Driving on the Loneliest Road in America | Highway 50, Nevada
Welcome to the second travel series of Whisked Away By Words! 🎉🎉🎉
This new travel series is going be a storytelling-oriented series that recounts my eight-day road trip across California, Nevada, and Utah. The majority of the road trip took place in Utah, where my dad and I visited Moab, the Island in the Sky district of Canyonlands National Park, and many other fun (and sometimes unexpected) places.
This trip was hands down one of the most adventurous camping trips I have ever been on, and I learned a lot about myself and the world around me during this trip. Before beginning this adventure, I was really looking forward to driving on the White Rim Trail of Canyonlands National Park, which was described by many reviews online as a life-changing experience. Looking back on the entire trip, almost a week and a half after and in a setting far from being in the middle of nowhere, I can now fully appreciate how beautiful and enlightening every single moment was.
Also, if I get super excited about my suffering during a camping trip, I know the trip is a good one. 😇
(I’m not even kidding — when sand fell into my eyes while I was scrabbling up some rocks, my reaction was: YEEEESSS!!! THIS IS THE HEIGHT OF WHAT ADVENTURE IS!!!! 😆)
I hope this transports you to a place where you don’t need to think about the time of day, where it’s possible to experience pure solitude for hours without disturbance, and where you can look at the scattering of stars in the night sky and wonder about the “why” of everything and everyone around us.
Enjoy my summer of 2017 road trip. 😊
June 6th, 2017
Summer officially begins.
I suppose my summer started when school ended on June 1st, but in my mind, summer doesn’t start until I leave for an adventure greater than anything I could experience if I stayed at home. For me, a new year doesn’t start with January 1st — it starts with summer.
I go into each summer as one person and come out as someone similar, but more… knowing. More appreciative of solitude, more grateful for the life I have, and more excited to learn more about the world and the people in it.
So school ended, and I waited. I soaked up the wonderful feeling of knowing that the next days of summer were mine to dictate, that I had no schedule to follow, that I needed to make these two months of summer count because no time during the school year can feel like this — be like this.
In the days leading up to June 6th, I charged my camera. Wiped the lens and made sure the camera strap was securely attached. I packed my clothes and made sure my hiking pants had knee pads in them. I also packed a rain jacket, down jacket, and an extra hoodie just in case, even though the forecast said that Nevada and Utah was going to be in the 90’s to 100’s during the day, and not drop below 60 degrees at night.
I contemplated not bringing my phone or my computer, but I eventually packed them, since I guessed I would need my phone for music and jotting down quick notes about the places I camp at, and my computer for working on blog posts while in the car as my dad drives the 15 hours it’s going to take for us to get to Moab, Utah.
I should have known that staring out the window and appreciating nature and solitude would win over writing blog posts during the entirety of the trip.
Then sunscreen. And my camping hat. And my sunglasses. Hiking boots. Keens. Tennis shoes in case my boots get wrecked. Bagels. Cream cheese. Salami. Gallons of water. Cup noodles and instant yakisoba. Blanket.
I was set. We were set.
And when June 6th came, summer began.
There’s a certain feeling that overcomes me every time I sit in the passenger seat of my family car as my mom or my dad drives out of our home towards an adventure. Yes, we’re driving down a road that I see every day, but this time, my neighborhood looks a little different. The traffic lights look more bright and peculiar, and the people that I see walking on the sidewalk seem distant: while these people are walking out with the intention of returning back home after completing their task, I’m leaving home with the intention of leaving my daily life behind for something more impulsive and adventurous.
Being in remote nature by myself allows me to momentarily step away from the influence of the society surrounding me in my daily life and simply think. I think about many things while camping, most of which that I probably wouldn’t stop to ponder more about if I were in a setting such as school. The best story and novel ideas I’ve had came to me during my times in Death Valley National Park. While camping, I take time to think about the person working at the gas station in the middle of nowhere, or the culture within the town with a population of 192 people.
I think about many things while camping, but the thing — person — I think about the most is
I think about myself because it’s hard not to when I go days without seeing another human being other than my family while camping. When I’m able to sit down on something as majestic as an arch in Arches National Park for hours without another group of campers hiking in, I can ponder about things such as
why I am the way I am.
what I want to do with my life.
how happy I am with myself.
whether it’s possible for me to make a living as an author.
how I should really focus more on appreciating the present.
how checklists clearly don’t work for me — they’re way too restrictive.
how I’m so glad I know what pure solitude feels like.
how every year of my life seems to be getting better and better.
how I think I’m almost ready to get back to editing that 90,000 word novel I wrote.
how wonderfully happy I am.
is it possible to be too happy?
