The Loneliest tour
Highlights: Highway 50 • Eureka Opera House • Nevada Northern Railway Museum • Highway 318 • Alien Research Center • Highway 375 • Rachel • Lil Ale'Inn • Tonopah
It's been 30 years since I first heard the phrase "Loneliest Road in America". That's all it took. I had to go check it out. When I first told riding buddies of my plans, the response was immediate… Why? There's nothing out there, it's a desert.
It was LIFE Magazine in July 1986 that first coined the phrase, and it was meant as a dig, negatively. It was literal. Nothing to see out here, just keep moving. Nevada holds one of the most remote deserted stretches of road in the nation. The message in LIFE was a simple one. There is no logical reason for you to be on this road. Yet, that alone is why you have to come see it for yourself.
Loneliest Tour in America
The Loneliest Tour begins in Fallon, Nevada, home of the United States Navy Strike Fighter Tactics Instructor program, better known as TOPGUN Flight School. Reports abound of riders being buzzed by fighter jets out in the open desert. Lucky day if you see one conducting low level flights. East of Fallon is a massive sand dune that lines the road. Sand Mountain is a singing sand dune 20 miles east of Fallon, Nevada. The dune is two miles long and 600 feet high. The sand originates from the ancient Lake Lahontan, that for the most part dried up 9,000 years ago. The location is quite popular with the sand rail owners. It lasts just a moment, then disappears from view. Highway 50 flows across flat terrain before finally beginning a soft climb to Austin.
If you view a topographic map of the United States, you may quickly notice a characteristic unique to Nevada. The state isn't flat, rather it's demarcated by a series of north-south ridgelines with broad flat valleys in-between. These ridgelines while technically considered mountain ranges that span upwards above 8000 feet. This is high desert. Land above 5000 feet covered in forests that is snowy in winter, with mild to hot temperatures in summer. Riding above 5000 feet, there are Joshua Trees everywhere.
After 110 miles, the elevation begins to climb into Austin, during a mining boomtown in 1862, some 10,000 people lived here. A fraction of those remains and to keep things interesting, Highway 50 throws out a few hairpin curves up an over Hickson Summit as you leave town and flows out into open desert making for Eureka.
Devils Gate Summit delivers us into Eureka 70 miles later across expansive open high desert riding. The road is a vanishing point on the horizon and the ride can be mesmerizing, even spiritual. Just you, the bike, the road.
Eureka's downtown is dominated by the Eureka Opera House, circa 1880. The last time we were here in Eureka, a docent gave the tour group a personal tour of the historic opera house, and the courthouse across the street. The courthouse is stamped with 1879 on the outside and still in use today. It still holds original furniture from the 1880s. The pressed tin ceiling is also original, and even the walk-in vault remains the same. In the back of the building, the original jail cells from 1880 also remain.
Originally known for silver discoveries, there is a massive circular open pit mine in operation today on the west end of town clearly visible from the highway, the mine is estimated to contain 1.4 billion pounds of molybdenum which has many uses, but is used primarily in creating steel alloys.
For all the talk about vanishing point and the long straight road, Highway 50 does have curves, but they lazily curl around low ridgelines, the aforementioned ripples in the earth's surface so pronounced in form when looking at your relief map.
Highway 50 was originally known as the Lincoln Highway and its inception dates back to 1912 when the original route was created to link New York City to San Francisco, the original length spanned 3389 miles linking Times Square in New York City to Lincoln Park in San Francisco. The original route connected over 700 towns in 1915.
Today, we've got a straight shot of 78 miles to reach Ely, which experienced its mining origins in 1915. Boom and bust have created numerous cycles. The most recent in 2005 due to high demands for copper beneath the town.
The open desert and lack of foliage hides the fact that Ely lies at 6400 feet and experiences extreme day-night temperature differences year-round. Recently, in February 2009, the low temperature hit -30 degrees below zero. Ely also is the western terminus of our ride and we expect a cold morning after spending our first night in Ely. The railroad museum here is a highlight of our day as we stroll through the workshops that still keep locomotives and rail cars operational along numerous rolling stock on display in the train yard.
