Scary Highways

 Posted by at 7:19 am  Nick's Blog
Jun 072010

There is an interesting thread on the RV.Net forum discussing a Forbes magazine article on America’s Scariest Highways. Since we are considering taking US Highway 50 across Nevada in a few weeks, I found it interesting that this route, known as “The Loneliest Road in America,” was among those listed.

The article says US 50 gets its “scary” designation because it crosses miles of open desert, where you may not see another vehicle for 30 minutes or more. Okay, so how does that make it scary? I love lightly traveled roads, don’t you?

We’ve driven many of the highways listed, and while some were not much fun (Interstate 70 through Colorado), others left me wondering why the authors of the article find them problematic.

For example, US 1 though the Florida Keys was listed. Except for the Seven Mile Bridge, which I drove over several times and didn’t find to be a problem, most of the drive is delightful. Slow, if there is a lot of traffic maybe, but far from scary.

I’ve been on some scary stretches of road in my time, though I think one man’s terror ride may well be a piece of cake for someone else. Many years ago we took the advice of some locals (never a good idea) and took a “short cut” on our way to an Escapade rally in Lancaster, California that took us across State Route 138 from Cajon Junction to Palmdale. The road was a narrow two lane route that climbed and wound around a mountain side, with a steep drop off on one side and solid rock cliff on the other. Now throw in crazed Friday night drivers headed out to party, coming the another way, crossing over the  centerline as they sped around the curves. By the time we got to the Elks lodge in Palmdale, I was a bundle of screaming, frayed nerves.

US Highway 60 through Arizona’s Salt River Canyon used to intimidate me with its hairpin turns and steep drop offs, but I have driven it so many times over the years that I don’t even notice it any more.

Some of my least favorite roads include the above mentioned State Route 138 in California, and Interstate 70 in Colorado as it heads downhill into Denver, along with Interstate 75 through Atlanta, and any highway anywhere around Los Angeles or Houston. 

My fear of bridges has gotten a lot better, but it’s still a very real issue for me. A lifetime ago, I lived on the Washington coast and owned newspapers in Long Beach, Washington and Astoria, Oregon. I have crossed the Astoria Bridge over the Columbia River in everything from cars and pickup trucks to motorcycles and vans, but the first time I approached that bridge in a motorhome, I took one look and drove 75 miles upriver to cross on a lower bridge, and then drove 75 miles back to the coast!

I have driven Interstate 75 across the Mackinac Bridge in northern Michigan, and it scares the hell out of me every time. The last few times, Miss Terry drove over the bridge, but I was still just as scared.

One (actually two) bridge crossings that I’ll never do again are the two narrow, high bridges on US Highway 60 that cross the Mississippi, and then the Ohio River, within just a 1/2 mile or so near Cairo, Illinois. Miss Terry did that driving, but I was still a basket case by the time we got to the other side.

us 60 mississippi river bridge 3

us 60 mississippi river bridge 2 

us 60 mississippi river bridge truck 2

Don’t even mention me traveling over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge in Virginia. It’s just not going to happen!

What about you? What are some of the highways you find scary, and why? Come on, fess up. I can’t be the only neurotic wimp out there!

Thought For The Day – Don’t simply seek interesting surroundings, but be continually interested in whatever surrounds you.

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Nick Russell

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  27 Responses to “Scary Highways”

  1. I hate those two bridges on US 60. My grandparents lived in Poplar Bluff Missouri and we used to go across them every year when we visited. Once we broke down on the Ohio River bridge and caused a huge traffic jab. The police had to close the bridge both ways so a tow truck could get to us, get turned around, and hoked up to pull us off the bridge.

  2. Oh quit being a wuzzy Nick. Drink a half bottle of Old Grandad and you won’t mind the Chesapeake Bay Bridge at all!

    The one that gets me is the one over Tampa Bay, I-275 I think. We crossed that in a blinding rainstorm and I was in need of a new diaper by the time we got to the other side.

