Exploring Nevada

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There was a time back in the earlier 1800s that trappers and traders, including Jedediah Smith and Peter Skene Ogden, entered the Nevada lands and explored the Great Basin and Sierra Nevada. The U.S. obtained the region in 1848 following the Mexican War. The first settlers were Mormons who ran a trading post near present-day Genoa.

Nevada is the driest state in the Union, with an average annual rainfall of about 7 inches. Much of the land is sagebrush-covered desert. The wettest part receives about 40 inches of precipitation per year, while the driest area has less than 4 inches per year.

The state was made famous by the discovery in 1859 of the Comstock Lode, the richest known U.S. silver deposit, and the mines have produced large quantities of gold, silver, copper, lead, zinc, mercury, barite, and tungsten ever since. Oil was discovered in 1954, but gold now far exceeds all other minerals in value of production.

In 1931, the state begot two industries — divorce and gambling. Reno and Las Vegas are the divorce capitals of the nation because of liberal divorce laws. Nevada is the gambling capital of America.

With that said, let’s explore the state. First, it is one of the largest in the Union. There is Las Vegas, of course, with its many hotels and resorts with large gambling palaces, but Las Vegas is also the entertainment capital of the United States. The Reno-Tahoe area has plenty of action and feels more un-crowded and leisurely.

Reno offers fine hotels and resorts, great dining opportunities and of course, gambling. Many spots feature club shows and sometimes name talent. The area hosts festivals, museums, and various other entertainment.

Lake Tahoe is another treat. The lake boasts 70 miles of majestic shoreline with recreation opportunities in and around the clear, blue body of water. South Lake Tahoe has all the casinos, world-class acts and nightlife. The lake area is well known for activities such as hiking, biking, camping and water sports in the warm months. In winter, world-class skiing abounds in some 22,000 acres at 15 resorts, which include Squaw Valley.

The Lake Tahoe Music Festival and Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival head the list of many interesting events in July. Check the Web for monthly activities and dates.

While at Lake Tahoe try the two Mississippi-style paddle wheelers — the Tahoe Queen and M.S. Dixie II — for some summer cruising around the lake; call 866-820-0615 for details. At Shoreline Zephyr Cove Resort there are marina watercraft rentals along with a lodge, restaurant, lakeside cabins, an RV park and campground.

If you’d like to ride the train, try the Virginia & Truckee Railroad. It will begin in Virginia City at a small depot on F Street. This 35-minute ride covers a little less than six miles. During the leisurely experience, riders are treated to an informative talk as the conductor relates anecdotes about the area’s history and points out places of historic interest along the way, including original mining head frames and mill sites. The railroad operates from Memorial Day until the end of October. Plans are in the works to expand the route 21 miles, ending in Carson City.

In Carson City, the state capital, the visitors’ bureau has marked a path in blue that guides you through the city’s glorious history. The blue line takes you 2.5 miles on what is called the Kit Carson Trail. You’ll walk past 60 historic homes, buildings, churches and government buildings. You’ll also see the Nevada State Museum.

Much of Nevada looks just as it did when the pioneers traveled west more than a century ago. The eastern side of the state along U.S. Highway 93 lays claim to the largest National Wildlife Range in the United States — Pahranagat National Wildlife Refuge. Plan to stop at this lush, water-rich area, which teems with waterfowl and wildlife. It is only two hours northeast of Las Vegas. Search the hiking trails for ancient Indian writings and carvings on the rocks called petroglyphs.

Keep driving north to Caliente — a town that got its name from the bubbling hot springs nearby. Caliente is also the perfect headquarters for exploring the surrounding 14 wilderness areas of the Silver State, as well as Old West towns, such as Pioche. Rich gold mines in the 1860s put Pioche on the map.

For a truly “out of this world experience” set out on State Route 375, also known as the “Extraterrestrial Highway.” This east-west route skirts the famous Area 51. You’ll hear stories of UFOs and strange happenings in the desert. The hub of all this extraterrestrial speculation is in Rachel, a small town with one restaurant, one motel, 98 residences and an unknown number of aliens. The restaurant and motel, aptly named Little A’Le’Inn, serves up a tasty Alien Burger and their signature cocktail, The Cherry-a 51. This will be a good place to photograph and discuss with your friends when you get back home.

A tour of Hoover Dam is always interesting as well as some time spent on Lake Mead. The dam, built in 1936, is the third highest in the world and supplies power to more than 20 million people in Las Vegas, Phoenix, Los Angeles and San Diego. Rent a houseboat and spend some time on the lake. Fishing, relaxing, and fun await here.

Of course, Las Vegas is the biggest draw for many. The city continues to grow and grow, offering more outstanding facilities with each year. Right now, the new City Center is the main attraction hosting large luxury hotels, restaurants and other facilities. Gambling, nightlife, clubs, museums and various attractions are all here. Entertainment abounds! Remember, what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas! So does your money, usually!

There are also free attractions in Vegas. The conservatory at the Bellagio features more than 100 elegant, elaborate arrangements of plants and flowers in the atrium. The Fountains at Bellagio feature a water and music show every evening. The fountains fill the quarter-mile long lake in front of the hotel. The Ethel M Chocolate factory panders to the sweet tooth in all of us. Located seven miles from the Strip, the free admission to tour the factory gives you an opportunity to sample the goodies and of course, to purchase a box or two to take home. The fountain shows at Caesars are worth the trip and be sure to take the camera.

Also free is the Lion Habitat at the MGM Grand Hotel. The majestic cats command your attention whether they’re chasing a large ball, licking their immense paws or just lying around.

MGM’s World may be the best bet in town. Give it a look. Many visitors see it every day.

The Pirates of TI is part muse, part temptress, part pirate, and you can watch as the Sirens of TI battle a band of pirates in Siren’s Cove, located at the front of the popular hotel and casino.

There is the Liberace Museum to see the collection of his artifacts and costumes as well as automobile museums and so many other attractions that you can spend days in Vegas and not see it all.

Enjoy the many pleasures of Nevada and when you return home, you may already be planning another visit soon.

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