As I lose sight of everything familiar to me, I know I’m not just going on an adventure into nature — this trip is going to be an adventure mingled with the journey of finding myself that I’ve been on since I was born. It’s another step forward in my understanding of the world and myself, and when houses disappear and rolling hills of dried grass and grazing cattle appear, I know that the summer of 2017 has finally begun.
Adventure has finally begun.
A few days before the trip, I started to read Stacey Lee’s Outrun the Moon, which was absolutely brilliant in its inclusion of the Cantonese Chinese culture and inspiring in reminding me of how selfless and kind people can be even in times of hardship. I had written down a checklist of seven blog posts that I was to finish during the trip while sitting in the car — including the book chat for Outrun the Moon — and I planned to finish the majority of them during the fifteen hours of driving it was going to take to go from the coast of California to Moab.
That didn’t work out. At all.
I felt very indecisive for the first few hours of sitting in the car. Should I take out my computer and write, or not? I took out my computer a few times, but in the end, I wasn’t in the writing mood. Looking outside the window seemed so much more appealing to me, but compared to writing, wasn’t looking out the window… wasting time?
Time, and whether I’m wasting it — that has been such a big question for me these past few years. I would remember wanting to do so many things and doing all those things, planning to be productive the moment I woke up to the moment I went to bed, every single day. I felt like there weren’t enough hours a day for me to do everything I wanted to do, and I thought that by utilizing every second of my day and planning out exactly what I wanted to do and exactly how much time I would use for those activities, I would be able to play flute and piano more, learn Japanese, brush up on my Mandarin, work on my novel, write more blog posts, draw more, read more…
At the time, I couldn’t understand why I would be so exhausted by the end of the school week. I didn’t “waste” time Monday through Thursday, but after getting out of school on Friday, I would want to do nothing but whatever appealed to me, which was usually sitting down and reading, drawing, or simply thinking.
The flaw in my past mentality was thinking that just sitting down and reading wasn’t a good use of my time. Nor was drawing, and definitely not just thinking. If I were drawing, I would want to listen to a podcast to learn something new as I drew, yet I would still think about whatever I wanted to do after finishing the drawing.
I never seemed to just appreciate the present — planning out my days always made me think of what was coming up after I finished my current activity.
That’s how I came to realize that planning out my day hour-by-hour doesn’t work for me. I changed my checklists to listing out the things I needed to do for the day without attaching a time to the activities, and I eventually accepted that I couldn’t do what I considered “productive” work every waking moment. Relaxing and giving myself enough time to think is actually more vital than anything else I do, because it allows me to identify things I want to focus on in my life.
In fact, giving myself time to think about how I’m using my time led me to change the way I view productivity and what “wasting” time is.
The lack of the need to constantly know the time of the day is why I love camping so much. I mentioned in my post on hiking around Hume Lake in Sequoia & Kings Canyon that I don’t glance at my watch when I’m hiking, which is a really significant thing for me. Being punctual is a vital aspect of my daily life, but camping allows me to lose myself in my thoughts without needing to snap out of woolgathering to finish my homework before 8 p.m.
I have not yet reached the mentality I want regarding how I view time, but I will say that the mentality I have now regarding time is much better than the one I had in the past. Simply sitting down to write down my thoughts is such a vital thing for me to spend my time doing, especially as someone who is trying to think for myself and learning to separate my thoughts from the ones society has inculcated me to believe.
As the day went by and the temperature got hotter, I took off my watch (a sweaty wrist does not feel pleasant) and let myself stare out the window as much as I wanted. My computer stayed inside my backpack the rest of the day — and the rest of the trip.
I’m so glad I decided not to work on my blog posts during the trip because in doing so, I was able to notice more things outside the car, appreciate my dad’s music selection, and spend more time talking with my dad. It was in these times of truly living in the moment that I realized that this is how I should view time: something that I don’t think about too much. I don’t have too little hours in a day — I have just enough. I’m glad I can’t stop time and do more things with my life. I’m glad there are sixty seconds in a minute, sixty minutes in an hour, and twenty-four hours a day, because knowing that my time is limited — and that everyone’s time is limited — allows me to make the most of every second in my life.
Going from the coast of California to Nevada was much quicker than I thought it would be, and once we were in Nevada, we were officially on the Loneliest Road in America.
I had no idea how strangely beautiful Highway 50 would be.
