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US 395, Part 11: Carson City (NV 529, Business US 395, NV 530, Future I-580)

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Go to: Part 10 | Main 395 page | Part 12

Carson City is the capital of Nevada, unique for being a completely independent city with no enclosing county (since 1969; it was originally the seat of now-defunct Ormsby county, named for Maj. Wm. M. Ormsby, one of the original settlers of the city who was killed in 1860). Like so many cities in Nevada, Carson City was originally a mining town and was first settled during the rich gold and silver strikes of the 1850s as Eagle Station, a trading post, in 1851. Named for an eagle skin stretched on the wall of the trading post shot by founder Frank Hall, the small town nucleus grew in size and attracted settlers of all walks, including one Abraham Curry who found land around Genoa to be too expensive to purchase and bought the cheaper lots around Eagle Ranch instead. With associates John Musser, Frank Proctor and Ben Green, Curry plotted a master plan for a city he would christen Carson City on his new holdings. Incorporated in 1858, the city exploded when the Comstock silver lode was struck in 1859 and again with the Big Bonanza silver strike of 1873; although the mines have quieted since, Carson City still maintains a prosperous population of 52,457 [2000] today. After the merger of Ormsby county into the city itself for administrative reasons, it can be said that while Carson City is definitely not one of the nation's most populous, it is truly one of the largest, as the city limits took over the entire area of the former county and now span 143.5 square miles.

[Kit Carson] Carson City's name comes from explorer Christopher "Kit" Carson, who, as we have discussed frequently to this point, was the famous scout of John C. Fremont (Part 2). Fremont named the Carson River for him and when formally incorporated in 1858, the city was also given his name; subsequently, his eponymous city was named the state's capital after its ascent to statehood in 1864. (Unbelievably, Abe Curry had already anticipated its future as the state's capital and had already set 10 acres aside for the capitol buildings during the city's planning phase, three years before Nevada would become even just a territory; it was admittedly Curry's shrewd political manoeuvring that made its establishment as capital possible.) The current alignment of US 50/US 395 through downtown and past the Capitol complex officially bears the name of the Kit Carson Trail in the present day.

We've talked so much about things named for Kit Carson that we should probably speak a bit about him as well. Born in Kentucky in 1809, he left the South at the age of 15 for New Mexico and established himself as a trader and trapper. Well regarded by the local Indians and Mexicans, his reputation was quite formidable and only became more so when Fremont tapped him to assist with his topographic expedition. It was on these expeditions that Carson particularly distinguished himself as a frontiersman, as we have seen (especially in Parts 9 and 10), and the liberal application of his surname to nearly everything in sight should be considered well-deserved. Carson also had significant experience in the military as a soldier and officer, fighting in the Mexican War and later the Civil War (of which New Mexico was considered a Union state, despite having a token number of slaves). His successful campaign against the Navajo (Carson was responsible for the notorious forced relocation known as the "long walk"), as well as a triple-threat stalemate against the Kiowa, Comanche and Cheyenne, gained him the brevet rank of brigadier-general in the Army. In 1865, with the Civil War ended and his Indian campaigns concluded, Carson retired from the Army and moved to Colorado where he maintained a ranch up until his death three years later in Boggsville, CO. He is buried in Taos, NM, alongside his wife Josephine.

Carson City is an interesting city to roadgeeks in that it is a state capital with no Interstate highway (not even a 3 digit), but all that is due to change in the near future. Even US 395 itself in Carson City is in a state of indeterminate routing. Until 17 February 2006, US 395 still appeared to pass through Carson City along its old routing on Carson St, but what was signed US 395 (and partially US 50) was and remains designated and postmiled actually as NV 529. On that date, a new freeway bypass was opened around the northeast quadrant of the city, signed US 395, but to become part of the southern portion of the new I-580 between Reno and Carson City. South of exit 39 at Williams St, US 395 hitchhiked with US 50 west back into town to exit south along NV 529 on its old routing. On 25 September 2009, the US 395 freeway extension to Fairview Drive opened, with US 395 and US 50 now on a new TEMP US 395/US 50 alignment on Fairview signed as TO US 395/US 50, with BR 395 extended south to Fairview. The pictures you will see below are a mix of both old and new for illustrative purposes.

