Continuing along “America’s Loneliest Road”… Travel Blog Thursday

Highway 50 continued to be a lonely road with distant horizons through eastern Nevada and western Utah. The terrain did change somewhat, moving from sagebrush to grass in the valleys.

On leaving the Hickison Petroglyph Recreation Area, Peggy and I continued our exploration of America’s backroads following Highway 50 across Nevada and into Utah. Towns and fences were few and far between.

We did, however, discover an opera house in the small town of Eureka, Nevada. (Eureka, BTW, means “I found it!” and is often used in relation to gold and silver mining.) While it may seem strange that a rough and tumble mining town would have an opera house, it wasn’t all that unusual. A number of the wealthier boomtowns built them to demonstrate that there was more to their communities than bars, gambling halls and brothels. Fine examples can be found in Nevada City, California, Silver City, Nevada, and even in Death Valley!

The Eureka Opera House had recently been renovated. Originally built in the 1880s it served as the town’s social center, hosting operas, dances, concerts and other social events. Silent movies were introduced in 1915 followed by ‘talkies.’ The last movie was shown there in the late 1950s.

The Eureka, Nevada Opera House as it looks today.
Several other buildings in town have also been renovated. This one seems to be waiting for its turn.

Today’s post will mainly be photos of our continuing journey along Highway 50. We invite you to sit back and enjoy the scenery.

And what do you do when you meet a truck like this along the highway? Peggy and I decided that get out of the way was the correct answer. Actually, Nevada State Troopers had already provided the answer.
Any idea what this is all about? The huge mound of colorful dirt had Peggy and me wondering. The buildings provide perspective on size. Turns out it is one of the world’s largest pit mining operations, the Robinson Mine. The copper ore dug up here is shipped off to China.
Looking up toward the Great Basin National Park from highway 50. We had been there twice before and didn’t stop on this trip.
Impressive mountains continued to represent the range part of the Basin and Range complex.
Between ranges, America’s Loneliest Highway carried us into basins.
If you need any antlers to decorate your house or yard, Horns-a-Plenty is the place to go.
A close up with elk antlers on top.
Another view looking up toward Great Basin National Park, which sits close to the Utah border.
Highway 50 took us directly into Utah…..
Where we were greeted by a Utah sign featuring Red Rock country. The following photos show some of the scenery we saw along Highway 50 in the state.
My final view of Highway 50. Lonely, as it should be. We left 50 for another backroad, Utah’s Highway 24.


Tuesday’s Blog-a-Book Day: It’s recruitment time for our 100-mile backpack trek. What do you do with a 250 pound, ex-ice hockey player who once defused bombs in South American was dodging the IRS when he signed up.

Thursday’s Travel Blog Day: Peggy and I pick up Utah’s Highway 24 for a visit to Capitol Reef National Park.

Hickison Petroglyphs: Strange Glyphs and Stranger Rocks… America’s Backroads

One thing that Peggy and I have noticed over our years of checking out petroglyph sites is that they are often located in very scenic areas or on unusual rock formations. The rocks found at Hickison Petroglyph State Recreation Area definitely qualify.

As we continued our backroads’ journey along Highway 50 through Nevada on America’s Loneliest Road, we passed over Hickison Pass, dropped down into another valley, and arrived at our campground for the night: Hickison Petroglyph Recreation Area. Peggy and I had stopped off here on another journey and been fascinated by both the rocks and petroglyphs.

The rocks are composed of volcanic tuff, ash that has been ejected from an erupting volcano and then solidified into rock. It erodes easily in comparison to harder rocks, which is what has created the interesting rock forms at Hickison. It is also easily carved into petroglyphs. Like the Grimes petroglyphs that I featured on last Thursday’s travel blog, these are ancient, dating back thousands of years. But, as you will see from the following photos, they represent a different style.

The campground lacks water and electricity but we found it quite scenic. When we arrived, large, colorful bugs that resembled giant grasshoppers or crickets occupied our campsite. They are common in sagebrush country and go by the name of Mormon crickets. Actually they are shield-backed katydids.

