U.S. Route 50 (US 50) is a
transcontinental highway in the United States, stretching from
California in the west to Ocean City, Maryland on the east coast. The Nevada portion
crosses the center of state and was named The Loneliest
Road in America by Life magazine in July 1986.
name was intended as a pejorative
instead, Nevada officials seized it as a marketing slogan. The name
originates from large desolate areas traversed by the route, with
few or no signs of civilization. The highway crosses several large
desert valleys separated by numerous mountain ranges towering over
the valley floors, in what is known as the Basin and Range province
has a diverse route through the state, traversing the resort
communities of Lake
Tahoe, the state capital in Carson
City, historical sites such as Fort Churchill
State Historic Park, petroglyphs, alpine
forests, desert valleys, ghost towns and
Nevada's only national park, Great Basin
The route was constructed over a historic corridor, first used for
the Pony Express
and later for the
Central Overland Route
. Before the
formation of the U.S. Highway System
, most of US 50 in
Nevada was designated State Route 2
. The routing east of
Ely has changed significantly from the original
plans. The route change resulted from a rivalry
between Nevada and Utah over which
transcontinental route was better to serve California bound traffic, the Lincoln Highway or the Victory Highway.
crosses the central portion of Nevada, entering the west side of
the state near Lake
Tahoe and exiting the east side near Great Basin
The route crosses mostly desolate terrain
in the journey across the state; US 50 passes through several
large desert valleys and basins
highway crosses 17 named mountain
that break up the Nevada desert. To crest of some of the
passes along US 50 requires navigating steep 8% grades
to reach altitudes of over .
stretch of highway between Fallon and Delta, Utah, a span of , there are three small towns, Austin, Eureka and Ely.
is roughly the same distance as Boston, Massachusetts to Baltimore, Maryland or Paris,
France to Zürich, Switzerland.
Traffic along US 50 varies greatly.
The average annual daily
in 2007 ranged from 52,000 vehicles per day in Carson
City, to 530 vehicles per day near the Duckwater
Loneliest Road in America
In July 1986, Life
published an article that gave US 50 in Nevada the name "The
Loneliest Road in America". The article portrayed the highway, and
rural Nevada, as a place devoid of civilization. Officials from
County decided to make the best of the publicity generated
from the article, and convinced state authorities to do the
Jointly, they began to use the pejorative
article as a platform to market the
area for visitors interested in desert scenery, history, and
solitude. The Nevada
Department of Transportation
adopted the name in official
highway logs, and placed custom Highway 50 markers along the route.
Custom sign placed by the Department
of Transportation to promote US 50 as The Loneliest Road in
In 1991, Stephen King
US 50 as part of a cross country trip. He stopped at
Ruth, a ghost town near Ely.
Studying the abandoned city, King fantasized about the fate of the
last residents. King then heard a local legend about how the ghosts
of Chinese miners, who died while trapped in a cave-in, can be seen
crossing Highway 50 to haunt the city of Ruth. King merged
these details into his own story, including references to The
Loneliest Road in America, which became the novel Desperation
The Nevada Commission on Tourism sponsors a promotion where
visitors can stop at several designated locations along the route
and have the passport section of a state issued "survival guide"
marked with a stamp representing that location. Visitors can
mail-in the completed passport and receive a certificate, signed by
the Governor, certifying they "survived" The Loneliest Road in
America. The word survived is a tongue-in-cheek
reference to the
article, which quoted an American Automobile
spokesperson as saying, "We warn all motorists not
to drive there unless they're confident of their survival
In the 20 years that have passed since the article was published,
US 50 has gained popularity among people desiring a scenic or
less traveled alternative to Interstate 80
across Nevada. This
increase in popularity has caused at least one writer to dispute
that US 50 still deserves the title of The Loneliest Road in
US 50 enters Nevada from California as
a busy four lane thoroughfare on the shores of alpine Lake Tahoe in
Nevada. The highway follows the eastern shore,
squeezing between the lake and the crest of the Carson Range. In one narrow spot the highway cuts through
the mountains via the Cave Rock Tunnel. Eventually, the route crests the Carson
Range at Spooner Summit and then
descends into Nevada's capital, Carson City.
Carson Street and Fairview Drive currently
carry the highway through the city; however, the Nevada Department
of Transportation has announced that, upon completion, US 50
will be moved to a freeway
constructed for Interstate
After Carson City, US 50 follows the Carson River
towards the Lahontan Valley
. This portion is also
mostly four lane, serving the commuter towns of Dayton and Silver
Springs as well as passing by Fort Churchill
State Historic Park and Lahontan State Recreation
In addition to the trails of the Pony Express and
Lincoln Highway, this portion parallels the Carson River branch of
the California Trail
. The Carson
River forms the southern edge of the Forty Mile Desert
. This desert, located
between the termini of the Carson and Humboldt Rivers
, was the most dreaded part of
the California Trail, where travelers had to endure of desert heat
with no usable water.
