Nevada: Sometimes You Want to Go Where You Can Drive and Drive and Drive
The state is famous for its emptiness (well, that and Vegas). But as good as the driving is, the stops are pretty interesting, too.
- Tiki Hut433 Railroad St., Elko, 775/738-6531, bottle of beer $2.25
Day 4: Elko to Reno
There's no getting around it: Northern Nevada contains some serious wide-open space. The Census Bureau says there are only 2.7 people per square mile in Elko County, making it one of the most sparsely populated places in the lower 48. Heading south to Eureka along Route 278, we see cattle grazing in the distance; they look like toy farm animals. Even before we reach Highway 50--also known as the Loneliest Road in America--we feel utterly isolated.
A representative from AAA once toldLifemagazine that tourists need "survival skills" to drive the highway. One of ours is the ability to repeatedly belt out Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody," the rare treasure amid the punk-heavy selections on my boyfriend's iPod, which I packed instead of mine.
Our best plan, however, is to do all of Highway 50 in one shot. It means a full day of driving, but Dagny insists that there's so little to see in the towns along the way, you need to string them together to make the trip worthwhile. She's right, and in fact, I find the views between them far more interesting anyway. Nevada has 314 mountain ranges, more than any other state in the continental U.S.
We almost miss one of the few sights, when Dagny flies around a bend and mentions that we just passed the Shoe Tree. Over the years, drivers have flung shoes into the cottonwood. The area is so deserted we stand in the middle of the road and take pictures--just because we can.
The second spectacle is Sand Mountain, a 600-foot-tall dune. It's a natural anomaly that has become a favorite of off-road enthusiasts, and ATVs buzz around like bugs.
Fallon has what may be the strangest sight of all: the Oats Park Art Center, an oasis of culture in the desert. Kirk Robertson, the center's program director, tells us that the Chicago improv group Second City performed the night before. We settle for the current exhibit of Japanese embroidered silk. After our four-day immersion in the Old West, it's a refreshing change of pace--one made all the sweeter by the simple fact that Mark Twain never went there.
- Oats Park Art Center151 E. Park St., Fallon, 775/423-1440, exhibits free, concerts $20
Finding your way
Most major airlines fly into Reno-Tahoe airport, where rental cars start at roughly $140 for four days. There's no reason not to switch the order of this loop, heading to Elko first and saving Genoa for the end. To get from Carson City to Genoa, head 13 miles south of the city on Route 395 to Route 206; it's about a 30-minute drive. You can stay in Genoa instead of Carson City. The Wild Rose Inn starts at $125 a night (877/819-4225, wildrose-inn.com). It's also possible to break up the long drive back across U.S. 50 by spending a night in Fallon or Austin, both of which have plenty of motels. But if you choose to do it in one haul, the three big stops we mention are ideally spaced out, about two hours apart.