Though the roadside east of Carson City is increasingly lined by trailer parks and convenience stores, just a half block north of the highway sits Dayton, one of the oldest settlements in Nevada. Gold was first discovered here in 1849, and later the town’s massive stamp mills pounded the ore carried through the massive Sutro Tunnel from the fabulous Comstock Lode in the mountains above. The historic town center is little more than the two blocks of Main Street north from the traffic light on US-50; choose from a couple of combination café-saloons, including the nicely renovated J’s Old Town Bistro (30 Pike St., 775/246-4400). Formerly named the Old Corner Bar, it was the rumored hangout of John Huston, Marilyn Monroe, and Arthur Miller when they were in Dayton in 1960 during the filming of The Misfits.
Coming into Fallon, especially after crossing the Great Basin deserts of Utah and Nevada that stretch to the east, can be a shock to the system. First, relative to Nevada’s other US-50 towns, Fallon is big: upward of 8,000 residents, with all the attendant shopping malls, traffic lights, and fast-food franchises. Second, but perhaps more striking, Fallon is green: alfalfa, onions, garlic, and cantaloupe grow as far as the eye can see. Otherwise, Fallon offers ATMs, gas stations, and motels lining US-50, as well as the usual Pizza Huts and Subways, and a handy 24-hour Safeway.
Besides agriculture, Fallon’s main employer is the U.S. Navy, whose air base and target range is an important training center for carrier-based fighters and bombers—the “Top Guns” made famous by the Tom Cruise movie.
While it’s not an especially attractive place, Fallon does have what they accurately call “The Best Little Museum on the Loneliest Road in America,” the eclectic and engaging Churchill County Museum (1050 S. Maine St., 775/423-3677, Tues.-Sun., hours vary, free), less than a mile south of US-50. Exhibits contain native Paiute basketry, clothing, and hunting gear, and the usual array of pioneer quilts and clothing. The gift shop sells a wide range of books and historical postcards. A second building contains the transportation collection of old buggies, cars, and trucks.
Forty-five miles east of Fallon, Hwy-361 heads south to the magnesium-mining company town of Gabbs. East of Gabbs lies fascinating Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park (775/964-2440), which holds an only-in-Nevada combination: the over 100-year-old ghost town of Berlin and a 225-million-year-old marine fossil quarry. Camping is available mid-April to October, and guided tours of the mine, town and the fossil beds are given weekends in summer.