At Silver Springs, U.S. Route 50 Alternate
from the main route. Both branches are sometimes called the
loneliest road, although the official designation begins with the
first passport stamp available at Fernley, along the alternate branch. The two branches
rejoin west of Fallon.
home to the Naval Air Station Fallon or TOPGUN, is an agricultural
community along the last usable water of the Carson River.
The town is located just south of the river's terminus at the
. Leaving Fallon, the
highway passes by ancient petroglyph sites at Grimes Point and then Sand
Mountain, a sand dune.
Fallon to Austin
The scenery and level of traffic changes upon leaving the Fallon
area. The road narrows from four lanes to two, and crosses remote
terrain characterized by Basin and
topography. The summits start out small and gradually
increase in altitude. The features in the first basins include
Labou Flat, a dry lake used by the US Navy for low level flight operations, and
Valley, with several visible earthquake fault lines that resulted from the
magnitude 7.1 Dixie Valley/Fairview earthquake in 1954.
Dixie Valley is now a
US Navy Electronic Warfare Range.
US 50 stretching across the Nevada
The next services are located in the single building settlement of
, a roadhouse that has
served as a restaurant, bar, hotel and refueling station since the
era of the 1800s. The
building features Lincoln Highway and Pony Express era artifacts as
well as plaques from various historical societies confirming the
station is authentic. The station is the modern turnoff to
Berlin–Ichthyosaur State Park, a preserved ghost town
surrounded by dinosaur remains.
Nearby is a relatively recent attraction, a cottonwood tree with thousands
dangling from it. Frequent patrons of the bar at
Middlegate are unsure of the origins; however most believe it
started sometime in the mid 1980s. A legend has formed about how a young man
was traveling to Reno with his
bride to be.
When she balked and got out of the car, he
threw her shoes in the tree so she couldn't get away. A reporter
for the San Francisco Chronicle
began to study the
phenomenon of shoe trees after seeing the one at Middlegate,
stating to his knowledge this was the biggest in the world.
Middlegate, the paths of the Pony Express, Lincoln Highway and
US 50 diverge, using different passes to cross the Desatoya
Mountains. They rejoin west of Austin.
first paved route of the Lincoln Highway is preserved as State Route 722
Austin to Ely
Austin lies east of Fallon. The city, founded by Pony Express
riders that discovered silver, was a mining boomtown
that now describes itself as a living
ghost town. In 1862, at the peak of the silver boom, Austin had a
population of 10,000 people. Today, about 300 residents remain.
Austin, travelers encounter hairpin
turns and steep grades in the ascent up Austin Summit in the
This area is inside the Humboldt-Toiyabe National
, the first part of US 50 to run inside a national
forest since leaving Lake Tahoe. At Hickson Summit, about east of
Austin, is a rest area
that features a
walking tour of petroglyphs
town is Eureka, which bills
itself as the "Friendliest Town on the Loneliest Road in
Eureka was similarly founded as a mining boomtown.
Although mining has diminished, it remains a large component of the
community and its economy. The centerpiece of the historical
district of downtown
Eureka is the Eureka
Opera House, built in 1880.
Eureka is Ely, founded as
a stage coach station along the Pony Express and Central Overland Route.
mining boom came later than the other towns along US 50, with
the discovery of copper
in 1906. Though the
railroads connecting the First Transcontinental
to the mines in Austin and Eureka have long been
removed, the railroad to Ely is preserved as a heritage railway
by the Nevada Northern Railway
and known as
the Ghost Train of Old Ely. Here US 50 departs the historical
routes of the Lincoln Highway, Pony Express and State Route 2.
routes proceeded northeast towards Salt Lake City, while US 50 continues due east towards the
Ely is the last city along US 50 in Nevada. The next city is
Utah, to the east; there are only two gas stations along
the stretch between Ely and Delta. Majors Place
(the name of the junction
with U.S. Route 93
) has a gas station and
restaurant. The Border Inn, on the Nevada–Utah border, has a hotel, gas
station and restaurant.
This portion of the highway is mountainous with the highest point
along US 50 in Nevada at Connors Pass at . This section has
been designated a Scenic Byway
by the Nevada Scenic Byways
program. Listed attractions include the Ward
Charcoal Ovens State Historic Park and Nevada's only national park, Great Basin
National Park. The highway enters Utah northeast of
Baker in a remote
portion of the Great Basin
From west to east US 50 crosses several mountain ranges using
17 passes and one tunnel.
The eastern junction of US 50 and
US 93 at Majors Place
In Nevada, US 50 was built mostly along the route of the
, the first
transcontinental highway in the United States, formed in 1913. This
route had been previously used by the Pony
, an early attempt at an express mail service, started
in 1860. The Pony Express used the technique of riders changing
horses at stations approximately apart to maximize speed. Some of
the towns along US 50 were founded as Pony Express stations.
The original numbered designation of this route, which appeared on
Nevada Highway maps as far back as 1919, was State Route 2.
