How not to be lonesome on the loneliest highway? (Things to do on US-50)
April 23, 2019 8:47 AM   Subscribe

Looking for tips on things to do/see and places to stay on US 50 this June: Pueblo to Reno.

Looking for tips on things to do/see and places to stay on US 50 this June. I'm starting in Pueblo, CO and have a week to get to Reno, NV. I enjoy hiking, architecture, museums, and "weird stuff". (I will happily drive 100 miles out of my way to see a giant ball of twine, so pretty much anything is on the table.) I won't have camping gear and am hoping to find fun non-chain motels to spend my nights in, but I'm not opposed to sleeping in my rental car if there is a reason to. The rental will be of the sedan variety so I won't have 4wd, which will limit some off-road adventures. Any other general advice (bring more sunscreen and water than you can possibly image?) will be greatly appreciated!
posted by Svenny to Travel & Transportation (13 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Get a copy of this book. The book web site used to have online content, but it looks like they're forcing you to buy the book now...I strongly, strongly recommend it, it was my bible during a road trip in 2000.

I followed Route 50 for much of the route you're taking, and used that as my reference; one of the things they steered me to was Fort Uncompaghre, a recreated 1800's frontier fort where I got a tour from a dude who looked just like Uncle Jesse and we all ended up doing target tomahawk throwing at a felled redwood. You're also not that far off-route from Hole N'' The Rock outside Moab, Utah, which is a hoot and a half. You'll also be right bang in the midst of Arches and Canyonlands national parks, which will have hiking galore. (But think of trying to make reservations around there TODAY, becuase it fills up quickly; I do have friends who have a couple of gorgeous AirBnB properties in Moab if you want me to memail you links.) There are even some state parks in between them that offer gorgeous hiking opportunities as well (Dead Horse State Park is one).
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:03 AM on April 23, 2019 [1 favorite]

Neat antique shop in Scipio, UT. It’s on the left as you head W going through town. Closed on Sundays, as is much in Utah, but you can put money in the mail slot for merchandise outside the shop. Just past the antique store there at least used to be a real cool old defunct gas station with the pumps mercifully untouched by pickers.

It will be CHERRY TIME in Palisade, CO. The town and surrounds offer fruit and wine, mostly grown by mom and pop outfits. There’s also a hike up Mt. Garfield, which is adjacent to the Grand Mesa and across the Grand Valley from the Colorado National Monument.
posted by sutureselves at 9:12 AM on April 23, 2019 [1 favorite]

When you get to Montrose, take 550 south and hit up Ouray. Then take 550 over to Nucla/Naturita and grab Hwy 141 up towards Gateway (there's a fancy ass resort there, if you like).

In that region is the Rimrocker Trail. This time of year, parts might be impassable, but most of it is dirt road.

Frankly, I'd almost recommend skipping 50 through Grand Junction - taking 90 up to Paradox and into then into Moab isn't a bad idea. Alternatively, Bears Ears is right there near Monticello near the Natural Bridges Monument. Point is - there are a fuckton of options.

If you do go through GJ, Hot Tomato Pizza is Fruita is really good. Lots of good camping and hiking in Rabbit Valley.

50 and I70 comingle for a long ways. I'd say get off at 24 and head towards Capitol Reef and Torrey UT. Much nicer drive. Good camping exists in and near Capitol Reef - the visitor center in Torrey is super helpful. The long way around Fish Lake is scenic and paved - with lots of good camping options. If good conditions prevail, the Cathedral Valley trail is just a dirt road - recommended if you can do it, it is AMAZING. But check at the CP visitor center before going out there.

I have more recommendations for things to do in the GJ area if you like - I lived there until recently.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 9:22 AM on April 23, 2019 [1 favorite]

In Baker, NV, stay at the Stargazer Inn and eat at Kerouac's. Great Basin National Park has an incredible cave (you take a tour) as well as the longest-living trees, bristlecone pines.