  3. Route 22 out of Jackson, WY turns into Route 33 in Idaho and goes to Victor. That goat path can’t be classified as a highway by any means. It is scenic though.

  4. Luckily, bridges don’t bother me too much, but those construction zones bordered by the jersey barriers, with the three lanes and the solid striped lines zigzaging back and forth — now *that’s* scary! Inevitably, there always seems to be a big truck who pulls up right along side, just as we all start doing the little dance.

  5. And this is why I own a “Motor Carriers’ Road Atlas”; it tells you all the truck routes and if a trunk can’t go there neither do we!

    AZ Rt 88 up to Tortilla Flat, AZ while quit beautiful, yikes no railings for 98% of the road and lots of hairpin turns along with two one-way bridges. Now that is scary in a 40 ft motorhome!

  6. Mountains, construction zones and big cities are on my list, not scared just nervous, but then again Dale does all that driving… Well in fact she’s done all the driving since last November in Tucson, me I navigate and nap. I did get to drive the boat for the past two weeks, but then again there isn’t a question of lanes and barriers and if one passes out, the boat goes in circles.

  7. Nick, Obviously you do not drive an older motorhome which is prone to breaking down. Traveling on US 50 was scary for us because in case of my husband’s inability to fix our rig on one of our too-frequent unplanned stops, when would we ever get out of there? I was also pretty concerned on the 170 miles between Tonopah and Ely on US 6 in Nevada–that’s just about the trajectory of one tank of gas in our Tioga, and there’s no place to tank up in between. Compared to those things, driving east on the Tioga Pass road out of Yosemite, while terrifying, was easier. At least there I figured if we fell off the road, we’d die a quick death . Since that one month trip (detailed in our blog, in 2007), when we broke down a total of, I think, 4 times, bridges are a piece of cake.

  8. Oh, and speaking of bridges and breaking down, we managed to achieve your ultimate nightmare in May 2008 when Mo’s engine cut out suddenly about 100 yards from the top of the Delaware Memorial Bridge. We sat in the right lane right against the rail, with a perfect view out my side window STRAIGHT down into the water, and watched all the green lights for that lane turn into red X’s, until a maintenance truck came up behind us. He pushed us up and over the top of the bridge, and we coasted to the bottom and pulled off. My attempt at black humor as we rolled down–“Well, at least we’re getting great gas mileage!”

    But you see, on a bridge, they have cameras and watch out for you! On US 50, there’s NO ONE!

  9. How about narrow lanes in construction zones! We came across one that was narrow for a few miles which kept my attention and firm grip on the wheel. Then we got to the small bridge with it’s cement guard wall on the right. Just as you got there was a sign that said 10 ft. max width. We made it thru with our class A motorhome but did notice a lot of scrapes and black marks on the cement wall! I measured our motorhome and I thoght it was 10ft.! We must have made it by inches or less. WHEW!!

  10. how about the Huey P. Long bridge over the Mississippi just west of New Orleans….the roadway is hanging off the sides of a railroad trestle and the lanes are very narrow. I screwed up going to Bayou Signette state park the first time and went over the bridge 3 times in a 37 foot motorhome before I figured out how to get to the park! Now they are building a new bridge.

  11. Hey Nick….HWY 50 across Nevada is one of the most enjoyable drives I have ever made. I loved the larger than life vistas, and almost no traffic. We took 2.5 days to drive from the Utah border to Carson City. We plan to return and spend more time exploring around the many old mining towns. Can’t imagine why NO traffic makes a highway dangerous….lol!

  12. Route 152 from Silver City, New Mexico over to I 25 is one we will never travel over again.

    We are going to do the Mackinac Bridge walk over Labor Day weekend maybe then we can drive over it.

  13. Not a bridge, but Hwy. 120 on both sides of Yosemite is not a road I enjoy in any kind of vehicle. Coming from the east it’s straight up, and leaving the park the “old” 120 is straight down. I was with a friend once in her Class C & we made the mistake of taking the “old” 120 west out of Yosemite — nobody told us what it was like & we were too green to ask. We just about burned her brakes up going down. I don’t like any big hills — don’t like to be pressured to hurry up for any reason when I’m pulling my trailer.