One of dozens of shield-backed katydids or Mormon crickets that occupied our campsite.
Quivera, our small RV, cosily tucked away among the junipers and pinyon pines. Pinyon pine nuts were an important source of food for ancient peoples and Native Americans.
A view from the campground looking out on Monitor Valley.
I found the cloud formation interesting.
Clouds from an evening walk.
As I mentioned above, prominent landmarks were frequently chosen by early peoples and Native Americans to create their rock art.
This is the panel featured on the above rock.
I won’t pretend to have a clue here…
Counting isn’t unusual in petroglyphs. For example, they might relate to the length of a journey. A woman blogger who counted the short and long marks here noted that there were 28 short marks and 6 long marks, possibly representing the menstrual cycle. Numerous vulviforms (representations of female genitalia) located at the site would tend to support this. There is some speculation that the area was used for girls’ puberty rites.
Early pioneers thought these might represent horses hooves. Nope.
Another example. BTW, for those of you who are Tom Robbins fans, he writes in his book, “Wild Ducks Flying Backwards” of a visit he made to another site along Highway 50 that is so full of these petroglyphs that it is known as the Canyon of Vaginas.

But back to the rocks.

I’ll conclude with this handsome fellow.

As you read this, Peggy and I are off celebrating Thanksgiving and our Anniversary at a favorite campsite on the Oregon Coast. We will catch up on comments and blogs when we return next week. In the meantime, we hope you are having/had a great Thanksgiving.

NEXT BLOGS: Tuesday is Blog a Book day where I will introduce you to the cast of characters that decided to hike a hundred miles across the Sierras with me. On Thursday’s Travel Blog we will finish up our trip across Nevada on Highway 50 and on into Utah, where it is also lonely.

The Loneliest Road in the US was Lonelier in 7,000 BCE… Petroglyphs of Grime’s Point

I took this photo while standing at Grime’s Point Archeological Area just off Highway 50 about five miles east of Fallon, Nevada on an earlier trip. The terraces above the basalt boulders were cut into the side of the ridge by the ancient Pleistocene Lake Lahontan as it rose and fell. Had I been here 10,000 years ago I would have been under 700 feet of water. Traveling over today’s Highway 50 route would have required a submarine.
Turning around from where I was standing was more basalt and a view of Highway 50. A pickup pulling a trailer makes its way over ‘The Loneliest Road in America.” Looking across the valley you can see ranges fading into the distance that are part of the Basin and Range complex of Nevada, which is part of the Great Basin of the Western US.
Had you arrived on the scene much later, say around 5,000 BCE or 7,000 years ago, you would have discovered that Lake Lahontan was much shallower as glaciers receded to the north and warmer temperatures prevailed. The area would have been marshy and filled with abundant wildlife. Ancient peoples had arrived on the scene and were pecking away at the rocks, creating some of the earliest petroglyphs in Nevada and North America. Grime’s Point features these petroglyphs. A copy of one of the petroglyphs is on the left.
The pit and groove petroglyphs here are among the oldest petroglyphs found in Nevada.
As to what they mean is anyone’s guess. One thought is that they were used in hunting rituals by shaman to assure success.
This basalt boulder was covered with pit petroglyphs. Ancient peoples and later Native Americans would use rocks to peck away the desert varnish that covers rocks to show the lighter rocks underneath. One way of measuring the age of petroglyphs is to see how much desert varnish has since re-covered the rock petroglyphs. The color of these pit and groove petroglyphs has returned to the original varnish color. Translate old.
In contrast, this is a much more recent petroglyph, probably carved in the last 500 years. To me, it appears to be a big horn sheep. But then again…
Most of the petroglyphs fall somewhere in age between the ‘sheep’ petroglyph above and the pit and groove style of petroglyphs. I like the almost-polished look of this basalt boulder. If you look carefully, you can see petroglyphs stretching down and out on both sides of the rock. Following are several examples of the petroglyphs I found wandering around among the boulders. It’s like a treasure hunt. Fun.
I’ll conclude with a final view of the landscape at Grime’s Point Archeological Area. Remains of what may have been a rock fence used to drive deer and antelope to the dinner table is found up near the top of the ridge.

