CARSON CITY, Nev. – A handful of Nevada attractions and businesses are vying to be named Nevada Treasures in an online social media contest that began in March as part of the Nevada Commission on Tourism’s Discover Your Nevada campaign. Finalists in six categories were announced Monday, April 30, by the Nevada Commission on Tourism; the public has until 5 p.m. May 4 to cast online votes at

“This contest was designed to be a fun way to get people talking about Nevada’s most unique treasures,” said Claudia Vecchio, director of the Nevada Department of Tourism and Cultural Affairs, said. “We’ve seen people really get behind their favorites, courting online votes and creating a buzz about these treasures. While we’re very interested to see which treasures eventually win, the real value of the contest has been in the remarkable conversations that have been generated. People are talking about what’s available throughout the state.”

People nominated all types of things as Nevada Treasures, from historic sites and natural wonders, but also a photography symposium, restaurants, wineries and even other people.

The contest is wrapping up, with two finalists in each of six categories:

  • Cowboy Country: Shooting the West — an annual photography symposium in Winnemucca and the Star Hotel and Restaurant in Elko;
  • Indian Territory: The Lost City Museum in Overton and  Pyramid Lake in northern Nevada;
  • Las Vegas Territory: The Colorado River and Valley of Fire State Park in Overton;
  • Nevada Silver Trails Territory: Goldwell Open Air Museum — an open air sculpture park near Beatty — and Sanders Family Winery in Pahrump;
  • Pony Express Territory: Churchill Vineyards in Fallon and  the Nevada Northern Railway in Ely; and
  • Reno-Tahoe Territory: Dangberg Home Ranch Historic Park in Minden and Thunderbird Lodge National Historic Site on the east shore of Lake Tahoe.

Those representing the treasures are enthusiastic about the contest and the notoriety they’ve received thorough the social media discussions:

Cowboy Country

Shooting the West Photography Symposium got its start in 1988 when photographer Linda Dufurrena and librarian Sheri Allen developed the idea as a way to bring business to Winnemucca during the winter. Twenty-four years later, the event continues to draw shutterbugs.

“It’s one of the top photography symposiums in the country, if you gauge it by the quality of the presenters,” Stuart Scofield, the symposium’s executive director, said. Speakers have included photographers from National Geographic and other top names; this year’s event featured former combat photographer Stacy Pearsall, two-time winner of the National Press Association Photographer of the Year award. About 200 people attend the annual event, which includes presentations, workshops and juried shows.

“The Star Hotel specializes in steaks and lamb served family style,” said owner Scott Ygoa. Hearty meals served family style are a hallmark of Basque cuisine in the American West. It’s a tradition that dates back to the late 19th century, when immigrants from the Basque country -- a region straddling France and Spain – came to the United States, often taking up rooms in Basque boardinghouses that served up traditional food from the Old Country. The Star Hotel opened its doors to Elko residents and travelers in 1910.

“The original owner built this place as a home away from home,” said Ygoa, who is of Basque descent. “We try to continue that tradition as well.”

Cowboy Country is a geographic territory covering northern Nevada, except Washoe County, and including such cities as Elko, Winnemucca, Battle Mountain and Lovelock.

Indian Territory

Lost City Museum in Overton, built in the 1930s, continues to captivate the public with exhibits depicting the ancient Anasazi civilization that once existed in the area.

“The entire collection of archival materials is one of the best in the Southwest in terms of native peoples,” Nevada Division of Museums & History Administrator Peter Barton said. “The Lost City Museum has collected and interprets a lot of that culture.”

Constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps, the museum houses artifacts that were threatened by the rising water of Lake Mead, created when Hoover Dam was built.

Pyramid Lake is located about 40 miles northeast of Reno and home to the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe. The 125,000-acre lake has a National Scenic Byway along its shoreline – the only scenic byway in the country entirely within a tribal reservation – and is open for fishing, kayaking and other water recreation. Pyramid Lake also has Anaho Island, the largest breeding colony for the American white pelican in North America, according to Scott Carey, tribal planner for the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe.

“March, April and early June are the best months to see the pelicans,” Carey said.

Indian Territory is a cultural territory that includes the entire state of Nevada, which is home to three major Native American tribes: the Washoe, Paiute and Western Shoshone.

Las Vegas Territory

The Colorado River starts in the Rocky Mountains and travels west where it forms part of the border between Nevada and Arizona before heading to the Gulf of California. It wends its way past the city of Laughlin, a resort destination that owes its popularity in large part to the waterway.

“People love the river,” Meg McDaniel of the Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority said. “By the time it gets to Laughlin, it’s a much calmer body of water.”

The Colorado flows at about 7 knots in this area, according to McDaniel, making it a popular spot for fishing, boating, water skiing and other water sports, as well as riverboat cruises and sightseeing.

Dedicated in 1935, Valley of Fire is Nevada’s oldest state park. Dramatic red sandstone formations and unexpected color from spring wildflowers draw thousands of visitors every year; it’s also what captivated Jim Hammons, the park’s supervisor for the past 20 years, when he first saw the area.

“You can’t believe the impact that had on me,” Hammons said. “That intense color – it was something I did not expect.”

