Highway 50 Road Trip – Day 1: Lehman Caves and Baker, Nevada

Our first day road tripping on the Loneliest Road in America, Highway 50, in September 2021. Day one includes stops to see the Lehman Caves in the Great Basin National Park, Baker Archaeological Site, the Border Inn, and camping at Cleve Creek Campground.

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August 31, 2022

For some reason YouTube recommended a video for me from Through My Lens for the Loneliest Road in America, and after seeing still recommended after a few weeks, I watched it. I immediately started researching the Loneliest Road section of Highway 50 inspired by Josh’s video.  I soon started planning on the best time for us to take this road trip, and I requested the Loneliest Road Survival Guide which is the Highway 50 Passport book and a few travel guides from the Travel Nevada website.  We set our road trip dates September 12 to September 21, 2021 with the Highway 50 portion being from September 13 to September 18, 2021, and I got down to the nitty gritty of planning the road trip.  I had to find the itinerary spreadsheet I had created for my first major road trip in 2015 to use for planning this trip.  It enables me to list places to see or visit, where to eat, sleep, time and distance, and to make a budget. We had decided to start the road trip from Las Vegas rather than trying to drive from Los Angeles straight to the Border Inn, where we were going to officially start our Loneliest Road in America road trip. 

Las Vegas to Lehman Caves at Great Basin National Park

It took longer than planned to get to Lehman Caves from Las Vegas due to two full stops for five to twenty minutes for road construction on Highway 93.

We arrived at Lehman Caves Visitor Center ten minutes before we needed to check-in for our tour. We still had time to use the restrooms and for me to change from sandals to hiking shoes. I was also wearing convertible hiking shorts and chose not to attach the pant legs back on. I just grabbed a lightweight jacket for the cave tour.  The caves are damp and a constant 52 degrees Fahrenheit, so I wanted to be comfortable.  The outside temperature was about 88 degrees Fahrenheit.  We were the last tour of the day which would end at 4pm, and the visitor center closes at 4:30pm.  They recommend making reservations for the tours in advance, and reservations for the tours are available thirty days in advance. I booked our tour on August 12 for a tour on September 13. They were only doing the Parachute tour at the time of our visit.

The cave tour was fun and very interesting.  We spent quite a bit of time in a large space where parties were held before the area became a National Park. There are names written on the ceiling of this room as well.  The tour continues all the way to the Grand Palace which a very large room, and after walking through some narrow and low walkways, it’s a magnificent sight. The Grand Palace is an incredible sight to behold, but I didn’t spend a lot of time there since the viewing area is quite small and I wanted to give others in our tour group time to see it.  From the Grand Palace we made our way back to the cave entrance with a few stops for anyone to take photos of anything they may have missed. 

I had just enough time after our tour to run to the car to retrieve my purse, they aren’t permitted inside of the caves, and National Park Passport book, and get back into the visitor center before they closed. I got my passport book stamped and purchased some souvenirs in the visitor center, then we walked to the Rhodes Cabin located next to the visitor center and explored it for a few minutes.  There are also apple trees located in the parking lot which surprised me to see.  The main visitor center for the Great Basin National Park was closed the day we were there, and I would like to explore the Great Basin National Park sometime.

On our way out of Great Basin National Park we stopped at the Ranching Exhibition display to read about the history of ranching in the area, and to take in the fantastic views. This stop doesn’t take more than ten minutes to take in, and it’s covered so you have shade from the sun if it’s a hot day.  It was quite breezy while we were there so the heat wasn’t too bad.  

Baker Archaeological Site

We also stopped at the Baker Archaeological site for around thirty minutes.  The road to get there is a very bumpy washboard dirt road, but my sedan handled it fine as long as we went slow, around 15 miles per hour.  There are restrooms and covered picnic benches in the parking area, but we didn’t use either.  We read the information board adjacent to the picnic area, and there is a box with guidebooks, but it was empty.  There was another small group of people at the site itself, and they were leaving as we walked up the short trail to the site.  They had the only guidebook that had been in the box, so they gave it to us to use.  It provided information as there were only outlines of where buildings of this small adobe village used to be.  The area where the Baker Archaeological site is located is quite flat, and you can see for miles.  We walked back to the parking area, and I put the guidebook back into the box for the next visitors. 

Border Inn in Baker, Nevada

We headed to the Border Inn in Baker, Nevada to officially start our Highway 50 road trip.  The Border Inn is a hotel, RV campsite, gas station, restaurant, and bar with casino.  We went to the restaurant to get some dinner before heading to one of two possible campsites for the night.  There were two other groups in the restaurant, and we ordered a club sandwich with fries and a three-cheese grilled cheese sandwich with chips.  It was taking quite a long time for simple sandwiches, so I decided to go into the gas station area to get my Highway 50 Passport stamped and some souvenirs.  I got back to the table and my partner decided to also get a Highway 50 Passport and get it stamped.  I had requested my free Highway 50 Passport a few months prior to our trip, and it was mailed to me.  They had the Highway 50 Passports available at the Border Inn, too.  He got back to the table, and our server came over to apologize for the wait.  Apparently, the cook hadn’t even started making our food, and our server offered us free dessert as an apology for the long wait.  When she brought our food, she told us that they gave us extra fries for the wait, and we didn’t order dessert as we really needed to leave so we could find a place to camp.  The food was better than I expected, and we ate quickly since we hadn’t eaten since breakfast and, also, needed to leave.