    About bridges … I drove my trailer over the Golden Gate a couple of years ago, and while it’s a big bridge I white-knuckled it the whole way. So much traffic! But I did it, and would do it again if necessary.

  14. We recently drove in our motorhome on US 89a in Arizona that leads to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. In my blog about that trip I used your word “sniveling”. I gave you credit. 🙂

    The Mount Carmel road into Zion wasn’t as bad because we were in our car going there so didn’t have to drive quite as close to the edges. We couldn’t take our motorhome and toad there because they are too long to make the hairpin turns. I’m so glad about that! We didn’t have to wait for a too tall RV to be led through the tunnel, either, because we got there just as our lane started moving behind someone else’s RV. We lucked out.

  15. Debbie said:
    “Nick, Obviously you do not drive an older motorhome which is prone to breaking down. Traveling on US 50 was scary for us because in case of my husband’s inability to fix our rig on one of our too-frequent unplanned stops, when would we ever get out of there?”

    Actually, Debbie, until last summer we fulltimed for over 8 years in a 1976 MCI bus conversion with close to a million highway miles on it. And anybody who knows me is well aware that I am no kind of handyman! 🙂
    But I always figured that if we had water on board we could get along for a few days, and we were at home wherever we broke down.

  16. Do you want more?

    I echo Laura about Rte 120 between Groveland, CA and Rte 49 to the west (west of Yosemite NP). My husband drove the car in a ways front of the RV and radioed me every time a car approached. You can get the idea by looking at a map of that portion. Heck, throw in Rte 120 IN Yosemite, with its 10,000-ft elevation! but he drove that.

    I-75 through downtown Detroit. It hasn’t even been paved in many years (old info- we were last there in 2005).

    I also agree with Linda about Rte 89A in northern AZ. I even had to get out and catch my breath from driving the car!

    But then again, we live near the Sunshine Skyway in Tampa, and I love bridges! The views are terrific, even if they are sometimes straight down!

    Great topic – thanks!

  17. US 6 across Nevada, I thought, was lonelier than 50. Driving at my usual 60 mph, i was passed by only 1 vehicle – a cop hurrying, no doubt to his coffee break at a faraway Dunkin Donuts. 6 and 50 join up at Ely, then continue on across equally lonely Utah.

    Arizona 89A from Prescott to Flagstaff had best be experienced as a day trip in Mr. Toad. Jerome just isn’t an RV-friendly town!

    The old bridge across the Cooper River into Charleston, SC chewed up my wheel cover with its narrow lanes and high curbs. A mighty cheer was heard emanating from my rig as I watched that SOB blow up a year later.

    I don’t find the Sunshine Skyway across the mouth of Tampa Bay so intimidating when I think about the fate of its predecessor. In 1980 35 people died when a freighter hit a pier on the southbound span and caused the center span to fall 150 feet into the water. Until they finished the new bridge, you had to drive on the remaining span in 2-way traffic and look over at the wreckage a few feet to your west. Sobering!

  18. Nick –

    We saw the same report on TV and thought how did they come up that list? We were waiting for them to talk about roads/high accident rates, or other issues vs it be lonely. Not sure exactly when you and Terri are going to be driving through NV, but we are also going to be driving US50 in a couple of weeks (from Tahoe to Provo, UT area). We will be driving across NV from the June 15th – 22nd maybe it won’t be so lonely, maybe we will cross paths.

    John & Sandy Byrnes

  19. Definitely not the worst, but the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway between New Orleans and Mandeville LA is over 20 miles of straight/level surrounded by water and for some time you cannot see the any shore – just water on either side. I don’t like that!

  20. US 30 thru Pennsylvania is a nightmare for RV’s we learned the hard way. We did not know that they made 13% grades and it a narrow two lane roads on top of the grade. Hiway 1 from I believe it is Ventura up to Carmel is scary in a car, no on in their right mind would attempt it in a motor home. Steep hills, serious drop offs into the blue Pacific. We did in the car and that was bad enough. The worse bridge in my case is the Bay Bridge from San Francisco to Oakland.

