The Lincoln Highway in Basin and Range – Chapter Eight – Austin

Austin is on the Lincoln Highway and is about as far from anywhere as one would like to be. I love this little town, really love it, and I’d live there if it wasn’t so far from good medical help, a necessity as I grow older. The town is rich with mining history. It was founded in 1862 and soon had a population of ten thousand souls. Today the population is less than four hundred.

At first glance the town, while charming, does not look very prosperous; it seems as though much of the place is for sale. Dig a little deeper and you’ll see that first appearances are deceiving. Rather than go into all the details, let me point you to where you can explore what is on offer. Be certain to check out the history and photo gallery selections.

On the West Side

There is a lot of transportation history on the western approaches to Austin and a good chance the Lincoln Highway searcher will become confused. There are three iterations of the Lincoln Highway and the remnants of the Nevada Central Railroad (1880 – 1938) in roughly the same place. The railroad crossed all three highways just west of town and then circled around to the east to a point just above the west end of town. Here it joined the Austin City Railway which ran right up the main street and serviced the mines in the area. Click on the image below to enlarge:

West of Austin

East of Austin

The main obstacle on the east of town was Austin Summit, some 7400′ high. From the beginning of the town’s existence, the main road east ran up the obvious canyon which was a natural extension of the main street.

East end of Austin

Franzwa says that in the Reese River Reveille in December of 1913 there was an announcement that a survey was underway for a new highway (probably destined to be the Lincoln Highway.)

Now things become a little muddy and bear further research. In the late teens and throughout the twenties, the Forest Service went on a road building binge, thanks in part to the advent of proper equipment. The road from the east was built in 1920 by the Forest Service. The car shown in the photo is on the new road with the canyon road down below. I can find no photographs of the high road earlier than 1920.

Forest Reserve Road (1920) just east of Austin

The following photograph shows Gael Hoag’s car above Austin on the Forest Reserve Road, by now the Lincoln Highway. Matching contours and landmarks I was able to closely identify the location of several objects in the photograph.

Gael Hoag near Austin Summit (1926 or 27)

Austin Summit and Canyon Road

You can drive the old canyon road, recently used by a pipeline or telephone cable. It is an easy drive and doesn’t require four-wheel drive unless the road is muddy.

  • The northwest end is here, just off the first big curve ( 39° 29.287’N 117° 3.524’W) at the east end of town.

    Austin Canyon Road

    • At Austin Summit your access will be here ( 39° 28.914’N 117° 2.249’W

One Small Mystery

If there was a road survey in 1913, when was the surveyed road actually built? Was there no action until the Forest Reserve Road was built in 1920? In a discussion with the Toyabie Forest archeologist I learned that the records of that period no longer exist. Did the main traffic continue to use the canyon road until a new road was actually built? The many improvements of Hwy. 50 over the years have wiped out most of the archaeological record.

This photograph shows the Hoag car coming down into Austin on the unsurfaced Forest Reserve road. My attempts to find this specific location have been unsuccessful perhaps because this was covered by subsequent widening of Hwy. 50. and although it would seem to match the current “curvy bits” it’s not quite right. Note: further research underway.

Entering Austin from the East.

Bob Scott Campground

A little east of the Austin Summit is a nice campground (39.456452N  116.994642W ) although it can be quite busy at times.  Also remember that evenings here above 7000′ can be cold.

A Diversion Not on the Lincoln Highway

This is something you should try if you like natural hot springs. Spencer Hot Springs is about twenty miles east of Austin of a well traveled dirt road. It is well known to locals and hot springs people so it can become a bit wild on the weekends. I visited during the weekday and camped there.

Spencer Hot Springs

There are several hot springs in the immediate area. If one is full, just wander around and find another.

  • From the west the turnoff from Hwy. 50 is here ( 39° 24.273’N  116° 56.385’W) then take the first dirt road to the east.
  • From the east the Hwy. 50 turnoff is here ( 39° 23.279’N 116° 50.874’W).
  • Your destination is here ( 39° 19.646’N 116° 51.335’W).

Safety Note: This is the high desert and has extremes of temperature. It is just too hot to camp there in the summer and the winter nighttime temps are really low. Although this is not that isolated, you are off the main road so be careful.

Photo credits: The photographs of the Lincoln Highway in the 20’s are from Special Collections, University of Michigan Library.

Next Up: Eureka

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