second of 9 mountain ranges that US 50 crosses on the way across Nevada. Nevada is usually thought of as desert (and it usually is desert), but here you can fish for trout, go boating, or hike along the shores of the mountain lake.

Ghost Towns and Trains

Very few towns exist along the highway's route today, but there were once many more settlements in the area. That means there are a multitude of ghost towns on or near the road. A rough map here shows the locations of ghost towns in White Pine County, which covers the eastern third of the highway. 

In Ely, the first non-ghost town on the loneliest road, you can catch a ride on a "ghost train". The Nevada Northern Railway Museum runs a restored steam engine pulling passenger cars along the historic mining rail line. While riding the "ghost train", you may have the privilege of being attacked by "ghost riders"--modern-day outlaws on horseback who force the train to stop and then rob the passengers. No, really. According to their website, "a portion" of the loot is donated to the museum. The rest of the loot? I guess the ghost riders keep it.

Pits, Petroglyphs, and the Pony Express

Just past Ely is the Ruth Copper Pit, one of the world's largest open mining pits. As you can see from satellite photos, it makes for a rather large hole in the ground.

Farther west, on a lonely stretch past Eureka, lie the Hickison Petroglyphs. The petroglyphs are ancient drawings scratched onto large boulders. A short hiking trail takes you to the different sites, but the petroglyphs can still be hard to spot. If available, pick up one of the brochure guides stashed on the kiosk at the trailhead.

Also west of Eureka, US 50 crosses (and somewhat follows) the old Pony Express Trail. Watch for signs that mark the trail's old route. The signs are aligned with the trail, so you can sight along them to peer down the remains of the trail.

Shoe Tree and Sand Mountain

Continuing west, past Austin and Cold Springs, stands the unannounced and unofficial shoe tree. The shoe tree is simply a large lonely tree that is nearly completely covered by old discarded shoes. Or, at least, it was covered in February 2007. I have heard reports that officials have trimmed the tree, cutting off branches that held the shoes. If so, it will be curious to see if a new shoe monument of some sort develops.

Not too far west of the shoe tree is Sand Mountain, a lonely sand dune the size of a small mountain. The spot is hugely popular for ATV riders and RV campers, with the recreation area even offering weekly rates.

And, finally, at the entrance to Sand Mountain stands the loneliest phone in America. The old pay phone's number is (775) 423-0904, so you can call if you want to make it less lonely.

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