  21. I think my hubby would say the scariest was my driving from Sequim to Port Townsend, WA when I turned onto Highway 20. It was my first time driving the motor home. I have no depth perception (blind in my left eye). He screamed “honey” and I yelled “what” and he said move to the left a little. We are big, the cars will move over a little bit. I guess I was too close to the shoulder (none) and a deep ditch. He just knew if we went into the ditch we would turn over.

    I thought I was fine. Finished the drive even through the town of very narrow streets with our ’86 Class A.

    I would say the scariest was when we were leaving out of Adele, OR on Highway 140 towards Winnemucca, NV. We were having problems with our motor home not being able to climb the mountain passes and it kept dying as we tried to climb and go around a curve. One side was mountain wall and the other was a huge drop. We stalled and the brakes did not hold and we started coasting backwards around a turn. After a minute or so (felt like 100’s of minutes) Ron got it stopped and we turned around using a turnout (on the side of the drop off). As I was spotting him backing up in the turn around I could just see him and the motor home going over the edge. That was my scariest moment on the road. By the way, the next morning we climbed that same pass and did just fine. Found out months later the coil was going bad and it when it got hot it had no power.

  22. These people that don’t like lonely roads should never go to Alaska. We went up in April of 2008 and would drive all day with maybe seeing only one car.

    There were very few places to pull off the road between towns, in fact in many places there was no ‘off the road’. The edge of the pavement just stops and then it drops off 3 or 4 feet.

    When i needed a potty break, I just stopped the coach right on the road and put on the flashers. Once we even stopped and had lunch that way. Never saw a car.

    Talk about ‘lonely’!

  23. Just one more. On the way back from Alaska in 2008, while heading south in southern Utah, we took the the 261 cut-off on the road to Mexican Hat. That little chunk of highway includes the Moki Dugway. An 18 wheeler passed us before we got there so I figured if he could make it, we could. The view from above is gorgeous, but after we drove the motor home towing the Blazer down that zig-zag excuse for a road, my wife, Sweet Lynda declared, “Never Again.”

  24. Nick, for years I drove across that “scary” section of US 60 from Illinois into the Blue Grass State. We truckers would use that road, even though it was slower, to get to Louisville/Lexington and avoid the scales on the big road. On my 20th wedding anniversury (we just celebrated our 40th on Sunday) I came across that bridge at around 0100 hours and much to my dismay, the scales were open. I was so far out of legal hours, having driven from Oregon with just a couple of quick cat naps, that the trooper at the scales just shook his head when he heard my story of trying to get home for my anniversury, and asked if I thought I could make it safely home to Lexington. I don’t remember exactly what I thought, but I said yes and away I went. . . citation free. I still shake my weary old head at both my poor judgement and the trooper’s generousity. . . as well as his poor judgement in letting this weary trucker go. I got home around the time the family was getting up, went to bed for the day and then Nancy and I had a grand celebration that evening. Now, back to bridges, such as the one on US 60: whenever I cross a narrow one such as that, I look for oncomming traffic, apply my four-way blinkers and get out into the middle of the road making it absolutely clear of my intentions and that anyone coming ahead should best wait. The drivers of big rigs generally understand this, and for those who don’t, well. . . they learn. We big rig RVers would do well to practice this technique as well. . . much safer. Ahh, and this coming from the idiot who drove nearly across the country without rest. With age comes wisdom. . . I hope. As always, I hope. . . oRV

  25. One other, hopefully quick, comment about both “scary” and truly beautiful roads would include highways 666 and 160 over the Rocky’s and Wolfcreek Pass. Scary to look straight down into the abyss, seeing the relics of cars and trucks less fortunate or skillful and beautiful viewing the grandur of those ancient snow-covered mountain peaks. Both beauty and fear are in the eye of the beholder. As always, oRV