The full bypass will actually connect to the US 50-US 395 intersection we saw at the end of Part 10, and both US 50 and US 395 will bypass the southeastern quadrant on the new freeway. We will see pieces of this below, and more of I-580 as we get closer to Reno. Andy Field has a schematic of the proposed I-580/US 395 freeway bypassing Carson City to the east.

EB US 50/NB US 395 entering town as Carson St. The parallel road on the right carries Bike Route (BikeRt) 395, which we saw the terminus of at the end of the previous Part. We'll have more to say about that in Part 12.

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Proof this is not really US 395 or US 50. This is the first visible postmile as of the time this photograph was taken (September 2005), facing SB a mile before the southern US 50/US 395 junction, clearly showing the route as NV 529. There are no reassurance shields currently up, of course, because they all still say US 395/US 50.

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NB Carson St. It's pretty obvious why this will be signed as a business route; despite the congestion, it is an important city thoroughfare.

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The Marriott Courtyard is my favourite hotel in Carson City. Whenever I'm up this way, business or pleasure, I always stay here. It is plush, comfortable, has lots of services, conveniently located, and reasonably priced.

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Here is said plush room, from a recent trip. It may have a fairly underwhelming vista of the dog walk and parking garage, but the bed is great and the little living room is luxurious.

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Koontz Ln.

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NB NV 529/"US 395/US 50".

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The Nevada State Railroad Museum in Carson City, open on weekends with (as you can see) train rides and other attractions, with over 65 locomotives and cars in their collection. A worthwhile stop for the railfan.

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Fork 1: TEMPORARY US 395/US 50

Approaching Fairview Dr, we get our first signage of TEMP US 395/US 50, which was requested by NDOT and approved by AASHTO 15 May 2009. This is a small connector bypass taking traffic out of the downtown to the (currently) constructed freeway to Fairview. We'll cover this first before we resume down Carson St on the oldest alignment of US 395. The routing is fairly nondescript city street, but as you have no doubt appreciated thus far, I try to be comprehensive about signed alignments.

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Just beyond that sign, though, is the old NORTH US 395/EAST US 50 shield assembly, which will disappear when the freeway is completed.

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Approaching the turn.

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Snow route signage as we turn onto Fairview.

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EB Fairview Dr/NB TEMP US 395/EB TEMP US 50.

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Some fine old machines out and about as we make our photosurvey.

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Roop St (see Part 16).

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TO US 395/US 50.

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Saliman Rd.

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TO US 395/US 50, the final "TEMP" package along this routing.

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Junction US 395/US 50 freeway. Notice that Reno is the only advance signage up while the freeway is built south of here. For the brief period of time pictured which I conveniently had my camera for, the TO packages were up, but the ramps here were closed, perplexing a great number of motorists (including me). NDOT jumped the gun in one more case which we'll get to presently. We'll show this junction from the freeway side at the end.

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As we head back to Carson St, here is the Carson-Fairview intersection again. Notice that, facing westbound, SB TEMP US 395/US 50 is shown heading south along US 395, as you would expect, ...

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... but as of this writing, the segment of Carson St between US 50 and Fairview is still signed "straight."

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Fork 2: Carson Street/NV 529

North of Fairview Dr, Stewart Street splits off, functioning somewhat as an eastern bypass of the downtown.

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After TEMP US 395/US 50 went in, so did this BUSINESS US 395 shield just in front of the Stewart St "exit."

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Because of the frequent traffic stops, through trucks use the left lane. This is a bit vexing, but you were supposed to go on the US 395 freeway anyway, remember?

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Red's Old 395 Grill, a fun little steakhouse. So here's a few photos, thanks to the US 395 theme.

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In the parking lot: yo, wouldn't want my homies giving no props to the devil, would we, y'all? (Check out the phat license plate fuzzing to avoid wack negativism towards my Christian brother, or possibly sister.) ... bah, I'm too white. Never mind.

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The neon at night.

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The interior is fun, sort of that rambling themed atmosphere that is now in vogue, although I was disappointed there weren't more US 395 related memorabilia items inside (and in fact, their menu gives US 395 an Interstate shield -- heresy! heresy!!). But the portions are reasonably priced and certainly ample (possibly even gargantuan).

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Stewart Avenue? And, although I am a proud half-Aussie, what's that Australian flag doing there?

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Back on the road at junction 5th Street, unsigned NV 513. The state government complex is ahead to the right.

