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.


  1. What a thoroughly delightful blog posting, Rita! I love it.

    The "lonely road" criteria is met for nearly every road I travel in northern NH (where I live), as well as in nearby northern VT and western and northern ME. Both my wife (Cheri) and love this type of road. Unless time is an overriding factor, we even take "lonely roads" when we travel long distances to visit family in the southern part of the U.S. Yes, it takes a bit longer, but it is oh so much more enjoyable and less stressful than traveling the Interstates.


    1. John, I just knew that you would have quite a few lonely roads in your part of New England, and I was also sure that you and Cheri would enjoy driving them. It's great that you also sometimes take the two-lane highways when traveling south.
      I must confess that time is usually a factor when I drive cross-country and therefore I spend most of those trips on the crowded interstates. Someday I would love to take a "Blue Highways" (title of a travel book by author William Least Heat Moon) type of vacation across the US.
      Thanks for your comments!

    2. I've traveled both highways more than once, Rita, and I'm happy to see them celebrated in your fine blog. I enjoy them for the same reasons you mention, but I never expressed my thoughts as vividly and wonderfully as you do. Your strong, detailed writing makes the highways and the surrounding terrain come alive. I'll let you know if I ever find another that is their equal.

    3. These certainly are two incredible stretches of roadway in two incredible states.
      Janet, because you've lived in western Nevada and in western Colorado I'm not surprised that you've had ample opportunities to drive and enjoy both roads.
      Please do let me know if you ever find another lonely road worthy of a blog posting!
      Thanks so much for your kind critique of my writing!

  2. Roads untraveled, roads less taken and roads never taken. I think there is something inherently poetic in them, if we think of our lives, and the roads we took along our journey.

    The Road goes ever on and on ...
    ... And whither then? I cannot say

    (J R R Tolkien)

    1. Ah, Soumyendu, leave it to a poet to see the poetry in this post!
      I agree that there is a metaphor here for life's journey— with its straightaways, twists and turns.
      Thanks for another thought-provoking comment!

  3. How happy I am, Rita, that you are celebrating a state I lived in for 23 years and, when my husband and I went looking, found incredibly beautiful. I've explored the trails and sights you mention in Great Basin National Park and marveled at bristlecone pines and their longevity. Thank you for bringing back many happy memories. Also, I love the writing in this post. The first paragraph is superb. I appreciated the description of Las Vegas as a, "pulsing, energetic disco ball of a city" and the way you contrasted it with the natural beauty to be found in Nevada's outdoors. Wonderful stuff.