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Numbered Highway System, inaugurated in Today, these are the lesser roads known as "U. Routes," designated with a black-and-white shield. The most famous of these old roads are probably the Lincoln Highway, which was the first to connect the coasts, and Route 66, from Chicago to Santa Monica, the "Mother Road" that signaled the ascendancy of the Mountain West and the Pacific Coast in the American imagination.

There are others too, nearly as legendary: the Pacific Coast Highway, which traces the craggy convolutions of the California coastline; the Blue Ridge Parkway, plunging boldly into the secret heart of Appalachia; the Historic Columbia River Parkway, blazing through the lush sublimity of Oregon. Fifteen years later, Time magazine called this same strip of pavement "The Backbone of America" in a cover story that was part travelogue, part sociopolitical pulse-taking. It is a long backbone, 3, miles in length, its vertebrae etched with names like Loogootee, Pruntytown, Poncha Springs and Majors Place.

The most famous segment of Route 50 is largely useless, running through Nevada about or so miles south of I, which is what sane people use today to travel the state sane people of means simply fly. And yet this mile stretch between Fernley, near the border with California, and Ely, near the border with Utah, has attained legendary status as the "Loneliest Road in America.

There are, today, "Loneliest Road" signs along the road, and some stores in the sparse towns along Route 50 display "I survived Route 50" signs in windows covered with geologic layers of grime. You can even get a slick "survival guide" to the road, which the governor of Nevada will supposedly sign if enough businesses along the way stamp its passport-like pages.

This is a transparently cheesy gimmick, but given some of the spiky characters who populate towns like Eureka and Austin, it is not without its attendant dangers. Nor is the road exactly bumper-to-bumper with tourists, despite an impressive marketing effort by the aforementioned Nevada officials. I drove it alone, from Delta, on the Utah side of the border, to Sacramento, where Route 50 terminates in the bleak outer edges of the city.

I suspect that most of those who choose to drive the "Loneliest Road" want true loneliness, which friends and lovers and little children and chatty cousins would surely ruin. So would the sound of a radio; though I spent some of the drive listening to a Jon Krakauer audiobook, I often drove along in silence, convinced that this is how they would want me to do it, they being both the Nevada tourism savants and Sal Paradise, whispering in my ear about "the magic land at the end of the road.

It was about a week after driving Route 50 from Utah to California that I actually managed to find the famous Life magazine article that made this stretch of blacktop world-infamous. A sallow, straw-haired librarian at the Sacramento Public Library set down a box of issues from the mid-'80s, and I flipped lazily through them, past advertisements for healthful menthol cigarettes and articles about the Soviets' incipient plans for nuclear war. Given how many times the "Loneliest Road" moniker has been repeated in popular culture, and how often it is cited on Internet travel guides, as if it were some kind of official designation, I figured its origin was something expansive and brutal, a missive from a latter-day James Agee or Dorothea Lange.

No such luck. There was only a single photograph. A car recedes into the distance, while in the foreground a rancher crosses the road on a horse. Both car and man-horse duo are moving with their own purpose, independent of each other. There is no hurry, as if the photograph were capturing timelessness itself. Below the photograph is a caption that says, "The Loneliest Road. There followed, beneath the caption, a single paragraph:. We don't recommend it. So this was it. I had wondered, when first reading about Route 50, why this one deeply concerned AAA official was always cited: Had Life spoken to no one else?

Had there not been a single booster for this maligned highway? Now I saw that there had been no one else, only this AAA "counselor.

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And what had become of him, anyway? Did he know that his warning had been responsible for a boomlet of Nevada tourism? That he had made popular the very road he warned people away from? That what he said seriously has been taken ironically, that his words were the ones that spawned countless car journeys, including my own?

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A few have even taken to complaining about how popular Route 50 has become, like some forlorn section of Detroit suddenly colonized by hipster farmers. Well, a decade later, the secret hasn't made it very far. You don't have to be Lawrence of Arabia to cross Nevada in a car, but the journey does require a very specific skill set: sitting for a very long time, knowing where the next gas station is; knowing how to find NPR amid the desert's FM fuzz; and most important of all, knowing how to be alone.

After my first day on the road, I texted some details of the trip to a colleague back in New York who had done the same journey years before. He wrote back, "It's strange right? A lot of time way inside your head. Way, way inside. Its , square miles contain much of the American West, a vast "sagebrush ocean," in the words of Utah naturalist Stephen Trimble.

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The water that comes into the Great Basin does not flow into rivers. Instead, it simply evaporates or seeps into the salt beds. That makes it one of the largest endorheic watersheds in our little swath of the globe, a huge, rusty tub under a blazing, uncovered lamp. Nevada is located in a part of the Great Basin called the Basin and Range Province, one enormous geological phenomenon within another. Imagine an old man wrinkling his forehead and you have the topography of Nevada, north-south mountain ridges with valleys in between.

