Desert Bliss on Hwy 50

Nevada's Hwy 50

Nevada’s Hwy 50

Anyone who has ever driven across Nevada on U.S. Highway 50 never forgets it.  Dubbed the “Loneliest Road in America” there are few people or animals for days, and yet it boasts of western desert character.


From the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California west to the Rocky Mountains in eastern Utah is the Great Basin, a vast region occupying approximately 200,000 square miles.  This area includes all of Nevada, much of western Utah, parts of California, Oregon and Wyoming. What makes it unique is that all precipitation that forms here does not flow to the sea; it is the biggest such area in all of North America.  Here precipitation flows into the basin and distributes only by seepage or evaporation.  Read more about the Great Basin here.


Downtown Eureka, NV

Downtown Eureka, NV

The big cities that border it are Reno in the west, full of casinos and gamblers; and Salt Lake City in the east, full of churches and Mormons.  In between these two extremes are ghost towns from the silver mining days, a few lonely military installations, and numerous wavering oases on the empty road ahead.


The Nevada desert is also broken up by 17 mountain passes.  When you’re not driving on flat roads surrounded by sand and sagebrush, you’re rising up through a mountain pass on steep grades and hairpin turns.


Sand Mtn, NV

Sand Mtn, NV

One day we came upon a large white sand dune.  We were due for a rest break, so we exited the highway at a recreation area called Sand Mountain.  Apparently this 600 foot high dune makes a singing sound when wind is passing over it, if conditions are right (sand grain size, humidity, and silica).  For us there was no sound.  No sound anywhere.


Every once in awhile we would see a sign on the roadside indicating a Pony Express station was nearby.  From 1860 to 1861 this stretch of the U.S. had the Pony Express line running through it.  It’s an interesting tidbit of American history that I’ll tell you more about very soon.




Wildlife was sparse, especially when traveling at 80 miles per hour.  I know there were a lot of bugs because whenever we stopped to fill up the tank, we were literally scraping layers of dead bugs off of the windshield.  Of less abundance were a handful of pronghorn, and some jackrabbits disappearing into the sagebrush.


This highway was magical.  I suppose some folks would find it lonely, but everyone we talked to loved it.  Passing through 10,000 foot mountains and descending into salt pan basins, surrounded by borderless highway and vast, open skies.  As long as you had gasoline, freedom was yours.


Photo credit:  Athena Alexander



21 thoughts on “Desert Bliss on Hwy 50

    • One of the thoughts that I frequently had on this long, long drive through these states was how immense this was driving a car, but how extraordinarily immense this would be on a bicycle. whew! I was sure grateful for a car engine! Great to hear from you Bill. 😀

  1. Deserts are fascinating and quietly dangerous, I’ve been to several of them in USA and abroad. Places that bring up your level of adrenaline, knowing that you are alone! 🙂 Nice post Jet! I wonder if I’ve ever bumped into you in one of these places! 🙂

    • I found myself very captivated, and much more enamored of it than I had expected. And the world is such a funny place, I probably HAVE passed by you at some time. Thanks so much HJ! 😀

  2. Great narrative dear Jet ! I closely followed all your descriptions and I am totally fascinated ; what a blessing to be in such a big region without noise pollution … I did marvel at those fabulous photos that made me feel as if I were watching a film … The downtown Eureka photo looks like a studio where they shoot films.I loved the vastness of the desert,the white dune and the singing sound of the wind through the sand ! Nature’s sounds always excite me.
    Can’t wait to read about the Pony Express. Have a brilliant and creative day 🙂 xxx

    • Oh dear Doda, I am so glad I could transport you to the Nevada desert! It’s funny you mention that about the film, because sometimes that’s what it felt like in Eureka. There was hardly anyone visible, and yet several of the buildings were all freshly painted. You have a great day, and thanks very much for your comment and visit Doda. 😀

    • I thought perhaps in all your travels you might be familiar with Hwy 50, Brick, but perhaps that’s one area of the country you have yet to explore. I’m delighted you enjoyed the post, and appreciated hearing from you. 🙂

  3. I think this is the magic of our western states, what some people would think was just empty land. I like Death Valley quite a bit as well. 🙂

  4. We just had the NV map out this afternoon discussing Great Basin and Reno. It’s been 30 years since we last traveled the Loneliest Hwy. Back then, as we drove 80 mph we found ourselves needing to stop due to cattle in the middle of the road. We also spotted wild horses….. very cool. Great timing on this post and we can’t wait to drive it again 🙂

    • Oh how wonderful! Ooh, I would’ve loved seeing wild horses, but I think they’ve moved on. A bit scary to come to a screeching halt for cattle, but also fun — sounds like the Loneliest Hwy all right. More on the Great Basin to come! Thanks so much Ingrid.

  5. As we drive through areas like this at 80 MPH on paved roads, in cars with air conditioning and comfortable interiors, we are able to take in the vastness of the flats and the excitement of going through each mountain pass to find a whole new vista.
    It’s hard to imagine traversing it in a conestoga wagon, being pulled by oxen or a horse at not much more than a snails pace, in the blistering summer sun. Or on horseback, riding between the Pony Express stations.
    While I enjoy a good adventure, I am grateful to be able to enjoy it today, in comfort, but thankful to those in the past who blazed the trail in their wagons and on horseback.
    Thanks for the travelogue. I look forward to driving this stretch of road someday!

    • This Nevada stretch gives some folks the heebie-jeebies even with the modern comforts, because they are afraid their car will break down and they will be stranded. It’s definitely not for everyone, but we sure loved it. And yes, gave a huge salute to those who traversed it in earlier times. Thanks tminch! 🙂

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