Saturday, 29 July 2017
Day Four - Virginia City to Ely via Austin and the Loneliest Road - 311 Miles
I've been describing this as a drive across the desert, but it's not really. According to Wikipedia it's an ecoregion of the temperate coniferous forests biome. And an area of contiguous endorheic watersheds. I'm starting to wish I hadn't asked. But what it's not is a wind blown sandy desert, or a wasteland with cactus plants.
Sometimes I would stop - to read a historical marker, or see the remains of a Pony Express station - and the warm air would be sweet with the smell of sagebrush. This green grey plant is the state flower of Nevada and has a beautiful scent, like a cross between sage, rosemary and mint, that fills the air.
So was the road lonely? No. There were times when I couldn't see a car to either horizon. But you knew that if you were going to meet another vehicle, it would be a lumbering RV dragging its baby car behind it, crawling at 25 mph through the passes. I was also astonished to see the occasional cyclist. You'd have to brave, mad or both to consider this as a sensible cycle ride.
The route itself follows that of the Pony Express and the trans-continental stage coaches. Dotted along the road are ruins - surrounded by Fort Knox style barbed wire fences - of the old stages and stations. I understand the desire to preserve these buildings, but the security was a little off putting.
Austin (population 192) provided me with a much needed coffee and muffin. I also a chance to look at 'Stokes Castle'. A crumbling three story structure built in 1897, used once as a summer home by a mining magnate and left to tumble down ever since.
And from there, into Ely. A population of 4,000 makes it the largest metropolis for hundreds of miles. It has three casinos and the 'Hotel Nevada and Gambling Hall' - which boasts Ingrid Bergman, Gary Cooper, Lyndon B. Johnson and Mickey Rooney among its former guests. Although looking at it, I suggest those days are over.
I stayed at the 'All Aboard Inn', by Ely's train station. I didn't realise until the morning this was still in use - when a steam whistle from their tourist steam train work me up.
So I survived the first section of the Loneliest Road. What will tomorrow bring?