There are three ways of going from Berkeley to Telluride. The high route is along I-80, through Salt Lake, down to Moab and over to Colorado. That’s the route that map sites suggest at first but it seemed like the least interesting. The low road goes right near Zzyzx Road – always a bonus for me – and then across I-40 in Arizona, through Four Corners, and into Telluride from the south. That was the way that we had planned for our trip, but logistics got to us. There’s only one place to stop that would make the Monday drive short – Kayenta, AZ. Unfortunately, all 4 of their hotels had booked up leaving no room at the inn. That left us with the middle route: US 50’s Loneliest Road in America.
The Loneliest Road first got its name in 1986 when Life Magazine wrote an article about the route and the incredible lack of services to be found on it. The Nevada government decided to take the “There’s no such thing as bad publicity” motto seriously, and used it as an advertising slogan.
So how lonely is it? It’s not quite as bad as Alaska’s Tok Cutoff, but it’s in the same league. It’s 410 miles from Fallon, NV to Delta UT, a stretch that is just broken up by Austin, Eureka – the self professed “Friendliest town on the loneliest highway,” so friendly that there are cops at the town line wanting to greet you with a speeding ticket!- and Ely are all that break up the endless plain->mountain pass->plain drive. It’s a fun drive though. The passes are stunning and the straightaways are fast; it’s a good place to go if you want to see how your car handles at 105 MPH.
Like this for hundreds of miles
It’s not just the Loneliest Road that is that deserted. US 50 merges with I-15 for a while and then separates and then connects with I-70. The ramp onto the Interstate immediately warns you that there will be no services for the next 109 miles. We drove on in the dark as we went over pass after pass. Even though we missed out on the amazing daylight view, driving that route at night has its advantage too. The night sky view is incredible. Ultimately, we had to pull over to the side of the road and just stare up at the Milky Way and some shooting stars. Lighting – most likely in Arizona- was visible off in the distance. It was one of those incredible moments of stillness that make the desert so powerful.
Photo by Melissa Steinberg
After a rest in Green River, UT, it was a quick drive across the state line and into Telluride. Recession Tour ’10 forced us to eschew the Mountain Village condos and even the Town Park camping in favor of camping at the Matterhorn site, 900 feet higher than the “valley” of the town. It’s a spectacular place, surrounded by trees and mountains, but camping at 10,000 feet does have some challenges. Our trip into Telluride proper was delayed as Melissa sprayed the tent with copious amounts of waterproofing. The insane weather of the week before – a bullet we barely dodged – was a friendly reminder that anything can happen in Colorado in any season.
Telluride was founded in the 1870s as a mining town. A century later with the mines largely dry, the populace looked up at the giant mountains and saw a different natural resource they could tap. The switch to a ski resort didn’t come easy at first, as the older residents town looked upon the hippie newcomers with a wary eye. They fought the change of the town’s culture, but what miner can ever resist the call of gold for long? The resorts would stay and by the late 1980s, Telluride would be about tourism, a fact that would be very important to a band from Vermont.
Phish had been a band for five years in 1988. While their playing career had already covered the area from Burlington, VT all the way to South Burlington, VT, and then to such far flung locales as Plainfield, VT and even Hinesburg, VT, they felt that they could do more. So, when they were offered the chance to play a nationwide tour, they jumped at the chance, even if it meant driving 2000 miles in a windowless truck. Unfortunately the promoter of the tour apparently thought that the nation consisted of the Roma bar in Telluride, as that’s what their entire booking was. Phish played there for ten nights to the same dozen people as the rest of the town was boycotting the bar. On their off day they played across the street at the Fly Me to the Moon Saloon to a much larger crowd, which was the source of the famous photo of Trey and Mike carrying the keyboard across the street.
This story – made popular by its telling in The Phish Book – is one of the favorite tales of Phish lore. Just by playing the town for the first time since 1991, this run would have some historic importance. However, the first show also was on the 15th anniversary of Jerry Garcia’s death. The Dead’s run there in 1987 was also famous, albeit poorly played. Throw in the numerology of playing on 8/9/10, and you have a potentially epic moment… or expectations that could never be met.