2012 Jeep Wrangler to Moab: Taking The Loneliest Road
April 02, 2012
Sure, I could have taken Google Maps' advice and driven our 2012 Jeep Wrangler from Reno to Utah using Interstate 80, but interstates are boring. Besides, I-80 loops far to the north and adds miles to the trip.
Nevada's highway 50, otherwise known as the Loneliest Road in America, is more of a straight shot. Also, Nevada's rural two-lane highways tend to have 70 mph speed limits, and highway 50 is no exception. That's about as fast as I wanted to go, anyway.
It's hard to argue with the Lonliest Road nickname. Once I left Fallon, which is only 20-something miles past the point I left the interstate, the number of cars coming the other way dropped dramatically. Several time I sat parked and waited 5 minutes or more for another car to come by.
But the thing that really does it is the utter lack of buildings. There's nothing out here but miles of barbed wire fence and a smattering of pullouts where they've put Nevada state historical markers.
I didn't know this until I started reading some of them, but Highway 50 mostly follows the Pony Express route. I also didn't know that the famous Pony Express was a total failure that lasted less than 18 months, ran in the red the entire time, and went out of business 4 days after the first transcontinental telegraph was sent.
The route continued on as a stage coach road, though. In the 'teens it morhped into a primitive auto route, the Lincoln Highway. I'm led to believe these ruins were once some sort of wayside rest. Today's highway 50 runs about a quarter-mile away from this point, cutting through a hill instead of winding around it.
Signs of recent human activity are pretty much limited to the shoe tree.
The first town of any size is Austin, population 192. It comes up 111 miles after leaving Fallon.
Mostly, Highway 50 looks like this: miles and miles of straight road with the occasional bend to miss a mountain. Surprisingly, the asphalt out here is fairly smooth and the Jeep's Mopar Stage 3 lift kit rode sure and steady.
The Jeep tracks pretty straight most of the time, but the short wheelbase sometimes demands a little attention. The longer wheelbase of the 4-door would certainly help. On top of that, the steering feels a bit vague, like there's a dead spot and a touch of lag on center -- there's a reason why sedans have rack-and-pinion steering. The Jeep, with its solid live front axle, doesn't.
Despite all that, I wasn't fatigued by driving this road in the least.
Also, there's no radio out here. At all. We didn't opt for the audio system that offers satellite radio, so I survived on podcasts and playlists on my iPod.
Highway 80 road sees snow in winter, but I didn't see any except on distant mountaintops. That's some sort of salt in the foreground. Don't tell anyone.
It got dark before I passed through Eureka, the next tiny town that comes up 71 miles past Austin. At 8:30 pm the place looked deserted. I kept going.
I continued another 77 miles to Ely, Nevada before calling it a day. In between darkness fell and I saw NOTHING. No distant lights in any direction, no signs of habitation at all. It was eerie. It was ... lonely. It was also enjoyable, and I'd do it again.
Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing @ 12,544 miles