The Nevada portion of [US-50], dubbed "The Loneliest Road in America" by travel writers and tourist boards, is one of the most compelling long-distance drives in the country—provided you find miles and miles of little more than mountains, sagebrush, and blue sky compelling.Road Trip USA
A few hours into our road trip home, we've wound our way out of the mountains of eastern California, into Nevada. The sky is bigger here, and the land stretches out before us in vast green fields. The lushness doesn't last long, however, as the landscape soon gives way to a more typical picture of Nevada: salt flats, scrubby bushes, and parched earth.
We're following a route Lian recommended, one that bisects Nevada horizontally, called the "Loneliest Road in America", or US Highway 50. Sure enough, after we pass through a few dusty little towns, the scenery clears out, and there's not another settlement for miles. It's a fantastic feeling, to be here, just the two of us, listening to music with the windows down, wind blowing in our faces.
If it weren't for this straight ribbon of pavement carving across the countryside, this highway could be mistaken for Mongolia! The sweeping views, the snowcapped peaks in the distance, and the vast, invigorating, overwhelming, awe-inspiring emptiness, remind us strongly of the steppe.
For hours we drive, enraptured by the emptiness. There's nobody out here, not another town for a hundred miles, and we haven't seen another car for hours.
We've pulled over for the golden hour, stopping to admire the views. The world is swathed in the orange light of approaching dusk; the roadsides are bathed in greens and blues, with occasional black and white accents of hungry cows, munching happily away on the vegetation.
Eventually the skies grow darker, and the temperature drops swiftly with a refreshing chill as the sun sinks towards the horizon behind us. The quietness of these lands is palpable, and the emptiness, comforting.
All the way across the country, US-50 passes through literally hundreds of timeworn small towns, the great majority of which have survived despite the modern onslaught of Wal-Marts and fast-food franchises.Road Trip USA
Night has fallen—I'm driving through darkness now, as Tyler sleeps next to me. Out of the barren nothingness, I spot a few pricks of light, beacons flickering in the distance. The glow grows brighter, eventually welcoming me to Austin, Nevada, a tiny little outpost on the Loneliest Road in America.
I pull up at the International Cafe, and awaken Tyler so we can go in for some grub. As we walk past the bar to get to the restaurant, my eyes briefly meet those of a crusty, grizzly man, one of two playing pool in a haze of smoke. I feel like they're actors on a movie set, decked out in fake mustaches and stage makeup. They can't possibly be for real.
I open the door to the cafe, clanging a bell, which alerts the two women who work there, cleaning up for the night. They're closing up, and the kitchen has long been abandoned. They haven't counted the till yet, though, so Tyler and I pick out a few cookies and order a couple styrofoam cups of murky, lukewarm coffee.
Then, back in the car we go. Tyler falls quickly back asleep, and I drive on and on through the night, until, a few hours later, I enter the twilight zone once again. This time, the surreal outpost is Ely, Nevada, errily still and quiet, save for a few drunken men stumbling across the block, and the flashing lights of casinos, here, in the middle of nowhere.
Before the men on the other side of the block make it to where I am, snapping photos in the middle of the street, I hurry back to the car, to a deeply sleeping Tyler.
Now it's getting late, very late, and I'm growing tired. Every now and again I spot the white tufts of elk butts, bright against the headlights. The animals are much larger than the roadside deer I'm familiar with. On either side of the road, the animals are feeding, some loping by, and I've slowed my pace to a crawl, fearful one of the lumbering creatures will walk out in front of me.
It's time to call it a night. So, I pull off the road, recline my seat, and fall asleep almost instantly. Tyler, who has been dozing for hours, awakens to set the alarm on our phone, stumbles out to take a photo of the dark Nevada landscape, and then crawls back inside. I really wish we had our tent, but thankfully I won't have to wish that for much longer—it is waiting for us in Illinois.