Sometimes less is more. Consider the drive through Nevada on US Route 50, a stretch of highway Life magazine once dubbed “The Loneliest Road in America.”
We began our 275-mile eastbound trip into the heart of America’s Great Basin in Fallon, NV. The dusty agricultural town is big enough to boast name-brand fast food but small enough that a note in the front window of classic country radio KHWG-AM asks passersby to refrain from tapping on the glass – “We’re on the air.”
Lonely? Not particularly. But the happy hour crowd in the smoky old neighborhood bar at the Overland Hotel and Saloon was light on the night before we headed east.
The party in Fallon appeared to begin and end 25 miles east of town at Sand Mountain, a 600-foot high by 2 miles long “singing dune” with neighboring trails dedicated to off-highway vehicle fun. The locals were out in force on the Sunday we visited, chasing each other up, down and across the dune like scenes from “Mad Max” played out before a squadron of RV support vehicles and heavy-duty pickups. Parked to one-side in our tiny two-seater convertible, there was no mistaking us for regulars. Mazda and MontaraManDan may call it an MX5, but The Geek likes to keep it real. It’s still a Miata.
As we continued east and the elevation increased, the scrubby flat lands morphed into a rolling cadence of mostly barren geologic basins and juniper-studded mountain passes.
We shared a functional burger at the former Pony Express outpost. (This is no drive for foodies.) But the thousands of hand-notarized dollars bills stapled to Middlegate’s ceiling and more than a century of memorabilia tacked to the walls made the stop worthwhile.
The more prosperous businesses seemed to have moved to the outskirts of town and remaining downtown shops were lightly trafficked. Most of the casinos appeared to have been shuttered long ago. Too bad, because it’s a long drive west to Sand Mountain for a spot of fun.
The 150-year-old Austin Cemetery is worth a visit. The engraved epitaphs on the older markers reflect the rush of 19th century European immigrants to the American West – Irish, Spanish, French, Prussian. Few made it to age 50.
Their graves are marked by memorials of stone, concrete and even weathered wood. Many of the dusty and sometimes brier-choked plots are surrounded by intricate rod-iron fences. Two neighboring plots feature a pair of carefully irrigated pear trees. The pears looked ripe.
Windmill farm in America’s Great Basin east of Ely, NV. Dawn Page/CoastsideSlacking
Our day ended in Ely, where they’ve been mining copper on and off from open pits since 1912. Supported by decades of mining proceeds and located at a crossroads that leads directly south to Las Vegas, Ely is more than just a small town. But the Robinson Mine is scheduled to close in 2022. And the quiet main street with its row of faux gas lights and handful of aging but well-kept gambling halls looked kind of fragile to us.
Still, Ely has weathered economic boom and bust for more than 140 years. We wouldn’t bet against the house.
This post is the first in a series about our adventures on a 6,000-mile road trip across the American West in Fall 2019.