Driving the Loneliest Highway in America

An invitation to drive the Loneliest Highway in America may not be the most enticing offer you’ve ever received. Think about it. If no one else drives there, why would I? Fair enough, but indulge me. Let me give you some reasons to consider making a trip of it.

US 50, named the Loneliest Road in America by Life Magazine in 1986, is a 400 mile stretch that lies in the state of Nevada. US 50 reaches from Ocean City, Maryland to Sacramento, California, but the really lonely part is within the borders of the Silver State.

I’ve made the trip, and found it most enjoyable and perhaps even fun. Coming from the very rainy Pacific Northwest, the contrast is pretty dramatic. Desert driving itself is a curiosity to me. Besides, this trip comes with a very unique set of bragging rights.

US 50 actually has some very redeeming road side attractions. My wife and I disagree about the most intriguing. For her it’s definitely the Shoe Tree. This rather giant cottonwood tree is located a mile east of Middlegate, Nevada. We arrived while I was trying to sleep off an overnight behind the wheel, in the back seat. I was dead to the world. She needed to stretch her legs so she pulled over to the Shoe Tree.

A handy roadside sign explained why this huge tree had hundreds of pairs of shoes hanging from it. Once upon a time a young couple eloped to Reno and were returning home to face the world as a married couple. On this very site their first married argument ensued. The argument got so animated the car was stopped to facilitate escalation of the altercation.

The young bride, perhaps a bit hot tempered, announced at length she would rather walk home than ride with him. The new husband, desiring to accommodate his bride, said that was fine with him. In a fit rage of his own, he told her it would serve her right if she had to walk home barefoot, and threw her shoes high into the tree. Then he promptly drove off, leaving her barefoot in the shade of the cottonwood.

He didn’t get far, and pulled into the first watering hole he found. The bartender had heard this story before, evidently not uncommon for couples to argue on their way home from Reno, and he had wise advice for the newlywed.

“Go back and make up, son, you will never regret it.”

The groom did just that, laughed at how silly they had been, retrieved his bride, and they began the process of living happily ever after. But they returned when they could and threw another pair of shoes up in the tree to celebrate their love and the lesson they learned there. Over the years, many others joined them to celebrate their own undying devotion.

My wife was so touched by the story she returned to our car and unable to raise me, decided my old tennis shoes would look great in the tree. She placed them there and continued driving. And that, boys and girls, is what happened to grandpa’s pair of original Air Jordans.

I’m intrigued by ancient American sites so I was drawn to Grimes Point Archeological Area, a petroglyph (ancient rock art) site, and close by Hidden Cave, used by the ancients for storing crops.

I quite enjoy driving faster than I should. US 50 gave me a few opportunities for that. Many a time we would enter a valley where the blacktop stretched out to point of disappearing in a very straight line before us. There’s a magic for me in driving at 100+ miles per hour on a road that “never” ends.

While enjoying such a magical moment, I observed the rare oncoming car at some distant. I noticed it was closing fast, partly due to my speed, but also because he was traveling at an extraordinary rate of speed himself. It soon became obvious that there were police lights on top of his car. My stomach dropped to the blacktop level and I took my foot off the gas.

He did not. I judge he was doing at least 120 mph as he passed me. He didn’t stay visible long in my rearview mirror. I didn’t return to top speed for a while.

My dark side has a reason for driving the Loneliest Road in America. I have a dear, dear friend whose only flaw is his incessant practice of topping your story. On good days I can forgive and ignore his character defect. One night he was in rare form and I was getting worn down. I was relating a story about driving the Alcan Highway to Alaska, which can be another quite lonely road depending on the time of year. My buddy, of course, jumped in relating a tale about crossing Oregon at night and not seeing a soul.

Well, out came my travelogue about driving the Loneliest Highway in America. He amazingly had no comeback. For that one moment the 400 miles of loneliness was worth it.

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