I imagine when most folks think of vacationing in Nevada, they think of Las Vegas, or Reno, or Lake Tahoe. My husband and I passed right through these areas, but this is not where our interest lies. We put our heads down and headed East from Shingletown, California to the historical Highway 50, advertised as the “loneliest road in America”, and traveled across the state of Nevada.
In a conversation I later had with a lady I met while sightseeing, she mentioned that she believed Nevada to be the ugliest of all of the states. Personally, I found it to be the most amazingly stunning and beautiful place. Yes, lonely perhaps, although I would draw a very fine line between ‘loneliness’ and ‘freedom.’ We passed through vast expanses of wide open spaces with enormous mountain ranges in every direction. Yellow-flowered desert sage lined the roadways and dotted the spaces as far as the eye could see.
To avoid being on the road too long without a break, we made an overnight stop in Austin, Nevada. Unfortunately, there were no open restaurants in this town when we were there, so it was hotdogs and chips for dinner, but there was an awesome (if not a little freaky) castle on the top of a nearby mountain. We took a trip up the mountain just for fun and this turned out to be a place named Stokes Castle which is on the national register of historical places.
Here’s the rough story from the placard outside the castle: At the end of the 19th century, a rich guy named Anson Phelps Stokes decided to build a summer home for his family. Naturally, he chose to erect a three-story stone tower in the hills above Austin. It was put to use for only a year and then the Stokes family permanently left the area. Since it’s fenced off there’s not much you can do except look and take pictures, but was still well worth the trip up the mountain. A very interesting and unexpected little gem in the middle of the desert!
Highway 50 eventually led us to the Great Basin National Park, located on the far eastern border of Nevada. Time seems to stand still in Baker, Nevada, where there is often no cell service, and definitely no WIFI. The land is wide open and flat, so that when you ask for directions to a specific place, a native will simply point to it – you can see every town for at least a hundred miles around. There’s a significant Indian/Native American influence in the area with former Indian settlements available for viewing at will. The closest thing to a shopping mall in Baker is a single building that serves as a gas station, a small convenience/grocery store, a café, a casino, with an RV park out back. I found this humorous for some reason but charming.
We stayed at an RV park named Whispering Elms just outside of Baker, where there still wasn’t any WIFI, but it was just around the corner from the Great Basin National Park which was our intended destination, and it did not disappoint. From the enormous mountains and valleys where the leaves on the trees had just begun turning a golden yellow with a deep evergreen as the backdrop, to the Lehman Caves, and the rich mining history in the area, this was a spectacular journey through time.
That evening at the RV park, we sat around the campfire with a fellow RV’ing family made up of a mother (father had recently passed away), two daughters, one son, two dogs, and three cats, all traveling the country in a large motor home, pulling a full-size SUV behind them. This mother is home-schooling her children on her own, hell-bent on making sure her children don’t live their entire lives in one place, not understanding the word ‘freedom.’ Wow. She seemed to be an inspiringly strong woman, but I am not sure I could have done what she’s doing. What’s more important for children – the stability of a stationary home, or a firsthand sense of what’s out there in the world?
Needless to say, my memory of this family is forever tainted by the fact that one of their dogs peed on my foot! Fortunately, I had on only flipflops that could easily be thrown out. And immediately. Eww. Not cool.