The 19th century archaeologist C.


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Dutton described the mountains of the Basin and Range as "an army of caterpillars crawling northward out of Mexico. You cross more than a dozen mountain ranges as you traverse the state, climbing up into the red rock heights, then dipping down into the patchy desert of the valley floor. This had been the route of the Pony Express, and vestiges of that Snapchat, alpha version, can still be seen along the road, crumbling piles of rock conquered by the relentless creep of sand and grass. Later, Route 50 across Nevada became coterminous with the Lincoln Highway. Crossing the desert in a Model T Ford would have required survival skills, not to mention quite a bit of time, and given the lack of radio, a prolonged comfort with your own neurochemistry that Spotify wasn't around to alleviate.

Once in a while, curiosity tugged at the steering wheel.

It had been a day of too much beef jerky, too many energy drinks and too much silence. To bathe in nature's lukewarm and restorative waters would be a perfectly salvific conclusion to a day of claustrophobic motion. And the proprietor of the Cozy Mountain Motel had made the springs seem only a short distance from the main road. This was not the case.

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Following the scant directions printed on a roadside sign, I turned on a gravel road, then another gravel road, until suddenly I was on no road at all, surrounded on all sides by sagebrush. I saw no markings or signs, only the dust that rose from my wheels in a swelling, occluding storm. I consulted my phone, which returned only the dreaded "no service" message. Deep breath. The dust around my car settled, and I saw only the ancient desert, and beyond the desert the hills, and somewhere in the hills, where long ago Indians had carved petroglyphs, there was a road leading back to civilization, but unless some satellite high above shifted into auspicious position, I might become just another skeleton desiccating under the sun.

As if some cosmic force sensed my fears and wanted to confirm them, the sun blazed with particular cruelty, so bright that it hampered vision, reducing the landscape to a brown haze. Nothing moved. I don't mean to be needlessly dramatic, but one should always give the desert its due. In , a recent college graduate named Raffi Kodikian stabbed his friend David Coughlin to death in the tent they were sharing in the Rattlesnake Canyon of New Mexico. Kodikian would later claim that he killed his friend only to save him. He wrote in his journal, "We will not let the buzzards get us alive.

The tragedy of Coughlin's death was compounded by the fact that the two men, neither a seasoned outdoorsman, were never more than a mile from where they had parked their car. The desert, constitutionally incapable of forgiveness, punished them deeply for their inexperience. It has no reason to show any one of us more mercy. Sometime in the eighth decade of the fourth century, a pious Christian named Eusebius Sophronius Hieronymus decided to head out into the Syrian desert. He believed this would make him a better servant of God: "O desert nourishing the flowers of Christ!

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O solitude which produces the firm rocks with which the city of the Great King is constructed," he would later write. During his sojourn in the pitiless desert, the faithful hermit purified his faith in God.


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  6. Today, we know the desert wanderer as St. Jerome, one of the Four Fathers of the Catholic Church. Not all of us go into the desert to become saints. Some of us go simply to become human, which today might mean nothing more than a couple of days without wireless service. The desert is one of the last great repositories of pure silence, which has become as commodified as a truffle in a world that constantly dings and pings and yaps for your attention.

    A couple of years back, a Brooklyn restaurant achieved short-lived notoriety by mandating that diners not talk at all during their meals. I suppose, then, that Route 50 can be considered a meditation retreat with a speed limit—mindfulness at miles an hour. That isn't the posted limit, of course, but I didn't encounter a single highway trooper in two days of driving. The only traffic-calming measures in Utah and Nevada appear to be the tumbleweeds that burst every so often across the road, threatening to lodge in some crucial component of your car's undercarriage and catch fire.

    Otherwise, it's just you and Nevada's endless sine curve. You can't ever quite tune out, but the nerve-fraying experience of trying to navigate five measly blocks of Broadway at rush hour is replaced by an uninterrupted calm.

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    Sometimes, as I drove, I felt as if I were floating. I would look down at the speedometer as the needle crept with smooth confidence toward triple digits. But I wasn't being careless or reckless. I wasn't rushing. I did not need to make good time. I did not want to make good time.

    I was doing only what the road wanted me to do. The people we surround ourselves with will influence us greatly, for the better or worse. You will definitely experience pangs of loneliness but you can learn to overcome them as you concertedly tune your focus back to the things that matter again and again. Entrepreneur Media, Inc. In order to understand how people use our site generally, and to create more valuable experiences for you, we may collect data about your use of this site both directly and through our partners. The table below describes in more detail the data being collected.

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