Road Trip 2: The Return

Day 2: Sunday, June 30

During the night, we each woke occasionally and noticed the silence of the place. There was not an insect or bird to be heard. The wind hardly blew. All human noise had ceased. There was no sound of engines or tires on the roads. Lisa finally heard some dogs barking, probably miles off, but that was all.

It was still quiet when we woke, bright and early, and walked along the shore of the reservoir before breakfast. Then it was back in the car for us, after several minutes of puzzling over how we’d managed to fit our tent and bedding into the car in the first place and eventually cramming everything back in.

For the first hour or so, Route 50 didn’t seem particularly lonely — not compared to the barrenness around I-80 that we recalled, anyway. We drove alongside other lobes of the reservoir, which stretched for miles, and passed through occasional small towns after that, though admittedly we saw more cattle-crossing signs than inhabitants. Then came the signs warning us that we wouldn’t be able to buy gasoline for more than a hundred miles. And the towns disappeared, and the mountains loomed ahead.

At times ours was the only car on the road for miles. The road is so straight that you can see cars far ahead or behind, the bright sun making them little more than winking diamonds against the mountains, but it might fifteen minutes, traveling at 70 miles per hour, before you cross paths with the oncoming traffic or the car behind passes on the left. On the shoulder of the highway is evidence of others who have chosen this isolated trek across Nevada’s mid-section: name after name had been assembled from fist-sized rocks in the dust. Jim, Sara, the occasional curse word or Jesus. It was tempting to stop and leave our own mark, but the heat and inertia pushed us forward.

Route 50 is not without landmarks. In addition to being the Loneliest Road in America, the route’s claim to fame is its history as a Pony Express trail. It was daunting enough crossing the desert in an air-conditioned car with plenty of food and water; we couldn’t fathom the experience of riding horseback, solo, between Pony Express stations hundreds of miles apart. Not to mention the experience of being the first Europeans pushing through that territory on their way to California. We wondered if the Native Americans used to live throughout Nevada or if they left this lonely territory alone; the reservation we’d come closest to passing was at Pyramid Lake, north of I-80, which is considered sacred as well as being an oasis.

Before the highway began winding into the mountains proper, we passed another notable landmark: Sand Mountain. Sand Mountain is just what it sounds like. Set in front of the black stony cliffs of the “real” mountains, Sand Mountain is a giant peaked sand dune, hundreds of feet tall. According to our tour book, it is one of a few “singing mountains,” so named because sometimes, as the sand shifts and redistributes, the mountain emits mournful tones.

On the far side of the mountains we got our gas (getting nearly 30 miles to the gallon, with our car weighed down as it was, was a real triumph for us) and looked for somewhere to eat. Most of the towns we passed through were hardly large enough to warrant any more hospitality than a gas pump, but we thought we’d try our luck in Eureka, a city with multiple traffic lights and a junction of highways. It being Sunday, however, there were only about two restaurants open. We tried our luck at the Silver State Saloon, which had precisely three vegetarian options: grilled cheese sandwich, french fries, and dessert. We took all three.

In mid-afternoon we passed out of the mountains of Nevada and into the flat yellow desert of western Utah, having strained our eyes for big horn sheep and seen not a one. In our opinion, this is when the road truly became lonely. There was nothing along the road save the dull yellow sand. The road was utterly flat. The sky was a cloudless blue. And there was, again, a nearly 100-mile stretch without a single town. By the time we turned off Route 50 toward Route 70, we weren’t sorry to be on a different road.

Eastern Utah proved to be an entirely different story, fortunately. We wanted to go to Arches National Park the next morning and so wanted to stay the night a short distance from there. Night was rapidly approaching, however, and we weren’t sure how far we’d make it. The towns were more frequent, but many did not offer campgrounds. We picked Green River as a goal and pushed on. As a result, much of the landscape we saw in the last two hours of daylight, a fine time, for the already russet and gold rock formations glowed a richer, fiercer red and orange under the pink sky. In spite of our haste to reach our campground, we stopped to take some photographs and took many more from the car windows as we drove.

Just as the sun had set completely, we reached Green River and its Shady Acres RV Park, another fishing haunt, and pitched our tent between two RVs. It was quiet, and not at all buggy in spite of its proximity to the river, and the hot showers were free.

Day 3 »

Fully Packed Car Cow Sign Sand Mountain Loneliest Road in America The View Side Mirror Freight Train Utah Becomes Pretty Utah Landscape
Day 1 Day 2 Day 3 Day 4 Day 5 Epilogue