Overview of Nevada
Apr 27, 2009
Venture beyond Las Vegas to experience surprising attractions
Nearly everyone in the world has heard of Las Vegas, and hundreds of millions of people have visited the exciting “Entertainment Capital of the World,” enjoying the glittering resort hotels, nightlife, gourmet dining, designer shopping and scenic wonders. But, one might ask, what’s to be found beyond those dazzling city lights, in the rest of the state of Nevada?
Venturing beyond the Las Vegas lights is an experience that visitors find surprising and rewarding. Grand Canyon National Park is a short sightseeing flight from the Las Vegas Strip and some of the airlines will pick you up and drop you off at your hotel. Death Valley National Park is less than three hours from Las Vegas and enables visitors to see the driest, hottest place in the United States with the lowest elevation in North America, 282 feet below sea level at Badwater, and unforgettably desolate landscape.
Nevada is vast -- America’s seventh largest state among 50 -- and also claims the distinction of being the most mountainous, with at least 314 ranges and peaks. Its made-for-adventure landscape is part of the great American West, with forests, rivers, lakes and awesome vistas that enable a traveler to see mountain ranges 50 or 100 miles (80 to 160 kilometers) in the distance.
Nevada is a desert state, and most of the towns north of Las Vegas are at 4,000 to 6,000 feet elevation and higher, where climates are cooler and scenery greener than in the southern part of the state. Charming historic mining towns with Old West ambience await the curious visitor, guest ranches welcome those who want to step into the boots of a cowboy for a few days, and resort hotels beckon with bright lights, 24-hour dining, and, of course, Nevada’s famous casino entertainment that’s always open.
Many of Nevada’s towering mountain peaks live up to the state’s name, which is Spanish for “snowcapped.” Between the mountain ranges are picturesque valleys, perhaps with sprawling ranches and grazing cattle, fields of crops such as alfalfa, or covered with sagebrush, Nevada’s state flower.
Reno and Lake Tahoe
Nestled against the foothills of the magnificent Sierra Nevada mountain range that divides Nevada and California lies Reno, the state’s second-largest metropolitan area. Reno is different in climate, culture and geography from Las Vegas 446 miles (718 kilometers) to the southeast, but shares the amenities of resort hotel-casinos that offer gourmet dining, spas and round-the-clock entertainment.
Visitors to Reno and its neighboring city of Sparks can choose from a wide variety of activities and attractions, such as skiing and snowboarding down the snowy slopes of the Sierra Nevada, hiking mountain trails through forests of tall pine and meadows of wild flowers, cruising the cobalt blue waters of nearby Lake Tahoe on a paddlewheel boat or teeing off on a championship golf course. Less vigorous choices include pampering yourself at a spa or browsing shops and museums before enjoying a gourmet meal, taking in an exciting show or trying your luck in the casinos.
Reno also is home to Nevada’s only whitewater park, on the sparkling Truckee River that flows through the downtown hotel-casino district. The popular park offers a half-mile of frothy rapids for kayak fun and is open year-round, free of charge. The river attracts whitewater rafting enthusiasts in spring and early summer when snowmelt plumps up the rapids. Whitewater tours are available in Reno.
Lake Tahoe, which straddles the Nevada-California state line, is the third deepest lake in North America and a superb year-round mountain playground only 45 minutes from Reno by car or motorcoach. It is home to one of America’s prime ski resort areas with 15 downhill and 10 cross-country resorts. After a day on the slopes, visitors have abundant dining and nightlife choices at hotel-casinos on the Nevada side of the lake. Shopping and sightseeing opportunities are plentiful, and there’s a new ski “village” on the south shore that features stores, cafes, an ice rink, movie theater and the Heavenly Gondola, which carries passengers up the 10,000-foot mountain, stopping along the way to let sightseers experience awesome 360-degree views of the lake and surrounding valleys from a circular platform.
Nevada’s Capital City
Carson City, Nevada’s capital, 30 miles (48 kilometers) south of Reno, is a picturesque town with a stately sandstone capitol building and silver-colored dome, appropriate for the rich silver mining that helped make Nevada famous a century ago and inspired its nickname as the “Silver State.” Visitors can walk along the “Kit Carson Trail” a blue line on the sidewalk that guides pedestrians through the historic district, where they can see 1800s-vintage Victorian-style homes and mansions beneath stately cottonwood trees and learn about prominent public figures who once lived there.
Attractions include the Nevada State Museum, which houses fascinating displays of vintage slot machines, wild animals, American Indian crafts, gold and silver coins from the days when the building housed the Carson City Mint, a reconstructed ghost town, a mine shaft to walk through and much more. At the nearby Nevada State Railroad Museum, train enthusiasts can see steam engines and railroad cars more than a century old and displays of memorabilia. Rides aboard a steam train are available on certain days round the museum grounds.
