Tuesday, March 16, 2010

US 50: The "Loneliest Road " to loveliness

As a traveler, I have several personal favorite ways of doing my going. They are, in order:
  1. Walking
  2. Paddling or rowing
  3. Skiing
  4. Driving
It may seem contradictory to a paleo-guy like me to love to drive (or blog, eh?), but love to drive I do. And long I have. I've even pursued this predilection professionally, including an extended string of mini-careers as a driver of public buses, commercial trucks, limousines, and taxis.

But my favorite driving has been long, epic voyages lashed to the steering wheel. And I've done many long drives -- crossing the U.S. dozens of times, hauling a camper trailer to Fairbanks, Alaska, and back, crossing the TransCanada Highway, and even navigating the fjord-gouged coast of my personal totem-land, Norway. I also lived for a good spell out of a Toyota hatchback, but that's a whole 'nother road best wandered down another day, in another post.

So it was that I was happy to captain last week's family spring break trip to California. Time, of course, was precious, so I merrily volunteered to make the drive straight-through, a 16-hour sitting marathon fueled by coffee and XM Radio.

And scenery.

Our route to Lake Tahoe took us across Nevada on U.S. 50, the aptly named "Loneliest Road in America" -- and a byway that I haven't rolled down in a quarter of a century.

And it hasn't seemed to have changed much -- it still stands (or lies) like a piece of pre-interstate Americana, a straight-line two-lane strip of pavement across broad basins of sagebrush (the Nevada state flower -- really) and and over rocky ranges, over and over again, broken only by the occasional widely spaced remote little outpost town.

Wonderful, lovely, expansive country.

I'd forgotten, to be honest -- both about the isolation of U.S. 50 across Nevada, and, well, about Nevada itself.

U.S. 50 stretches 3,200 miles coast-to-coast, passing through a dozen states and four state capitals, as well as the nation’s capital, Washington, D.C. But in Nevada, U.S. 50 crosses what is truly one of the great stretches of wild and undeveloped landscapes left in North America. Some 95 percent of the state's land is public land, and the rest is sparsely populated, outside of the surreal extra-terrestrial hovels of Las Vegas and Reno. Nevada is as wild as any stretch of African veld or savanna (where I haven't driven -- but I have hitchhiked), except sliced by long, ragged, island-in-the-sky mountain ranges.

Even from the windshield of my truck, it was damned good to be back. And I know I'll be back more -- this time to travel Nevada some of those other ways besides driving.
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