It would have been so easy for me to dismiss the scenery as repetitive and, consequently, boring. But I just couldn’t stop looking at everything that past by me outside the window. The roads that seemed to lead to nowhere in these lands. Batches of almost synthetic-looking bright green trees surrounding a lone ranch in the middle of a sea of dried, sandy grass.
Even the road was fascinating. It was on Highway 50 that I saw a mirage for the first time that I remember — I thought it was so strange that the ground was wet in the middle of a searing hot day, but when the car drove closer to where I thought the water was… it wasn’t there. The strangest thing was that the mirages would only appear in little dips on the road, which made it seem like there was a pool of water there when it was really just heat waves playing tricks on my eyes.
During the beginning of road, I passed by this valley of white earth — made white from borax or salt or some other rock or mineral, perhaps? Gullies lined both sides of the road, and the significant thing about this area were the stone words lining the white earth on the side of the gullies.
At first, I didn’t notice the stone words, but after my dad mentioned them, I looked out the window — and wow. Messages after names after sayings after hearts lined sides of the gullies, and the dark stones used to make the messages made them stand out even more against the white earth.
As my dad drove on and I continued looking out the window, trying to read all of the messages if they were legible, I began to wonder… who made these messages? Who took the time to gather rocks and carefully write out these words? Was this a local tradition done by people who live near this portion of the Loneliest Road in America, or did tourists do this?
My mind did its usual thing and began to swirl up stories about how these messages got here. I found this series of very well-made messages that seemed to say a name, then an age — 15, 14, and 13. Did this person come here to write his or her name and birthday every year as a birthday tradition? Or do the numbers stand for years — 2015, 2014, and 2013? Why is there an exclamation point after 15, and a question mark after 14?
What if Joh was the nickname of a girl named Jolin who viewed her entire year of being 14 as a quest to understand herself more? She tried to find out who she wanted to be as a fourteen-year-old, and when she became fifteen, she wrote an exclamation point after her age because she feels like she finally gets it — she finally gets herself.
And then these thoughts led me to wonder about this Joh’s life — what would living in a small town near Highway 50 be like? What if Joh lived on one of those towns that I saw seemingly placed in the middle of nowhere in one of the valleys that I passed by? Did Joh want to stay in her small town or ranch, or leave? Did she have many opportunities in her hometown? Where would she go if she left?
Jolin-called-Joh probably doesn’t exist, but it’s still fun for me to think about who made these messages. Thinking about the people behind these stone words give me inspiration for new story ideas or characters, and if I didn’t get to see this little quirk on Highway 50, I wouldn’t have had the spark of desire to know who took their time to carefully line up these stones to spell out their partner’s initials and their own initials on the gully, then lovingly encase the letters in a heart.
I wonder if the couple is still together. Or maybe it’s not a couple, but a pair of best friends?
These questions and thoughts go on forever, and it’s because of thoughts like this that remind me I’ll never run out of ideas for stories.
In talking with my dad, I learned that where a random patch of trees are, a house or ranch would probably be there as well, as the trees would provide shade for the house. During the ride, I also passed by signs pointing to places like Pony Express Sites, the Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park, and the Grimes Point Archaeological Site, which actually seems like a pretty cool place now that I’ve looked up more about what the site is about online. I wanted so badly to drive off road and go to these sites, but if we did so, we’d never get to Moab in time for the adventures we planned to have.
I also wanted to drive down to one of the ranches and just ask the people living there what their life is like. I wanted to go travel down every single one of those roads I saw winding off of Highway 50 into the distance behind the mountains surrounding me and see where the road leads me. Driving past several small, in-the-middle-of-nowhere towns only made me want to get out of the car and explore more.
At this point in the day, it was past afternoon and we were midway through Highway 50 in Nevada. I was getting hungry, but we didn’t want to stop in the middle of the highway to make lunch. Then my dad drove into Austin.
As we drove uphill into this town, I saw amazing artwork on the walls of several buildings that I needed to take a picture of — there was one motel with blue mountains painted on the side of it, and I asked my dad to stop the car so I could snap a quick picture of it.
I also saw this fantastic baby-blue building with wooden planks put all over the walls, and I wanted a picture of that, too. Eventually my dad decided to park next to the motel with the blue mountains painted on the side, and we had a delicious lunch of bagels, cream cheese, and salami. I walked around what seemed to be the main street of the town, which was really clean and pretty — except I saw no one walking down the streets. A few cars drove by, but that seemed to be it in the case of people being outside.
The one building that really caught my eye was one covered in wooden-planks. For some reason I didn’t register what the building’s decorations were saying at first, but after a few pictures of the building, I noticed the sign that said, “MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN.”
I put my camera down and then looked at my dad. “Isn’t that Trump’s slogan?”
