Highway 50 Road Trip : Day 3 – Eureka and Austin

Day three of our Highway 50: Loneliest Road in America road trip took us from Eureka, Nevada to Fort Churchill State Park. We stopped at Hickison Petroglyphs, Austin Courthouse, Stokes Castle, saw some telegraph station and pony express ruins, tossed shoes into the Shoe Tree, and ate an enormous burger at Middlegate Station before we camped for the night at Samuel Bucklands Campground inside the Fort Churchill State Historic Park.

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September 5, 2022

I had a great night of sleep at the Gold Country Inn in Eureka, Nevada, and we headed down to the breakfast room early for their free breakfast after we had showered and dressed, of course.  The breakfast room is quite nice.  There are tables and dining room style chairs near the food counters, but there are also several comfortable looking sofas and chairs near the large fireplace.  It looked like a wonderful place to sit and read a book or just lounge by the fire during cold weather.  The breakfast options were much more than I had expected.  There was even a pancake making machine which my partner made use of.  I heated up one of the de-frosted breakfast burritos they had. There were a variety of fruit juices, muffins, cereals, and bagels available.  Instant oatmeal, coffee, yogurts, and fruit cups were also provided. 

Eureka, Nevada

We ate our breakfast leisurely then walked around the neighborhood to see most of the spots listed in the Eureka Walking Tour Map.  Our hotel had the walking tour maps available, but there is also a small train car across the street from the Jackson House Hotel which holds several tourist pamphlets and brochures for you to take.  There’s even a Little Free Library in front of the train car if you need some reading material.  Most of the buildings listed on the map have very large plaques with their number on the map making them easy to recognize.

Eureka Opera House

I wanted to visit the Eureka Sentinel Museum, but there was a sign posted on the door that they were unexpectedly closed for the day, but that the Opera House was open for visiting.  We went to the Opera House to get our Highway 50 Passport books stamped, and we walked around the building.  You can walk into the main opera house to the stage and explore the backstage areas.  It was great to see the writing on the walls from the performers and performances at the Opera House.  I could have spent an hour or more just looking at everything people wrote on those walls over the years.  There was also a museum style room with artifacts from the Opera House on display, and a gallery displaying a local art show in another room.  None of the businesses were open while we were walking around, except for the gas station further down the road.  We came back to the hotel to get our belongings.  I emptied the water from the melted ice from the cooler onto a grassy area by the parking lot.  We stopped at the gas station to fill up the gas tank and to buy more ice for the cooler before heading to Hickison Petroglyph Recreation Area to see some petroglyphs.  

Hickison Petroglyph Recreation Area

The Hickison Petroglyph Recreation Area is managed by the Bureau of Land Management, and has spaces for RV camping, but I didn’t see anything for tent camping being available.  There is plenty of parking if you just want to walk the Petroglyph trail, and there are also restrooms located in the day use parking lot.  We walked the short trail form the parking lot to see the Petroglyphs, and I was disheartened to see obvious carvings by “modern people.”  It was mostly people carving their names into the rocks, and it was frustrating to see such vandalism on ancient artifacts.  I wish the area was more protected, but there’s nothing to stop someone going over the low fence to reach the rocks.  Some of the rocks don’t have any type of fence or railing to discourage people from getting too close. I did see a little lizard friend on the large rock with petroglyphs near the parking area.  We spent approximately thirty minutes at Hickison before we continued west ward on Highway 50. 

Austin, Nevada

We stopped in Austin, Nevada to explore the Courthouse and to see Stokes Castle.  We started with getting our passports stamped at the courthouse, and the clerk advised us on what to see inside the building.  There were historical documents on the second floor, and we could explore the court room since court is only in session one day per week in normal circumstances, but since they were still observing COVID-19 precautions, court was only being held virtually.  We could also explore the old jail cells located on the first floor.  We had some fun taking photos in there.  From the courthouse we drove to the opposite end of town to see Stokes Castle.  Stokes Castle can only be observed from the outside as the roof had caved in and it was too dangerous to get too close.  I also noticed a mining apparatus on the ledge below where the parking area for Stokes Castle was located.  There were also port-a-potties and a portable handwashing station conveniently located in the parking lot for visitors to use.    We spent about fifteen to twenty minutes at Stokes Castle enjoying both the Castle and the incredible views before we continued west towards Fallon.