Travel in Nevada is convenient. International airports serving Las Vegas and Reno are situated only a few minutes from the resort hotels. Smaller communities, such as Elko, have regional or municipal airports in town.
Two interstate highways, Interstate 80 and Interstate 15, and many U.S. highways, including U.S. 50, crisscross Nevada. Roads outside major metropolitan areas are uncrowded and nearly always dry, as Nevada receives the least precipitation of any U.S. state. Even after a snowfall in the cooler northern part of the state, roads dry quickly in the desert air.
Ten of Nevada’s most scenic areas are accessed by highways with such beautiful views that they have been designated Scenic Byways. Travelers need not wait until they arrive at the lake, mountain peak or special attraction to enjoy breathtaking scenery: just gaze out the window of your vehicle as you drive along. http://travelnevada.com/documents/guides/scenic_byways.pdf
Great Basin National Park, famous for its deep limestone Lehman Cave tours and the tallest mountain peak in Nevada (Wheeler Peak, 13,061 feet or 3.98 km), is Nevada’s only national park, and offers cave tours (bring a jacket, even in summer), camping and thrilling panoramic views. It’s accessible from U.S. 50 and U.S. 93, which join just east of the park, and is close to the border with the state of Utah.
Valley of Fire State Park, an hour’s drive from Las Vegas on Interstate 15, offers dramatic, wildly colorful rock formations in shades of red, purple, orange and yellow, paved roads for convenient sightseeing and a visitor center with displays and gifts. It’s Nevada’s oldest state park, and a visitor can easily see why it was first to be designated.
Hoover Dam, about an hour’s drive from Las Vegas, is among the engineering wonders of the world and not to be missed. This immense concrete wedge backs up the mighty Colorado River that separates Nevada and Arizona and provides for hydroelectric power. Visitors can learn about its intriguing history and inner workings at the visitor center and cruise Lake Mead on a paddle-wheeler. On the way, stop at picturesque Boulder City, 23 miles (37 kilometers) east of Las Vegas, which the U.S. government built during the great Depression of the early 1930s to house the workers on the dam. Casino gambling was not permitted there, and Boulder City remains the only Nevada community that does not allow it.
Other things to see, places to go
It’s difficult to choose from Nevada’s amazing lineup of fascinating places to go and things to see, but here is a small sampling.
- Elko, known as “The last real cowboy town in America,” is famous for ranching and cowboys, the Basque sheepherding culture, gold mining and off-road adventure in the towering Ruby Mountains. The city is situated on Interstate 80 in Nevada’s northeast corner, 430 miles (692 kilometers) north of Las Vegas or 288 miles (463 kilometers) east of Reno. It offers an array of lodging, dining, western-wear shopping and rentals for off-road vehicles to explore the mountains. Attractions include the Northeastern Nevada Museum, which features a fabulous wild animal collection, and the Western Folklife Center, home of the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering and western folklore. www.westernfolklife.org .
- Tonopah, the famed “Queen of the Silver Camps,” is where silver was discovered in 1900, triggering a historic mining boom. Today, the landscape is still dotted with century-old head frames from the days when miners dug silver fortunes from the ground. At the Tonopah Mining Park, one can tour an original mine shaft and buildings and see ore samples and artifacts from this historic era. Tonopah is situated on U.S. 95 at 6,030 feet elevation, just 209 miles (336 kilometers) northwest of Las Vegas.
- Ely (pronounced E-Lee), one of Nevada’s historic copper mining towns on U.S. 50, is famous for its railroad and museums where one can ride the “Ghost Train,” an old steam engine of the Northern Nevada Railway. More recently, the city has gained international notoriety for a collection of extraordinary murals that noted artists painted on downtown buildings to portray Ely’s history and culture. Lodging and dining are plentiful and include the historic Hotel Nevada and the Jailhouse restaurant, where patrons dine on steaks and other fare in jail cells. Ely is at the junction of U.S. 93 and U.S. 50, just 242 miles (389 kilometers) north of Las Vegas and 288 miles (463 kilometers) east of Reno.
- Virginia City, once the “richest city in the world” for the gold and silver mined from its hills 150 years ago, is Nevada’s largest and most famous mining town, nestled into the mountains 24 miles (39 kilometers) from Reno at 6,200 feet altitude. Walk the wooden sidewalks past 1800s-era brick buildings that house Old West-style saloons, gift and souvenir shops, cafes and museums. Listen to live performances at Piper’s Opera House or watch costumed performers do a “shoot out” in the street with real pistols but fake ammunition.
For more information, visit www.TravelNevada.com.