"California Emigrant Trail"

Windshield Overview Let's Hit the Road

Interstate 80 is a monster. Here in Nevada, the 80 allows a valuable transportation link across the Silver State, a mostly, "uninteresting" straight-shot from Reno and Salt Lake City. According to NDOT records, over half of Nevada's tourists enter (and ultimately leave) the Silver State via Interstate 80, with many of them never leaving the "comfort" of this 400-mile long freeway. Before we get to its juicy secrets, a little bit of introduction is necessary. Interstate 80 is the second-longest interstate in America, with a length of 2,899 miles -- beginning its cross-country trip in San Francisco, California, and ending uneventfully by merging with I-95 in Ridgefield, New Jersey. Here in our neck of the woods, I-80 enters Nevada after its long descent from Donner Pass - entering in the small town of Verdi alongside the Truckee River. "River." If only this river could talk.

"Follow the Water!"
In many ways, water is the primary reason for Interstate 80's most direct route across the state. Everything circles back to that precious word. As you enter Nevada from the west, the Truckee River is an immediate sight to behold, and a sight that over the course of your journey, will seem to fade into the depths of the desert. The Truckee became the second of two major waterways sought by California-bound emigrants. The interstate hugs the paths of the Truckee and Humboldt Rivers both of which were vital transportation corridors ever since the Gold Rush of 1849. West-bound gold seekers "followed the water" on their route to California. Having entered Nevada, travelers were immediately met with hardships and triple-fold problems - thirst and starvation thanks to Nevada's harsh climate. The "worst" portion of the entire journey was met at the dreaded Forty Mile Desert. If the Sierras weren't enough, Nevada and the Great Basin were equally formidable barriers between them and the goldfields! It's safe to say that both of these rivers saved thousands of lives on the journey.

By the late 1860s, the Emigrant Trail was a well-traveled and dependable trail. In 1945 it was only fitting that the Victory Highway (the first "highway" in Nevada) followed the very same route traveled by thousands of gold seekers some one hundred years earlier. After highways began changing their designations to the numerical system the Victory Highway became US 40, and in some segments, State Route 1, as the first and only route that traversed the entire breadth of the state. US 40, along with many other US Routes in America, became defunct at the creation of the Eisenhower Interstate System - a project that would allow quick and painless travel across the country. Nevada was granted two interstates the largest of which would continue to "follow the water" from end-to-end. Today, I-80 closely follows and at many points directly overlaps the original route of the Victory Highway, State Route 1, and US Route 40. Though these routes no longer exist, they are from forgotten as you will see on this fascinating roadtrip!

US 40 and More
Most people who enter Nevada do so by way of the interstate, and except for the mandatory pit stop, or quick bite to eat, few people ever retreat away from it. To many, Interstate 80 IS Nevada, with "nothing" in between Reno and Salt Lake City. This is because to all but a relatively few people, Interstate 80 traverses a rather staid, monotonous route across the state. It's true. Interstate 80 lacks the exciting roller-coasting mountain crossings of US 50 and the eye-popping scenery changings of US 93. Remember -- this is an Interstate, designed to get from Point A to Point B as quickly as possible. So then, how you enjoy a route that is designed to bypass everything of interest? Simple. Retreating off the interstate ... and there are many opportunities to do so!

In its 400-plus miles across Nevada, Interstate 80 passes through a dozen communities along its way, all of which were around way before the big highway came into play. I-80's predesessor, US 40 is still alive and well in Nevada, predominately in these "Interstate 80 towns." Look for it as the main thoroughfare through these towns and even as some portions of the long "Frontage Road" that parallels the interstate off-and-on throughout its travel across Nevada. It's true. Without US 40 and these wonderful "I-80 towns," there would probably be little to see from this four-lane expressway. In addition to US 40's blast-from-the-past, many surprises lurk away from the beaten path, and nothing could be more true than retreating away from Interstate 80! Dare yourself away into the depths of the desert where the regular long and lonely dirt roads can eagerly deliver you to long forgotten ghost towns, mysterious sets of petroglyphs, hidden fishing holes and hot springs, and some of the most gorgeous alpine settings in the West ... all of which are missed by the majority of commuters who never leave the interstate. Is the desert calling you?

The Markers
Ready to conquer Interstate 80? Here's some helpful tips to doing so! Most of the historical markers that are found "along Interstate 80" are never far from the interstate. The majority of these reside on US 40, accessible by a quick exit from the freeway in any of the dozen communities along the way, or in some case, the long frontage road that parallels the freeway. While most of these markers aren't very far from the freeway, the two "detours" I've included might suggest otherwise! I've included two very large "Detours" in this roadtrip, ranging anywhere from an hour to an entire day's trip from the freeway! These detours might mandate a few more days travel if you want to conquer them all, so plan accordingly to make the most of your gas and time. If you plan on tackling any of the detours (Shh! You know you want to ...), doubling-back will probably be necessary. Fortunately, all of the I-80 towns act as excellent marker bases, allowing you plan when and where your days begin and end! This isn't an overexaggeration. The markers in these detours dot the northern Nevada landscape, vastly spread out, or deep within the urban city limits. (There's a reason why tackling the Interstate 80 markers has taken the longer than anywhere else in Nevada throughout my entire seven-year marker campaign.) Conquering I-80 leaves you in a great advantage to conquer even more of Nevada's markers! I really had to convince myself to include MANY secrets on this roadtrip that I'm sure over time I will regret. One loss is another man's gain. Enjoy!

Let's Hit The Road

Interstate 80

Windshield Overview

Entire Length: 418 miles

Begin: California State Line, Verdi, NV.
End: Wendover, UT.
Driving Time: 5 hours, 51 minutes
Number of Historical Markers (without detours): 35
Number of Detours: 2
Recommended Drive Time: 2-3 days
(Since the detours on this roadtrip are long and extensive, allow an extended drive time of 5-6 days if you plan to travel any of them!)
Towns: Verdi, Reno, North Valleys, Sparks, Wadsworth, Fernley, Lovelock, Imlay-Mill City, Unionville, Winnemucca, Golconda, Midas, Tuscarora, Battle Mountain, Carlin, Elko, Lamoille, Tuscarora, Mountain City, Owyhee, Jarbidge, Murphy's Hot Springs (ID), Rogerson (ID), Wells, Montello, West Wendover, Wendover (UT)
Counties: Washoe, Storey, Lyon, Churchill, Pershing, Humboldt, Lander, Eureka, Elko