At this point, I left my car in the restaurant parking lot to take in the sights in person. The next set of photographs up to William St (old US 50) were taken on foot.

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NV 513 postmile hidden in the bushes.

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BikeRt 395 again, also at the 5th St turnoff.

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North of here, Carson St/US 50/US 395 officially carries the designation of the Kit Carson Trail. Various medallions embedded in the footpath and sidewalks display the honour.

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Pony Express station marker at Carson and 3rd Sts. The Pony Express, America's storied western interstate mail system until the completion of the transcontinental telegraph on 24 October 1861, existed between 3 April 1860 and 20 November 1861. Created and run by Central Overland California and Pike's Peak Express Company, the Express covered 1,966 miles from St. Joseph, MO to Sacramento, CA and was entirely horse-operated with a flock of some 400 Mustangs and Morgans except for a ferry boat to cross the Missouri River. Typically, the route took roughly ten days, although for Lincoln's inaugural address the fleetest of the fleet managed the run in 7 days, 17 hours. Although the Pony Express proved that the central route to California was useable all-year and covered some 650,000 miles in its short life reliably delivering packages and messages, it was a financial failure despite its fame and did not win the government's overland mail contract. With its backers $200,000 in the red, the investors rapidly divested themselves of the Express and it was eventually absorbed into Wells Fargo's stage operations for a cool $2 million. From a roadgeek perspective, the Pony Express trail is also important as by establishing the central trail to California as a valid alternative, it made it attractive to boosters of the Lincoln Highway (to be discussed presently) and thus became part of that highway's southern fork, later to become US 50.

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The Nevada State Legislature building. During Nevada's earliest days as a territory, the legislature met at Abe Curry's Warm Springs Hotel (today, in a distinctly charming irony, the State Prison has taken over the site). Between 1862 and 1869, the legislature then met in the original Ormsby county building, which in those days was on the west side of Carson St, between King and Musser. When the state capitol building was completed, the legislature moved there and met there between 1871 and 1969 (see the commentary on the Capitol building below). The Legislature building used today was opened in 1971; Nevada is one of only three states (Nevada, North Carolina and Arizona) where the legislature meets somewhere else other than the capitol.

Here are two nice resources about Nevada's political history (#1 and #2), by the way.

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State Seal of Nevada, on the floor of the rotunda going in. The security staff were very accomodating and even permitted me to bring in my full tripod.

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Inside the State Senate chambers.

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State Assembly chambers. The portrait on the wall is the "Nevada Lincoln," an oil portrait of President Abraham Lincoln (president during Nevada's ascent to statehood) by Charles M. Shean. It was originally placed over the speaker's rostrum in the Assembly chamber of the state capitol since its unveiling 14 March 1915, and was moved to its present spot in 1973. The painting was commissioned for Nevada's 50th year as a state.

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Across the state government complex.

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The state Supreme Court building. This building is very recent; the court moved here in 1992. Originally, it also took up residence with other state offices in Abe Curry's Great Basin Hotel (now the City Courthouse), at the corner of Carson and Musser Sts. In 1871, it moved to the capitol building until its own building was built in 1937 across the street, and remained there in the so-called Supreme Court and Library Building until the new court was completed. The Attorney General occupies the old offices.

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The state Capitol. Contrary to popular belief, the Capitol dome is not covered with silver and never was; it was only ever tin that was painted silver, and today is actually silver-coloured fibreglass due to seismic retrofitting. The Nevada State Capitol is considered the third oldest still in use of the states' west of the Mississippi, based on first date of legislature meeting; ours in California is widely recognized to be the oldest remaining (construction from 1856-74 with first state legislature meeting in 1869), and Kansas is second (construction from 1866 to 1906, with first meeting in 1870), while Nevada's was built from 1870-1 with its first meeting in 1871. However, Nevada's legislature no longer meets here, so it is arguable if it still meets criteria despite five of the state's constitutional offices still being present.

