A vast sagebrush steppe, the western corner of the state is carved by mountain ranges and parched valleys. It's also the place where modern Nevada began. It was the site of the state's first trading post, pioneer farms and the famous Comstock silver lode, which spawned Virginia City, financed the Union during the Civil War and earned Nevada its statehood.
A soothingly schizophrenic city of big-time gambling and top-notch outdoor adventures, Reno resists pigeonholing. ‘The Biggest Little City in the World’ has something to raise the pulse of adrenaline junkies, hardcore gamblers and city people craving easy access to wide open spaces.
Geographically speaking, nearly all of Nevada lies in the Great Basin – a high desert characterized by rugged mountain ranges and broad valleys that extends into Utah and California. Far from Nevada's major cities, this land is largely empty, textured only by peaks covered by snow in winter. It's big country out here – wild, remote and quiet.
Around Las Vegas
You might be surprised to discover geologic treasures in Nevada's amazing wind- and water-carved landscape, all within a short drive of surreal facsimiles of Ancient Rome and belle-époque Paris. While Las Vegas may be the antithesis of a naturalist's vision of America, it's certainly close to some spectacular outdoor attractions.
I-80 is the old fur trappers' route, following the Humboldt River from northeast Nevada to Lovelock, near Reno. It's also one of the earliest emigrant trails to California. Transcontinental railroad tracks reached Reno in 1868 and crossed the state within a year. By the 1920s, the Victory Hwy traveled the same route, which later became the interstate.
Along Hwy 50
The nickname says it all: on the 'Loneliest Road in America' barren, brown desert hills collide with big blue skies. The highway goes on forever, crossing solitary terrain. Towns are few and far between, with the only sounds being the whisper of wind or the rattle-and-hum of a truck engine.
Lake Mead & Hoover Dam
Even those who challenge, or at least question, the USA's commitment to damming the US West have to marvel at the engineering and architecture of the Hoover Dam. Set amid the almost unbearably dry Mohave Desert, the dam towers over Black Canyon and provides electricity for the entire region.
Twenty-five miles south of Reno, this national historic landmark is the site where the legendary Comstock Lode was struck, sparking a silver bonanza that began in 1859 and stands as one of the world's richest strikes. During the 1860s gold rush, Virginia City was a high-flying, rip-roaring Wild West boomtown.
Along Hwy 95
US Hwy 95 runs vaguely north–south through western Nevada. Although it's hardly a direct route, it's the fastest way to get from Las Vegas to Reno – and still, it's a full day's drive of 450 miles, so get an early start. The highway zigzags to avoid mountain ranges and passes through old mining centers that are not much more than ghost towns today.
A travelers' stop since the days of the Emigrant Trail, even Butch Cassidy dropped by Winnemucca to rob a bank. Named after a Paiute chief, the biggest town on this stretch of I-80 is also a center for the state's Basque community, descended from 19th-century immigrant shepherds.
Though small, Elko is the largest town in rural Nevada and a kind of charming center of cowboy culture. There's a calendar of Western cultural events and a museum big on buckaroos, stagecoaches and the Pony Express. Its other cultural influence is Basque; in fact, Basque shepherds and Old West cattlemen had some violent conflicts over grazing rights in the late 19th century.
Red Rock Canyon
The startling contrast between Las Vegas' artificial neon glow and the awesome natural forces in this national conservation area can't be exaggerated. Created about 65 million years ago, the canyon is more like a valley, with a steep, rugged red rock escarpment rising 3000ft on its western edge, dramatic evidence of tectonic-plate collisions.