Lincoln Highway: Nevada April 18, 2012Posted by Jenny in history, travel.
Tags: Austin NV, Ely NV, Eureka NV, Fallon NV, Grimes Point, Middlegate NV, Nevada Northern Railway, Stokes Castle
In this series of posts, we journey on the Lincoln Highway from New York City to San Francisco, taking it state by state. Go here for an introduction.
The original 1913 route of the Lincoln Highway led directly west from Salt Lake City toward central Nevada. When the U.S. highway system was created in 1926, the state of Utah refused to pave the portion of US 50 (the Lincoln Highway route) that led from Thistle, Utah, toward Ely, Nevada, on the grounds that it was too expensive and brought no benefit to Utah cities, as it went through a vast unpopulated area. Utah paved two other routes, one going through Wendover toward Elko and the other going south through several Utah cities and heading toward Las Vegas. The former is now the route of I-80 and the latter the route of I-15.
But as described in our post about the Highway in Utah, it is not possible these days to follow the original route, as it passes through the off-limits Dugway Proving Ground. Modern travelers must follow I-80 to West Wendover, Nevada, and turn south on Alt-US 93 toward Ely.
The route then follows US 50 to a point west of Fallon, where it splits between the “Donner Route” and the “Pioneer Route” for the crossing of the Sierra Nevada.
A glance at the current road map of Nevada shows that US 50 does indeed pass through a largely unpopulated region, which led to its being described in a 1986 article in Life magazine as “The Loneliest Road in America.” Although the tone of the article was negative, local officials decided to turn things around and use the description as a tourism device. Drivers on US 50 can receive a state-issued “passport” that is stamped at designated locations, entitling the person to a “certificate of survival” signed by the governor. The reference to survival comes from a sentence in the Life article: “We warn all motorists not to drive there unless they’re confident of their survival skills.”
The first major stop in Nevada is at Ely, a town founded as a stagecoach station on the Pony Express. The discovery of copper in 1906 resulted in a boom for the town.
The copper market crashed in the 1970s, but the town survived by the presence of gold mines in the area until the demand for copper revived in the past decade.
Ely has a railroad museum at the Nevada Northern Railway yards in town. The railroad complex is considered the best preserved facility remaining from the steam railroad period, as its remote location led it to escape the widespread demolition that accompanied the nationwide conversion to diesel fuel.
Seventy-seven miles west of Ely comes the small town of Eureka, which was home to two feuding mining companies, Richmond Mining and Eureka Mining. At one point their dispute went all the way to the Supreme Court.
With the decline of local mining, the town has reinvented itself as a tourist destination.
There are no towns for the next 58 miles, when Austin is reached. The International Hotel, built in 1859, still serves meals and drinks, though rooms are not available there. High-quality turquoise is mined in the area, but the local gold reserves are worked only sporadically. A wealthy easterner with financial interests in the mines built a peculiar stone structure, but it was occupied for only a month.
The route of the Highway leaves US 50 west of Austin to travel state highway 722 to Middlegate.
Middlegate has a single building, a roadhouse that dates back to the Pony Express era. Until recently it was also known for its “shoe tree,” a cottonwood that had thousands of shoes dangling from it. It is said the first pair of shoes in the tree dated to a couple traveling to get married in Reno in the 1980s. They quarreled, and she got out of the car, but her fiance threw her shoes into the tree so that she wouldn’t be able to get very far. The tree was chopped down by a vandal on December 31, 2010.
East of Fallon, petrogylphs may be viewed at Grimes Point.
Fallon is known for alfalfa production and for its “Heart O’ Gold” cantaloupes.
West of Fallon, the route makes its split, one branch going through Reno and the other through Carson City. Reno is home to an arch that proclaims the city to be “The Biggest Little City in the World.” The original arch was built in 1929, but some residents complained about the slogan and it was replaced by a green neon “RENO.” However, a backlash resulted and the slogan was restored. In 1963 the arch was replaced by one with a “mod” design; that one was in turn replaced in 1987.
The Donner Route leaves Nevada at the hamlet of Verdi, while the Pioneer Route exits the state on the southern shore of Lake Tahoe.