The Loneliest Road in the USA

On August 16, 2011 · 11 Comments

What is the "Loneliest Road in America?" Life Magazine claimed that it was that stretch of U.S. Route 50 running through Nevada, in a 1986 article. I don’t know if anyone still claims that today, or if it was actually true twenty-five years ago for that matter, and there are probably lonelier roads in Australia and Canada but so be it. I still have lonely roads on my mind after my recent journey to the desert and I’m going to talk about the one in Nevada.

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It’s not lonely along the great length of Route 50, ubiquitously. Where I live on the east coast in Virginia, in fact, it’s rather busy. Indeed, the same road passing near my home proceeds to then cross the preponderance of the North American Continent, including Nevada.

Thus, it’s one of the longest roads and it already made an appearance in the 12MC comments for that very reason, specifically for the obnoxious sign at the beginning of the route in Ocean City, Maryland where they brag about a terminus in Sacramento, California some 3,073 miles (4,946 kilometres) away. A guy drove the length of it a few years ago and wrote a book, including a chapter on the Nevada segment. He remarked of one stretch, "very seldom do we meet an oncoming vehicle and there is virtually nothing along the road." That’s pretty grim.

The route through Nevada isn’t entirely devoid of life or attractions, of course. It’s just that what a driver can see besides the haunting terrain itself is scattered and infrequent. America’s Byways says,

Far from lonely, Highway 50 actually has a number of attractions that make traveling the byway a worthwhile trip. Many ghost towns and historical cemeteries dot the area. Fishing abounds at Iliapah Reservoir, Cave Lake State Park, and Comins Lake. Travelers will not want to miss the variety of unusual sites such as the Charcoal Ovens State Park or Hickison Summit Petroglyphs. Beautiful historic mining towns are scattered across the byway.

The downside: this will require a journey of 400 miles (645 km).

I started wondering about superlatives. Every mile can’t possibly be exactly the same; some miles have to be more extreme than others. What might be the loneliest segment on the loneliest road in the United States?

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A good candidate might be somewhere in the vicinity of the turnoff to Duckworth. Only 530 vehicles per day pass this point, the lowest traffic volume anywhere along Nevada’s Route 50.

Then I flipped towards the opposite direction and wondered about segments that couldn’t possibly be considered lonely. One could make a strong case that it falls within Carson City, perhaps where the road runs directly past the Nevada State Capitol building. I picked a different location though.

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I love the way casinos here jut magically from the asphalt in Stateline, NV, directly across the border from better-known South Lake Tahoe, California. I have an odd fascination with casinos placed strategically along borders, as those who have read the Twelve Mile Circle for awhile undoubtedly know, so my choice isn’t surprising.

Then, just for the heck of it, I decided to find the highest point of elevation along the highway.

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That occurs east of Ely, at Connors Pass where the road rises to an elevation of 7,729 feet (2,356 m), requiring 8% grades and numerous switchbacks.

Historically the corridor across Nevada follows the famous Pony Express route, portions of the old California trail used by pioneers traveling west through relentless terrain, and the Lincoln Highway from early automotive days. It crosses mountains, flats, forests and deserts. Loneliest place in America? Far from it. I’d love to drive its length someday.

Where, really, is the loneliest spot?


On August 16, 2011 · 11 Comments

11 Responses to “The Loneliest Road in the USA”

  1. Peter says:

    I would have to say that the loneliest road in the world, in terms of length between outposts of civilization, would have to be the Canning Stock Route in Australia. Money quote:

    For nearly 2.000 kilometers there is no decent supply of food or
    water and no safe way of escape.

    Yep, that’s a long way between rest areas 🙂

  2. AFischer says:

    I can’t speak for the whole of the country but one of the loneliest places I have ever driven is this

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    section of New Mexico 371 between Farmington and Crownpoint. I drove the whole length without seeing a single oncoming or following car. There is almost no civilization at all in the corridor with the exception of a few seemingly abandoned Navajo camps. The only item of note in the area is the amazing Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness Area.

  3. Jon P says:

    My vote is for Nebraska Route 61 between US 20 at Merriman and I-80 at Ogallala. The road is a gorgeous, curvy jaunt through hilly ranchland. (The Google driver didn’t pick a very nice day to take pictures but the image below is representative.) The only town of consequence for 120 miles is Hyannis, the county seat of Grant County, population 287. As you complete the southbound drive you’re rewarded with Lake McConaughy, a strange and striking oasis.

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    • Jon P says:

      Hmm, the embedding didn’t seem to work right. I’ll try again.

      • Yeh, it’s a flaw in WordPress. I’m able to go back in and correct the code manually, which is what I typically do (and have done to your previous comment). Keep the links coming and I’m glad to keep fixing them!

  4. Phil Sites says:

    My vote for loneliest road in North America is a cinch. Hands down it’s the Trans-Taiga road in Northern Quebec. It’s essentially an old access route for the La Grande Dam facilities. There’s an outfitter or two on the route and that’s about it. It’s a gravelely, rocky road and the chance of seeing anyone is slim – outside of adventurous fishermen.

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    If you are looking at fully paved road – then the adjoining James Bay Road (to the east) that terminates at (or near) the James Bay would likely win that one.

    • Peter says:

      For several years I’ve had this strange urge to drive the Trans-Taiga Road. It’s an utterly ridiculous idea, after all there’s scarcely anything to see along the road, but the urge is real. What can I say?

      • Phil Sites says:

        Oh I know the feeling. I’m not sure I’d want to hit up the Trans-Taiga unless I had a nice 4×4…which I don’t. Even if I did, fuel consumption and cost would be huge just getting it up to Canada and then driving it around where gas prices are likely the highest in North America (any parts of Northern Canada are $$$).

        Though I’m pretty sure I’ll give the James Bay Road (to the west of course, not the east as I said in my post) a try one of these summers. It’s always been on my list.

    • AFischer says:

      Oh man I wasn’t even thinking about Canada! I have never been to the Trans-Taiga but I did drive north for canoeing on some of the roads north of Dryden, ON. They were supremely desolate *except* for the logging trucks. Those things would pass us going well above 80mph, impressive, frightening. I have always wanted to just drive north until things peter out. Take some extra fuel and food and just go. Some day, maybe, some day.

  5. Ken S says:

    I have driven this length of road from Delta, UT to Fallon, NV and it is mighty desolate. At one point while my Ex-wife was changing our baby, I lied down in the middle of the road for about 5 minutes. It was a very cool experience. We probably saw about 10 cars other than when we were in Ely, NV. That journey was the starting of my Geo-oddity hobby.

    Along US 50 outside of Ely also lies one of the least visited National Parks, Great Basin. It had a great cave tour and since there was no one else at the park, it ended up being a private tour.

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