  26. We have traveled ‘The Loneliest Road in America’, or US Hwy 50, across Nevada twice in our travels. It’s not scary at all! I think it’s one of the neatest highways we’ve driven. If you take it, make sure to check out the hot springs that are found along the way. Also, pick up a ‘passport’ at the first town you come to and get it stamped at the Visitor’s Center or Chamber of Commerce in each town (there’s only 6 I think) you go through on Hwy 50. When it’s all stamped, you mail it in and get a certificate stating that you ‘Survived’ the ‘Loneliest Road in America’ along with some other goodies. It’s quite fun to do. Lastly, don’t miss the famous ‘Shoe Tree’ at about the half-way point. It’s a fun thing to see and there’s a great little restaurant at the old Pony Express stop nearby. We wrote a blog post about it the last time we were there. Have fun!

  27. I am another retired trucker. Forty or more years ago when Illinois, Indiana, and Missouri were still only 73,280 gross but States on either side were 80,000 gross we used to have to take those two US 60 bridges all the time to get around the scales. You would drive out of Paducah to Wickliffe, cross to Cairo, and then cross the Mississippi bridge to Missouri. Then those two bridges were crowded with trucks. That sharp curve on the south approach to the Ohio River bridge is too-narrow for two semis to pass. You have to be careful there.

    I once took the US 50 bridge over the Chesapeake eastbound in a semi during a severe storm. That was pretty bad. Earlier in my career I had to take the Mackinaw bridge in a blizzard. I didn’t get out of the left lane the whole way across. How about the US 301 bridge over the Potomac? It is only 2 lanes and tall-enough for ships to get under. How about the outer lane on the Williamsburg bridge between Brooklyn and Manhattan with just a foot-high rub rail between you and a long drop into the East River?

    You don’t like scary mountain passes? Why not? Wolf Creek westbound is legendary. If your brakes are smoking don’t go past the 2nd runway ramp as below there is a 180-degree horseshoe curve and if you don’t make it is outer space for another long drop into the trees far below. Even Cabbages on I-84 has seen its fair share of runaway trucks flying off a sharp curve below the lower runaway ramp. Red Mountain Pass in Colorado north of Silverton is so bad that it is not a designated truck route, nor is Independence Pass east of Aspen.

    Have you even driven up to McCall, Idaho? On the way up there is a huge hill with 4 runaway ramps and at the bottom some little old mining town with houses right up on the sidewalks and parallel-parked cars with a couple of stoplights. Every time I have been to that town the smell of hot brakes is pervasive.

    You want a scary pass? Try La Manga Pass in Colorado eastbound. I have done it in an 18-wheeler in a blizzard before. Or try McClure Pass eastbound.
    Try Dead Indian Pass north of Cody, WY or Beartooth Pass. Both go to the north entrance to Yellowstone Park. I hauled several loads of fertilizer up onto Dead Indian Pass when they were widening and paving it about 25 years ago. The west side is a narrow shell road with a couple thousand-foot drop off the side of the road. Even Oh My God Road between Idaho Springs, CO and Central City, CO is pretty tough and there is a KOA campground at the top of the hill too. You can take your motorhome on it from either end.

    Even some of those passes in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Eastern Kentucky can be tough. They don’t let trucks go downhill on Fancy Gap any more (just east of I-77 south of I-81). The old westside hill on US 40 into Uniontown used to be pretty tough but now there is a freeway bypass of town. Back in the day that hill was 4 miles of 10% grade and the last half mile of it was right through Uniontown, still down a steep hill, with 7 stoplights. US 460 heading east from Kentucky into Virginia is also a long steep hill. US 30 from Chambersburg to Breezewood, PA is another big steep hill too.

    How about in California? Hwy 18 down from Crestline to San Bernardino drops off 5000 vertical feet. How about Hwy 74 coming down into Palm Desert? Talk about narrow hairpin turns and hot brakes. I only did that one once. Every State in the Western US and Rocky Mtn. States has some steep tough roads, but hey, once you get good on them, all those other roads seem easier.

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