The Sacramento Bee from Sacramento, California on August 24, 2014 · B5
Get access to this page with a Free Trial

A Publisher Extra Newspaper

The Sacramento Bee from Sacramento, California · B5

Sacramento, California
Issue Date:
Sunday, August 24, 2014
Start Free Trial

ByGlenAbbott When you get past the glitter, girls and gambling of Las Vegas, Nevada is primar- ily high desert. Its population density is less than 20 people per square mile, de- spite being the seventh largest state in land area. That’s a whole lot of lonely des- ert, which makes for lots of lonely high- ways — the best kind, in my estimation. Oh yes, the desert can be a harshmistress, but I’m prepared on one of Harley-David- son’s top touringmachines— a 2011 Road Glide Ultra. I’m tooling along at slightly extra-legal speeds, rolling east on the “Loneliest Road in America” — U.S. Highway 50, cutting through the middle of the state. I’m just outsideFallon,Nev., homeof the UnitedStatesNavy’s StrikeFighterTactics Instructor program, better knownas “Top Gun,” where the country’s best jghter pi- lots go for training. “Low Flying Aircraft” is a warning sign you’ll see a lot here. It’s 110 miles to the next town. Twenty- jve years ago, a story in Life magazine re- ferred to this287-mile stretchascontaining “no points of interest,” and recommended motoristsnotdrive the road “unless they’re conjdent of their survival skills.” Excuse me? As we would have said growing up in Rhode Island, “What are you, a moron?” In any case, what could have been a “Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day” for denizens of the isolated region led to a public relations bonanza. Astute tourism ogcials promptly erected signs promoting its lonely mystique. Unlike the smoke and mirrors of Las Vegas, Highway 50 is the real deal, a bik- ers’ dream — mile after mile after mile of isolated blacktop cutting through Ne- vada’s high desert. Mountains, valleys, sand dunes, sagebrush and yucca as far as the eye can see,with liberal dosesof coy- otes, jackrabbits, jeld mice, rattlesnakes and an occasional mountain lion thrown in for good measure. My Road Glide Ultra is cool blue pearl to match the state’s endless blue skies. It has a 103-cubic-inch motor for tackling those long stretches of remote highway. A six-gallon fuel tank, for peace of mind be- tween isolated gas stops. Let’s start at thebeginning—LasVegas. It’swhere theAtomicAge came toNevada — the U.S. military began testing nuclear weapons in the desert outside the city at the Nevada Test Site in 1951. Crowds gathered to watch the mush- room clouds billow into the sky. After 1963, atomic testing went underground, continuing all the way through 1992. Casinos — not mushrooms — had started sprouting in the desert sometime earlier, after the re-legalization of gam- bling in 1931 (which been outlawed in the state after 1910). Tourismgrew to becomeNevada’sNo. 1 industry, drawing visitors in droves to the “City of Lost Wages,” “Sin City” or “Glit- ter Gulch,” among its various nicknames. I didn’t come to gamble, however — I’ve arrived here on a two-wheeled mission to explore someof the desert’smost deserted highways. On the jrst day, I head west out of Ve- gas, cruising north on State Route 160. At Pahrump I go west and cross into Cali- fornia. At the border, a sign welcomes me to Inyo County near the tiny town of Death Valley Junction, site of the historic Amar- gosa Opera House and Hotel. It’s a beau- tiful yet bleak area; the town’s entire pop- ulation would likely jt inside a Volkswa- gen Microbus. From Junction, I ride into Death Valley National Park, air temperature goingupas the elevation drops. Vegetation is sparse, the terrain rocky. Death Valley’s average July high tem- perature is 115 degrees (highest ever re- corded was 134 degrees in 1913). On this April day, it’s a relatively brisk 94 degrees. I ride throughaptly-namedFurnaceCreek — elevation sea level — and continue the descent to Badwater. The air becomes thicker, the heat more and more oppressive — kind of what I’d imagine sticking your head into a blast furnace feels like. I’ve arrived at the low- est point in the U.S. — 282 feet below sea level. A small pool of water in the sand is covered by a salty crust (hence the name). Visitors park and hike a quarter-mile or so to adjacent salt iats. Borax—amineral used as a cleaning agent — was success- fully mined nearby in the 1880s, hauled out in giant wagons by 20-mule teams. From below sea level, I ride up and out of Death Valley, back into Nevada. Climb- ing, curving and winding on S.R. 374 to- wardBeatty. The temperaturedrops again as elevation increases. Outside Beatty, I stop in Rhyolite, a ghost town that boomed in 1904 with the discovery of gold and went bust within a decade when the ore played out. Today, several buildings remain, including a “bot- tle house” constructed of 50,000 empty beer and liquor bottles — themost imagi- native use I’ve seen for empties. At Beatty, I check into The Atomic Inn and walk over to the Happy Burro Chili & Beer for, uh, chili and a beer. Crystal, the bartender, insists I visit the bathroom when she jnds out I’ve ridden into town on a Harley. “You’ve gotta clutch it, that’s all I’m gonna tell you,” she says. Inside the men’s room, a pair of ape-hanger handlebars is mounted on thewall above the urinal; the clutch lever is rigged to the urinal’s iush mechanism. Clutch it, indeed. On tomorrow’s agenda: Goldjeld and Tonopah— towns less than30miles apart that produced fortunes in gold and silver, respectively, in their glory days. Goldjeld was founded in 1902, eventually becom- ing the largest city inNevadawith 20,000 residents. Its biggest saloon employed80bartend- ers to serve thirsty patrons. Thenow-shut- tered, reportedly haunted Goldjeld Ho- tel was said to oker the jnest lodging be- tween Chicago and San Francisco. “This was the last and one of the big- gest gold strikes in the U.S.,” David Ashe, owner of Goldjeld’s Barbarossa & Bear VintageWares&ClassicMotorcycle Shop, explains. “Nowwe’ve got 2hmillion acres and 1,020 people left in the county.” Up the road,Tonopah faredonly slightly better. Once known as the “Queen of the Silver Camps,” its mines yielded a rich bounty of ore from 1900 through the 1920s. Tonopah boasted its own high-end hotel, the Mizpah, built in 1907, which is now closed and also said to be haunted. While I didn’t jnd any gold or silver on this trip, I did jnd a wealth of memories while cruising along The Loneliest Road in America. Glen Abbott is a freelance writer based in New Orleans. Check out his motorcycle travel blog at www. NEVADA This 287-mile stretch past Las Vegas oEers a bounty of quaint towns, quiet beauty PHOTOS BY GLEN ABBOTT Signs point the way to Tonopah and Fallon on Highway 50in Nevada. HIGHWAY50 a biker’s dream For more information, visit the following websites: Nevada tourism: www.travelnevada. com America’s Byways — Highway 50: 2033 Death Valley: htm Rhyolite Ghost Town: deva/historyculture/rhyolite-ghost-town. htm GoldLeld: Tonopah: U.S. HIGHWAY 50 Rhyolite is a ghost town that boomed in 1904with the discovery of gold and went bust within a decade when the ore played out. TRAVEL » marinij.comSunday, August 24, 2014 »MORE AT FACEBOOK.COM/MARINIJFAN AND TWITTER.COM/MARINIJ B5

What members have found on this page

Get access to

  • The largest online newspaper archive
  • 19,600+ newspapers from the 1700s–2000s
  • Millions of additional pages added every month

Publisher Extra Newspapers

  • Exclusive licensed content from premium publishers like the The Sacramento Bee
  • Archives through last month
  • Continually updated

Try it free