BLOG-A-BOOK TUESDAY: Join me on the first 100-mile backpack trek I ever organized. Leading 61 people aged 11-71 across the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range, I was lucky to escape with my life and career in tact.

TRAVEL BLOG THURSDAY: Peggy and I continue our Back Roads of America Series by stopping off at another petroglyph site along The Loneliest Road in America: The Hickison Petroglyph Area. This time we will be featuring some out-of-this-world rocks and, uh, puberty rites.

The Loneliest Road in America: Highway 50 across Nevada… The Backroads’ Series

Today marks the beginning of my Backroad Series where I will feature highways that Peggy and I traveled over this past summer on our 8,000 mile journey around the US in our small RV.

Almost every photo I took while driving across Nevada emphasized Highway 50’s claim to being the loneliest road in America. This is desert country where mountain ranges are inevitably followed by basins. The desert is courtesy of a rain shadow created by the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The basins and ranges are courtesy of plate tectonics.

In 1986, Life Magazine declared that the section of Highway 50 that stretches across the Nevada desert was The Loneliest Road in America. It wasn’t meant as a compliment. It was more like, “Why would anyone in their right mind choose to drive this road?” But Nevadans saw it differently. They knew an opportunity when they saw it. After all, the state got its kick-start when silver and gold were discovered in abundance. And then it built Las Vegas. 

Who wouldn’t want to drive The Loneliest Road in America, the folks in Carson City, Nevada’s capitol, reasoned? Adventuresome souls would immediately add it to their bucket list! Signs were made and publicity was cranked out. Maybe the road wouldn’t be so lonely…

Signs declaring Highway 50 across Nevada to be ‘The Loneliest Road in America’ were created for publicity and photo ops.

It worked for me. I’ve driven the highway three times since. My last time was this past summer when Peggy and I went out in search of backroads across America. Highway 50 definitely qualifies— and it is still one of the loneliest roads in America.  It wasn’t always that way. Once upon a time in the 60’s, that’s the 1860s, it served as the premier route for people making their way West. The Overland Stage Coach Company, the Pony Express, and the country’s first national telegraph all made use of it. In 1913 it became part of the Lincoln Highway, America’s first transcontinental road.

I know a bit about the road. I was raised in the small town of Diamond Springs, which is located in the western foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range, three miles from Placerville, AKA Hangtown. If you walked out my front door and hiked a block east on Highway 49 past Fitzgerald’s house and the jungle-like graveyard that backed up to our property, you came to Missouri Flat Road. Turning left there took you to Highway 50, a mere mile away. My brother Marshall and I often made that hike in the summer when we were on our way to one of our favorite swimming holes, the 20-foot-deep Tub on Weber Creek. 

I was vaguely aware at the time that if you climbed on the road and drove east for a long time, you could reach the Atlantic Ocean. I also knew about the Pony Express connection. The parents of one of my close friends in Diamond Springs owned a small café in a historic building that had once served as a Pony Express stop. That was about it except for the annual Wagon Train that made its way from Lake Tahoe to Placerville on Highway 50 to celebrate the ‘good old days.’ The town would close Main Street to traffic and everyone would party. As I remember, the men would grow beards for the event, have fast-draw contests, and get drunk. Luckily, their six shooters were filled with blanks. 

Later, when I was in college, I had a laundry route in the summer that ran from Placerville up to South Lake Tahoe over Highway 50. The beautiful 120-mile round trip across the mountains paid for my college education. That section of Highway 50 was far from lonely, however. On Fridays and Saturdays, it could resemble a parking lot as people made their way up from the Bay Area and Sacramento to play at Lake Tahoe and gamble.

To avoid the possibility of the crowded highway this past summer, Peggy and I climbed on Interstate 80 in Sacramento and zoomed over the Sierras through Reno to the small town of Fernley, where we left the freeway behind and drove southeast to pick up 50 as it passed through Fallon, Nevada. That’s where lonely begins. (BTW: Had we gone north from Fernley for 60 miles, we would have ended up in the Black Rock Desert, the site where Burning Man takes place.)

