One man gets (very) lost in the great state of Nevada
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I land in Reno and am immediately charmed by the old world glitz and glamour of the smallest big city in Nevada. I mean where else are you gonna see Journey, Denis Miller and Blake Shelton all in one place? But alas, I can’t stay. I have a date with Highway 50 – the loneliest road in America.
Two hours north, I find myself in Gerlach, the gateway to Burning Man. And home to all of the spare Burning Man bikes, apparently. Visiting during off-season actually affords you some pretty special scenic moments at Black Rock City’s seasonal home, from the dramatic desert-scape to the art that’s left behind as a more permanent fixture. The nature here is also super unique, with natural geysers that continually bubble and spurt out of rainbow-coloured volcanoes.
Happily Burn-ed out, I head down to Virginia City, which–no joke–is my new favourite Western town. After a few hours of driving, priority number one is a drink, and for that I literally stumble into bar gem, Silver Dollar. Voted best dive bar in the world, according to its signage anyway, this place has infinitely interesting decor and very, very good (very cheap) Bloody Mary’s. If that isn’t enough, the bar also serves dogs. Real dogs. Real dogs who drink shots of whipped cream like sailors and damn, it’s adorable.
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Properly sauced I tour the Washoe Haunted Saloon with a digital ghost detector which, frankly, looks like a garage remote. And yet despite it being broad daylight outside, this place is still creepy. Our ghost host shows us a picture of a spook she spotted last week and my detector goes off the charts every time I pass a doll. Maybe this really is a three-storey dungeon of demons.
Pants properly soiled, it was time for more liquid courage. At a nearby bar, I grab a muddled Manhattan and pull up a perch to listen to some live country music. Then I gamble a little bit and meet a lovely lady who owns the World Record for knowing the most piano songs by heart. She favours a rowdy honky tonk tune.
From V-city, glorious Lake Tahoe is a mere sneeze away. Here the air is cool and fresh and the green alpine roads make you feel like you are in a completely new state, if not planet. This ancient body of water is surprisingly one of the deepest in the world, and is by far one of the clearest I’ve ever seen.
Having been high (altitude-wise), I start to drive lower on Highway 50. This highway, the self proclaimed loneliest road in America, really is quite a desolate experience. But I find places like this more appealing than an insufferable mid-summer in Santorini; here the winding road is the attraction and the vast drive gives you a unique perspective on your place in the world.
Just as the emptiness of my stomach starts to mimic the emptiness of the road, I cruise into the ‘town’ of Middlegate which consists of a soon-to-be-condemned roadhouse and not much else. This place is a dream for dreamers.The deal here is the “Middlegate Monster”; an eight pound burger. If you finish it without leaving the table, you get a t-shirt.
Challenge well and truly accepted.
I ready myself for a competition worthy of my time, but upon its arrival I know it’s going to be a battle to the death. Try my hardest I failed. Vanquished, I tuck tail, drop two Alka-Seltzer® from the general store and pray for indigestion salvation as I hit the road.
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Needing to walk off my caloric embarrassment, I stop at Cathedral Gorge State Park, which is, well, gorge-ous. This stunning geological wonder is just next to the highway, which means within minutes you’re wandering into a literal void. Your feet kicking up red dust clouds with each step.
From the depths of the gorge, I journey back to the top of the world and find myself in sleepy ol’ Baker. This alpine region is incredible, with lots of hiking trails and the amazing Lehman Caves if you fancy a rare look at a perfectly preserved, prehistoric limestone cavern over 500 million years in the making.
Above ground I check into the Stargazer Inn, located literally in the middle of nowhere, with a name that’s not just for the cute keychain. This is one of the darkest places on the planet, which, when night falls, treats you to an infinite star show–the Milky Way in the spotlight.
Having overdosed on nature and beauty I remedy myself with a night in good ol’ Vegas. Making a bee-line for ultra swanky speakeasy steakhouse Stanton Social I watch as they ceremonially light my dinner table side. You think it’s a gimmick until you put a morsel in your mouth; now I’m lighting all my food on fire before consuming.
For the sweetest finish to an epic road trip I check out Absinthe, where there is no such thing as a bad seat. This incredibly funny, immersive, boozy spectacle happens in the round, leaving you slack jawed, flabbergasted, and quite frankly, in need of a vacation from an epic vacation as you sip on a drink and watch the circus performers put on quite the show.
Well fed with fire both in my belly and soul, I reflect on how far the loneliest road has taken me. I chuckle at the irony; all I’ve found on Highway 50 has been new friends, unique places, and meats that light the way to happiness.
Qantas, Singapore, Hawaiian — you name an airline and it’s highly likely they fly to Vegas. From there, just jump in the car, kid. The road to Nevada is where it’s at.
Whether you fancy a waterfront Tahoe resort (hello Hyatt) or a desert escape (check out the Stargazer) accom options are plentiful in Nevada. For more stays, check out Travel Nevada.
Nevada gets fewer than 10 inches of rain ever year, making it the driest state in America.
We love ourselves a self-guided road trip, but if you’re looking for more activity ideas or a list of trusted local operators, our mates at Travel Nevada have the travel resources you need to create a killer itinerary.