Thursday, April 21, 2016

Two Lonely Highways: US 50 in Nevada and US 40 in Colorado

         Highway 50 undulates through a continuous landscape of basin and range in Nevada—our most mountainous state.  And everywhere, in the distance, the ridges and peaks and long spreading valleys in hues of lavender, cornflower, cinnamon, goldenrod and slate.  Thirty years ago a Life magazine reporter christened this highway the “Loneliest Road in America”.

         But is it?

         Several hundred miles to the east another road vies for the title of America's “Loneliest”.

         In northwestern Colorado a stretch of US Highway 40 winds its way for 90 miles through high plains and past the tiny towns of Elk Springs, Massadona, and Blue Mountain, each town possessing perhaps a hunting camp and a home or two.  Northwestern Colorado may lack citizenry, but it provides an abundance of wildlife.  Herds of antelope, elk and mule deer roam the plains;  caramel-colored prairie dog colonies pop up from the earth;  birds of prey soar the skies and sit on fence posts, hoping to score a meal of ground squirrel or rabbit.  

         Have a look at these two lonesome ribbons of road:

Mid-day in August along Hwy 50 in Nevada.

Hwy 40 in northwestern Colorado on a weekday afternoon.

          Both highways are rather uncrowded, aren't they?  To compare these two roads for their loneliness quotient I used the somewhat unscientific method of setting the cruise control at 65mph, driving for an hour and counting cars coming in the opposite direction.  I drove Nevada’s Hwy 50 in August and Colorado’s Hwy 40 in September.  To add a bit more authenticity to my study I used the same day—Wednesday, and the same hour— 4:30 to 5:30 p.m.—for both drives.  
         And the result?  
         The number of cars which passed me by during my hour in Nevada: 52.  And in Colorado: 45   So which road is the loneliest?  I conclude the question needs more studying, but both roads more-than-qualify!

         Two-lane highways like these are what driving should be:  fun, entertaining, surprising.  And they remind us of what we’ve lost as our exploding population requires multi-lane super highways with their attendant miles of big box stores and parking lots.  The lonely highways focus our attention not on shopping and traffic but on landscape, wildlife, weather.

          More views from these two remote roadways:

An expanse of uninhabited Nevada.

Abandoned cabin in Northwestern Colorado.

A short-eared owl rests on a fence post while searching for a
meal in Colorado.

         Take the lonely highway challenge:  Find a span of uncrowded two-lane highway where you live.  Focus on your surroundings, whether its the hawk soaring overhead, the farmer driving his tractor through the fields with his dog running alongside, or a hillside blooming with spring flowers.  Oh, and don’t forget to focus on the roadway as well, maybe while conducting your own survey of passing vehicles.  Let me know what you discover.