Cruising Nevada's Lonely Roads

Text: Robert Smith • Photography: Robert Smith

For a brief 18-month period between April 1860 and November 1861, the east-west route across central Nevada was the busiest it had ever been. Spurred by the looming civil war, California Senator William M. Gwinn proposed a fast mail service from St. Joseph, Missouri, to Sacramento, provided the mail could be delivered within ten days. The Central Overland California and Pikes Peak Express Company won the contract; but the service that resulted is better known by its operating title: the Pony Express.

Cold Springs
"The station was a wretched place half built and wholly unroofed, the four rough boys ate standing. Our animals found good water whilst we supped upon excellent steak from a freshly killed beef."

So wrote English adventurer Sir Richard Burton, in 1860, when he rode west with the Pony Express across Nevada. Pony Express stations were roughly 10 miles apart - about as far as a good horse could run at a gallop - and the horses were changed at each station, although the riders could expect to spend at least 70 miles in the saddle during a shift. Fortunately, my steed has more pace and endurance than even the fastest of postal ponies: a Ducati 1000DS Multistrada, on loan from Southern California Motorsports.

Cold Springs Station was located near modern-day Austin, Nevada, on US Route 50, "America's Loneliest Road." There's no correspondence on-board for the Multistrada to deliver, but I'll be putting it through its paces nonetheless, riding Highway 50 from Ely to Carson City. But first I need to get to Ely from Boulder City, which is just a house-ante cab ride from the Las Vegas casinos.

Day 1: Boulder City to Ely
NV 564 to Lake Mead; NV 167, 169 and 168 to US 93; US 93 to Ely: 330 miles.

I sometimes wonder if The Weather Channel really helps in my travel planning: I have to remind myself that what I'm watching is "info-tainment." So when the TV in my charming art-deco room at the Boulder Dam Hotel warns of a nasty barrage of wind and rain rumbling down from Canada, I check with NOAA for confirmation. Yes, there's bad weather coming, they say, but thankfully the brunt of it is heading for Utah and Colorado.

I leave Boulder City's neat and tidy downtown, turning north from US 93 along the west side of Lake Mead under harsh sunlight, with a roaring tailwind shoving me like a linebacker. The strong inflows powering the deep low-pressure system from the Great White North scour the scrub, whipping up a dust storm. Ahead of me, the road cavorts around huge dunes and the azure waters of Lake Mead (named for Hoover Dam's construction chief, Elwood Mead) gleam between the brush-covered hillocks.

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For the complete touring article, including facts & information, map(s), and GPS files, please purchase the March/April 2007 back issue.