Monday, May 26, 2008

What Really Is Nevada's Loneliest Road?

Years ago, Life Magazine made U.S. 50 in Nevada famous. In the late 1980s, Life called U.S. 50 in Nevada the “loneliest road in America” and indicated that travelers needed survival skills to make the trip.

The towns along the route quickly capitalized on the description and, working with the Nevada Commission on Tourism, developed a tongue-in-cheek “Highway 50 Survival Kit” (still available from the Commission on Tourism) as well as t-shirts, bumper-stickers, highway signage and other souvenirs.

The promotion was an immediate success. At last count, more than 60,000 survival kits have been distributed. Additionally, there have been travel books and numerous magazine and newspaper articles about taking a trip on the loneliest road in America.

But is U.S. 50 really the loneliest road in America? According to a recent Nevada Department of Transportation’s road count book, U.S. 50 is far from the loneliest road. In fact, at its loneliest spot, near Austin, the road is traveled by an average of 640 vehicles per day.

The following are ten paved state highways in Nevada that experience far less wear and tear than U.S. 50:

1. State Route 121 from U.S. 50 to Dixie Valley: This is the real thing—the loneliest road in the state. According to NDOT’s records, a mere 10 cars travel this 27-mile stretch of road on a daily basis.

And you have to wonder—where the heck are they all going?

2. State Route 320, the Caselton Loop: This 12-mile section of pavement is driven by 45 cars per day—all catching a glimpse of the ruins of the early 20th century mining town of Caselton, located seven miles east of Pioche.

3. State Route 722 from Eastgate to Austin: This lightly-traversed 58-mile long highway, which used to be part of U.S. 50, also sees about 45 vehicles per day, which is too bad because the ride over Carroll Summit is quite lovely.

4. State Route 844 from Gabbs to Ione: This 16-mile ribbon of asphalt, which turns to dirt for the last third, sees about 50 vehicles per day. Despite the fact that this is the main road to Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park there just aren’t too many traffic jams out here.

5. State Route 379 from U.S. 6 to Duckwater: This 20-mile road leading to the Duckwater Indian Reservation, noted for its geothermal catfish farm, handles 75 cars daily, or about one vehicle every 19.2 minutes.

6. State Route 317 from Caliente to Elgin: This drive through magnificent Rainbow Canyon is scenic but uncrowded. NDOT finds only about 100 cars take this beautiful journey each day.

7. State Route 140 from Denio to the Oregon Border: This remote, 44-mile road accommodates 120 autos per day and lots of cattle. Along the way it skirts Virgin Valley, home of the exotic black fire opal—the official state precious stone—and passes the Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge.

8. State Route 377 from State Route 376 to Manhattan: No surprise here since State Route 376, the road between Tonopah and Austin, is one of the state’s most remote highways and Manhattan is a faded mining town that has more ghosts than people. Only 120 vehicles travel this road each day. The trip, however, is worth it because Manhattan boasts a handful of picturesque buildings including a quaint wooden church on the hill above the town.

9. State Route 375 from Warm Springs to Rachel: Since Rachel is the self-proclaimed UFO capital of the world, it’s clear from the traffic counts that extraterrestrials far outnumber earthlings. Daily traffic on this 62-mile stretch includes only 125 human vehicles—and an unknown number of alien crafts.

10. State Route 264 from Coaldale to Oasis, California: A paltry 190 vehicles travel each day on the 40-mile, two-lane byway that passes through Dyer and Fish Lake Valley. A highlight is the view of Boundary Peak, to the west, which at 13,140 feet is the tallest point in Nevada.

Go check out some of these roads—you can make them less lonely.