It's barren. Bleak even. But the most beautiful stretch of highway in America is I-80 across the top of Nevada. And I'm not kidding.
It goes beyond appreciating the stark, threatening beauty of the desert.
No other highway has exits with names like these. Some simply sound beautiful. Dunphy. Golconda Summit. Beowawe. Elko. Welcome Valley. Its a privilege to speak such beautiful words. They are poetry, in and of themselves. As I drove through the night, and began to feel desperate for sleep, how grateful I was to be able to pull over at an exit called Imlay. No services? Hardly. The name is a lullaby. Imlay. It took the edge off the sound of the 18 wheeler who pulled up behind us. I hoped he also needed sleep, but couldn't convince myself of that fact, and so bid a reluctant farewell. Never trust a long haul trucker after dark in the dark. Not even in Imlay.
I still needed rest. My mind wandered to another category of exits, the ones you might say have Kitcsh. Maybe a little whimsy. Winnemucca. Rye Patch. Beverly Hills. I pulled over at the perfect place: Pumpernickle Valley. It consists of a road in the darkness that wanders away to parts unknown. Not a soul for miles. No light but the stars. It was the best two hour nap I've ever had.
As if Beauty and Whimsy don't suffice, I-80 across Nevada also offers the hard nosed, gritty names that made the west great. Battle Mountain. Silverzone Pass. Iron Point.
In one such place, at 4 in the morning, I met one of the people who live up to such names. The gas station is the exit's only feature. Well, that and a couple of trailers, wherein those who tend the lone gas station most likely spend their off hours. "The sturdy clay of the frontier," I thought. "Salt of the earth. Out here in the hairy belly button of nowhere, eking out a Waldenesque existence in almost total isolation." Couldn't wait to meet them. Upon entering the station, I found no attendant, but was greeted by the theme music of the bleak frontier and its people: Gangstah Rap. I counted 4 "Muthah F*ckin"s and 3 "N*ggaz" before I found the restroom. Washing my hands, I tried to picture the man or woman who must be working there. He was waiting at his station as I walked past the sentinel slots: a short, stocky, white, middle-aged man with graying goatee and a foam and mesh trucker cap. He called me brother. He told me to have a safe trip. I slipped up and said, "You too, man." Even though he was obviously not going anywhere. He jumped on it.
"Hey man, I'm always safe when I'm tripping."
So forget about Route 66. Leave behind the ostentation of California's coastal 101. Take I-80 across Nevada. The faces, and the gorgeous names of placeless places, will fill you with a new sense of America. No matter what time it is.