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Demolition of the Capitol was seriously entertained in 1957, but popular disapproval scrapped the proposal in favour of additional upgrades in 1959 and the Capitol was eventually completely renovated by the 1980s. This new marble foyer and statue were part of the upgrades; the statue depicts Sarah Winnemucca (1844?-1891), a Northern Paiute Indian activist and educator and granddaughter of the famous Chief Truckee, a Paiute nobleman who befriended and guided many settlers in those days (including a certain explorer named John C. Fremont, with whom he fought the Mexicans during the 1840s). Truckee's name graces one of the region's rivers (as well as Truckee, CA) in honour of his contributions and selflessness. First obtaining prominence as a translator for the Army, Sarah witnessed many of the campaigns against her people from both a military and Indian perspective. When the Paiutes interned at the Malheur Reservation in Oregon did not receive their lands as promised, nor were Indian prisoners released after hostilies ceased, Sarah went on the offensive to publicize their plight and gave nearly three hundred lectures between 1883-4. Her efforts were unsuccessful in the short term, and she died discouraged at the age of 47. However, her attempts were not in vain, as she demonstrated a strong commitment to asserting her own people's right to self-determination and would by her actions establish a model for Indian affairs in the next century. The modern city of Winnemucca, NV is also named for her. A picture of present Governor Kenny C. Guinn hangs in the background.

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The original Senate Assembly chambers. A replica of the "Nevada Lincoln" hangs in its original position. It is still occasionally used for meetings.

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The Senate chamber, however, is now a museum, showing the evolution and changes in the state governmental buildings and city.

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Particularly relevant to us roadgeeks is this early signage from the Lincoln Highway, one fork of which runs along US 395 today (we'll see evidence of this as we get closer to the northern US 50 separation). The Lincoln Highway is the United States' first marked coast-to-coast highway, its routing established in 1913 by automobile enthusiast Carl G. Fisher and his backers, who collectively formed the Lincoln Highway Association created "to procure the establishment of a continuous improved highway from the Atlantic to the Pacific, open to lawful traffic of all description without toll charges." Notably, automotive manufacturer Henry Ford refused to support the project, believing that government and not private citizens should be involved in road infrastructure as it was not possible for a private concern to maintain the massive public works investment that would be required. Even without his assistance, however, the project gained wide awareness and much hoopla along the 34-day trek west from New York City to San Francisco to establish the formal alignment. The routing was then dedicated 31 October 1913; some of the roads were even specially washed to allow dancing on them!

The signage exhibited here in the old Nevada senate chamber was part of the locally funded (in this case, in California) marker system used to indicate the highway's alignment, but the highway description itself was actually published in guidebook format and the FHWA site above describes some of the fascinating hallmarks of the route as documented in this Official Road Guide; additional upgrades and bypasses were merely noted by changes in the book because the LHA was unable itself to pay for the actual road's upkeep (Henry Ford thus being vindicated). Several short stretches were paved with local funds and money from LHA backers, including the 1922-3 "Ideal Section" through Indiana (which is still in existence), and the road's success would directly lead to government attention to the otherwise shoddy state of contemporary roads and the rise of the Federal "US" highway system. However, it was the experiences of a young Army lieutenant colonel traveling on a military convoy on the route in 1919, along with his observations of the Autobahn in Germany as a general in World War II, that directly led to the formation of the modern, high-speed national government-funded road network that Henry Ford had believed would one day occur. That young officer became President Dwight Eisenhower, who formulated his experiences into his "Grand Plan" of highways and the birth of the national Interstate highway system.

As for the Lincoln Highway, the official designation would lapse with the formation of the Federal highway system and its approval in 1926. To preserve the route, however, the LHA staged one last stunt and on 1 September 1928, at 1pm, Boy Scouts across the routing placed approximately 2,500 concrete markers at major crossings and intervals to mark the former alignment. We will get to see one of these markers in a moment. Despite the LHA closing its doors shortly thereafter, the highway carried on and became fully paved and sealed by 1938, and the route's marking is becoming renewed in the present day after decades of dormancy by local historical groups and boosters in a fashion not unlike Carl Fisher and the original LHA. (Fisher himself died in 1939, having lost most of his fortune to the Depression.) Today, the modern Lincoln Highway Association carries the torch and is dedicated to the route's continued preservation.

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Quick, honey, let's get hitched in a slovenly marriage-a-minute chapel! The office is only six blocks away! (Along Carson St parallel to the Capitol.)

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Now exiting the Capitol complex, we come to Musser St, named for Curry's acquaintance John Musser. The US 395 shield has fallen off the traffic signal pole in this 2007 image. Since then, the US 50 was also taken down and this now says BUSINESS US 395.

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The city hall, another city hall along US 395.

