Road Blog: Shoe Tree

A beautiful old (and immense) cottonwood east of Fallon, Nevada, that became The Shoe Tree.


On U.S. 50, between Fallon and Austin, Nevada. I noticed a couple cars pulled off the north side of the road; and then I saw why. Thousands of shoes hanging in a big cottonwood. Mostly running and gym-type shoes. A few pairs of work boots. At least one pair of cowboy boots. They’re hung from some of the highest branches, so a lot of climbing goes into this project.

We stopped. There was a couple in an older minivan headed west and a woman in a sedan with New Mexico plates. I asked whether anyone knew the story behind the shoes. The couple shrugged. The New Mexico woman said, “I do.” The legend, as she called it, is that a newlywed couple had a fight and flung their shoes into the tree. “Where did you hear the legend?” I asked. “I’m a tourist,” she said — on her way back to New Mexico after a month on the road. “I found the story in a brochure back in Fernley — this passport thing I got.”

The passport thing turned out to be “The Official Hwy. 50 Survival Guide: The Loneliest Road in America,” a production of the Nevada Commission on Tourism. The guide is an attempt to turn lonely U.S. 50 into a tourist route; you can get a copy at stores along the route, and collect stamps at each of the major towns along U.S. 50’s “loneliest” stretch: from west to east, Fernley, Fallon, Austin, Eureka, and Ely. Kate got one in Austin, and we stopped throughout the afternoon and early evening getting it stamped. Now she can send in a postcard from the guide and get a lovely parting gift from the state tourist people.

Unusual day along 50, by the way: It rained about halfway across the state; at one stop, Cold Springs, the bar/restaurant/motel/RV park proprietor said it was the first rain in four months. And further east, we encountered a road crew cleaning up rock slides on a canyon section of the highway. We wound up in Wendover, Utah, a couple blocks east of the Nevada state line (and a couple blocks into Mountain Time). Left Berkeley at 9:30 this morning, got here at 10:30 (our time). Rain notwithstanding, we drove 650 miles in those 13 hours.

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