Valley of Fire offers campgrounds, picnic areas, hiking trails and a visitor center where people can learn about the area’s geology, ecology and history. Things to see at this park include petroglyphs – ancient rock art – and petrified wood.

Las Vegas Territory is a geographic territory that includes Las Vegas and surrounding areas, such as Laughlin, Boulder City and Mesquite.

Nevada Silver Trails Territory

Suzanne Hackett-Morgan stumbled across what would become the Goldwell Open Air Museum near Beatty in 1994, when she was hired for a job that involved taking an inventory of outdoor sculptures in southern Nevada. Belgian artist Albert Szukalski and some of his fellow artists had created the  sculptures in the 1980s; among them is Szukalski’s often-photographed reproduction of Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Last Supper,” with cloaked figures representing Jesus and the apostles.

Hackett-Morgan eventually became friends with Szukalski, and before his death in 2000, Hackett-Morgan said he asked her to “keep it going.” She created the nonprofit Goldwell Open Air Museum, which oversees the seven statues now standing in this area of the Amargosa desert. The museum is open to the public, and there is a volunteer-run visitor center on-site.

The Sanders Family Winery in Pahrump is the other finalist from the Nevada Silver Trails Territory.

“Grapes like hot, dry climates,” Jack Sanders of Sanders Family Winery tells visitors who are surprised to find a winery in the desert. “Grapes do really well in Nevada.”

He should know – Sanders has been in the wine business since 1988. In 2011, he opened Sanders Family Winery, which produces nine wines, including zinfandel and chardonnay. This year, Sanders will bring out burgundy and sauvignon blanc for the first time. Just don’t ask him which is his favorite.

“That’s like asking a father who his favorite kid is,” he said. “It all depends on the time of day.”

The winery is open for tours, and also has an amphitheater where special events such as plays and music festivals are offered.

Nevada Silver Trails Territory is a geographic territory that covers most of southern Nevada, excluding the Las Vegas area. It includes the cities of Hawthorne, Tonopah and Rachel.

Pony Express Territory

“There’s a huge local food movement going on right now,” Ashley Frey of Churchill Vineyards said. “And that’s what we’re all about.”

Churchill Vineyards in Fallon is owned and operated by the Frey family, including Ashley’s husband, Colby, and his parents. The Freys planted their first vineyard in 2001, and released their first wines in 2004. The wine is processed on site, said Frey, who added that she is proud to tell visitors that “this wine has never left Nevada.” The Riesling and gewürztraminer have won awards; those and other Churchill Vineyards wines can be found with local retailers – the Freys list distributors on their website. They also open the vineyard by appointment. 

The Nevada Northern Railway is an historic railroad that once hauled copper ore from the mines west of Ely to the smelters north of the city.

“There’s no place like it in the country,” Mark Bassett, the railway’s executive director, said. “This is where time stopped half a century ago. You walk up to the original ticket window, and you go out and board the original train.”

The railway got its start in 1905, when the Nevada Consolidated Copper Company built a 150-mile rail line to move the copper ore. Today, visitors can ride the original steam and diesel engines on the section of track that runs from Ely to the town of McGill.

Pony Express Territory is a geographic territory anchored by U.S. 50, the east-west highway that bisects the state, and includes the towns of Austin, Ely and Fallon.

Reno-Tahoe Territory

Thunderbird Lodge, completed in 1939 on the east shore of Lake Tahoe, was the home of George Whittell, an eccentric San Francisco millionaire who once kept an elephant and a tiger on the property.

“He was a colorful character; the center of the story,” Bill Watson, chief executive and curator of the Thunderbird Lodge Preservation Society, said. He describes Whittell as an “accidental conservationist,” because he chose not to develop the 20-plus miles of east Lake Tahoe shoreline that he owned, keeping it in the undeveloped state that exists today. Visitors to the Thunderbird Lodge can take a docent-guided tour of the main house and adjacent servant’s quarters, the boat house and the card house.

The Dangberg Ranch Home Historic Park has been a favorite in Minden for more than a century.

German immigrant Heinrich Dangberg began building the ranch in 1857, which was expanded over the years to become a 4,000-square-foot, 15-room structure. Four generations of Dangbergs called the place home, well into the 1990s. Today, Dangberg Ranch is a museum whose collection of 40,000 items all are original to the site or to the Dangberg family, said Mark Jensen, curator of the Friends of Dangberg Ranch, the nonprofit that runs the museum. Those items include mementoes of George Ferris Jr., inventor of the Ferris wheel and younger brother of Heinrich Dangberg’s wife; and actor Will Rogers, a family friend.

Reno-Tahoe Territory is a geographic territory that includes the areas of Lake Tahoe, Washoe County and Carson Valley.

For more information about the Discover Your Nevada campaign, visit or


The Nevada Commission on Tourism (NCOT) is part of the Nevada Department of Tourism and Cultural Affairs. NCOT promotes and markets Nevada as a tourism destination through its marketing and advertising programs and by coordinating partnerships between public and private entities in tourism-promoting activities. NCOT administers a grant program for local entities to promote tourism and publishes Nevada Magazine.