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"Cactus Joe, I lost money to Vegas Vic. I knew Vegas Vic. Vegas Vic broke my kneecaps over a defaulted marker. Cactus Joe, you're no Vegas Vic."

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Really, Carson City isn't much of a gambling destination, but for the desperately addicted, there are various casino institutions that will gladly relieve you of your money (Reno in Parts 13 and 14 gets a lot more sin traffic).

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Lincoln Highway concrete post, as placed in 1928 (see above for the occasion), and a Pony Express trail marker placed along the route for the Express' 100th anniversary in 1960-1.

The plaque on the Lincoln Highway post reads Lincoln Highway: First Marked Coast To Coast Federal Highway, Now: US 50, San Francisco to Salt Lake City, US 30, Salt Lake City to Philadelpha, US 1, Philadelphia to New York City. This is somewhat of an oversimplification; there are actually two portions of the Lincoln Highway in California, and this sign only recognizes one. Classically, the northern "Donner" fork more or less follows old US 50 (now I-580, I-205 and I-5) from San Francisco to Sacramento, then old US 40 (now I-80) east to Reno, then US 40 (I-80) to near Wadsworth and then southeast on then-NV 2 (later ALT US 95, now ALT US 50) to US 50 west of Fallon, and then east on US 50. The California portion of this route is well-signed with commemorative markers as Lincoln Highway in the field (having driven it personally), although Dan Faigin marks it as Lincoln Highway (Alternate). In 1927, the portion from Davis to San Francisco was later realigned along what is now I-80.

This plaque, on the other hand, asserts only the southern "Pioneer" routing, which was US 50 from San Francisco to Sacramento, staying on US 50 to Carson City; then north on US 50 (and later US 395/US 50) to US 50 again, and east on US 50 from Carson City; moreover, this post's placement as highway designation is only possible on the southern routing. Note that both routings were established more or less at the same time, so IMHO it is somewhat misleading to indicate one or the other as an alternate route.

From US 50 on, the routing is less ambiguous. Today, the route is best approximated by US 50 to ALT US 50/US 91 (now I-15) at the south end of Salt Lake City, then north on ALT US 50/US 91 (I-15) to US 30S (now I-80) in Salt Lake City, then east on US 30S (I-80) to US 30, and US 30 to Philadelphia, then US 1 from Philadelphia to New York City.

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Top of the post. There is an extensive essay on the Memorial Markers, furnished by the modern-day Lincoln Highway Association. These markers are heavy duty and heavyweight, weighing approximately 220 pounds, consisting of a hexagonal post, a rectangular head with a pyramid peak, and central steel-rebar reinforcement. Embedded in the head is a bronze medallion of President Lincoln, as well as a coloured directional arrow pointing to the through route and the famous red-white-blue "L" endorsement. The "L" badge was not painted -- the colours are actually separate pieces of cast concrete with colour added to them, and were incorporated into the post as a unit. This greatly aided their durability.

The plaque shown above was not part of the original post and I am not certain when it was added. Since this was taken facing west, the arrow is pointing south along US 50/US 395 Carson St.

As far as I am aware, this is the original marker that stood, not a replica. The rarity of these markers has made them targets of theft, and those that remain have been badly vandalized, ruining their classic facade; even the honourable western terminus post on California St in San Francisco has suffered under the thoughtless thuggery of taggers. Those sorts of brats should grow up.

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This state landmark is the old United States Mint building, established by Congressional order in 1862. Because of the nearby Comstock silver lode and the high cost of transport to San Francisco, then the closest mint in operation, it made sense to establish a more local mint to cut currency manufacturing overhead. From its opening in 1870 to the ceasing of its coin operations in 1893, the Carson City branch of the United States Mint produced a whopping US$49,274,434.30 in coin. Today, the Mint houses the Nevada State Museum.

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Another Pony Express monument from the 1960-1 centennial, near the old Mint.

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The annex of the Nevada State Museum, next door to the Mint.

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Finally, the northern leg of US 50 at the intersection of William St and Carson St. Recall from our discussion above that this is no longer US 50 either; it is actually legislative (unsigned) NV 530 to the US 50/US 395 junction along future I-580. From there, US 50 plunges into the lonely waste of desert through Virginia City and Fallon along the southern Lincoln Hwy alignment. Nevada has signed it officially as the state's "Loneliest Highway" and no one would ever contest it. The Roadgap What's New page has one of these special Loneliest Highway shields.

