It’s been called the Loneliest Highway in America, and whoever coined that phrase sure knew what she was talking about. That’s US 50, running west to east across northern Nevada. In two days, we probably didn’t see 75 cars on the road over about 400 miles. That’s lonely.
My expectations for US 50 were low. Scrubby desert, beige, barren and trashy. I couldn’t have been more wrong. It was more like driving through Death Valley – an amazing array of colors and textures, punctuated by historical landmarks. US 50 is the Lincoln Highway, after all….
We stopped to see landmarks for the Pony Express, which ran along this route. Hard to imagine the hard lives of the riders, and also of the men who manned the stations, maintaining fresh horses and supplies.
There was also the occasional huge sand dune, totally out of place against the desert landscape. One huge dune begged for a photo, but I was so disappointed in the result that I’m not posting it. Without anything nearby for scale, the photo has no impact.
Another interesting portion of the Highway, stretching for about 6-10 miles had low sandy banks on each side. People had left messages with black stones – mostly about who loves whom, but some about world peace, high school graduations, and whatnot. It was charming.
We stopped at Grimes Point to view petroglyphs that are nearly 1000 years old. In this small area, nearly a thousand of these ancient etchings existed. But, some of the rocks have been defaced, and appear to have markings indicating that the petroglyphs had been chiseled off.
John located a spectacular (free!) campground for us for the evening called Hickison Petroglyphs. In this 16 site campground, we were the only campers. See us in the center of the photo? Do we look lonely? We picked a site with a great view, and had our own sheltered picnic table and vault toilets. Bad point? The trash. All the bins were overflowing, and previous campers had left their trash on the ground, bagged up for the critters to get into. Idiots and jerks. It was the only low point of this great site. We hiked the interpretative trail, and totally enjoyed this unique BLM (Bureau of Land Management) campground.
The next lonely day took us to Great Basin National Park, located in northeastern Nevada. Once again, we found ourselves nearly the only campers in a pristine campground. I can’t say enough positive things about camping here. It is spectacular. The Great Basin actually covers most of northern Nevada, although the National Park is just a small piece of it. The Great Basin is this huge area where the only water is what falls here, as a result of rain or snow. No rivers flow into or out or it. We’re camped at Baker Creek Campground, high desert at about 7500+ feet. We hear the creek roaring from snow melt from nearby Wheeler Mountain and other peaks, and the wind whistles through the spruce trees, which are everywhere. That’s the only sound. No cars, no generators, no voices. Lots of turkeys, although we never actually saw any of them.
We hiked twice, taking the Scenic Drive as far as we could until it was blocked off. John, Jezzy, and I then hoofed it up the road about 2-1/4 miles to Mather Lookout (about 9200′) where we were treated to spectacular views of Wheeler.We passed a few altitute markers. Some of the spruce trees here are bursting with pinecones. Many of them had thousands of budding cones – a sight I’ve never seen before.Again, we were the only ones here – how many people get to experience their own private National Park?
This park is home to the Bristlecone Pine, an ancient tree which grows at high altitudes for thousands of years. After it dies, some of the trunks remain for another two thousand years or so, before the wind and elements wear them down. There’s a young (probably transplanted) specimen near the Visitor Center, and it’s the most amazing tree. The needles are short and thick with an extra resinous coating to reduce moisture loss. They are incredibly dense. Although I scoured the campground for more Bristlecones, I wasn’t able to find any. In the Park, they are all above the 10,000′ mark, which was inaccessible to us on foot. Photos of the ancient Bristlecones show windblown, hardy trees. It was so sad not to be able to see them, since this seems to be our Trip of Trees.
Today we hiked up Baker Creek, and the South Fork from about 7500′ to just over 9000′ feet. We were thwarted in our original plan, as the Trail forked, and both directions were deeply snow covered, unlike this photo, which is just slightly snow-covered. Without any other footprints to keep us from wandering off the trail into the wilderness, we felt we had to turn back.We passed this grove of birch trees, which all had a sensuous bend near the ground. Tough to get a good photo, but I hope you get the idea. So, it was three miles up, three miles back. We passed through alpine meadows and followed the rushing creek, so it was a pleasurable hike in any case.
There are many other amazing sights in this remote National Park. As we drove in, we thought there was a deer on this small bank. It actually was a stone statue of a giraffe, although one of its horns was busted. Giraffe? Nevada? In the Visitor Center, there’s a 132 year old Winchester Rifle which was found leaning against a tree in a remote area in 2014. Imagining the story behind this sets my imagination racing. The rifle has been restored, and sits in a protective glass case.
I have to be honest and admit that the very first part of our drive leaving Carson City was not so lonely. We decided to detour to Virginia City, an old-timey Western mining town. Part of the silver rush in the late 1850s and 60s, it was a bustling mining town. A devastating fire demolished most of the town in the early 1870s, but it was quickly rebuilt, and it has remained in that state since. The old buildings, which have been updated somewhat to accommodate electricity and modern plumbing look like another fire waiting to happen. There are huge timbered facades and wooden sidewalks. Miners, cowboys, and saloon girls in period clothing wandering around. It was quiet when we wandered through on Sunday morning, but this is certainly a spot which would deserve a second visit.
We head out tomorrow for Bryce Canyon. Our campground will be at 9200′, so we are keeping our fingers crossed for continued great weather. Don’t want to have to winterize on the fly, but we will if we have to!