When America was younger it took months of trial and tribulation to cross from the coast to coast, but now the Interstate Highway System has shortened it to a few days (or hours if you choose to fly). Between the days of wagon trains, and modern transportation there was a system of roadways that interconnected to wend their way from small town to small town, eventually leading the weary traveler from Atlantic to Pacific or the other way, in a matter of weeks.
Route 66 has gotten the most press by far, with the possible exception of Route 50. In the July 7, 1997 Time Magazine devoted an entire issue to Route 50, or Highway 50, dubbing it the backbone of America. That’s a much nicer name that travelers had previously called it, “the Loneliest Road in America.” The Nevada portion is certainly devoid of the usual roadside attractions one finds on routes like 66. But if you enjoy purple mountains, blue sky and amber fields of grass you have found your dream passage way.
History of Route 50
Like most coast-to-coast routes their isn’t just one origin story. Each leg of the journey can be traced to it’s own discovery and when taken a piece at a time it often makes sense why the road was put where it was. Geography, politics and commerce all play their part in why a road exists. But as the individual legs of the journey are formed someone inevitably comes up with the idea of linking them together into one continuous route which increases the popularity of some sections and gives starting purpose to others.
The core of route 50 traces back to Capt. William Bicknell, who pioneered a route to Santa Fe so he could sell goods. Bicknell got rich and his Santa Fe trail became the route taken by the railroads, which later became part of route 50.
Route 50 has had several incarnations since it was first planned in 1925. It was 1926 before one could drive a car the bulk of the way.
Route 50 Now
Considered a major East-West transportation path, Route 50 goes 3,073 miles (4,946 km) from Interstate 80 (I-80) in West Sacramento, California, to Maryland Route 528 (MD 528) in Ocean City, Maryland. Very nearly from sea to shining sea, one of only three major routes to do so.
It actually did reach the pacific until 1972 when several Interstate Highways replaced it to carry traffic between the capital and San Francisco.
In addition to Sacramento, major cities on route 50 include Kansas City, Missouri; St. Louis, Missouri; and Cincinnati, Ohio… oh, and Washington D.C. However, this road system is nearly completely rural, passing through 12 states and taking across the Rockies in Colorado and the Appalachian Mountains in West Virginia. In between it crosses the mighty Mississippi via the Jefferson Barracks Bridge.
An interesting side note is that man of the signs on the route state that it is 3,073 miles long, which it was at one time, but with modern freeway replacements the new distance is slightly less.
Things to See
Attractions along the route are many if you are talking about small Americana places of interest, but the only big natural feature is the Great Salt Lake Desert.
The video below will give you taste for the “Lonely Road” via time laps.