Salt Flat Dust Devils & Historic Middlegate Station ~ Nevada
U.S. Highway 50 runs from coast to coast through the Colorado Rockies and the vast Great Basin Desert to the Sierra Nevada Mountains and beyond. Highway 50 used to be a major tourism corridor back in the golden age of automobile travel, just like Route 66. Both of these famous old highways shared the same kinds of theme motels, roadside oddities and tourist traps, because back in those days a vacation was meant to be a great adventure every step of the way. Both of these legendary highways were also bypassed by modern high speed Interstate Freeways, so every business that catered to tourism on these two long roads was subject to economic catastrophe. Route 66 has since become the nostalgic “Mother Road” and U.S. Highway 50 has been crowned as being “America’s Loneliest Road.” All it takes is a cruise on Highway 50 out west to see why this moniker is apropos.
High speed Interstate Freeways parallel Highway 50, so relatively few vehicles travel on this old summer vacation corridor in this modern age. The lack of travelers and truckers on this old road has caused old Highway 50 to become a time capsule of sorts, just like Route 66. Many modern ghost towns, boarded up motels and abandoned tourist traps can be seen along Highway 50 from Kansas to California. This lends credence to the “America’s Loneliest Road” nickname of this once popular travel route.
Taking the road less traveled has become a popular choice during the last two decades. Modern tourists have become tired of seeing the same cookie cutter corporate motel chains and greasy fast food joints at every Interstate Freeway offramp. People on vacation that value the nostalgic past now prefer to drive the old two lane roads out west, just so they can find some diversity and to spread money out to those who really appreciate the dollar spent. Driving on the modern freeways is like asking fore endless miles of nothing but hypnotic boredom, while stepping back in time to cruise on an old tourism corridor like Highway 50 will add some spice to vacation experience. There are more sights to see, more adventures to experience and better photo opportunities to be found on old forgotten roads like Highway 50 and there is barely any traffic to deal with too. Taking the road less traveled definitely will enhance the touring experience!
Middlegate Station is a prime example of an old historic wild west watering hole that became a successful tourist attraction back when Highway 50 was a very popular tourism corridor. After Highway 50 was bypassed, Middlegate Station was nearly forgotten about and this spot way out in the middle of the Great Basin Desert nearly faded off the map. During the last few decades, those who value the nostalgic past have kept this wayside destination alive and it has become a prime destination for those who prefer to drive the road less traveled.
Middlegate Station is located at the intersection of SR 361 and U.S. 50 between Carson City and Ely, Nevada. To put it simply, this location is as desolate as it gets. The closest town that offers all modern amenities is Fallon, which is located at the intersection of U.S. 95 about 50 miles west. The desert region between Fallon and Middlegate is a high security military base area. Travelers should be aware that photographing any military base operations or facilities will leave them subject to Department Of Defense search and seizure laws, so it is wise to only take photos of the natural surroundings when driving by Fallon on U.S. Highway 50.
Points of interest between Fallon and Middlegate Station include the Grimes Point Archaeological Site and an ancient dry lake bed that is now a vast salt flat. The vast white salt flats cover about a 40 mile stretch of Highway 50 going toward Middlegate and there is plenty of interesting weather phenomena to see in this area during the summer season. During the summer months when rapid fluctuations in air temperature occur, the salt flats are a haven for Dust Devils. It is not uncommon to see as many as 20 Dust Devils at one time meandering their way across the salt flats. Some of the Dust Devils cross the road and this can lead to some exciting moments when getting caught up in one of these harmless dust tornados. These naturally occurring desert weather phenomenon present excellent photo opportunities for travelers on Highway 50 and they can be quite dramatic to see!
After crossing the salt flats when heading east from Fallon, Highway 50 goes through a pass in the bordering mountains and soon after Middlegate Station comes into view. In fact, a traveler must not blink an eye, because it is possible to just drive right past historic landmark without noticing it is there. Middlegate is just a tiny dot on the map and it is just as quaint in real life, so this historic destination is very easy to miss when passing by!
The old wooden Middlegate Station building originally was constructed as a stage coach stop on the Nevada Great Basin Desert Pony Express Route way back in 1857. Later in history during the golden age of automobile travel, Middlegate Station served as the only fueling stop for 50 miles in any direction. As can be imagined, the fuel pumps at Middlegate Station were a thankful sight to see when running on fumes in this desolate region.
In the late 1900s, an entrepreneur purchased the historic Middlegate Station site and set out to restore the building to its original glory. The old west style Middlegate Station room & board facility now houses several workers and guests. A few famous authors have found inspiration while rooming at Middlegate Station too. The Middlegate Station roadhouse now serves good food and ice cold beer, which spells relief for travelers on a hot summer day. Souveniers of this historic place certainly are good conversation starters back home. The chances are that anybody that has traveled on this stretch of the “America’s Loneliest Road” will have something to say when they see a souvenir from Middlegate Station, which amounts to the same camaraderie shared by fans of nostalgic Route 66.
The old forgotten classic highway travel route destinations like Middlegate Station are a prime attraction for motorcycle rallies, car clubs and RV caravans. People that genuinely like to cruise long distances feel a sense of accomplishment by spending a few dollars that will help to keep the destination there for years to come. Visitors that value historic places that have survived since the days of the wild west, will feel naturally right at home when sitting on a rocking chair on the Middlegate Station roadhouse porch. The old carriages, wagons and old rusty cars that broke down at this place during the last 150 years sure do have plenty of stories to tell.
Whiling the afternoon away by counting the few cars on Highway 50 that pass by this old Pony Express Stop will easily lead to reminiscing over every yarn spoken about the old west. That is of course, until a carload of tourists pulls up and they ask for directions to the Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park! Middlegate Station is located at the intersection of Highway 50 and State Road 361, which is the road that goes to one of Nevada’s newest State Parks. The old Berlin Ghost Town and the neighboring gigantic Ichthyosaur fossil site have become one of the most popular Nevada tourist attractions in recent years, mostly because of the Jurassic Park movies. It is kind of funny how an old ghost town and an ancient dinosaur fossil have contributed to keeping the long forgotten historic Middlegate Station on the map!
Getting off the beaten path and traveling on “America’s Loneliest Road” is the only way to experience historic places like Middlegate Station. While other folks that went on vacation complain about the lousy food that they had at a fast food joint by the high speed Interstate Freeway offramp, one can simply find peace of mind by reminiscing over the memory of an ice cold drink and some good conversation that was found at a little roadhouse on old Highway 50 way out in the middle of nowhere. Timeless peace of mind is what unique destinations like Middlegate Station are all about and this is reason enough to enjoy the ride!