Scenic Route Voices No.3 Title, a view of a single lane road cutting through dry land with mountains on the horizon. Clouds move across the skyline.

A solo drive to rediscover connection.

Welcome to another story from Scenic Route: Voices – an in-depth series where each issue delves into a single story from the world of driving. In this edition, Swikar Patel describes his experience traveling The Loneliest Highway in America – a nearly empty stretch of U.S. Route 50 that runs across the center of Arizona. On one particularly desolate 409-mile stretch, travelers only encounter three small towns.

Patel is a producer, photographer, filmmaker, director and storyteller. He combines all of these skills in his role as a creative director for Toyota Driver Development.

The Loneliest Highway

Words and photos by @swikarpatel

I start the trip with “Time” by Pink Floyd playing as I press down on the pedal to catch up with the sinking sun. I’m outside of Reno at 2:30 in the afternoon – far behind schedule. My plan was a trip to Toyota’s first race of the GR Cup series in Sonoma, California that would see me spend three solitary days on a long stretch of U.S. Route 50, “The Loneliest Highway in America.”

Now here I was in Reno, chasing daylight. The reality was that I didn’t have enough time. I’d been delayed by responsibilities and now my window on the legendary road had shrunk to just five hours. Life had become an endless race, and even the loneliest of highways couldn’t change that. Hopefully, what I did have would be enough to find whatever it was I was looking for.

A solitary ribbon of asphalt stretches endlessly into the horizon, flanked by an arid landscape that seems to go on forever. The sheer vastness of it all is both awe-inspiring and humbling. Everywhere I look I’m reminded that the world is huge – much bigger than the everyday concerns that occupy my mind.
Dune buggy vehicle is off in the distance making tire tracks on a massive sandscape. The image has a quote on it that reads: “The sheer vastness of it all is both awe-inspiring and humbling.”

“The sheer vastness of it all is both
awe-inspiring and humbling."

I stopped at Middlegate Station for lunch, an old saloon with a sign outside that read, “Population 17” (next to an 18 with an X through it). When I walked inside, I instantly noticed single dollar bills lining the ceiling, while a duo was playing “Alabama Song” by The Doors. Their specialty seemed to be something called “The Monster Burger,” which, unfortunately, my high cholesterol wouldn’t allow me to battle today. I made small talk with several locals scattered about – it’s always nice to meet people who live in the places you are passing through. After all, it’s not how much time you spend there, but the depth of the moment.
Two guitar players sing inside a saloon, the walls of the saloon
Three images in a slideshow format each highlighting a single road with mountains in the background.
Three images in a slideshow format each highlighting a single road with mountains in the background.
After lunch I kept motoring on in search of some hot springs that were about 90-minutes down the road. I was on track to get there just as the sun set. As the elevation started to increase, the once never-ending road turned into a series of switchbacks. I watched as the temperature dropped from 28 degrees, to 27, to 26, all the way down to 17 just before the snow started to fall. I pulled off US50 in search of these hot springs, and about a half mile off the road I was thwarted by a deep trench that went across my path.
I certainly could have found a way through it, but by then the sun would be down. I didn’t have cell service and the last person I saw was about an hour behind me. This situation, this emotion, might be the destination I was looking for the whole time – the feeling of being on the loneliest highway in America. It was scary, it was exciting, but most of all, it was real.
A dirt road with snow lining the sides and snow-covered mountains in the background.
As light turned into darkness, I decided to start on the 5-hour trek back to Reno. As I approached the town of giant tree littered with shoes. It was a landmark that I’d failed to find earlier on my way out of town, and, perhaps, a symbol that my journey alone was complete.
I pulled up and lit the bottom half with my headlights in an attempt to take some photographs. I placed my camera on the hood of my rental car and started doing long exposures using my phone. It was cold, it was dark, and I could hear coyotes rustling in the bushes behind me. However, I wasn’t scared. In fact, somehow, I was at peace.
I thought about the story behind this tree – a local legend tells of a newlywed couple who, shortly after an impromptu wedding in Reno, experienced their first fight and their first makeup right on this spot. This tree and this moment made me think that the beauty of existence is not defined by the grandeur of our deeds, but by the intimacy of our connections. It is the shared laughter around a table, the touch of a loved one’s hand, the tears that fall in moments of vulnerability. These are the sparks that ignite the fire of our existence, illuminating the darkest corners of our hearts. I had to travel the loneliest highway in America to truly appreciate what togetherness has to offer.