In the middle of the high desert of the Great Basin lies one of America’s hidden gems, which is home to Nevada’s second tallest mountain, ancient trees and some of the darkest night skies in the country.
Route 50 across Nevada was originally pegged “The Loneliest Road in America” by a Life magazine writer in the ‘80s, the implication being that there’s nothing to see or do on the highway. But those who have explored the 150-mile stretch of road from Ely to Austin know that this conclusion depends on a half-empty/half-full way of looking at life.
During the 1870s, this booming frontier town was considered “the richest place on Earth.” Thousands flocked here to mine the Comstock Lode, one of the biggest silver strikes in history that helped finance the Civil War and earned Nevada its statehood. A young reporter named Samuel Clemens honed his craft here and emerged as Mark Twain.
Along the Lincoln Highway, or more specifically the portion of Highway 50 known as the Loneliest Road in America, lies Austin, Nevada.
The mountain town offers sweeping, stunning views of the high desert, including at the site of one of its most prominent landmarks, Stokes Castle. The three-story tower was completed in June 1897 by mine developer Anson Phelps Stokes as a summer home for his sons. The native granite structure was only briefly used and hasn’t been occupied since shortly after it was built.
Today, it stands to memorialize the locals who built it and has come to symbolize those who helped develop the mines of Austin.
The mining industry grew the city to some 10,000 people back in the 1870s and 1880s (with a year-round population of roughly 1,500). Today, the population is just over 100 people.
The area is also home to a lot of ghost towns, including Jacobsville, which became a Pony Express stop in 1860. At the time, it had a population of about 400 people.
A trip to this part of the West should also include a pitstop at Spencer Hot Springs, for a soak and maybe a night of camping. Wild burros frequent this area, where it’s eerily quiet (as long as you’re far enough away from RVers running their generators).
If you head south from there, be sure to at the very least pull over on Highway 376 to enjoy views of the Toiyabe Dome.
From cities and towns to national parks and lesser-known landscapes, this inaugural special section has your 2022 travel through the West covered! We’ve curated a list of 52 places to visit this year – four in each of the 13 states we cover. If you travel at a breakneck pace, that’s one a week. Let this guide serve as inspiration and enjoy the West!