Here was our route for today: a counter-clockwise loop heading east from Fernley through Fallon to Austin via the scenic alternate route, then north to Battle Mountain, then home via I-80. We made our plan so that if we did not feel up to it, we could have simply come straight back from Austin, using the main US-50 routing and shortening the trip, although as it happens we decided to take the longer route, with a total trip length according to Google Maps of about 420 mi / 675 km. Aside from a few small diversions, the entire route was paved. Until we get the tires replaced and a full-size spare to replace the emergency spare tire, I'm a bit leery of doing long sections of unpaved road, especially in areas with little other traffic and no cell phone coverage.
After a stop to refuel in Fallon (gas is about ten cents/gallon cheaper in Fallon than Fernley, and I certainly wanted a full tank before we set off across "the Loneliest Road in America"), we headed for something that caught Lisa's eye when we made the expedition to the Project Shoal Atomic Test Site in early March.
Just south of US-50 along NV-839 is a military equipment storage "boneyard."
We did not go past the fence.
Lisa says that these tracked vehicles are for the recovering and towing of other armored vehicles. In other words, they're tow trucks for tanks.
There are a lot of old buildings out there, but it doesn't appear to us that any of them are occupied. The main gate is locked, but not staffed. Click through any of these photos to see more.
After our stop at the military boneyard, we continued east on US-50, bound for the road even lonelier that the "loneliest road."
NV-722 is an older routing of US-50. It was originally built to shorten the original US-50 route.
The new road did so, but at the expense of adding a slow, twisting ascent to Carroll Summit.
The view is nice, but it turned out that the original route was longer but faster, and US-50 was returned to the longer but faster and lower route over New Pass Summit.
Carroll Summit is 7,492 feet (2,284 m), and is surrounded by higher mountains. There were still bits of snow sticking to sheltered areas above us.
We continued east, descending through a valley where there were some ranches before the road climbed again.
This is the rather optimistically named Railroad Pass (not the one in southern Nevada near Boulder City, which actually has a railroad running through it), which tops out at 6,431 feet (1,960 m) and never had a railroad through it.
Indeed, the history of Nevada railroading would include several railroads reaching down from the north to connect to towns along what is today US-50, but no railroads running parallel to it. Given the basin-and-range (valley-and-mountain) topography of this area, this is no surprise.
With the scenic route behind us, we turned back onto US-50 into Austin.
Next stop was Austin, the former county seat of Lander County. The town's icon is of a stone tower built by a mining magnate who barely ever used it.
This sign on the western approach to the town points out that they've been social distancing since 1862.
This marker on the west end of town gives the outline of the town's history.
From the same turnout, you can see the tower, which you reach by a decent quality, clearly marked dirt road. The road is somewhat steep and ocassionally narrow, but posed no great difficulty.
This is Stoke's Castle. Anson Phelps Stokes, a mining magnate, had this building constructed in 1896-97 based on a tower he had once admired in Italy. Amazingly, but not surprisingly in the boom-and-bust mining districts, he only lived here for a few months before selling out and moving on. The elaborately constructed building lay dormant and decaying, and apparently nobody ever actually lived here again, despite its good contruction for its time. After some time in the hands of a cousin of Phelps, it is now owned by the Austin Historical Society, and it is fenced off to reduce further vandalism of the site.
Phelps was also involved in the construction of the Nevada Central Railroad, a narrow-gauge line that ran from the connection with the Central Pacific (later Southern Pacific, now Union Pacific) at Battle Mountain to serve the mining district. We'd be following the route of the NCR later in the day.
After visiting the tower, we stopped in Austin, bought some lunch at a mini-mart, and found a place to park where we could eat our lunch and admire the town. It was while eating lunch that we decided to go ahead and head north to Battle Mountain on NV-305. Lisa says that she did once drive over that road, but it was at night, so she never got to see anything.
The Lander County seat was removed to Battle Mountain in 1979, where a much larger (and much more sterile-looking) county office building is located. Some local offices and a visitor center (currently closed) remain in the older courthouse building in Austin.
NV-305 runs about 90 miles from Austin to Battle Mountain, and broadly parallels (and sometimes crosses, and other times runs on top of) the Nevada Central right-of-way. An entertaining story about the NCRR was that it was built under tight time pressure, as a $200,000 subsidy from Lander County was contingent on the road being completed to Austin by February 9, 1880. The story goes that with time running out, the city extended its limits north toward the railroad and a lightly-graded line just made it to the newly-annexed land with only ten minutes to spare. As was so often the case with such lines, the boom that generated it had already passed, but it did struggle along until 1938.
Today was a warm spring day and that raised a lot of dust devils and some stronger dust storms. Mostly we managed to avoid the worst of them. At one point I saw a whole lot of debris heading for the road and I slowed considerably, and as luck would have it, another vehicle was shooting along at the speed limit (70 mph!) behind me and shot through. He was pretty lucky, as I went ahead and came to a stop while a wall of tumbleweeds, brush, and other debris crossed behind the speedster and in front of me. I was in no hurry anyway.
The Valley of the Moon rest area is about halfway between Austin and Battle Mountain. It's not a fancy location, consisting of several picnic shelters and two pit-type toilets. I did not see any water available, but there is ample parking, and if, for example, you were traveling in an RV, this would be in my opinion a fine place to stop for the night for "dry" camping.
We ran out of power for the camera while on the way to Battle Mountain, but we've taken pictures of most of the rest of this route before. Our original idea had been to stop at a large convenience store at which we've stopped many times before in Battle Mountain, but it was too full of maskless wonders for our comfort. We tried also a grocery store downtown, but it also was full of people who thought nothing of taking off their masks to cough and also had the (false) claim posted saying that if you claim that you're medically exempt from wearing a mask, it's a violation of federal law and the Fourth Amendment for the store to ask you for proof of this. We moved on.
If we had been fully vaccinated, we might have stopped at the Winner's casino in Winnemucca for their spaghetti dinner, as we've done many times before, but it's going to be a little while before we feel comfortable going out to dinner yet. As gas prices in Winnemucca are comparable to Fallon (and thus cheaper than Fernley), we stopped at the Pilot truck stop west of town and refueled. This truck stop was much less crowded (and the staff and clientele significantly better behaved) than Battle Mountain, so we bought some drinks and headed for home.
Except for some stretches of road construction, the speed limit on this portion of I-80 is a whopping 80 miles/hour. But the speedometer on the Astro only goes up to 85 mph, and with the significant winds, I not only couldn't get up to that speed, but I would not have felt comfortable doing so. Thus I kept my speed down to "only" 60-70 mph and tried to stay out of everyone else's way, which I mostly managed to do.
We made it home after a pretty long day of traveling by our standards, and about ten hours on the road. (Google maps never accounts for realistic road speeds and stopping to sightsee.) On our road trips, we try not to go more than about 400 miles/day, and the longer a trip goes, the shorter we make our trip segments. For example, if we were at the start of a trip, we could probably drive from Fernley to Las Vegas in one day, but at the end of a two- or three-week trip, we would never attempt Las Vegas to Fernley. The one time we tried it, we nearly drove off the road north of Tonopah and barely made it to Hawthorne, where we made an emergency overnight stop while I left a message to my manager saying I would be reporting in late the next morning, but I would still be alive when I did so. (My manager agreed with my decision.) All subsequent trips have included an overnight stop at Tonopah both going and coming.
Despite some of the wear and tear of a 400-mile trip, I'm glad we made this Nevada Loop Trip. As we were only going from home-to-home rather than needing to be at some destination as part of a multi-day trip, we had a fair bit of freedom to stop and look at things, and we got to see places we've never seen before.