Highway 50 across central Nevada is billed as the nation’s “loneliest” road; however, compared to U.S. Six it’s more like a crowded thoroughfare. I mean, there actually IS some traffic moving along U.S. 50. On U.S. Six you can drive for miles and miles and miles without ever passing another vehicle. Every once in a great while you come to a junction, which is inevitably marked by an abandoned service station, a vacant motel, sometimes even the foundations of a brothel. Just beyond the ruins stands a road sign informing you that the “next services” await 95 miles farther down the road—as if the place you just left offered anything in the way of services.
We were headed to Modesto, California, where I was slated to speak at a photography symposium, and had decided to take a road less travelled by. And I’m here to tell you it was very interesting, with surprises around every corner. Between Ely and Tonopah, that’s a total of about three surprises.
Our first day ended at the historic Mizpah Hotel, about which I have nothing negative to say except that it must be the only place in America where one can leave behind an untended suitcase without attracting attention from Homeland Security. Whoever walked off with it, I hope you enjoy wearing my wife’s clothes and makeup. From what I saw of Tonopah, the citizenry there could use a do-over!
But, moving on. Eventually the treeless, boulder-strewn moonscape gave way to forested foothills and vast alluvial fans spilling forth from the eastern slopes of the Sierra Nevada. For eighteen lovely miles we enjoyed one roller coaster-like dip after another on a ribbon of asphalt that looked to be brand new. And again, ours was the ONLY car on the road!
I suspect we may have been the last car over Tioga Pass—the east portal to Yosemite National Park, which closes down following the first significant snowfall of the season. The west end of the park remains open the year round and I can confirm that Yosemite Valley is gorgeous, albeit there is no aspect of it that doesn’t bring to mind a photograph by Ansel Adams. Everywhere we looked were photographers, most packing tripods, all setting out in search of the Ansel’s tripod holes. Lucky for them, the soaring white granite cliffs haven’t changed since Ansel’s day. Not so the sky overhead, which nowadays is crosshatched by dozens of jet contrails.
In Modesto, hometown of George Lucas, we had an opportunity to visit a street made famous in the film “American Grafitti.” There in a gourmet coffee shop we sipped Old Harper from a brown paper bag underneath a wall-sized blow-up of a chopped and channeled 1951 Mercury. Go, Pharoahs!
Lest ye be tempted, I should warn you that McHenry Avenue is posted: NO CRUISING reads the road sign. One might as well post a sign PHOTOGRAPHY PROHIBITED in Yosemite National Park!
Three days later we found ourselves southbound on busy U.S. 99, which runs though a verdant valley that once upon a time was the promised land of California. I imagine when those lucky immigrants who survived the arduous trek over the Sierras sent postcards back to their friends whose wagons had broken down in, say, Coaldale, that said postcards occasioned great discomfort. Orange trees, grapevines, grapefruit, avocados, strawberries, pomegranates, nuts, date palms, sunshine, movie stars, hibiscus blossoms—STOP! Please knock it off! It’s hard enough trying to make a go of it here in this godforsaken desert crossroads without being constantly reminded that some of you have gone on to what to all appearances is a far better place.
That is, were it not for the smog and traffic.