“Look at the sign above it.”
How did I overlook the sign that clearly said “TRUMP” on it?
What made these signs interesting to me was that it made me realize how I had never actually seen signs supporting President Trump back at home. Where I live in California, the majority of the community doesn’t support Trump — and here, in Austin, I’ve encountered a community with different political opinions. Perhaps not the entire community supports Trump, but if a building in the middle of the main street in Austin can display such large signs in support of Trump, then I can at least say that a large part of this community supports Trump.
Seeing these signs, like seeing the stone messages on the side of the road earlier in the day, once again makes me think of the people behind these signs. I wonder why they support President Trump, and what their lifestyle is like in this quiet town. June 6th was a Tuesday, and if I walked around my town on a Tuesday afternoon during the summer, I would see people at least within five minutes of stepping out of my house, and see people nonstop if I go downtown.
Being in the town of Austin gave me more insight on what other people’s lives are like in different parts of America, and thus gave me more inspiration for possible character and setting ideas when I write stories.
After using the bathroom in the Trump-supporting restaurant/bar, I explored the town a little more, then hopped back in the car to continue driving on Highway 50.
When I looked back at the town after driving more uphill, I got to see how small the town looked from above. I couldn’t find information about the population of the town now, but in 2010 the population was 192, according to Wikipedia. I also found this interactive map for Austin, and found out that it has a gun range, rodeo grounds, an art gallery, and several churches within the town.
I’m really glad I got to stop at Austin to get a small glimpse of what life in the town might be like. Despite not seeing many people walking down the streets of Austin while I was there, I still was able to glean plenty of insight into life within the town from things such as the signs on the restaurant/bar and the conditions of the buildings I saw. This wouldn’t be the last small town I passed during this trip, but I felt like this was the one I explored most thoroughly.
After driving out of Austin, I passed by the Hickison Petroglyph Recreation Area (once again, we couldn’t stop and explore because we needed to focus on getting as close to Moab as possible). The terrain past there becomes less dry and more like the terrain of the Seirra Nevadas. At this point, the sun was just starting to set, and my dad and I knew we had to stay somewhere for the night. We were nearing the eastern border of Nevada, and consequently, nearing the end our drive on the Loneliest Road in America.
I looked at the map my dad had printed out showing major mountain ranges and towns on Highway 50, and I noticed that Great Basin National Park was near Baker, the town that we were planning on getting a motel in.
But… we didn’t plan to sleep overnight in Great Basin. Even if we wanted to, we might not be able to find a campsite.
When I mentioned Great Basin, I looked at my dad, and my dad looked back at me… and we knew that we couldn’t pass the opportunity to visit the park. I mean, when would be the next time we decide to drive all the way out here and be able to go to Great Basin National Park?
My dad changed the GPS destination from Baker to Great Basin National Park, and began driving the new route to our first unexpected — and unplanned — destination. We had no idea how busy the park would be or whether there would be open campsites left for us, but it was better to see than to pass the opportunity to tent in one of the most remote parks in the lower United States.
In the late afternoon of June 6th, we had finished driving on Highway 50, the Loneliest Road in America.
But whether we ended up camping in Great Basin National Park is a story for another time. I hope you enjoyed this story about my experience on Highway 50. Driving through the Loneliest Road in America reminded me how important it is to give myself time to lose myself in my own thoughts, and that there is no possible way to be bored when you have thinking as your own form of entertainment.
Have a wonderful day, and remember — it feels amazing to temporarily not think about time and let yourself do whatever you want, even if it’s sitting for an entire day and letting your mind wander. If you ever feel like you need a place to travel to and do that, just remember that the Loneliest Road in America is a lovely place to give yourself room to ponder about anything you want to. (Occasional mirages included during the summer. 😋)
She left feeling frantic, but that quickly faded away and she came to realize that perhaps she had been chasing after mirages all these times, thinking that if she could only finally touch that hazy ripple of air in the distance, she would discover what the best way to use her time would be.
She now knew what was best for her and her time. Tentatively, she walked out to the middle of the road and looked both ways, and seeing no cars for miles either way, she sat down. The mirages further down the lonely road beckoned her to come nearer and see what they had to offer her, but she stayed still and sat under the burning sun, heat seeping through her pants to her legs, comforted by the knowledge that she now knew.
This post is the first post in the
Road Trip of Summer 2017 travel series
on Whisked Away By Words!
If you want to read more about my adventures road tripping and camping throughout
California, Nevada, Utah, and Arizona,
head on over to the Travel Archive to view a list of all the posts in this series.