Ely is also home to the Silver State Classic, the fastest road race in the world on public roads spanning a 90-mile stretch of Highway 318 headed south out of town. The highest average speed was a mere 207 mph, set in 2000. However, as speeds continue to increase, a record average race speed of 219 mph was achieved by Robert Allyn during the May 2017 Nevada Open Road Challenge. The race is unique in that anyone 21 years or older can enter any automobile. If your vehicle can average 95 mph or greater, and meet safety requirements, you can race. Entrants have spanned full on race cars & high-end exotics to the family station wagon.
In Crystal Springs--which is more desert intersection rather than town, we can't miss the Alien Research Center, panning off the alien theme. If NorCal gets its claim to fame with Bigfoot, Central Nevada exhibits a 20-foot-tall tin alien to draw in the sparse passing tourist the curio shop selling all many of alien paraphernalia & accouterments.
Highway 375 isn't long, rather it spans a mere 98 miles, yet it's one of the least traveled highways in the state and traverses the northern edges of Nellis Air Force Base.
From the Hiko crossroads, the route westward curls between the Pahrangat and Mount Irish ranges to ascend 5,592-foot Hancock Summit and then the now-familiar descent into another expansive valley. Rachel, population 48, sits in the middle of this expansive flat valley at an elevation of 4840 feet. Nevada has some very long open stretches of road. If you were seeking the open road, you found it.
Rachel, Nevada is little more than a loose collection of buildings in a broad valley on the north end of Nellis AFB, more commonly known as Area 51. Highway 375 was renamed the Extraterrestrial Highway in 1996 and Rachel does its best to capitalize on this designation. Rachel offers a small café & motel, it's a mandatory stop. Inside are assorted books on alien conspiracies, abductions, and depictions of alien life in numerous murals around the building. The ceiling is adorned in dollar bills from travelers. Plus, we have to check out the tow truck parked out front holding up a captured flying saucer. On our last visit, someone had placed their tin foil hat and left it there - presumably for the next in line believer.
Walls are covered in photographs of assorted UFO's frozen in mid-flight. Is that a hubcap thrown up in the air or the real thing? We'll never know. Photos date back several decades plus, for icing on the cake, some rather authentic looking photos of alien autopsy. And the kicker - the book on Alien propulsion dynamics - that the one I brought home for my son. There’s a museum like quality to the Lil Ale'Inn, and it's well worth the stop. Plus, it helps there's nothing around for 100 miles.
A few years ago, behind the Lil Ale'Inn, there used to be the KFC Man. The huge logo was built in 2006, and consisted of 65,000 1-ft square colored panels to create a massive mural of Colonel Sanders head. It just makes you hungry for chicken - something to think about for the next 100 miles. The mural was designed to be seen from space... and sell chicken.
West of Rachel is open cattle range, so keep a keen eye for cows wandering about. Word has it they are the dumbest animals on the planet, at least so claims the tour guide, who was raised on a beef farm.
At Warm Springs, the sign reads "Next Gas 111 Miles." It may look like a town on your map, but in real life it's just a lonesome intersection in the high desert. One distinct landmark along this portion is a white missile mounted on a post - the sign reads "Tonopah Test Range, operated by Sandia National Laboratory, Bureau of Land Management.
After spending the last two days away from people, the arrival in Tonopah, is either a welcome return to civilization or a sudden shock to the system-all this hustle bustle, vehicles, and gasp, stoplights! Can we go back- to the wide-open country, the 70-mile straights and 7000 ft mountain ranges we've been rising and falling over. Yes, you can now that you've ridden The Loneliest Highways in America, anytime you want to feel lonely, just point the bike to the heart of Nevada.
Tour: September 13, 2024
Meet: 1035 W Williams Ave, Fallon, NV
Arrive: 7:00 AM, Safety Brief 7:30, Depart 8:00 AM
Cost: $460 per rider, $119 Passenger
This tour includes narrow single lane paved mountain roads. The ride includes steep grades and negotiating tight hair-pin corners. All roads on this tour are paved.
EXPERIENCED RIDERS ONLY:
This tour is not recommended for beginner riders or Very Large Motorcycles. Riders are expected to have at least several years of enthusiastic experience on their motorcycle riding remote challenging paved mountain backroads along with at least 5000+ miles of concurrent recent experience.
This tour is limited by the amount of rooms at our host lodging. We have booked rooms months in advance and our tours sell out by the end of January. Get on our mailing list to be the first to know about new rides. Tours are planned & announced in the late fall of each year.
Book early to ensure a spot on this new ride. Check with us to see if any available spots are open. Some of our rides may have waiting lists to be able to join the group.