Our next major stop after Carson City is Bryce Canyon, but as it’s approximately 10 hours driving time to get there, we will be cutting the grip in to two days stopping overnight at a town called Ely.
Getting to Ely will take us just over five hours driving time, so it will still be a long day travelling on US-50E which runs mainly through rural desert and mountain areas with the section through Nevada known as ‘The Loneliest road in America’.
We will be travelling a similar route to the brave riders of the Pony Express back in the mid 1800’s. These riders delivered mail between Sacramento, California and St Joseph, Missouri, the distance was 1,800 miles and took the riders ten days. To travel the same route via stagecoach took 20 days.
Not surprisingly, the Nevada stretch of this route is known as Pony Express Territory – a 17 million acre museum where you can find ghost towns, old mines, rock art sites and nature preserves.
Other travellers had suggested we stop off at the Carson City Visitors Bureau to pick up our ‘Highway 50 Survival Guide’. Was this very lonely road something we needed a ‘survival guide’ for? Only time would tell I suppose.
The survival guide is very much like a passport that you get stamped as you visit different locations along the loneliest road. With the first stamp firmly in place from Carson City, we headed toward Dayton to find out where we could get the second stamp on our survival guide.
As well as being a location where you could get this highly prized survival guide stamp, Dayton is also the site where Nevada’s gold rush began thanks to Abner Blackburn who found small amounts of gold and later a Mormon pioneer, John Orr, finding a gold nugget weighing over 19grams.
You will feel like you have stepped back in time at Old Town Dayton as the structures have pretty much stayed the same since the late 1800’s.
Old Town Dayton’s structures haven’t changed much since the late 1800’s – and you will feel like you have stepped back in time when you are here.
Fallon is another town born of the Gold Rush era. Today, far from Pony Express riders and stage coaches, Fallon is where TOPGUN pilots from the Navy Fighter Weapons School train.
Not far from Fallon is Sand Mountain, one of the geological wonders of Nevada and a truly magnificent view that gets more impressive the closer you get to it. Signs describe sand dune as a singing sand dune, the singing being the noises made as the sand shifts and slides, but due to the compression of the weight of tyres and vehicles driving over the mountain, the dune no longer sings.
According to our map we were heading towards Eastgate, and then Westgate, but we found Middlegate to be one of the quirkiest places we had ever seen.
Originally named by James Simpson in the 1800’s, this tiny town was used as a station for the Pony Express as a location to change horses during their journey. No longer can you change your horse here, but you can get a monster burger. If you can devour this burger with a massive pile of fries you will walk away with a free t-shirt. Giant burger eating competitions is not our thing but a drink in this wonderful building is an absolute ‘must do’. I don’t know the story behind it, but there are thousands of $1 notes stuck to the ceiling – the place is worth a fortune in that alone!
Middlegate is also famous for its ‘shoe tree’. Rumour has it that the first pair of shoes was flung to the top decades ago after a couple of newlyweds got into a fight on their way home. The wife was so disgusted that she insisted on walking the rest of the way on her own. The husband snatched her shoes and threw them to the top of the tree. Thousands have since followed suit making the tree what it is today – a crazy spectacle.
An hour later we arrive in Austin (for stamp 4), a beautiful town surrounded by magnificent church steeples and home of the T-Shirt Mural.
Austin has some of the best views in Nevada, mountain ranges, hot springs, a castle, historic sites and heaps of small town charm. The area hosts three nationally designated wilderness areas which are perfect for hunting, biking, backpacking, photography or simple scenic drives.
Not far from Austin you will find the Hickison Petroglyph Recreaction area. A petroglyph is an image created by removing part of a rock surface by cutting, carving, picking or engraving to form an image. This area has great examples of this form of prehistoric rock art as well as some fantastic views.
Next stop – Eureka!
Eureka, self-named the Friendliest Town on the Loneliest Road in America, has retained its historical character beautifully with preserved brick and wooden buildings many of which are listed on the National register of Historic Places. The 1879 Eureka Nevada County Courthouse still houses the original courtroom complete with original wainscoting, pressed tin ceiling, chandeliers, the original wooden staircases and huge velvet curtains. Over the road from here is the beautifully restored Opera House and not far away is the Old Sentinel Museum which houses all kinds of historical items in what was once the Sentinel Newspaper Building.