Route 2 had an alternate branch, Route 2A, corresponding
to a split in the Lincoln Highway near Fallon. The main and
alternate branches of Route 2 are reversed from the modern
routings of US 50. Mainline Route 2, the Donner Branch, terminated at Fernley along modern US 50
State Route 2A, the Pioneer Branch, followed
mainline US 50, terminating at Carson City. State Route 2,
and the Lincoln Highway, used a different routing between Ely and
City, Utah from the modern routes. The original routing
used what is now US 93 from
Ely to the ghost town of Schellbourne and then dirt roads
In 1926, when the U.S.
Highway system was announced, there was
a gap in US 50 between Ely and Thistle, Utah.
At the time, the states of Utah and Nevada
were feuding about which of the old auto
would be paved and used for the new U.S. Highway system.
Utah officials refused to pave the portion of the Lincoln Highway
west of Salt Lake City. They perceived this route as being
expensive to build, with no benefit for the state. Nevada
officials, and the Lincoln Highway Association, pleaded with Utah
authorities to change their position, even offering funds to help
offset the additional cost of paving that route. However, the
Lincoln highway directed travelers destined for both southern
and northern California
on a route away from
Utah cities, towards central Nevada. Utah instead paved the
, part of the
(modern Interstate 80
), that only directed
traffic for northern California out of the state. The choice not to
pave the Lincoln Highway would direct travelers bound for southern
California to use the Arrowhead Trail
). This route serves
numerous communities in Utah, but only Las Vegas and few other small towns in Nevada.
final blow to the original route of the Lincoln Highway was the
formation of the Dugway Proving
, a military base used for weapons testing, which closed
the area to the public. The Lincoln Highway was re-routed to Salt
Lake City along a circuitous route via Wendover and the Bonneville Salt Flats.
This route was initially numbered
US 50 from Ely to Wendover and US 40
/50 across western Utah, but has
been renumbered US 93, US 93 Alternate
Most of modern US 50 was pieced together from several routes
designated as Nevada State Routes in the early 1900s. The portion
from Lake Tahoe to Carson City was originally a portion of State Route 3
. The original designation
for US 50 from Carson City to Ely was Route 2 and 2A.
East of Ely was originally numbered Route 7 to the modern junction
with US 93 and Route 14 from there to the Utah state
The modern route of US 50 has significantly changed since the
highway was first commissioned in 1926. The biggest change is
between Ely and Green
The first contiguous route of the highway
between these cites followed the modified routing of the Lincoln
Highway to Salt Lake City. The highway returned to Green River
along what is now numbered UT
, US 89
, and US 6
. The route was changed when the more
direct route between these cities (via Delta, Utah) was paved.
The 1954 edition of the Nevada
highway map was the first to show the new routing.
Previously, the road to Delta consisted of unpaved state routes.
The paved route did not follow the exact route of the old dirt
roads. The improved route bypassed the ghost town
of Osceola and entered Utah approximately to the south of the
The border crossing was moved to facilitate an
easier route across western Utah. In Utah, the old road traversed a
difficult route through Marjum Canyon, while the paved route
followed a simpler path along the north shore of Sevier Lake.
different routes have existed between Lake Tahoe and Carson City.
The original, used by the Lincoln Highway,
was previously known as Johnson's Cutoff or the Carson Ridge
Emigrant Road. This route, which followed Kings Canyon to scale the
, was severely
damaged by a flood in 1997. The U.S. Forest Service
still promotes this road
for its historical value, but has announced that it will no longer
be maintained and travel is only recommended by foot, horse or
four wheel drive
vehicle. A portion
in the lower part of the canyon inside Carson City limits is still
maintained by the state as Kings Canyon Road (SR 512
). In 1923, while still known
as State Route 3, the road to Lake Tahoe was changed to follow
Clear Creek Canyon, along a path that had been used for a series of
tunnels and flumes
, to transport timber from
Lake Tahoe to the Virginia
and Truckee Railroad
depot in Carson City.The iteration is now
known as Old Clear Creek Road. Only a small portion of Old Clear
Creek Road is currently maintained by the state as unsigned
, the remainder is an
access road for private residences in the canyon. The modern route,
also using Clear Creek Canyon, was built in the late 1950s.
US 50 was rerouted through the eastern half of Fallon.
original route is not drivable as it runs through Naval Air
Station Fallon; portions are still in public use as Harrigan Road
(SR 115) and Berney Road
US 50 was improved between Middlegate and Austin, to bypass
steep grades and sharp curves over Carroll Summit. The original
route is now SR 722
freeway bypass, Interstate
, is under construction around Carson City. When finished,
US 50 will be rerouted concurrent
with I-580 and the downtown
route will be renumbered SR
and SR 530
- Note: Mileposts in Nevada reset at
county lines. The start and end mileposts in
each county are given in the county column.
- Mileposts reflect distance along a future freeway alignment,
not currently signed route.
- Mileposts east of Ely reflect distance along concurrent
- Related routes