Transcontinetal Telegraph Station and Shoe Tree

We found and stopped at the Transcontinental Telegraph station which has a large parking is located on the westbound side of the highway and directly across from where the Cold Spring Pony Express Station is located.  The parking area is about one thousand feet west of the actual telegraph station ruins, and we had pulled over into a dirt area close to the ruins.  We only saw the parking lot as we walked down the path to read some other informational signs.  The ruins are surrounded by a chain-link fence, but you can still see quite a lot of the ruins.  We walked spent about fifteen to twenty minutes here, before we decided to continue to the Shoe Tree near Middlegate Station to try to toss some shoes into its branches.  We each brought an old pair of shoes to toss into the tree.  I was greatly unsuccessful even using a pair of shoes on the ground near where we were standing when my toss had my shoes too far for me to scramble to in sandals.  My partner got his shoes into the tree on his first attempt. 

Middlegate Station

Our next stop was Middlegate Station about a mile and a half away on Highway 50 to try their famous Monster burger.  The Monster Burger is part of a food challenge, and if you finish it fries and all you get a t-shirt.  There was no way we would be able to eat it by ourselves, so we chose to split it.  The burger also comes with a very generous serving of fries., and it was all incredibly delicious.  This is a great (and only) place to get a meal for many miles in either direction, but they also have such a fun rustic ambiance.  There were dollar bills stapled to the ceiling and walls, and even the restroom was very rustic décor and was very clean. 

With our stomachs very full we left Middlegate Station to head towards our Fort Churchill State Historic Park which was where we planned on camping for the night.  It’s first come, first served, but I also had a backup plan of camping at Lahontan State Recreation Area which is more expensive, but they had showers.  There were also another Pony Express Station we wanted to explore at Sand Springs.  This station was open for exploration inside the ruins, so I was particularly interested in checking it out. 

Sand Springs Pony Express Station

From the parking area at Sand Springs Station there is a short trail to the ruins.  We spent around fifteen minutes exploring the different rooms of the ruins before walking back to the car to get to our campground for the night.  I was eager to not repeat our adventures on Monday night and need to set up camp in the dark. 

Fort Churchill State Historic Park and Samuel Buckland Campground

We arrived at Fort Churchill State Park just before 4pm, and the small museum near the park entrance was already closed for the day.  They had flushing toilets there, but those were also closed.  There were so many little rabbits on the very green grassy area adjacent to the parking lot and the museum building as well as a canon and some informational plaques.  We found a campsite and paid using the provided envelopes, then we relaxed for the rest of the afternoon. 

There were a few very large fires burning in the California Redwoods, Sequoias, and around Lake Tahoe which had begun before we left Los Angeles, but we were finally west enough to have smokey skies.  I wrote in my travel journal and John read a book while we still had daylight.  Campfires weren’t permitted due to the dry conditions, and though there were signs saying there was no water on at the campground, the water spigot at our campsite had running water.  The wind really picked up so much that I had to use the tent spikes for my tent for the first time, ever.  Even after we staked it, the tent was flattening in the intense winds.  It not a high-quality tent so I was a little worried about it just falling apart, but it really held up with those intense winds.  We finally got tired of the wind and went inside the tent to play some card games around 7pm.  It was difficult to sit up in the tent as it kept flattening out in the wind, but we laid down to play.  The wind was still intense well after 8pm and I was hoping it would die down soon so I could sleep without the tent wall hitting my feet.

Estimated Cost Day 3 – September 15, 2021 (all amounts rounded up to nearest US dollar): $110

Fuel: $50

Lunch at Middlegate Station: $40 for two

Camping: $20

Actual Cost Total: $95

Fuel: $40

Lunch at Middlegate Station: $35 for two

Camping: $20