Great Basin is an WONDERFUL park, and when we were there two years ago in August, we felt like we were there alone. Go!
posted by purpleclover at 9:25 AM on April 23, 2019

I got ticketed for speeding in Eureka, NV, and I am pretty sure I was not going that fast. Then the cop started asking me questions, looking for an opportunity to search my vehicle. Maybe I'm paranoid, but be super-cautious.

Rental - see if you can get a Prius. You can set the temp and it will keep you comfortable running off the storage battery, possibly running the engine briefly if needed. If you have an inverter, you can keep your phone and laptop charged without draining the starting battery. Prius camping is one reason I'm looking for a used Prius when my tax refunds arrive. You said no camping gear, but that area is no fantastic for camping. I'd bring the basics for overnighting.

You can see earthquake fault scarps; I thought that was really fascinating. I drove way off the the road on a dirt road in a minivan, it was fine.

That route is full of National Parks. There are also plenty of National Forests, where you can often camp for free. Try to stay overnight someplace with elevation and away from towns, as the stars will be amazing.
posted by theora55 at 9:36 AM on April 23, 2019

Hey I'm back! I just discovered that the site for the book I recommended does have some content on it (it's just more difficult to navigate than it used to be).

So here are some helpful links (it goes in order starting west and going east, so bear that in mind):

A guide to Reno.
The towns leading up to Reno, one of which boasts a ghost town that's also a fossil bed.
Guided tours of an archeologically significant cave and a park devoted to preserving petroglyphs.
Another petroglyph site, and a lead on a motel.
another hotel lead (and other sights) in Ely, NV.
Others have pointed you to Great Basin park, here's their take on it that mentions hotels nearby.
Museums devoted to mining and a former Japanese internment camp monument in western Utah.
They propose Salt Lake City as a detour, here's that info if you like.
A couple hotels and museums in Eastern Utah.
Some practicalities for Moab, including a couple museums and a hotel where they claim John Wayne once slept.
I passed through Grand Junction and the Colorado Monument thanks to these notes.
Here's a scenic detour from US-50.
Do yourself a favor and actually do the whole tram ride at the Continental Divide at Monarch pass. I got a kick out of it.
I didn't have time to hit up the hot springs bathhouse in Salida which is decorated with WPA murals, let me know if I should go.
There's an old resort town in Manitou Springs, including an old pinball arcade.
Finally, here's what they say about Pueblo.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:47 AM on April 23, 2019 [3 favorites]

There are some remote hot springs about 10 miles east of Austin, Nevada. I don't know what it's like now, but when I was there in the 1990's you basically drove off the highway down a dirt a road, took a turn onto another dirt road, and all of a sudden there were these hot springs in the middle of the desert. It was one of the most memorable parts of that road trip.
posted by Winnie the Proust at 10:04 AM on April 23, 2019

There's this post on the blue about the Nevada portion.
posted by sevenless at 10:04 AM on April 23, 2019

The rest areas on 70 in Glenwood canyon are fabulous.
posted by nikaspark at 10:55 AM on April 23, 2019

You'll be starting in my neck of the woods!

As you're zooming across the scrubby high plains between Pueblo and Canon City, you'll pass very close to the Supermax complex. Obviously you can't go in, but it's fascinating to see how desolate the area is.

Past Canon City, you'll start following the Arkansas River. One of my favorite spots to get to know the river up close is at the far end of town -- the main drag of Canon seems to go forever! At Third Street, turn left then right and pull into the parking lot. There'll be a neat little footbridge passing over the river and a riverwalk trail. Just west of the bridge is a set of big stone platforms under tall trees, and it's lovely to sit there and sink your feet into the cold water.

Nearby is the Royal Gorge railroad, which follows the river up the canyon. They serve meals on the train, too.

Across the street from the little park I mentioned is the prison museum, which is small and sleepy. I've never gone past the gift shop. Last time I was there, they had old rusting electric chairs (maybe a gas chamber?) randomly sitting around in the front, which was more than enough of a prison museum experience for me.

