400 miles of blissful nothingness

Times Staff Writer

I'M a daydreamer. Not the type who checks out of this material sphere to think big thoughts. I just check out.

That's why I find U.S. 50 across Nevada sublime. Its subtle high-desert beauty provides the kind of release my mind craves. Nothing screams for attention. The road has a meditative sameness -- undulating from sage-filled valley to scraggy pass to sage-filled valley.

U.S. 50 runs along an old Pony Express route, and although it's long -- about 400 miles across the width of the state -- the road is so straight that you can put your car, and mind, on cruise control.

Twenty years ago, Life magazine dubbed the stretch between Fernley and Ely "the Loneliest Road in America." But I met lots of people, starting with three women older than 50 who had resettled in Austin and were trying to breathe economic life into the scruffy little town. In Eureka, I ate at the wonderful Pony Espresso Deli, where a Mennonite family makes the fresh-baked goods daily. I crossed paths with cyclists pedaling their way across the continent. In Spencer's Hot Springs, near Austin, I met a naked man who welcomed my camera but was shy about his name.

I didn't get far enough off the highway to meet those who use the dirt roads that wander north and south toward the horizon. There are cattle in those valleys, and turquoise, silver, copper and a little bit of gold. I think I'll be back on this road again. I want to meet those ranchers and the miners too.

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