First impressions of Elko were a soulless sprawl of a town. Like a smaller Williams Lake in Canada. But I suspect once you get to know it, it’s not so bad. And there’s not much else out here anyway.
We didn’t get time to get to know the town well. Just Charlee’s bar for a beer before cycling out. It was a container shed with the one side open. Every space of wall and ceiling covered in number plates and beer mats and signs like those you find in old authentic pubs. The bar was run by two blonds and lined with men and their bottles of Bud light. Not like the English would be with their pints of real ale!
After one beer it was out of town, up a hill, right off the main road and on into quiet rural Nevada. The Ruby mountains a flesh pink rather than a glowing gemstone red.
Another beautiful sunset viewed from the rim of a small old quarry where our tents were with the sickle-shaped moon appearing above the deep purple horizon.
The next town on the map was Jiggs. Basically a bar. With pool table, wooden floor and trophy wild animal heads lining the walls. And not much in the way of food or drink. A rickety place with an even more rickety owner.
Shortly after the road wound it’s way uphill until the tarmac turned to gravel and we had to push. At the top, Harrison Pass, at 7247ft. Expansive views from where we’d come and where we were going. And a pyramid of rocks like a beacon. Winding down through the steep valley, past looming rock formations and shining white beaches with their few remaining copper leaves contrasting against the brilliant blue sky, a reminder that winter is drawing near.
Down to Ruby Lake. Less a lake and more a highland wetland. Pools of mercury amongst the shrub upland and veins of water interlacing this vaste steppe. A natural habitat for migratory birds, it is also popular with other native wildlife. The night was interrupted by the coyotes’ call.
Beside Ruby Lake is Shantytown. Whether named after its own appearance or a fine example of a self-fulfilling prophecy, the drab collection of semi-permanent homes and trailers devoid of human life let alone spirit marred the hillside. We found one lady with an endlessly barking terrier confined to her own fenced-in compound who thankfully gave us water. Otherwise we were happy to bypass this depressing place.
At the southern end of Ruby Lake passes the old Pony Express route. For 18 months from 1860, the pony express was the fastest mail system. A series of riders would race from station to station, getting fresh horses along the way. The 1,900 miles was reduced to just 10 days journey time. The Ruby Valley station was the 131st station along the route of 184 between St. Joseph, Missouri and Sacramento, California. Perhaps the most famous rider of all was the young 15 year old William F. Cody, later known better as Buffalo Bill.
One thing is for sure, the mail riders travelled much faster on horseback than we did on bikes over yet another pass into Long Valley.
A descriptive name for a seemingly endless ride from one side of the the valley to the other, along a lonely gravel road, which then continued down its length. We camped below the next pass and kept warm with a fire. Just us and a vast expanse of sagebrush all around. Peaceful. Some might say lonely.
Not like state road 50, which was coined “The Loneliest Road in America” by Life magazine in 1986.
As we cycled towards the highway, we could see cars and trucks fast moving ahead. Perhaps The Loneliest Road if you spend most of your time on the Interstates. Busy if you’re a cyclist from the dirt roads and gravel tracks. Still, it’s a catchy name and it attracts the tourists.
Along route 50, we passed the copper mines of Ruth. A dreary landscape of artificial angles and slopes and rising dust whipped up by large trucks.
Onwards past occasional shacks rotting on the copper-orange hillside, following the old railtracks in to Ely.
Ely’s streets are lined with American flags. Every other building a casino, bar, motel or some combination. All with neon signs and offering cheap rates. A clear sign that we were in gambling legal Nevada and near to Utah with its strict liquor laws.
Usually we inadvertently arrive in town on a Sunday. This time, it was Halloween. So the sheriff directed us to a campground out of town thinking it safer than the park on this night. We briefly contemplated trick or treating for our evening chocolate rations. We needn’t have dressed up at least. Our dirty bike gear suitably scary I would have thought. Instead we made a trip to the store, bought obscene quantities of candy like every other American that afternoon, found a stealthy spot to camp away from demanding ghouls and goblins and devoured the chocloate lot.
Well, that’s all for now. Next update about an even lonelier road. More beautiful too.