Just past town is the Royal Gorge, which is one of the highest suspension bridges in the world. They also have a gondola.

As you move into the canyon, you'll wigglewaggle along the Arkansas River. In summer, it's kind of a whiteknuckler if you're in enough traffic, as these huge RVs lumber their way up the canyon at 30 mph. There are some pretty turnouts for breaks -- if the water is good, there'll be whitewater rafters and kayakers coming down -- and most of these turnouts are part of the state park system, so you'll need a day pass if you stop for more than a second (I've seen them ticketing). I've seen deer and mountain goats on the cliffs opposite the turnouts.

Cotopaxi is home to my favorite convenience store in the world, the Cotopaxi store! They've added addition after addition to the building, so it's kind of like a little rabbit warren with various finishes in each section, and it's the only store in miles so they have everything from soda to groceries to tackle to hardware to local jam. Kind of a local gathering place. Not sure if they're running the deli/grill these days, but if they do, they make hot sandwiches etc. I spent a happy birthday afternoon in the wobbly booths with a cold Coke on a rainy day and I couldn't have been happier.

Past Cotopaxi is Salida, which is worth spending some time! There's an old downtown, lots of shops and restaurants and galleries. Pressed tin ceilings. Pretty little riverwalk.

After Monarch Pass, there's Gunnison. Gunnison itself is a tiny college town. Nearby are some fun things!
- Crested Butte, a funky little ski town to explore!
- Curecanti National Recreation Area (pretty!)
- Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park (breathtaking!)

And then you're in Montrose, which is the end of my personal leash, but plenty of adventures moving west!
posted by mochapickle at 11:02 AM on April 23, 2019

In Nevada, near Austin, there's the Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park, which is a combination ghost town/fossil museum. I've never actually been there and I can't tell from the photos whether it would be cool or a massive bust, but my dad thought it was cool.

The one thing I would definitely urge you to do, though, unless you've already had a similar experience, is to spend the night you've allocated for sleeping in your car somewhere in the middle of Nevada, between towns. Somewhat arbitrarily, I'd suggest between Eureka and Austin. It will almost certainly be a clear night, and the number of stars that you'll see in the night sky when you're at that altitude, it's that dry, and there's so little light pollution will fucking blow your mind.
posted by bricoleur at 12:15 PM on April 23, 2019

Ely Nevada has the Nevada Northern Ry and the massive copper mines.

The railroad yard has a tour that includes all the equipment to pull the ore out, locked in time when they closed the railroad.
posted by nickggully at 12:18 PM on April 23, 2019


Depending on the road conditions, you may be able to drive a sedan up to Cripple Creek via the back road: Phantom Canyon. It's dirt, but by summer it's doable in a sedan. Narrow rock canyons, narrow tunnels drilled into stone, this absolutely terrifyingly wonderful wooden plank bridge. Emphasis on narrow!

Phantom Canyon Road is between Pueblo and Canon City, right across from the (tiny!) Fremont Airport. (Where you can also skydive -- I have!) The road goes on for about 20 miles and you end up in teeny tiny Victor, Colorado, where I have seen random cows wandering the streets on more than once occasion.

A bit further up the road is Cripple Creek, at around 9000 foot elevation. Nowadays it's mostly little casinos and an ice cream shop. But back in the day (1890-1910), this teeny town was a bustling mining metropolis hosting some 8,000 miners at 500 different mines, with its own economy, and producing 20 or so proper millionaires. There are still a few mines in operation. The new-ish welcome center and museum (on the other entrance to town from where you'd be coming in) is free and very nicely done and gives a solid overview of the history. Otherwise there are gold mine tours, a sweet little 45-minute open air coal train ride up to the old mines, a tour through the old brothel complete with eyepopping descriptions of the money spent, and a picturesque mountainside cemetery.

You can also get to Cripple Creek on paved highways via Colorado Springs, but what's the fun in that?
posted by mochapickle at 7:18 PM on April 23, 2019 [2 favorites]

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