RTWPaul: Route 50 Nevada - Americas Loneliest Road…Not Even Close!

In 1986 Life magazine wrote an article about Route 50 in Nevada, the name was intended as a slur, but Nevada officials seized it as a marketing slogan.

Maybe the reason Life said what they said, was knowing if you travel this section of the Lincoln Highway you will cross large desolate areas as you traverse the route, with few or no signs of civilization. They seemed to be almost laughing at the desolation of the state compared to states on the East Coast and particularly New York City where Life was based; at the time having a larger population than the whole of Nevada with a little over one million residents and Nevada being nearly 400% larger in size.

…but Nevada officials took the slur as a compliment and started an advertising program using ‘Americas Loneliest Road’ as an advertising slogan to get tourists to an area they might not ordinarily travel across.

Route 50 is a main thoroughfare across the state if you choose to use it and, not the i-80 interstate, and you will see traffic.

So, if you are looking for real lonely roads, they are very easy to find, Nevada is full of them, with a land area around 18% bigger than the UK, but a population about 20 times smaller, its empty, and has a nickname of ‘The Big Empty’ for a reason. 

If Nevada was a country it would be the 73rd largest in the world, and only 35% is privately owned which means the remaining area you can travel anywhere you want…that’s EMPTY!

Once you get off the paved roads be prepared for loneliness, but also be prepared to fend for yourself if anything happens. The deserts are extremely hot in the summer and heavy snows are common in the higher elevations in the winter where the paved road goes over multiple passes over 2000 meters and much higher on the dirt tracks, another fact a lot of tourists often get wrong.

East to west or vice versa across Nevada is around 400 miles/ 650km across, on paper it looks like a long day or maybe two can easily double, triple or more once you hit the dirt. Most of the dirt tracks are considered old for America, aging 100 plus years old as former Pony Express and stagecoach routes and mostly never developed for motorized traffic.

This summer I rode across the state, not for the first time, from east to west on almost all non-paved roads, besides getting fuel, I literally saw less than ten people, only bumping into them when I had to fill up, try to do that in the United Kingdom where a similar length journey would be London to Glasgow.

If I were to give advice for doing this type of ride it would: to have a full confidence riding on sand, silt, dirt and loose rock of all sizes, have a fuel range of at least 250 miles/ 400km, take double the amount of water you think you might need. A good knowledge how to find your way using a compass if you get off track which can easily happen, and camping gear because finding places to sleep inside can sometimes be very difficult to find once you get off the major routes. Towns shown on a map might not be a town at all, maybe just a settlement or even a ghost town, so never presume the next place will have fuel.

One of the biggest dangers to people traveling remotely across the state is not the weather or lack of places to sleep, is abandoned mines.

It’s estimated there are around 200,000 of them, some are just holes in the ground or in a hill side. If you do stray off a known track be very, very aware of the land in front of you, what looks like a small hole might be a mine shaft. 

There are literally thousands of reported injuries and dozens of deaths because of these mines, I’m not saying this to alarm you but to make you aware of something you may not have considered if you have never ridden or hiked in the state.

A good local detailed multi page map or a GPS with topo or both, would be the best to have with you from a navigation standpoint.

As you travel this remotely you will find gates along the way, they are there to keep wildlife and cattle in certain areas, so as you use them leave them exactly as you found them…open stays open, closed needs to be closed. Don’t think you are doing someone a favor by closing an open gate, this maybe the only way cattle can cross certain sections of land to get to water, and without the opening they could die!

Nevada has its own beauty in its remoteness that a lot of people love, it’s not for everyone but it surely is something to experience spending the night hundreds of miles from the nearest person.


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