If you end up in Ely, there’s a good chance that you’re preparing to begin a trip across the Loneliest Road in America, US Highway 50. Or, if you’re eastbound, you’ve just finished the trip. Either way, it’s good there’s a place to stop and prepare, or recover from, the long journey.
Ely is one of several small towns along US 50, all of which seem to be dangerously near ghost-town status. If there’s one place that’s saved Ely, it’s the Hotel Nevada. I wasn’t here long before realizing that this historic hotel, casino, and restaurant is the center of the town’s activity. It’s hard to imagine Ely without it.
I had already booked a reasonably-priced (less than $50) room at the Hotel Nevada. There are several other places to stay, including some chain motels, but none of them would be nearly as fun.
The first floor of the Hotel Nevada has slot machines as well as a restaurant, and the reception desk for overnight guests. There are more gambling tables in the basement.
The main floor is packed with other items that add to the hotel’s small-town feel and historic charm. Be sure to check out the “world famous” display of miniature wood carvings (“many of them animated”, a plaque proclaims) made by Neil Niblack and Charlie Casper between 1945 and 1970.
I ended up in room 602, which just happened to be the Charlie Rich Room. Yet another plaque explained that Rich was a Grammy-winning country music performer known as the “Silver Fox”.
The room is decorated with many of Rich’s old LP’s. The mattress sagged a bit, but the rest of the room is nicely furnished.
The bathroom is small — well, the sink is small. The tub, on the other hand, is an original fixture, so it’s nice and deep. There are, however, no fewer than three signs warning that the plumbing is unpredictable:
I noticed the water temperature fluctuate a bit when I was showering, but it wasn’t a problem.
Even though it was bitterly cold, I decided to explore downtown Ely after dark. On the drive into town, I had noticed a lot of interesting buildings and old neon signs. Sadly, most of them aren’t lit up at night. In fact, everything was shut down, except for the Hotel Nevada’s casino, and the casino directly across the street.
In addition to the chain motels and the Hotel Nevada, there are a few other possibly-decent-yet-somewhat-funky-looking older motels on Aultman Street, the main road through town. I liked the neon at the Grand Central Motel…
… and the El Rancho Motel.
The White Pine County courthouse overlooks a block of green space (which, on the night I visited, was more like white space, thanks to the snow).
It was still chilly the next morning, when I ventured out to see if I had missed anything the previous night. There are several murals around town. This one illustrates the Ward Charcoal Ovens, which can now be found in a state park outside of town.
The “Postal Palace” is behind the Hotel Nevada. It used to be the town’s post office, but now it’s a convention center, run by the Hotel Nevada.
Here’s the view of the back of the Hotel Nevada from the parking lot. Notice the windows on the upper right — that’s room 602, my room.
Before leaving 602, I noticed the fire exit was propped open, so I took a peek outside. There isn’t much to see in this direction, besides the parking lot behind the hotel.
The Loneliest Road Begins
On Day 8, the snow clouds had cleared as I set out on the Loneliest Road in America, US Highway 50 across Nevada. Just after leaving Ely, US 50 squeezes in between mountains, then the landscape levels out, and the closest hills are on the left side of the highway. You might also want to make a short detour, to see the old mining town of Ruth, Nevada, just outside Ely.
It doesn’t take long before you realize there’s a pattern to the drive across Nevada on Route 50. Since the mountain ranges in this part of the state run north-south, and the highway runs east-west, you’re going to be constantly crossing mountains and basins. This makes the “loneliest” drive much more interesting than you might expect, because every ten minutes or so, your surroundings change.
After the first basin, you cross Little Antelope Summit…
… then head down another slope, with a long expanse of highway, then another, possibly snow-capped mountain range in the distance.
The next mountain range provided a rest area of sorts — really just a parking area and a picnic table, and a place to play in the snow.
Not far ahead is the next near-ghost town along US 50: Eureka.