Nevada just might be the most surprising state we’ve been to yet. This wasn’t our first rodeo in Nevada. Okay, there weren’t any rodeos, but that would’ve been fun. Our previous visits to the Silver State were to Las Vegas—where the majority of visitors go. This time we wanted to explore the land and history of Nevada. We wanted to know what Nevada is like outside the giant concrete maze and flashing neon lights of Vegas.
Pause for a moment and picture what you think Nevada is like. Not Vegas, but the more remote areas. What does it look like? Sound like? Smell like?
When we pictured Nevada, we thought flat, dry, and dusty. Some tumble weeds and sparse desert plants. Rather barren. There are areas of the state like this. If you’ve been to Burning Man I’m sure you can attest to the dry and dusty part. However, what we experienced is quite different than what we imagined.
Okay, I know what you’re thinking. Reno? Isn’t that just a smaller Vegas? Our vote is no. Reno is completely its own city with its own fascinating history, art, and culture.
Our first stop was the Historical Society Museum. Yes, we’re such party animals. It was actually the perfect way to acquaint ourselves with the city. The museum sets the stage for what Nevada and Reno have been throughout history. One of the first exhibits says that Nevada has long been a place that people pass through on their way somewhere else. This is important because it shaped many things about the culture and economy of the state.
Since being settled by Euro Americans, mining and agriculture have been the mainstays of Nevada’s economy. During economic crises like the Great Depression the state found that legalizing “sinful” activities not allowed elsewhere, stimulated their economy. Reno originally bore the nickname “Sin City” due to the accessibility of divorce, gambling, prize fighting, and of course brothels.
The Loneliest Road in America
We didn’t strike it rich at the Reno casinos so after a stop in Lake Tahoe we headed east on Highway 50. It runs 3,000 miles across the U.S from Maryland to California. The Nevada section of the highway is referred to as the Loneliest Road in America. It’s understandable why the highway was dubbed such (there are only 7 towns in the 320 mile stretch between Carson City and Ely, NV), however we found it to be quite enchanting.
Our ideas about the flatness of Nevada were quickly dispelled. The majority of the state is part of the Great Basin, which is where we got our flat ideas to begin with. It turns out that The Great Basin contains over 300 mountain ranges in the Nevada section. The landscape is a repeating pattern of basin, mountain range, basin.
Each basin is a little different than the last. Some have trees and rolling hills. Some have large rocks and jagged cliffs. All are rich with low-growing vegetation. Sagebrush is everywhere and its fragrance permeates the air. Small towns pop up along the way. Many have vintage neon lights and smell faintly of cigarettes. Or maybe that was just us after the casino. The road stretches out in front of you reaching for the jagged, rocky peaks of the next mountain range.
Another surprise for us was finding a free campsite with hot springs. Spencer Hot Springs is nestled in one of the many basins just a few miles off highway 50. There are 4-5 different pools. Most are made of large round metal barrels. Pipes divert the naturally hot water into the barrels. We soaked in one of the two natural pools because it’s the only one that was vacant when we arrived. It didn’t stay that way long though. Burning Man had just ended so soon a dusty caravan of post-festival burners were bumping down the dirt road. Some interestingly dressed. Some interestingly not dressed at all.
While the campsite didn’t exactly have the solitude of the luxury suite, it was still quite a luxury after a week with no hot water. This particular basin has mostly low-growing brush. It’s tucked into rolling hills and surrounded by mountains. Wild burros bray in the distance and Jack rabbits spring from bush to bush like wind-up toys.
If you find yourself in Nevada and in need of some hot water, here’s a link to the many hot springs in the state.
As we continue east on the Loneliest Road in America towards the next national park we talk about how we’d like to spend more time in Nevada. Hmmm, perhaps we’ll get our wish.😉
So was your picture of Nevada right? Do you have any stories from the lovely Silver State?