This photograph and the next two were taken in 2005, before the completion of the partial quadrant bypass. Keep these three photographs in mind, because we'll be coming back to this location in a "couple years" (at the end of this Part).

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From the SB side. Note how Minden is the control city for US 395.

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Back in the car. First US 395 shield north of the northern US 50/US 395 separation.

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Carson St NB through the north end of town.

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Winnie Ln.

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Turnoff for the airport. Notice that we have a "control city" now (Reno).

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NB Carson St/NB BR 395/NB NV 529. The US 395 freeway is now visible.

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W. College Parkway. There are no trailblazers for this junction with NV 531.

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However, an END sign and postmile did appear on the other side of the intersection at one time (this picture is from 2005); they are no longer there now.

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Approaching the junction with future I-580/US 395 and the end of NV 529.

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Warning signage at the freeway entrance north. This frequently reported high winds whenever I've been around the area.

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Freeway entrance.

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Last NV 529 postmile just before the underpass. This seems to have disappeared, possibly a construction casualty, so I have used a picture here during the freeway's construction.

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NB US 395 freeway to Reno.

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Fork 3: SCREEEEEECH: US 395 Northeast Bypass (Future I-580)

At this point, I pulled a U-turn across multiple lanes of traffic and hopped the Jersey kerb to bring you, my readers, this view of the completed northeastern quadrant bypass in late 2006. I was finally released with a reckless driving conviction from the Nevada State Penitentiary thanks to good behaviour and a copy of the Star Wars Christmas Special smuggled to the warden, and my parole officer says I might even get to serve on a state jury one day.

Just kidding. Here is the beginning of the new bypass descending from US 395 southbound this time (which is the clearest way to demonstrate the exits).

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Yes, Carson St is now signed as US 395 Business from the new US 395 freeway.

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In 2006, the freeway ended fairly shortly at the US 50 exit. More about this in a moment.

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Note that the postmiles are US 395. Why does this make a difference? Wait until Part 14, and I'll tell you.

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Advance signage for the US 395/US 50 exit in 2006. When the bypass was completed, this sign was revised to simply say US 50 east.

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End freeway, as it was in 2006 (I'll show you the current sign after we finish this little retrospective).

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Original separation signage for US 50 EB and US 50 WB/US 395 SB on the off-ramp. Now that there is TEMP US 395/US 50, the overhead is off the westbound part.

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When the freeway ended here (2006-2009), there was official WB US 50/SB US 395 signage on William St, even though this was and is NV 530. There is one sign so far for NV 530, and we'll see it shortly. All the US 50/US 395 sign packages on William St are now gone.

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Originally there was no signage at this junction except for US 395.

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After the bypass was extended, this new signage then went up, completely obliterating US 50 from William St west of the new freeway. Notice that this was taken before the extension opened, so despite NDOT signing the routes early, you couldn't actually follow them as signed because the southbound onramp was still blocked. Compare with TEMP US 395/US 50 above.

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Note also that this was, and remains, BikeRt 50.

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Back to the corner of Carson and Williams Sts, and the signed end of NV 530. During this split-time, US 395 got a business banner for the bypassed northern portion of Carson St but was still shown as "mainline" heading south.

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Finally, do you remember our pictures from above? What's different here? [US 395 is shown with north and east arrows, and a business banner.]

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How about here? [Trick question -- at the time this image was taken in 2006, nothing. Since then, the SOUTH US 395 has been tagged with a BUSINESS banner.]

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NV 530 terminal postmile on a nearby pole.

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As we glance back at the US 395 reassurance shield north of the junction, it now has a BUSINESS banner.

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So back to the original end of the freeway; in 2009, the extension opened and the End Freeway gantry was completely revised. US 395 is now off the exit and continues south with US 50 along the new freeway. On all these signs is open space for future I-580 shields.

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US 395 and US 50 shields.

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End freeway just before Fairview Dr.

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"Control cities" for Fairview Dr. This sign likely will be taken down or revised when the junction connects to the US 50-US 395 separation.

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Exit 38 and the end of the current US 395-US 50 bypass.

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Oddly, a US 50 postmile is here, which does not match the markings for the rest of the highway.

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TO US 395/US 50 signage, completing our loop as TEMP US 395/US 50.

Continue to Part 12

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