Time is getting away from us (again), there is just so much to see and do on this very ‘not’ lonely road – we need to get to Ely for our sixth stamp and our accommodation for the night. It’s another hour away – but it’s another hour driving through dramatic landscapes with sweeping valleys and tall mountains.
Ely is one of the larger cities along this route and just like the previous places we had seen earlier in the day it is an old mining town full of history and charm. Ely is a hub for outdoor recreation and historic sites but also home to the old Nevada Northern Railway with a steam engine that rides along tracks that are over a century old.
Also in Ely Nevada is the White Pine Public Museum featuring historic photographs, Native American artifacts, mining equipment, and displays illustrate the rich mining history of the region and nearby you will find the Ward Charcoal Ovens State Historic Park.
This scenic area features six beehive shaped charcoal ovens that were used from 1876 through to 1879 to help process the rich silver ore that was found in the area. Since then, the ovens have been used to shelter travelers and even said to be a hideout for stagecoach bandits. The area is open to visitors who will enjoy camping, hiking and fishing while surrounded by wildlife such as mule deer, elk and grouse. The nearby lakes are said to be wonderful for those who enjoy fishing.
I am really sad that we have only allowed one day to do this leg of our journey. We could have very easily spent hours at each and every place we visited along the Loneliest Road in America.
Our next destination is Bryce Canyon, more than four hours away but we leave Highway 50, getting onto Highways, 21, 15, 20, 89 and 12 before the end of the day.
This part of the trip takes us through the Great Basin National Park with stunning tall mountains, lakes and meadows. It is remote and it is beautiful, and along this journey we cross from Nevada into Utah.
Other than the stunning scenery, there isn’t a great lot to do along this stretch of road. Quaint tiny towns with quirky restaurants are here and there but it’s good to be the passenger and just sit back and enjoy the views.
As we get closer to Bryce Canyon there is a distinct change in the scenery. It’s still beautiful and mountainous, but the views have taken on a definite tinge of red colouring.
Bryce Canyon is a huge tourist location with over 1.5 million people visiting every year. We were told that, while it is smaller, it is even more picturesque than the Grand Canyon – I have to agree.
This is a true destination for lovers of the outdoors as it offers fantastic scenery and recreational opportunities such as hiking, horseback riding, biking and ATV tours – in winter you can cross country ski and go on sleigh rides and there are helicopter tours also available.
We are in the high plateau region of the Colorado Plateau in Utah. The elevation, erosion, climate and rock type are all elements that, when combined, form shapes called Hoodoos and we are told that there is nowhere else in the world that you can find rock pinnacles like the ones in the Bryce Canyon National Park.
If you are interested in the weather and geology of this area go to www.brycecanyon.com for everything you could ever want to know.
We have chosen our full day in Bryce Canyon to be a day of relaxation, but as there is so much to see and do, we won’t be lounging by the pool for long with an ATV trip already booked for later in the day.
We are staying at Ruby’s Inn which is cowboy inspired accommodation. At the Ruby’s Inn General Store you can find anything you could possibly need for your holiday. Hats, Western clothing, hiking supplies, all kind of souvenirs, camping equipment, magazines, food, toiletries, CDs, as I said, anything and everything you could possible need.
Old Bryce Town is just across the road from Ruby’s Inn; here you will find plenty of shops decorated in the style of an old Western town street and where you can get your photo taken wearing old West clothing if you wish. There is also ice cream, pastries from the bakery, a shop specialising in local rock fossils, petrified wood and other unique specimens.
Old Bryce Town is our meeting point for our ATV sunset trip through the ponderosa pine forests and to the rim of the Bryce Canyon National Park. The blurb on this excursion is that it will get the adrenaline pumping. I am a bit of a chicken when it comes to this type of thing and never having done it before I am quite nervous – but excited at the same time.