Although we were in a slight hurry to get to a campsite, we did spend some time taking photos in front of the Border Inn as it’s quite literally on the border between Nevada and Utah.  In fact, my phone had issues with our location and the clock kept jumping ahead and back an hour.  I do regret not taking photos in the middle of the highway as it was so empty and flat so you could see any oncoming vehicles from at least two miles away in either direction.  I also didn’t cross the highway to take a photo of the Nevada sign, but I did take one from across the highway in the Border Inn parking lot. 

Cleve Creek Campground

We arrived at the Sacramento Pass Campground around 6:30pm, and it was completely full.  We continued west on Highway 50 to Cleve Creek Campground, and we ran into so many issues with the directions Google Maps GPS was giving me.  It had me turn off Highway 50 onto a very bumpy dirt road with large-ish small rocks, around two to three inches in size.  Driving in a passenger car along rocky, bumpy dirt roads took forever as I had to drive at under 15 miles per hour, and closer to 10 miles per hour ninety percent of the time on the dirt roads.  The GPS continued to tell me to turn left onto roads that didn’t exist, there were just large grassy fields, so I just followed the dirt road until I came to another dirt road.  The sun was setting behind the mountains, and I hadn’t wanted to set up camp in the dark.  We finally found a dirt road that crossed ours so that I could turn left and drove on that until we finally reached a paved road at which time Google Maps GPS told me to turn left, and I did.  We took that paved road to the road which leads to the Cleve Creek State Recreation Area, which was another dirt road, but it was much smoother than the previous dirt roads.  There was a sign at a split directing to the South or North campgrounds. I turned left onto the South for no particular reason.  It was completely dark at this point, and we nearly missed some campsites. I reversed my car as soon as we realized that we had arrived at the campsites.  I also really, really needed to relieve my bladder by this point.  I didn’t want to try to find the pit toilets for the campground in the dark, so I found an obliging bush within the glow of my car’s headlights to relieve myself.  With my car’s headlights, I could see that our campsite was on a hill of some sort, but I wasn’t sure how high it was or what was at the bottom.  We quickly set up our tent using my car’s headlights, in retrospect I probably could have just used the parking lights, and we got inside the tent as fast as we could. The headlights were attracting so many bugs, and there were quite a lot of them inside of the tent.  We had a rechargeable fan with built in light that I had bought specifically for this trip which we used to play a few card games as it was only about 8:30pm.  The light was causing the bugs to flight into our tent hard enough to sound like hail.  They only stopped once we turned off the light.  We decided to call it a night and get some sleep since we were tired from a long day of, mostly, driving. We could hear the creek, but it was too dark to explore or to see it.

I had wanted to camp a few nights of this trip to take advantage of the legendary dark skies this part of Nevada has. I was really looking forward to seeing the stars, but it was quite cloudy this night until around 10 or 11 pm when the crescent moon was shining so brightly it woke me up.  

We got up a little after 6am, because I couldn’t’ hold my bladder any longer and it was light enough outside to look for the toilet. It happened to be behind us at the bottom of what turned out to be a small hill.  Across the road across from the toilet was the creek.  We also saw only one other campsite being occupied.  

Aerial view of Cleve Creek Campground near Ely, Nevada.
Google Image of Cleve Greek Upper Campground

We weren’t in any rush to get to our next destination, so we spent a few hours reading books, exploring, and relaxing with amazing views.  The Cleve Creek Campground is a free campground, it appears most, if not all, campsites have a picnic table, fire pit, barbecue and the upper sites have covers over the tables as they don’t have any protection from the sun.  I would definitely like to camp there in the future, and I would choose campsite 4 (green square in image to the right) as it is adjacent to the creek and is the most secluded from the sun.  It’s surrounded by tall trees on three sides, and it has enough parking space for at least three cars or an RV. We were in campsite 3 (red circle in image to the right), and it offered no privacy from the other two campsites on the upper level.  Also, I would take Highway 50 to Highway 893 to Cleve Creek Road to avoid the rural rocky dirt roads which also took us far out of our way.

I’m under budget so far on this trip.  Below is a breakdown of my estimated costs and the actual amount spent.

Estimated Cost Day 1 (all amounts rounded up to nearest US dollar): $239

Total fuel: $50 fill up in Las Vegas, and $50 in Panaca to top off

Great Basin Visitor Center: $30 for souvenirs

Lehman Caves Visitor Center: $30 for souvenirs

Lehman Caves tour: $12 per person (prepaid in August)

Dinner: $40

Border Inn: $15 for refreshments/snacks

Camping: Free

Actual Cost Day 1: $156

Total fuel: $38 (Las Vegas), and $21 (Panaca)

Lehman Caves Visitor Center: $18 (souvenirs)

Lehman Caves Tour: $24 (for two – prepaid in August)

Dinner: $30 (Border Inn)

Border Inn: $25 souvenirs