Fun with Highways: Spaghetti Bowl (Las Vegas)

We’ve had the Mixing Bowl (DC), the Orange Crush, the Can of Worms, so why not the Spaghetti Bowl?

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US_95I-515_(NV)The interchange connects I-15, one the major north-south highways in the western U.S., with US 93US 95 and I-515, which head eastward into downtown Las Vegas.  It was reconstructed in the late 1990s into the version we see in the above photo.

I have actually not spent much time in Las Vegas, and none of that time was on a highway in in a car.  Indeed, I had a miserable experience about 12 years along the strip (South Las Vegas Boulevard).  While I won’t get into the details of that trip, it did prevent me from exploring more of the actual city and what it has to offer.  I would be willing to give it another chance, especially if I could also explore out into the desert.

Fun with Highways: Nevada

When I still lived in New York, going to another state was not such a big deal. It just a short trip to Connecticut or New Jersey, and not too long to get to points beyond. But in California, it takes several hours and a couple hundred miles along I-80 just to get to our closest neighbor, Nevada. And with the Presidential primaries and caucuses next moving to Nevada, we thought we would pay our neighbors there a visit.

The trip along I-80 is one made by many of us in the Bay Area, particularly at the end of August as part of the pilgrimage to Burning Man. We take the interstate past Reno to the town of Fernley, and then head north on State Highway 447 towards the Black Rock Desert. Arriving at “Black Rock City” at night is an impressive sight, with the electrical glow of a small city visible from miles away. And indeed, at the hight of the festival each year, Black Rock City is one of the largest cities in the state. Here is one of my favorite photographs from a Burning Man trip too many years ago:

Traveling back on 447 from Burning Man during daylight hours, one gets to see more of the landscape, including Pyramid Lake. The highway actually ends at the edge of Fernley, and one takes several small roads through town to get back to I-80. I saw these cars along the way.

On the way back along I-80, one can stop in Reno, which has the odd but cute nickname “Biggest Little City in the World.”


[By Renjishino (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons]

Its history and reputation as a center of the gaming industry, along with the glitzy lights and oversized casinos, predates the rise of Las Vegas. But it is also home to the Nevada Museum of Art, which bills itself as “the only accredited art museum in the state of Nevada.” The building itself is a work of art, and its design is meant to reflect the natural landscape including Black Rock Desert.


[By Rmart123 (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons]

From Reno, one can travel south on US 395 towards Carson City, the state capital – one of only a few state capitals not connected to an interstate highway. From here we can either continue south on 395 back into California along the eastern Sierra, or turn onto US 50 into the interior of Nevada.

US 50 was the subject of our Nevada article last election cycle. It is nicknamed “The Loneliest Road in America.” Although the name was first used somewhat pejoratively, I find scenes like this with a straight line and stark natural landscape quite inspiring.

The road is not always this straight and empty. It crosses several mountain passes that break up the Great Basin and the Nevada desert, and passes by odd landmarks like this small castle-like structure, Stokes Castle.


[By Toiyabe at en.wikipedia [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0], from Wikimedia Commons]

I would love to travel US 50 through Nevada sometime, and of course do photography along the way. I am certainly not alone in this regard, which begs the question of how “lonely” the road really is. Another strong runner up for the title would be US 6, which intersects US 50 (and US 93) in the eastern town of Ely. Heading back west on US 6 from Ely, one travels a narrow two-lane road and does not encounter another town until Tonopah, 168 miles later. Tonopah is an old mining town, with old structures as seen is this photo:

It is hard to tell when this photo (which comes from the National Park Service) was taken.

US 6 is also the northern terminus of State Highway 375, otherwise known as the Extraterrestrial Highway. It derives its name from its proximity to Area 51 and popularly with UFO seekers, but it covers a much longer distance, parts of which are just as straight and empty as some of the others we have explored in this article:


[By Cooper, in Wiki Commons known as –Cooper.ch 22:17, 20 August 2006 (UTC) [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC-BY-2.5], via Wikimedia Commons]

This photo is from 375 in Sand Spring Valley, which contains the tiny town of Rachel (population approximately 100). Although it is quite small, it does its best to capitalize on Area 51 and the Extraterrestrial Highway with Alien themed business. A mailbox further south along the highway is purportedly used by UFO seekers to share information.

Highway 375 ends at the ghost town of Crystal Springs. This sounds like it would be interesting if some of the original buildings are still there, though I cannot find any photos of this. Nearby, one can pick of US 93 and head south towards Las Vegas. Our quiet journey through the interior of Nevada comes to an end as US 93 merges with I-15 and form a major freeway heading into the sprawling Las Vegas metropolitan area. The highway cuts into the city itself, and parallels “The Strip”, aka South Las Vegas Boulevard.


[By Lasvegaslover (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons]

I have to admit, my visit to The Strip in 2002 was not a particularly fun experience – although I did have a bit of fun with “fake New York.” It was a combination of factors that cannot be blamed on the city or its resort industry per se – though the expense of even basic items and services was an issue, and the fact that it felt more like a gigantic shopping mall with slot machines than an infamous den of vice and questionable entertainment was a disappointment. I would be willing to give it another chance sometime, particularly in the context of a larger travel and photography trip.

Turning onto I-215, one rejoins US 93 (and I-515). Heading south on US 93, the development thins out once more and the road continues to the Hoover Dam.


[By Tobi 87 (Own work) [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons]

This is literally the end of the state.

Highway 50, Nevada

We at CatSynth continue our highway series following the US presidential campaign, and so we turn our attention to the neighboring state of Nevada.

It was great to see Nevada included so early this time around, it is such a different place from the traditional early states. There is of course Las Vegas and all that comes with it – and to be honest, that is a refreshing change from the folksy small-town character of the early compaign. But there is also the more desolate Nevada, the authentic high desert and Great Basin.

It is the latter that we consider today. US highway 50, which runs through the center of Nevada, has been dubbed “the loneliest road in America” and many of the small towns along this route received a fair amount of attention this past week. And several travelogues, such as as “US 50 Coast to Coast” document the character and sites, including small mining towns like Eureka and Great Basin National Park. For me, one of the attractions is simply the emptiness of the highway itself, as illustrated in the photo to the right (click to enlarge).

I have never actually driven highway 50 east past South Lake Tahoe. But the quiet, the emptiness and straight-line nature of this stretch of highway are all very appealing at the moment. I tend to gravitate towards the extremes, either quiet isolation of the desert, or the intensity of a big city. And now we're moving to the city, right into the downtown. So as things calm down and the weather warms up, a trip east along highway 50, or perhaps to the desert southwest, may be just the best thing to do.

Interestingly, highway 50 joins with US 6 in the town of Ely in eastern Nevada. US 6 is also a cross-country highway, which we also saw in Des Moines, Iowa. Similarly, I-80, which we also encountered in Iowa, crosses through Nevada westward towards our home in the Bay Area, and meets highway 50 at its western terminus in Sacramento. All things are connected.

Probably the next chance we will have at CatSynth to look in on the campaign is when it comes here to California in just a couple of weeks…