I am going to do three posts on Highway 50 through Nevada. Later, I will do a couple of posts on 50 in West Virginia and Ohio as part of my backroad series. I took the photos in this post between Fallon and the Hickison Petroglyph Recreation Area in the center of the state.

Once you leave Fallon, Highway 50 seems to go on forever. Except for a few towns (three), ranches, and mining operations, the population drops close to zero.
Twenty miles outside of Fallon, first time drivers of Highway 50 are surprised to come on Sand Mountain, a large sand dune that is two miles long and 600 feet high. Locals say it ‘sings’ to you. The sand came from ancient (and very large) Lake Lahonton, a product of the glacial age. It dried up 9,000 years ago as the climate grew warmer and glaciers retreated north.
While many people think of the desert as desolate, I’ve always found it to have its own unique type of beauty. This is sagebrush country!
Mountains climb up to over 10,000 feet along Highway 50 through Nevada. Passes range between 6,000 and 7,500 feet.
I like the contrast here between the blue sky, dark mountains and buff colored desert floor. The geologist Clarence Dutton described the narrow parallel mountain ranges that define the topography of the Basin and Range like an “army of caterpillars marching toward Mexico.”

About half way between Fallon and Austin, Nevada, we came upon a small, historical marker site that featured the Overland Stagecoach, the Pony Express and America’s first cross country telegraph. All three were inspired by the North’s need to maintain communication with the West during the Civil War. Both the Pony Express and the Overland Stage Company had stations here. Three illustrations (early photos?) at the site captured our attention.

The Pony Express ran its historic route from St. Joseph, Missouri to Sacramento, California— a distance of 1966 miles— in ten days. Each rider would normally cover between 75 and 100 miles at top speed. Stations along the way had saddled horses ready to go when the rider arrived. It took approximately two minutes to make the change. While the Pony Express has reached legendary status, its run, so to speak, was a short 18 months from April of 1860 to October of 1861 when the transcontinental telegraph was created.
The Civil War and the need for rapid communication between the East and West inspired Congress to push and pay for the building of the telegraph. The creation of the Pony Express was seen as a stopgap effort while it was being built. My dad worked as a lineman in the 30s. His job was to climb up poles like these as power lines were stretched across Northern California and Oregon.
The Overland Stage Company began its run over the route at about the same time the telegraph was completed. Serving as the primary mode of passenger transport between Missouri and California, it had originally operated a more southern route. The coming of the Civil War forced it to move north to the central Nevada route. A young Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) would use it to get to Nevada. When the transcontinental railroad across America was completed in 1969, the route was discontinued.

Rumor is that a Pony Express horse kicked over a rock that showed silver and the rush was on. Whether this is true or not, the presence of silver led to a silver rush and suddenly the town of Fallon was born. Soon it boasted a population of over 10,000 and even had a castle! Now it is best described as sleepy and historic.

When we drove through Austin, major work was being done on the road and it wasn’t conducive to stopping, but I did snap a few photos.The barely visible sign on the building says Stage Coach Inn.
Another photo of downtown. I was aiming my camera a bit high to avoid all of the roadwork. One of several churches built in Fallon during the heyday of silver mining looms in the background.
Austin’s best known landmark is Stoke’s Castle. It was built by an eccentric millionaire from the eastern US who only occupied it for a few months during the silver rush. While small in terms of what we think of as castles, it reminds me of the castles built between Scotland and England for protection against raiding (and possibly as a base for raiding) in the 13th and 14th Centuries. Some of my ancestors reportedly came from the region. I suspect that they were outlaws.
We wrapped up our first day of backroad travel by climbing up Highway 50 into the Humbolt-Toiyabe National Forest and over Hickison pass. We were pleased to see green! Next Thursday I will feature the Hickison Petroglyph area as well as the Grime’s petroglyph site that served as bookends for our first day of travel.

NEXT POST: On Tuesday, I will feature the second part of my introduction to the book I am blogging, “It’s 4 AM and a Bear Is Standing on Top of Me.” I answer the question about why I would undertake a 700 mile plus backpacking journey down the PCT at 75. Will a plea of insanity work?