Colorado Plateau Photo Odyssey 2: Across the Great Basin 1
The first half of the drive is fairly simple: you get on Interstate 80 and drive east for about 35 miles. Then you take a short connecting road to U.S. Route 50, which will be the road you’ll be taking for the next 340 miles. Route 50 is a transcontinental road beginning in Sacramento and ending in Ocean City, Maryland. The section of the road that traverses the Great Basin Desert has been baptized “The Loneliest Road in America.” Wikipedia provides info on the title as follows:
In July 1986, Life magazine 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 White Pine County decided to make the best of the publicity generated from the article, and convinced state authorities to do the same. 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. 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 Life article, which quoted an American Automobile Association spokesperson as saying, "We warn all motorists not to drive there unless they're confident of their survival skills." 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 whether US 50 still deserves the title of The Loneliest Road in America.
I got off to a fairly early start that morning (4:30 am), and by the time I drove out Fallon into the desolate wilderness of the Great Basin, the sun had not yet risen. In the 120 miles between Fallon and Austin, I saw few people. This is the lowest, most desolate section of the highway. It seems drier and flatter here, with less vegetation.
As I had a long journey ahead of me, I didn’t have an opportunity to get any pictures along this stretch of road, or really over most of the road. Just east of Austin, at the Austin Summit pass (7,484’), I took this quick snap:
Notice the trace of snow here. The mountains of Nevada will get a bit of snow in the winter. The higher mountains, such as the Ruby and Snake Ranges, will get a little more than just a bit. However, Nevada is the driest state in the union. The mountains catch a bit of snow as winter storms pass through; but not much else. Note as well the absence of trees in the photo. This is a very dry area. The mountain ranges to the east get a little more water and therefore can support some modest trees (mostly junipers).
During a previous trip across the Great Basin, I snapped the following shots somewhere between Eureka and Ely:
These pictures represent typical Great Basin scenery in the eastern portion of Nevada, with shrub covered valleys flanked by modest mountain ranges running north to south. This goes on for hundreds of miles.
One of the oddest deficiencies of the the Loneliest Road in America is the lack of rest stops with bathrooms. The road really should be renamed “The Worst Bladder Road in America.” I stopped at a gas station in Austin to go to the bathroom. The bathroom was locked. I had to go in and buy some jerky to get a key.
Austin and Eureka are tiny hamlets with populations in the hundreds. Ely is the largest Nevada town on Route 50 east of Fallon, with a population over 4,000. It was originally a stagecoach station along the Pony Express and Central Overland Route.
From Ely one heads east toward Great Basin National Park and the Utah border. I stopped briefly at Great Basin (to use the restroom facility at the visitor center) and had time only to take a quick infrared shot of Mount Wheeler (the second peak on the left of the image):
Great Basin features on the best places to photograph Bristlecone Pines. The trees can be photographed against the impressive backdrop of Wheeler Peak. Early in spring, however, the road was closed to the Bristlecones due to snow.
From Great Basin, I drove across the stretch of the Great Basin in western Utah, having left Route 50 just west of Great Basin NP. Similar scenery in this section as to be found in Nevada. Perhaps a bit more populated, with more hamlets, ranches, etc. At one point I had to slow down to allow a flock of sheep to cross the highway. One wonders where these animals find water, particularly in the hot summers.
Finally, in the last section of the trip, I finally made it out of the Great Basin into the Colorado Plateau. The very last section of the trip involved a brief traversal through Red Canyon. Here I did stop to take a few snaps: