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Lincoln Highway: Nevada April 18, 2012

Posted by Jenny in history, travel.
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Most of the Lincoln Highway in Nevada follows US 50, "Loneliest Road in America"

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.

Highway 93 near Alamo, Nevada

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.

US 50 in 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.

Ely in 1906

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.

Richmond Mine in Eureka

Eureka Consolidated Mine, 1871

With the decline of local mining, the town has reinvented itself as a tourist destination.

"The Friendliest Town on the Loneliest Road"

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 "Stokes Castle" in Austin

The route of the Highway leaves US 50 west of Austin to travel state highway 722 to Middlegate.

NV 722

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.

Middlegate, with Lincoln Highway marker

East of Fallon, petrogylphs may be viewed at Grimes Point.

Grimes Point petroglyph

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 Reno arch

The Donner Route leaves Nevada at the hamlet of Verdi, while the Pioneer Route exits the state on the southern shore of Lake Tahoe.

Lake Tahoe seen from the Nevada side



1. Thomas Stazyk - April 18, 2012

Sounds like a fun drive. Did you do a detour to Area 51? 🙂

2. brian - April 20, 2012

Haha. I can just picture some Ely businessman spitting out his coffee reading that “survival skills” were required to reach his town. I love the Nevada outback. I did a cross country bicycle trip and crossing it was one of the highlights. I took another route farther south that is officially named the Extraterrestrial Highway as it passes closest to Area 51. Those Nevada tourism officials know how to sell their highways. The road sign even had a UFO on it. One section was 120 miles between towns with no habitation between. There was so little traffic you could stretch out in the middle of the road during breaks and admire the clear view of infinite barren nothingness in all directions. Didn’t require survival skills though. Any trouble and the first local to come along in a pickup would give you all the help you need. Rather break down there than the New Jersey turnpike.

3. Tom Condon - December 27, 2012

Brian, am going to do this route in May 2013 from LA to Austin Texas via Durango CO
In Oz we are used to large distances without fuel supply, what is the longest stretch without services. Happy to drive 500 miles a day but not in a rush, any really great places for an overnight stop between reno and Ely.
Regards from the High Country Victoria Australia

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